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Sharecroppers: Definition & History

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  • 0:02 Who Were Sharecroppers?
  • 0:46 Sharecropping Labor System
  • 1:33 Life Beyond Sharecropping
  • 2:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Brian Muhammad
When the Civil War ended in 1865, an important question centered around the newly freed slaves of the South. Were the former slaves ready to manage their own farms, or would the landowners force them back into the fields under a system similar to slavery? Learn more about the definition and history of sharecroppers, and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Who Were Sharecroppers?

A sharecropper is someone who would farm land that belonged to a landowner. The sharecropping family would plow, plant, weed, and harvest the land. However, they would only keep a small share of the crop, while the landowner would get the rest.

Following the Civil War, plantation owners were unable to farm their land. They did not have slaves or money to pay a free labor force, so sharecropping developed as a system that could benefit plantation owners and former slaves. Landowners would have access to a large labor force, and the newly freed slaves were looking for work. The workers could negotiate a place to work, and if they made enough money, they could purchase land or buy farm equipment.

Sharecropping Labor System

Sharecropping agreements typically favored the landowner. In many cases, at the end of a planting season, a worker might be paid only one-third of the crop that he or she produced. If a sharecropper could contribute something else other than labor, like a mule for example, he or she might receive a slightly larger portion of the crop.

Land was not the only thing sharecroppers needed from landowners. Landowners would sell fertilizers, seed, clothing, shoes, and food from the farm store to the sharecropper. Sharecroppers rarely had cash, so they were extended credit to make purchases. After the crop was harvested in the fall, the sharecroppers received shares of the crop. With the cash they received, the sharecroppers had to pay back the debt accumulated during the planting season.

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