We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Masters of the Big House

Elite Slaveholders of the Mid-Nineteenth-Century South

William Kauffman Scarborough

Publication Year: 2006

William Kauffman Scarborough has produced a work of incomparable scope and depth, offering the challenge to see afresh one of the most powerful groups in American history—the wealthiest southern planters who owned 250 or more slaves in the census years of 1850 and 1860. The identification and tabulation in every slaveholding state of these lords of economic, social, and political influence reveals a highly learned class of men who set the tone for southern society while also involving themselves in the wider world of capitalism. Scarborough examines the demographics of elite families, the educational philosophy and religiosity of the nabobs, gender relations in the Big House, slave management methods, responses to secession, and adjustment to the travails of Reconstruction and an alien postwar world.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press


pdf iconDownload PDF (967.2 KB)
pp. 1-8


pdf iconDownload PDF (118.4 KB)
pp. vii-xii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (175.6 KB)
pp. xiii-xvi

Although the final product is mine alone, I am deeply grateful for the assistance of numerous institutions and individuals during the long journey toward the completion of this project. I accumulated some of the manuscript materials for this work as far back as the early 1960s while researching my first book, The Overseer. ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (97.8 KB)
pp. xvii-xviii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (902.5 KB)
pp. 1-17

The great planters of the antebellum South exerted immense influence within their region and profoundly affected the destiny of this nation. They dominated the economy of the South, wielded enormous political power at all levels of government, and set the tone for the society of which they formed the apex. ...

read more

1. Social and Demographic Characteristics

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.8 MB)
pp. 18-51

Whatever their background, geographic location, or extent of wealth, the elite slaveholders shared certain common social and cultural characteristics. Among these were large families; a relatively high infant mortality rate; an extraordinary degree of intermarriage, extending not infrequently to first-cousin unions; a cosmopolitan life-style and outlook; ...

read more

2. Religious and Cultural Characteristics

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.9 MB)
pp. 52-89

Athough the majority of elite slaveholders, especially those residing in Natchez and along the Atlantic seaboard, were Episcopalians, their religious views accorded closely with those identified by Anne Loveland in her study of southern evangelicals. Philosophical discussions of religious thought and belief do not figure prominently in the correspondence of the group under study. ...

read more

3. Wives, Mothers, and Daughters: Gender Relations in the Big House

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.7 MB)
pp. 90-121

According to Catherine Clinton, planter women, in company with all other southern women, rich and poor, black and white, were the victims of oppression. Furthermore, acutely aware of their subordinate status in the patriarchal slave society in which they were entrapped, many of them lashed out at the peculiar institution upon which their world was based. ...

read more

4. Agrarian Empires: Acquisition, Production, Profits, Problems, and Management

pdf iconDownload PDF (3.3 MB)
pp. 122-174

As has been noted n the initial chapter of this book, the elite slaveholders of the Old South constructed their vast agricultural empires through various means, usually several of them in combination. Some inherited the bulk of their wealth, while others utilized advantageous marriages, capital derived from mercantile and banking enterprises, hard work, ...

read more

5. Toiling for Old "Massa": Slave Labor on the Great Plantations

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.2 MB)
pp. 175-216

Whether they toiled in the miasmic rice swamps of the South Carolina Low Country or in the broiling heat of the cotton and cane fields of the Southwest, the African American slaves of the antebellum South earned handsome profits for their owners but often at the expense of human suffering almost without parallel in modern times. ...

read more

6. Capitalists All: Investments and Capital Accumulation Outside the Agricultural Sector

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.1 MB)
pp. 217-237

The elite slaveholders of the antebellum South did not invest all of their capital in land and slaves, nor did they derive their profits exclusively from the sale of staple crops. As was noted earlier, a number of wealthy nabobs had acquired their initial funds by speculating in land or from banking and commercial enterprises. ...

read more

7. Political Attitudes and Influence: The Response of the Elite to the First Sectional Crisis

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.0 MB)
pp. 238-274

The views of Stephen Duncan and Lewis Thompson were by no means representative of the entire cohort of wealthy slaveholders. Indeed, the political opinions of that group were as diverse as those of the general population. Moreover, they were susceptible to change in response to the parade of events that propelled the nation almost inexorably toward civil conflict in the mid-nineteenth century. ...

read more

8. The Road to Armageddon: The Role of the Planter Elite in the Secession Crisis

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.2 MB)
pp. 275-315

During the decade of the 1850s a succession of events coalesced to destroy the fragile compromise settlement of 1850 and propel the divided nation inexorably toward a tragic civil war. Among the most significant of those events were the following: the publication in 1852 of Harriet Beecher Stowe's immensely influential novel Uncle Tom's Cabin; ...

read more

9. Days of Judgment: The Demise of a Slave Society

pdf iconDownload PDF (3.0 MB)
pp. 316-372

It has often been said that, on the Confederate side, the Civil War was "a rich man's war and a poor man's fight." Although there is an element of truth in that statement, it is also true that many of the large slaveholders supported the Confederate cause with unremitting devotion and endured hardships equal to those of their less fortunate neighbors. ...

read more

10. Postwar Adjustment: The Legacy of Emancipation and Defeat

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.8 MB)
pp. 373-405

In the wake of Confederate defeat and the loss of the most valuable portion of their property, the elite planters were forced to adjust to a society that, in many respects, was turned upside down. Many reacted with bitterness, anger, and pessimism, while others did their best to adapt to the new social order. ...

read more

11. Lords and Capitalists: The Ideology of the Master Class

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.1 MB)
pp. 406-426

Nearly forty years ago, Eugene Gcnovese advanced the debat over the fundamental nature of the southern social order to a new level when he argued that the planter class of the Old South embraced a paternalistic, antibourgeois ideology antithetical to the value system of the capitalistic North. ...

Appendix A: Slaveholders with 500 or More Slaves, 1850

pdf iconDownload PDF (92.4 KB)
pp. 427-430

Appendix B: Slaveholders with 500 or More Slaves, 1860

pdf iconDownload PDF (149.1 KB)
pp. 431-438

Appendix C: Elite Slaveholders by State of Residence, 1850

pdf iconDownload PDF (294.9 KB)
pp. 439-455

Appendix D: Elite Slaveholders by State of Residence, 1860

pdf iconDownload PDF (502.8 KB)
pp. 456-484


pdf iconDownload PDF (809.1 KB)
pp. 485-502


pdf iconDownload PDF (1.5 MB)
pp. 503-521

E-ISBN-13: 9780807156001
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807131558

Page Count: 544
Publication Year: 2006