Lesson Plan: Overview

Kensington Mansion: Plantation, Sharecroppers, Tenants

Grade Level: 11th

Follow this link to a 1912 tenant plat!

Academic Standards

Standard USHC-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the causes and the course of the Civil War and Reconstruction in America.
USHC 4-4 Summarize the effects of Reconstruction on the southern states and the roles of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments in that era. (H, P)
USHC 4-5 Summarize the progress made by African Americans during Reconstruction and the subsequent reversals brought by Reconstruction’s end, including the creation of the Freedmen’s Bureau, gains in educational and political opportunity, and the rise of anti–African American factions and legislation. (H, E, G, P)

Historical Background Notes

People hungry for land settled English colonies in America.  These colonists soon realized that the southern climate and soil were especially suited to growing tobacco, rice, and indigo.  A cash crop plantation economy formed in Maryland, Virginia, and parts of the Carolinas by the mid-1600's.  This plantation economy required masses of unskilled labor, provided first by black and white indentured servants and later by black slaves (Nash 1999, 40-41).

The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 promoted cotton as a major cash crop and increased the need for slave labor in the American South.  Landowners throughout the South converted their land to cotton production, and potential cotton farmers moved into the South from other parts of the United States (Nash 1999, 165).  Enabled by the production of cotton and tobacco, the plantation system and agricultural economy  became the economic base of the American South (Hagood 1939, 7).

Two events in 1865 greatly impacted the South:  Reconstruction and the formal emancipation of all slaves through the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment.  Former slaves seeking new identities as freedmen reshaped the black communities.  They helped change the southern economy as a new agricultural labor system replaced slavery (Boyer et al. 1996, 500).

Most freedmen began their new lives with no land and the option to work for wages from their former masters.  A contract labor system became a common agricultural labor form in 1866.  In this system, workers contracted to work for a year in return for fixed wages.  A large portion of these wages was held until after the harvest (Breen et al. 2002, 518).  Unfortunately, most cotton planters lacked money to pay wages and often offered a share of the crop instead of a straight wage.  Sharecropping, a distinctive labor system for cotton agriculture in the post-Civil War South, answered immediate economic  needs for freedmen and landowners (Divine et al. 2002, 445). 

Although most plantations in South Carolina after the Civil War did not immediately divide into numerous small parts, many cotton plantations did divide into small farms (Williamson 1990, 130).  As a result of the breakdown of the former plantation structure, sharecropping became a solution to the economic problem for freedmen, displaced whites, and plantation owners.  Sharecropping allowed freedmen to work as tenant farmers and exchange their labor for the use of house, land, implements, and sometimes seed and fertilizer.  Sharecroppers agreed to work on shares, often giving half to two-thirds to the landlord (Henretta et al. 2002, 445-446).  The landlord also arranged for a merchant to advance needed supplies to the tenant in return for a lien on the tenant’s crop.  To protect himself, the merchant designated cotton as the lien crop and charged high rates of interest on the supplies – 25 to 50 percent or higher.  Agriculture was generally poor from 1873 to 1900, and sharecroppers were fortunate if anything was left after debts were paid in the fall.  More that 60 percent of South Carolina farmers were tenants by 1900 (Lander 1970, 174). 

Overall, Southern society and agriculture suffered under the sharecropping system.  Many black and white Southerners lived in poverty, and most freedmen did not gain the bright promises of emancipation.  During the 1870’s, sharecropping tenancy “evolved into a new kind of servitude” (Divine et al. 2002, 518).  While Southern farmers remained committed to cotton, crop diversification declined.  Tenants lacked incentive to improve properties.  Money going to merchants under the crop-lien system was not invested into agricultural improvement.  The sharecropping system helped create a stagnant farm economy, which damaged the South’s future and recovery during Reconstruction (Henretta et al. 2002, 448).

Kensington Mansion near Eastover, South Carolina is a house standing on land that was part of a southern plantation in a major cotton-producing area during the nineteenth century.  The economic foundation of the lifestyles of Kensington Plantation was based on slave labor (Matthews 2003).   During the antebellum era, Matthew Richard Singleton’s family owned 465 slaves associated with Kensington (Stroyer 1885, 10). After the Civil War, Kensington Plantation adopted the contract labor and sharecropping systems that developed in the agricultural South (Drucker 1981).  Today, Kensington Mansion represents the antebellum and postbellum South.  It is “an important resource for historians of the antebellum south and a valuable learning tool for high school and college students studying the period” (Matthews 2003).


  Primary Sources
  D.T. Crosby, Freedmen’s Contract, 14 April 1867, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.
  Freedmen’s Contract between C.K. Singleton and 32 Freedmen.  22 January 1867. Singleton Family Papers, Manuscripts Division, South Caroliniana Library,University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.
  1912 Tenant Plat. Collection of the Scarborough-Hamer Foundation, Eastover, South Carolina.
  Stroyer, Jacob. My Life in the South. Salem: Salem Observer Book and Job Print, 1885.(Available online at Documenting the American South)
  Secondary Sources
  “A Gem in the Rough.” The State (Columbia, South Carolina). 18 June 2004: sec. E, p.13.
  Boyer, Paul S., Clifford E. Clark, Jr., Joseph F. Kett, Neal Salisbury, Harvard Sitkiff, and Nancy Woloch. The Enduring Vision:  A History of the American People, 3d ed. Lexington, Massachusetts:  D. C. Heath and Company, 1996.
  Divine, Robert A., T.H. Breen, George M. Fredrickson, and R. Hal Williams. The American Story. New York:  Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers, Inc., 2002.
  Drucker, Leslie, and Rebecca Fulmer. “Cultural Resources Investigation for Union Camp’s Proposed Eastover Mill tract, Richland Co., SC,” CAS Resource Studies No. 44, December 1981.
  Hagood, Margaret Jarman.  Mothers of the South:  Portraiture of the White Tenant Farm Woman. Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 1939.
  Henretta, James A., David Brody, and Lynn Dumenil. America: A Concise History – Volume 2:  Since 1865, 2d ed. Boston:  Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002.
  Lander, Ernest McPherson, Jr. South Carolina:  The Palmetto State. Chicago: Regensteiner Publishing Enterprises, Inc., 1970.
  Matthews, Marty D. “History of the Kensington Mansion and Partnership Between International Paper and Scarborough-Hamer Foundation,” April 9, 2003.
  Nash, Gary B. American Odyssey:  The United States in the Twentieth Century.  New York:  Glencoe/McGraw Hill, 1999.
  Williamson, Joel. After Slavery:  The Negro in South Carolina During Reconstruction, 1861-1877. Hanover, New Hampshire:  University Press of New England, 1990.
  Teacher Created Worksheet - Kensington Plantation
  Overhead projector
  Overhead transparencies
  Overhead pens/markers

Lesson Plans

The length of this lesson requires two class periods and one day for the visit to Kensington.
1. Contact Kensington Mansion to coordinate a visit for students.  (A personal visit to Kensington  prior to taking students would be beneficial.)
2. Secure permission from the school and students’ parents for the trip to Kensington.  Arrange travel plans, etc.
3. Assign students sections for homework in their textbook that discuss the plantation system, sharecropping, and tenant farming in the American South.
4. Distribute copies of The State newspaper article about Kensington, the Matthews report, and the Drucker/Fulmer study.  Have students read these articles silently.  Conduct a class discussion about the information in the readings and in their homework reading assignments.  QUESTIONS:  What is Kensington Mansion?  What period in American history does it represent?  What groups of people have a history tied to Kensington?  How does its history directly relate to South Carolinians today? 
5. Prepare students for the visit to Kensington Mansion.  Discuss what they will see and hear on their guided tour.
6. Visit Kensington Mansion.  On the way home, discuss the visit with the students.   Having seen the house and physical surroundings of Kensington Mansion and Plantation, ask students to use their historical imaginations.  QUESTIONS to consider:  What was life like for the people living in the mansion before the Civil War?  What was life like for people living in the slave quarters?  How did life change for the people of the mansion and for the slaves after the Civil War?  Was life for the freedmen better under the sharecropper/tenant system after the Civil War?  Do you think Kensington Mansion is a place of value in United States History?  Why?  Why not?  What part of Kensington most interested you?  Why?
7. After the Kensington visit, pair students and distribute copies of the primary sources.  (The teacher may choose to use all or some of the sources.  Copy quality makes some of the copies difficult to read, but students will find them interesting to see and decipher.)  Emphasize the 1912 Plat. This plat, although not of Kensington, shows land near Eastover that was also owned by the Hamer family. This plat is as a clear representation of plantation/sharecropping/tenancy development in the South.  Students can use this plat to infer how Kensington's land was divided. Based on their visit to Kensington and on the primary sources they have worked with, ask students to discuss how Kensington Plantation may have differed before and after the Civil War.  Also, ask them to explain why these differences occurred.
8. Administer the test on Kensington and assess student work.

Teacher Reflections

Kensington Mansion helped teach the subject of sharecropping in South Carolina.  Mary Sherrer and Carl Dubose were available to enhance our visit to Kensington.  Through e-mails and telephone calls, I worked with both of them to set up the details of our visit.  Mary was not working the day we visited; therefore, Carl presented the general introduction and background information to the whole group of 31 students in the summer kitchen.  He also participated as one of the three docents who took students on the tour.  He had a large copy of a 1931 agricultural photo/plat of Kensington and used it to show students the division of Kensington lands as a result of sharecropping and tenants in the twentieth century.  We agreed that he will send me a copy for future lessons and visits.  Carl also provided a paper with excerpts from a Kensington study done by South Carolina Archaeological Services in 1981. 

Although most of my students were interested in visiting Kensington ... our school debt policy (no student owing money to the school can participate in student paid field trips) prevented many of my students from participating in the on-site visits; nevertheless, [the lesson was] structured with ample classroom materials and primary sources that allowed all students to study the content and understand the importance of ... the sharecropping/tenant experience in U. S. History.  Certainly, the strategy of using on-site visits enhanced student learning.   

Student Assessment

Throughout this lesson, informal assessment was used.  Observing students as they worked together in pairs, student questions, and class discussions provided opportunities to assess what they were learning.
A grade by rubric was given for the test at the end of the lesson.
Use this rubric to grade the worksheet

Examples of Students Work

Student worksheet


Gloria Smith
Swansea High, South Carolina