Abstract: Elite Slaveholding Women and the Building of the Cotton Kingdom

Nikki Berg


How did elite slaveholding women contribute to the building of the Cotton Kingdom? Most historians answer this question by looking to white women's roles as plantation mistresses. Though this position was essential to the operation of Southern plantations, some female slaveholders assumed a role of even more economic consequence on their families' estates—that of the plantation manager or agent. Although usually performed by white men, plantation management was often the task of absentee planters' wives. Through an examination of the managerial structure of Richard Thompson Archer's plantations in antebellum Mississippi, this paper considers the role of managers and the unique position of female managers within the administrative hierarchy of southern slave plantations. Ann Archer's relative permanence on her husband's home estates, familiarity with their operation, and personal interest in their success, enhanced her administrative potential and Richard's reliance on her managerial skills.