Freedpeople in the Tobacco South: Virginia, 1860-1900

Freedpeople in the Tobacco South: Virginia, 1860-1900

by Jeffrey R. Kerr-Ritchie


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Throughout the colonial and antebellum periods, Virginia's tobacco producers exploited slave labor to ensure the profitability of their agricultural enterprises. In the wake of the Civil War, however, the abolition of slavery, combined with changed market conditions, sparked a breakdown of traditional tobacco culture. Focusing on the transformation of social relations between former slaves and former masters, Jeffrey Kerr-Ritchie traces the trajectory of this breakdown from the advent of emancipation to the stirrings of African American migration at the turn of the twentieth century.
Drawing upon a rich array of sources, Kerr-Ritchie situates the struggles of newly freed people within the shifting parameters of an older slave world, examines the prolonged agricultural depression and structural transformation the tobacco economy underwent between the 1870s and 1890s, and surveys the effects of these various changes on former masters as well as former slaves. While the number of older freedpeople who owned small parcels of land increased phenomenally during this period, he notes, so too did the number of freedom's younger generation who deserted the region's farms and plantations for Virginia's towns and cities. Both these processes contributed to the gradual transformation of the tobacco region in particular and the state in general.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807847633
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 04/19/1999
Edition description: 1
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Jeffrey R. Kerr-Ritchie is assistant professor of history at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Slavery, Tobacco, and Old Dominion
Chapter 2. Free Labor Struggles in the Field, 1865-1867
Chapter 3. Black Republicanism in the Field, 1867-1870
Chapter 4. The Impact of Emancipation, 1865-1872
Chapter 5. The Contested Tobacco State, 1873-1877
Chapter 6. Readjusting Free Labor Relations, 1873-1889
Chapter 7. The Highest Stage of Tobacco Alliance, 1890-1892
Chapter 8. Shifting Terrain
Appendix 1. Colonel Brown's Address to the Freedmen of Virginia
Appendix 2. Captain Sharp's Report to Colonel Brown
Appendix 3. Sampson White's Letter to Federal Census Director E. Dana Durand, September 1910


1.1. Virginia's principal geographic regions
1.2. Tobacco production in Virginia, 1859
1.3. Slave Population in the Virginia tobacco region, 1859
2.1. BRFAL districts in the Virginia tobacco region
7.1. Tobacco Virginia's regions and articulation


1.1. The Slaves' tobacco regimen
2.1. BRFAL labor contract between Furguson and Gosney, 1865
2.2. BRFAL labor contract between Miller and Roberts and Lewis, 1866
6.1. Crop lien for Fertilizer, 1882


5.1. U.S. Wheat Production, 1869-1899
5.2. The Global Tobacco Economy, ca. 1875
5.3. U.S. Tobacco Production, 1869-1899
6.1. Share Tenancy in the Bright Tobacco Belt, 1880s
6.2. Share Tenancy in the Dark Tobacco Belt, 1880s
8.1. Freedpeople's Landholdings in the Dark Tobacco Belt, 1900
8.2. Freedpeople's Landholdings in the Bright Tobacco Belt, 1900
8.3. Freedpeople's Acreage, Land Values, and Building Values in the Dark Tobacco Belt, 1900
8.4. Freedpeople's Acreage, Land Values, and Building Values in the Bright Tobacco Belt, 1900
8.5. Distribution of Freedpeople's Landholdings by Size in the Dark Tobacco Belt, 1900
8.6. Land Transfers in the Dark Tobacco Belt, 1900
8.7. Land Transfers in Buffalo District, Prince Edward County, 1900
8.8. Freedpeople's Exodus from the Dark Tobacco Belt, 1890s
8.9. Freedpeople's Exodus from the Bright Tobacco Belt, 1890s
8.10. Urban Population Growth in Virginia, 1890s
8.11. Manufacturing Growth in Virginia, 1890s
8.12. Virginia-Born Residents in Other Locations by 1900

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Freedpeople in the Tobacco South rejuvenates the history of labor and capitalist agriculture in late nineteenth-century Virginia. . . . Methodologically, the book is a strong call for the continuing importance of a wide-ranging social history. It represents an important and long overdue contribution to the history of a large and significant African-American population.—Journal of Interdisciplinary History

A complex discussion of a state, region and staple product less well served by historians than the more familiar cotton-producing areas further south, or the tidewater region of Virginia. . . . Kerr-Ritchie, in a fashion that is fresh and unfamiliar, tells what might have been an old story in a new setting.—Times Literary Supplement

With impressive chronological sweep and command of source material, Jeffrey Kerr-Ritchie's Freedpeople in the Tobacco South examines the origins of a new social order on the ashes of slavery. His account of the relationship between developments in Virginia and the international economic depression of the last quarter of the nineteenth century is masterfully wrought and rich with insights that extend far beyond the Upper South. No student of southern history, of the Civil War era, or of emancipation will want to miss this important book.—Joseph P. Reidy, Howard University

A convincing study of the impact of the political economy of tobacco on the possibility that freedpeople might realize their aspirations for emancipation.—Journal of American History

This study uses valuable source materials, good secondary literature, and raises good questions.—Choice

A well-crafted, broadly focused, deeply researched monograph that raises important questions. . . . Kerr-Ritchie provides valuable information about an under-examined region, and historians of the post-bellum South will need to reckon with his assessment.—American Historical Review

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