Following the end of the Civil War, slavery was abolished, and sharecropping and tenant farming emerged in response. Some farmers owned large tracts of land but lacked the labor needed to farm. Others had no land, but were skilled farm workers desperate for a means of support and a place to live.
A sharecropper was a person who made an agreement to work for a landowner in return for land to farm and a share of the crops. Sharecroppers often owned little more than the clothing on their backs, so the landowner provided housing, farming tools, seeds, and money for food. Sharecroppers planted cash crops, such as cotton or tobacco, and took a share of the profits from their sale, minus any debts to the landowner. Often these debts accumulated and sharecroppers found themselves in a cycle of debt and poverty that was difficult to break. The legacy of sharecropping is an important part of the history of farming in North Carolina, and the Sharecropper’s cabin in the Farm History Center interprets the lives of sharecroppers in both the 1890s and the 1940s. See if you can identify changes in the lives of sharecroppers between these two periods, and in the technology that would have helped to make their lives easier.