Race and Labour in the Cane Fields: Documenting Louisiana Sugar, 1844 - 1917

This project seeks to investigate the fortunes of the American sugar industry between 1844 and 1917. Utilizing a unique data set on the performance of Louisiana’s sugar plantations, plus other supporting materials, the project provides both micro-level and regional analyses of the American sugar economy paying particular attention to shifting patterns of labour. Our approach centres on four historical problems: the peculiarity of the sugar sector within the slave South; the transition from slavery to freedom; the persistence of the “Old” and the novelty of the “New South”; and the rise and fall of American sugar during U.S. imperial expansion.

At the heart of this project lies an unusually rich resource that analyses individual plantation production, ownership, and technological innovation across time and space. Historians have long known about, but never have systematically used the annual statements of the sugar crop compiled by Pierre Champomier(1844-1861) and Alcee Bouchereau (1868-1917). These materials are singular in both their detail and their coverage of individual plantations rather than simply parish-wide aggregate figures; while Champomier’s reports provide a unique glimpse into the agricultural dynamics of the slave era, Bouchereau’s later compilations add even further details on technological investment and innovation, crop diversification, ownership patterns, and geographic mobility. These sustained time series have no parallel in the history of sugar or, indeed, in southern agricultural history. Utilizing this detailed data set on the performance of Louisiana's sugar plantations, plus records from the U.S. census, we developed a relational database that addresses plantation production, ownership, and technological innovation across time and space. The database (with its intuitive web based front end) involves innovative use of large quantities of data that are unique in the study of slavery, technical transition, and the rural sector.

OBJECTIVES:·To complete the collation and entry of crop, ownership, and workforce data from multiple sources.· To deliver via the web, a publicly available, flexibly arrayed, database that, following the publication of our findings, will allow future researchers to select subsets and run their own specific queries· To prepare for publication several co-authored articles and present conference papers in UK/USA/Europe during the project.

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Principal investigator
Dr Richard Follett
Principal project staff
Dr Richard Follett; Professor Rick Halpern
Start date
Wednesday, October 1, 2003
Completion date
Monday, October 1, 2007
Era
Source material
At the heart of this project lies an unusually rich resource that analyses individual plantation production, ownership, and technological innovation across time and space. The annual statements of the Louisiana sugar crop compiled by Pierre Champomier (1844-1861) and Alcee Bouchereau (1868-1917)are singular in both their detail and their coverage of individual plantations rather than simply parish-wide aggregate figures; while Champomier’s reports provide a unique glimpse into the agricultural dynamics of the slave era, Bouchereau’s later compilations add even further details on machine investment, crop diversification, ownership patterns, and geographic mobility. These sustained time series address plantation ownership, production, technological investment, and industry-wide performance. The second primary source is the U.S. decennial agricultural census recording name, cash value of the farm, the value of farm implements owned, agricultural and manufacturing output, real and personal property valuations, technological investment, land use, the volume of sugar and other commodities produced. When linked to the above harvest records, we can track planter persistence and the dynamics of the plantation household. This detailed source of information significantly enhances and adds further sophistication to the established data collected by Champomier and Bouchereau.
Publications

Richard Follett & Rick Halpern, “From Slavery to Freedom in Louisiana’s Sugar Country: Changing Labour Systems and Workers’ Power” in Bernard Moitt, ed., Sugar, Slavery, and Society (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2004), 135-156.

Richard Follett, “‘Give to the Labor of America, the Market of America’: Marketing the Old South’s Sugar Crop, 1800-1860,” Revista de Indias LXV, 233 (January-April 2005), 117-147.

Richard Follett, "Slavery and Technology in Louisiana's Sugar Bowl” in in Susanna Delfino and Michele Gillespie, eds., Southern Industrialization in Perspective (forthcoming, Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006).

Further articles are to be delivered as project outputs along with, obviously, the databases (access)