Photo exhibits spotlight various topics in Florida history, and are accompanied by brief text intended to place selected materials in historical context.
Land and Labor in Florida History
Sharecropping, Diversification and the Rise of Hunting Plantations
Emancipation brought about significant changes in the plantation economy throughout the southern United States.
Quail replaced King Cotton throughout the southern states as land became increasingly devoted to the hunting activities of the leisure classes who ventured south during the winter.
Many former slaves became tenant farmers by entering into "sharecropping" agreements with landed elites. Sharecroppers rented the land they worked and owed a percentage of their yearly crops to the landlord.
Most sharecroppers found themselves in perpetual debt, often indebted to landowners who once owned them as slaves. Sharecropping persisted until the mid-20th century and provided the economic underpinning for the system of institutionalized legal segregation throughout the South known as Jim Crow laws.
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Once entirely dependent on producing cotton, plantation agriculture diversified following the Civil War. Although cotton continued to be important, land owners in the Red Hills region of the Florida Panhandle also began herding livestock, planting pecan trees and growing new cash crops such as tobacco.
Large commercial farms specializing in tobacco became especially prevalent in Gadsden County.
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The end of the Civil War facilitated an influx of northern capital into the southern United States. Railroad lines and roads expanded deep into the Florida peninsula. Wealthy northern families purchased large tracts once used for cotton cultivation and converted the land into hunting plantations.
Northern Florida, especially in the Red Hills region, became known for quail hunting. Quail inhabited areas covered with longleaf pine trees and wiregrass. In order to bolster quail populations, owners of large estates maintained extensive tracts of indigenous forest through the practice of controlled burning.
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Red Hills Fire Ecology
The remaining tracts of longleaf pine in southern Georgia and northern Florida are maintained today through the use of prescribed burning. Research institutions such as Tall Timbers Research Station strive to conserve indigenous forest using methods practiced by quail hunters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In effect, controlled burning helps to mimic the natural fire ecology of the Red Hills region.
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