Wealthy Planters and Southerners

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#1
Fellow Posters,

The wealth of the South --and planters in particular-- is a constant theme by historians of the antebellum. However, I have yet to discover any planter or southern businessman in the antebellum to be worth over $1,000,000. Yet in the North there are many millionaires. William Astor, son of John Jacob Astor, was said in his obituary, published in the New York Times, to be worth $20,000,000 in 1848. Then there is Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jay Cooke, and others. But I know of no millionaire counterparts in the antebellum South. Does anyone? What can anyone tell me?

James
 

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Bruce Vail

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#2
Hmmm...interesting question.

Been a number of interesting threads here recently about Wade Hampton, the scion of a wealthy South Carolina family. He was the owner of several large plantations and, by some accounts, the owner of more slaves than anyone else in the country. Don't know whether he was a "millionaire" or not, but certainly among the wealthiest men in the South.
 

ErnieMac

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#3
My understanding is that the wealth of the Southern planters was to be found in the value of their slaves and land, not in cash deposited in a bank. In 1858 John Burnside in St. James Parish, Louisiana purchased the Houmas House from John Smith Preston for the sum of $1,000,000. The plantation fronted on the Mississippi, contained 12,000 acres of cultivable land and was worked by 550+ slaves. I think Burnside qualifies as a millionaire. There were others in similar position.
https://houmashouse.com/history/
 
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#4
Wade Hampton was probably another planter who was a millionaire when you look at the value of the property he owned. To the Southerner who was more agrarian than the millionaire in the Northeast who was more apt to determine wealth based upon finance and currency, land holdings and the things that made that land profitable and valuable were what made a man wealthy. This is the reason so many small farmers from the South went West, they realized that there was no way for them to accumulate the land holdings that the larger land owners had and they wanted their piece of the pie too, so to speak.
 
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#5
Hmmm...interesting question.

Been a number of interesting threads here recently about Wade Hampton, the scion of a wealthy South Carolina family. He was the owner of several large plantations and, by some accounts, the owner of more slaves than anyone else in the country. Don't know whether he was a "millionaire" or not, but certainly among the wealthiest men in the South.
Many, many thanks for this suggestion. I just read a day or two ago about Wade Hampton that he owned plantations all the way to the Mississippi River. I am very anxious to discover what his attitude was toward railroads and transportation.

Again, thank you for the suggestion. Right on post.
 
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#6
My understanding is that the wealth of the Southern planters was to be found in the value of their slaves and land, not in cash deposited in a bank. In 1858 John Burnside in St. James Parish, Louisiana purchased the Houmas House from John Smith Preston for the sum of $1,000,000. The plantation fronted on the Mississippi, contained 12,000 acres of cultivable land and was worked by 550+ slaves. I think Burnside qualifies as a millionaire. There were others in similar position.
https://houmashouse.com/history/
Many thanks. Right on post.

by any chance do you happen to know if Burnside owned stock in any real roads or promoted them in anyway?
 

Bruce Vail

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#7
Not sure how you would determine millionaire status at this date, but you could look at William Lord DeRosset (1832-1910) of Wilmington NC. The DeRosset family owned plantations, slaves and a shipping business (including blockade running during the War).

W.D. DeRosset was the head of a family recognized as one the wealthiest in the region. The father was an early investor in the Wilmington & Weldon Rail Road.

Edit -- May be better to look at Dr. Armand John DeRosset Jr. (1807-1897) -- he looks to have been the actual head of the family during the Civil War era.
 
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#10
I understand that economists of the time had calculated the nation's wealth, and most was held in the South. However, I do not know what those figures were based upon, liquid assets or non-liquid. I'm guessing the latter, which would explain how the South could not quickly come up with cash to support the war.
 
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#11
Member @unionblue posted this earlier:


Hope this pertains to the central idea of this thread. From the book, The Slavery Debates, 1952-1990, by Robert W. Fogel: Dissecting the Myth of an Impoverished South

Did the struggle against slavery decisively reshape American civilization? The weight of evidence brought to light during the slavery debates clearly indicates that it did, but not because it rescued an impoverished, economically stagnating region from the clutches of an economically bankrupt planter class.​
Cliometric research has revealed that the planter class was thriving during the last two decades of the antebellum era and was every bit as prosperous as the rich of the North, although the source of wealth of the two plutocracies differed. The North's wealthiest 1 percent in 1860 were mainly urban merchants and manufacturers whose businesses were based on wage labor, while in the South the top 1 percent were mainly rural planters whose businesses were based on slave labor. The Southern plutocrats were considerably richer on average than their Northern counterparts, by a factor of roughly two to one. Indeed, nearly two out of every three males in the United States with wealth of $100,000 or more (the super rich of the era) lived in the South in 1860.
The big planters of the cotton belt were generally consolidating their economic positions during the late antebellum era. Between 1850 and 1860 the real wealth of the typical gang-system planter increased by 70 percent. Rather than gradually slipping from its economic dominance, this class was overthrown by the Civil War, which led to the destruction or loss of two-thirds of its wealth. By 1870 Southerners no longer predominated among the nation's super rich; four out of every five of the super rich were now Northerners. So it was not the vagaries of the market or other economic events but military defeat that moved the scepter of wealth from the agrarian South to the industrializing North.​
If we treat the North and South as separate nations and rank them among the countries of the world, the South would stand as the fourth most prosperous nation of the world in 1860. The South was more prosperous than France, Germany, Denmark, or any of the countries of Europe except England. The South was not only advanced by antebellum standards but also by relatively recent standards. Indeed, a country as advanced as Italy did not achieve the Southern level of per capita income until the eve of World War II.​
The last point underscores the dubious nature of attempts to classify the South as a "colonial dependency." The South's large purchases of manufactured goods from the North made it no more of a colonial dependency than did the North's heavy purchases of rails from Great Britain. The true colonial dependencies, countries such as India and Mexico, had less than one-tenth the per capita income of the South in 1860....​
Far from stagnating, the per capita income of the South grew at an average annual rate of 1.7 percent from 1840 to 1860. This rate of growth was not only a third higher than that enjoyed by the North but quite high by historical standards. Only a handful of countries have been able to sustain long-term growth rates substantially in excess of that achieved by the antebellum South between 1840 and 1860.​
And one last observation made by the book:

Far from being incompatible, the economies of the two regions (North and South) were closely tied to each other by intricate webs of trade and commerce. The South was a prime market for the products of the North's rapidly expanding manufacturing sector, especially textiles, shoes, iron, and steel. Indeed, mass-produced clothing for slaves accounted for a significant share of the output of Northern textile mills. Among the products that the South supplied to the North were raw cotton, tobacco, refined sugar, and molasses. Both regions experienced a two-way flow of capital and commercial services. Southern planters invested in railroads north of the Mason-Dixon Line, and northern capital helped to finance southern commerce and plantations. Most of the businessmen of each region saw the businesses of the other region less as threats to their own interests than as partners in advancing a common prosperity. When antislavery militants sought to promote political coalitions hostile to the South, many Northern merchants and factory owners counseled compromise.​
Sincerely,
Unionblue
 
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#12
The interesting case of Stephen Duncan, from Wiki:

Stephen Duncan (March 4, 1787 – January 29, 1867) became a major planter and banker in Mississippi in the antebellum years, migrating there from his home state of Pennsylvania after getting a medical degree. He became the wealthiest cotton planter in the South prior to the American Civil War, and also invested in railroads and Midwest lands. He owned thousands of acres of land and more than 1,000 slaves in the 1850s, cultivating both cotton and sugar cane as commodity crops.​
In 1830 he and James Brown, a wealthy planter and US Senator from Louisiana, paid for the purchase of land in Canada to aid American free blacks from Cincinnati, Ohio found a new community, which became known as the Wilberforce Colony. In the 1830s, Duncan was also among the co-founders of the Mississippi Colonization Society in the 1830s, and helped purchase land in West Africa to create a colony as for relocation of free people of color from the state.​
...​
In 1860 Duncan was the second-largest slave owner in the United States. He opposed secession, incurring ostracism in Mississippi. He moved from Natchez to New York City in 1863, where he had long had business interests. Ultimately, Duncan was what many of the northern planters from this time aspired to be, and was essential in perpetuating the connection between northern success and growth with southern networks of slavery.​
....​
Stephen Duncan was born on March 4, 1787 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He received a medical degree from Dickinson College.​
In 1808, shortly before the War of 1812, Duncan moved as a young man to Natchez, Mississippi Territory, a developing river town that was important to trading along the Mississippi River. In the antebellum South, Natchez became a thriving city thanks to the booming cotton industry. In Natchez, he became a banker and planter. He served as the President of the Bank of Mississippi.​
Duncan sold his crops through the merchant firm Washington, Jackson & Co. in New Orleans, instructing them to sell it through their subsidiary Todd, Jackson & Co. in Liverpool, England. The revenue derived from the cotton and sugar sales was sent to Charles P. Leverich & Co., his bank headquartered in New York. His plantations yielded returns of US$150,000 annually. As a result of these financial transactions, Duncan became the richest cotton planter in the South before the American Civil War. He reinvested his money in Northern railroad securities and in Midwestern public lands.​
In the 1850s, Duncan owned more than 1,000 slaves, making him the largest resident slave holder in Mississippi. By 1860, Duncan's ownership of 858 slaves in Issaquena County made him second nationally to the estate of Joshua John Ward (1800-1853) of South Carolina, which controlled 1,130.​

- Alan
 

ErnieMac

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#13
Many thanks. Right on post.

by any chance do you happen to know if Burnside owned stock in any real roads or promoted them in anyway?
I know of no railroad interests. Burnside was an Irish immigrant who got his start as a salesman for a New Orleans mercantile house. He eventually worked his way into being a partner in the firm. He began purchasing sugar plantations in the 1850s. After the War Burnside discovered he could make still make money in sugar using hired field hands.
https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/6252966/john-burnside
 
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#15
Not sure how you would determine millionaire status at this date, but you could look at William Lord DeRosset (1832-1910) of Wilmington NC. The DeRosset family owned plantations, slaves and a shipping business (including blockade running during the War).

W.D. DeRosset was the head of a family recognized as one the wealthiest in the region. The father was an early investor in the Wilmington & Weldon Rail Road.

Edit -- May be better to look at Dr. Armand John DeRosset Jr. (1807-1897) -- he looks to have been the actual head of the family during the Civil War era.
Many thanks. I will do just that.
 

Bruce Vail

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#17
Joseph Emory Davis (1784-1870)

As a cotton planter Davis made a fortune, becoming "one of the richest men in Mississippi at the onset of the Civil War."[3] He acquired an extensive amount of land and hundreds of slaves. In the late 1820s he acquired nearly all the land on a peninsula that came to be known as Davis Bend. It was about 15 miles south of Vicksburg, also on the Mississippi River. By 1860 at the beginning of the American Civil War, his Hurricane Plantation included 5,000 acres and 5 miles of riverfront.[5] Davis, Eliza, and his three natural daughters had first lived in a relatively modest house he had built at Davis Bend in 1827. Later Davis had a much larger structure built, which was started in 1835. It was a three-story brick mansion, finished in stucco. Large fireplaces heated the twelve rooms in winter. There were also numerous outbuildings.[6] Davis also acquired one of the best private libraries in the South.[3]This plantation was considered one of the finest establishments on the Mississippi River.
Davis gave his much younger brother Jefferson Davis an adjacent 1,000 acres, which he developed as Brierfield Plantation. The senior Davis sold some land to other preferred neighbors. Davis Bend was surrounded on three sides by the river. While cotton was Joseph Davis' chief cash crop, his plantation produced other crops, as well as a variety of meats. It was nearly self-sufficient. He had large herds of dairy and beef cattle, and was the only planter on the peninsula to have sheep.[2]
In 1860 Joseph E. Davis held 365 slaves.[7] He was one of nine planters in Mississippi to hold more than 300 slaves. They cultivated 1700 acres of improved land at Hurricane Plantation.[2]


Source: Wiki
 
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#18
Not sure how you would determine millionaire status at this date, but you could look at William Lord DeRosset (1832-1910) of Wilmington NC. The DeRosset family owned plantations, slaves and a shipping business (including blockade running during the War).

W.D. DeRosset was the head of a family recognized as one the wealthiest in the region. The father was an early investor in the Wilmington & Weldon Rail Road.

Edit -- May be better to look at Dr. Armand John DeRosset Jr. (1807-1897) -- he looks to have been the actual head of the family during the Civil War era.
Many thanks! Right on post !!
 
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#20
Here's an article for you saying that half of all the millionaires in the USA lived in Natchez, Mississippi in 1850.

https://www.csmonitor.com/1983/0322/032230.html
Very useful. Thank you very much.

I have been to Natchez and I will go again. One brief but incredibly pregnant sentence off post: Natchez is where John C Calhoun passed off the transcontinental railroad torch to Jefferson Davis on his return from The commercial convention of 1845 in Memphis.

Do you have any idea how I would like to expand upon that feeling but have to use all of the restraint I can muster to keep from doing so?
 



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