Regions with plantation economies have usually been in the southern United States, South America, the Caribbean, and Africa. Fordlândia is a 20th century example of a plantation economy. Plantation economies are also historically associated with slavery, particularly in the United States. Plantation economies usually benefit the large countries to which they are exporting, which usually manufacture the raw materials grown on the plantations into goods which are then traded back to the plantation economy. Throughout most of history, the countries receiving the crops have usually been in Western Europe.
Tobacco production was labor intensive and required thousands of slaves to produce millions of pounds that were exported. The period covered by this article ranges from 1700 to the end of the American Civil War (1865).
The wealth and Influence of the so-called "tuckahoe" Virginia planters depended on one crop, and that crop was tobacco. The production of tobacco spread down the James, York, Rappahannock, and the Potomac rivers.
Over the years tobacco contributed greatly to Virginia’s economy. In the year 1758 Virginia exported 70,000 hogsheads of tobacco. The production of tobacco in colonial times required much toil. The plants had to be grown from seeds in a cold frame, set out, weeded, tasseled, harvested, and cured. All of this work was done by man and beast. Each acre produced about 5,000 plants that required hand care over and over again. But, with slave labor, profits exceeded any other plant that could be grown.
Less than one-third of all Southern families owned slaves at the peak of slavery prior to the Civil War. In Mississippi and South Carolina it approached one half. The total number of slave owners was 385,000 (including, in Louisiana, some free Negroes). (That 385,000 amounts to approx 3.8 % of the Southern and Border states population.)
On a typical plantation (more than 20 slaves), the capital value of the slaves was greater than the capital value of the land and implements.
The slaves working the sugar plantation were caught in an unceasing rhythm of arduous labor year after year. Sugarcane is harvested about 18 months after planting and the plantations usually divided their land for efficiency. One plot was lying fallow, one plot was growing cane, and the final plot was being harvested. During the May-December rainy season, slaves planted, fertilized with animal dung, and weeded. From January to June, they harvested the cane by chopping the plants off close to the ground, stripping the leaves, then cutting them into shorter strips to be bundled off to be sent to the mill.
In the mill, the cane was crushed using a three roller mill. The juice from the crushing of the cane was then boiled or clarified until it crystallized into sugar. Some plantations also went a step further and distilled the molasses (the liquid left after the sugar is boiled or clarified) to make rum. The sugar was then shipped back to Europe, and for the slave laborer the routine started all over again.
With the 19th century abolition of slavery, plantations continued to grow cane, but sugar beets not grown on plantations increased their market share.
Indigofera was a major crop of cultivation during the colonial period, in Haiti until the slave rebellion against France that left them embargoed by Europe, Guatemala in the 18th century and India in the 19th and 20th centuries. The indigo crop was grown for making blue indigo dye in the pre-industrial age. Mahatma Gandhi's investigation of indigo workers' claims of exploitation led to the passage of the Champaran Agrarian Bill in 1917 by the British colonial government.