Sugar Masters: Planters and Slaves in Louisiana's Cane World, 1820-1860

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  • Focusing on the master-slave relationship in Louisiana's antebellum sugarcane country, The Sugar Masters explores how a modern, capitalist mind-set among planters meshed with old-style paternalistic attitudes to create an insidiously oppressive labor system. Follett demonstrates that the agricultural paradise of Louisiana's thriving sugarcane fields came at an unconscionable cost to slaves. Above all, labor management was the secret to the planters impressive success. Follett explains how in exchange for increased productivity and efficiency planters offered their slaves incentives such as greater autonomy, improved accommodations, and even financial remuneration. These gains, however, were only short term. Until recently, scholars have viewed planters as either paternalistic lords who eschewed marketplace values or as entrepreneurs driven to business success. Follett offers a view of the sugar masters as embracing both the capitalist market and a social ideology based on hierarchy, honor, and paternalism. His stunning synthesis of empirical research, demographics study, and social and cultural history sets a new standard for this subject.