Proto-Plantations of the Holy Land

The plantation socio-economic system which came to dominate the Southern colonies and related colonies throughout the Caribbean region was an extension and refinement of a colonial process first developed in the Mediterranean, as discussed at length in Our Southern Nation: Its Origin and Future (2015, American Anglican Press).

Belgian historian Charles Verlinden in his work The Beginnings of Modern Colonization (Cornell University Press, 1970) describes how Christian colonists from northern Italy heavily influenced the direction of the proto-plantations built in the Crusader States. He writes that, “The first medieval colonies created by Westerners in the eastern Mediterranean are the seigneuries which rose up in Palestine after the First Crusade.” Verlinden points out that in war between Christians and Muslims, it was the accepted practice of the time to take slaves from the conquered group. Sugarcane was cultivated by this time in the eastern Mediterranean and when Western Europeans acquired land in the Levant, they gained working sugarcane proto-plantations complete with an experienced workforce. Verlinden writes that, “As a general rule the Italians, in compensation for the naval and other forces they put at the disposal of the conquerors, would receive a third of the city and sometimes a considerable portion of the rural area surrounding it, as we have seen in the case of the Venetians and the seigneury of Tyre. In some areas they cultivated cotton or sugar cane with the help of the indigenous serf or slave manpower.” He points out that “Many citizens of the Holy Land owned slaves” and “Throughout the Middle Ages slavery was.. the the normal condition of a considerable part of the population along the Christian shores of the Mediterranean. The various Moslem states along the African, Asian, and even European shores of that great sea also possessed a fairly numerous slave class.”

Over time, enterprising Italian city-states developed a slave trade and proto-plantation system which spread across the Mediterranean (eventually reaching Spain and Portugal and from there being spread to the eastern Atlantic sugar isles and later to Brazil and the Caribbean) which used an ethnic mix of slaves. Europeans passed laws which gave Christian slaves the right to be sold only to other Christians. Later, with the development of west African slave markets, slavery came to be associated with the Black race and White slavery was almost entirely eliminated.

This was just one of the many refinements to the colonial system which went on to revolutionize the New World and provide the wealth and production that financed the Industrial Age and shaped the land of Dixie.

One comment

  1. Everybody doing genealogy wants to claim the mantle of “plantation owner.” Give it up already. The “planter class” was a 1960s term used to argue that a ruling elite (projection!) duped a low wage working class yeoman farmer.

    Frank Owsley’s book, Plain Folk of the Old South, debunked this myth in 1949. The myth rose from the massive success of David O. Selznick’s vision of the Old South in Gone With The Wind. This myth still lives in the alt-south’s adherence to the Celtic myth of Southern origin. That myth was revived in the 1990s League of the South, and it was never fully corrected.

    The South’s real origins were as Cavaliers. It’s the one actual genealogical difference from yankees. We all had more Germans than anyone has admitted in a long, long time. Plenty of Irish too. But the big difference was in…
    North = Congregationalist, Puritan, Roundhead
    South = Anglican, Catholic, Cavalier

    The South liked gambling, Christmas festivities, libations, high fashion, literature, and classical education. Yankees banned Christmas and earthly sins, and had very little comprehension of ancient Greeks such as Pindar.

    My main point? Stop romanticizing the Confederacy. Take another look at your ancestry.com. You will probably find one or two “plantation” owners. They probably only owned a few slaves. The gap between “planter” and “farmer” was negligible. We all know who really wanted an (((elite class))). It was Judah P. Benjamin, Moses Abraham, Abraham C. Myers, and others. They infiltrated our cabinet. They profiteered off the War. When things weren’t going the South’s way, they were the only rats to safely jump ship. So yeah, we Southerners have should have an extra big chip on our shoulder!