History of Sharecropping

The history of sharecropping is a product of forced removals and genocide of indigenous people, settler colonialism, and slavery. Sharecropping was a farming system developed as a solution to the sudden need for housing and jobs to Freed(wo)men due to the Civil War.


Pre-Colonial America1067

For hundreds of years, the land in the North American continent was inhabited and cared for by the indigenous people living in the area. Under their care, the land was not divided and owned by individual people, it was tended by multiple tribes which cultivated crops native to the land such as corn, beans and squash.

Colonization & American Revolution


The arrival of people from Europe in the 1600s shifted the function of the land and resources of America. As more Europeans settled and colonized the land, the indigenous people already inhabiting the area suffered. Indigenous faced genocides and forced removals in order for colonizers to have land of their own.


As the colonizers and their slaves settled, colonizers began to privatize the land by dividing it and assigning it to specific people. They chopped down trees to make space for their villages, cattle, and new farming methods not native to the land.


Immigration from Europe begins to decline as life expectancy increases; the male-female ratio becomes balanced, and families develop and reproduce.

Slavery in America1710

The relationship with slavery in northern and southern colonies differed significantly. In the first half of the 1700s, slavery began to be viewed as a sin by the northern colonies. In the southern part, slave plantations were viewed as a necessity for their economic success.

The southern mainland colonies such as South Carolina were comprised of a majority of slaves. Slaves did most of the manual labor in southern colonies; their presence in America was the foundation of the colonial and social structure.

Slavery in the South1730

Slaves were 40 percent of Virginia’s population. Slavery was greater in the south because of the land’s environmental conditions, which allowed the growth of multiple kinds of staple crops exported overseas, such as rice, sugar, cotton, dyestuffs, and tobacco. During this year, 630,000 settlers and slaves were living in the mainland colonies.

American Revolution1775

248,000 Africans, 284,000 Europeans and 50,000 British convicts land in the American colonies. This arrival of Africans is the peak of the African slave trade to America; almost 90 percent of slaves went to southern colonies. During this time, the American south becomes the world’s only self-sustaining slave society; this meant colonies could reproduce their enslaved labor force without imports from Africa.

As the colonies develop and strengthen their political, economic and social structures, they gain a sense of independence and confidence against the British monarchy ruling them.

Declaration of Independence1776

Declaration of Independence from Britain’s rule is adopted. In the years following, several other colonies begin to recognize and accept it. In, 1781 the Articles of Confederation are ratified and within three years the Peace of Paris recognizes American Independence.

Development of the American Nation

American Nation1784

America develops in distinct ways in the north and the south, but both shared the desire to expand westward. The expansion of the American nation meant that the land they colonized was continuously taken from the people indigenous to the land like the Lenape, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole. In order for the nation to grow, theft and genocide toward the indigenous had to occur. For example, the Jacksonian era’s agenda inspired by Manifest Destiny meant the displacement and death of hundreds of indigenous.

Land Ordinance of 17851785

The Land Ordinance of 1785 is passed by congress, it established a land ownership system. Between the years of 1787 and 1788, America will experience the Northwest Ordinance and the Constitution ratified by eleven states. In 1789, George Washington becomes the First President of the United States.

Naturalization Act of 17901790

Naturalization Act of 1790 is passed, restricting the naturalization process toward citizenship in America to only free white people. In doing so, marginalizing people of color by denying them citizenship.

Manifest Destiny1800

Manifest Destiny was an ideology believed by colonizers, it told them that God destined them to conquer America from sea to sea. The expansion westward justified their killing of indigenous Americans and taking their homes.

Haitian Independence1804

Led by Toussaint L’Ouverture, Haiti wins its independence from France; this served as inspiration for the abolition of slavery in America.

Cotton and Slaves in Texas1820

Between 1820 and 1821 First Cotton Farmers and their slaves were introduced to Texas.

Mexican Texas1821

In 1820, Mexico gains independence from Spain. The following year, Moses Austin (Stephen F. Austin’s father) asks the Spanish governor of Texas in San Antonio de Bexar for permission to settle 300 families to raise sugar and cotton to deliver colonists from poverty.

Jackson Era1829-1837

Due to the Manifest Destiny ideology, president Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which authorized a forced relocation of indigenous people to state-assigned reservations. By moving indigenous tribes such as Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole out of their homelands, the American government was able to take their land and convert it into their own. The relocation created an environment of systematic racism, property theft, and mass genocide for the indigenous. Furthermore, as the land was taken from the indigenous and converted into American states, the government was unsure of how to prohibit or allow slavery as they joined.

Law of April 61830

The collective value of American slaves was about $577 million. Law of April 6 issued by the Mexican Government closed the border between Texas and the US to stop the white illegal aliens from slaveholding states east of the Sabine River. American immigrants felt little obligation to obey Mexican laws and were growing restless under a government that forbade slavery.

Texas Becomes a Republic1836

Battle of the Alamo & Battle of San Jacinto between Texas and Mexico leads to the Republic of Texas. In 1845, Texas becomes part of the United States of America. In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo put an end to the Mexican-American war (1846-1848) which resulted in Mexico ceding a vast amount of land to the United States resulting in the Rio Grande as a boundary for Texas.

Evolution of Texas1850

The Compromise of 1850 is passed which consisted of 5 laws that dealt with slavery and territorial expansion in order to defuse conflict between free and slave states.
Anglo-Texans discourage the intermixing of blacks and Mexicans due to a fear of an uprising against slave-owning whites. Mexicans are treated as outlaws, persecuted, and killed or banished out of Texas.

The 1853-1854 Gadsden Purchase between the Unites States and Mexico allows for the development of the southern transcontinental railroad to develop. Navasota, Texas – the region the ITC cabin comes from – develops as a shipping center due to its position on the railways.

Civil War

Civil War1861

The American Civil War was a conflict between states opposed and in favor of slavery. It was a significant turning point in America’s developing politics, economics, and social structure. After the Civil War, southern states relying on slave labor to produce their crops had to establish new labor systems such as tenant farming, sharecropping, or contract labor. Since owning people and forcing them to work is illegal, plantation owners now need laborers to work their lands. Plantations were broken up into smaller sections and assigned to sharecroppers and tenants. Sharecroppers paid for the use of land and tools by pledging a percentage of each year’s crop to the landowner. They were provided with a small place to live and farming equipment. However, they usually remained in debt to their landlord. Tenant Farmers rented farms for a fixed amount. For the most part, tenant farmers were better financially than sharecroppers since they could supply their own living space and tools.

Lincoln Era1861

As an opponent of slavery, the election of President Lincoln created a divide in the newly formed American Union. The majority of the opposing states were in the north and the ones in favor, in the south. This year, several southern states (North and South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Texas) decided to secede from the Union and create the Confederate States of America to protect their right to own slaves.

Emancipation Proclamation1863

The Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln declared that “all persons held as slaves… shall be free” in seceded states. The proclamation also allowed Black men to serve in the Union army.

Civil War Ends1865

Civil war is officially over; the Confederacy was defeated at the total cost of 620,000 Union and Confederate dead. The Union (North) wins thanks to the help and sacrifice from the newly admitted Black men into the Union army.



The newly developing nation expands by growing its railroad system and developing its coal mining. As a result, development throughout America varies and moves at different paces. Just because the Civil War had officially ended, it did not mean the chaos had come to an end. Conflict with the Indigenous continues and is recognized as the Plains Wars. Four million former slaves are now free; some move north searching for jobs and housing, and some stay in the south as tenant farmers and sharecroppers. Sharecropping and tenant farming are primarily in the south; plantations divided their lands and assigned them to newly freed slaves. Although slavery is abolished, whites continue to believe they are superior to blacks and other people of color. This white-supremacist judgment opened the door to a series of Jim Crow Laws that segregated whites and blacks by repressing blacks’ voting rights, access to transportation, entertainment, healthcare, housing, education, and employment opportunities.

Industrialization of a Gilded Nation

Gilded Nation1878

For the new American nation to grow and expand, colonization had to spread. As a result, it threatened the indigenous people, flora, and fauna. Indigenous peoples continued to be murdered and abused by being driven out of their homelands and denying them their ways of life. The near-extinction of buffalo made the Plains Indians realize that their way of life was gone.

As the second industrial revolution takes off, steel, oil, and electrical innovations make new machinery and mechanized production methods possible. For example, the introduction of barbed wire made way for the development of large-scale cattle ranching and land speculation by providing a means of sectioning off the land and keeping animals in one space. The pace of industrialization looks different depending on what region of American you are in. In the South, particularly Texas, there are ongoing tensions with the Indigenous and Mexicans living in the area before it became the state of Texas. The rest of the history of sharecropping focuses on the region of Texas because it is the context from which the Sharecropper Cabin was pulled.

Reservations and Plantations1880

Almost all indigenous have been pushed out of their homes and into government-designated reservations.

Fifty-one percent of all plantation farms were tenanted, of which 72 were sharecropped, and the rest was being rented for fixed cash rent.

Blackland Prairie, Texas1880

Mexicans, African Americans, and Whites develop a tri-racial community in a region referred to as the Blackland Prairie, which is now the land between Dallas and San Antonio. By 1900 the Blackland Prairie produced 43.5 percent of the cotton in Texas.

Texas Cotton1890

Texas is producing 20 percent of the nation’s cotton, becoming the leading cotton-producing state.

Mance Lipscomb1895

Mance Lipscomb is born in Navasota, Texas. He was a sharecropper on Tom Moore’s farm who used his experiences as a sharecropper to tell the stories of his life through blues music. He and fellow sharecropper Yank Thornton wrote the song “Tom Moore’s Farm,” which spoke explicitly of the conditions endured by sharecroppers on Moore’s farm. One year after his birth, the historic Plessy v. Ferguson trial results in the “separate but equal” doctrine, sanctioning racial segregation in the United States.

Taft Ranch1910

While plantations in the South relied on African American sharecroppers, cotton ranches in the South West pioneered the use of Mexican wage laborers. At Taft Ranch, a 200,00-acre ranch near Corpus Christi, Texas, Mexicans, blacks, and whites labor together under the “scientific management” of Charles Phelps Taft, brother of President William Howard Taft.

Tenant farms1910

The census report on plantations revealed that in 41 counties of central and south Texas, 3,468 tenant plantations compromised 32,658 tenant farms, which represented 20.2 percent of all farms in those counties.

Sharecropping Decline1910

Through 1910 and 1930, tenant farming and sharecropping begin to decline due to a depletion in cotton crop production and the mechanization of agricultural equipment. A loss in sharecropping contracts led to a mass migration of about one million black southerners to urban cities in the north in search of manufacturing jobs.

Cotton Production in Texas1920

Almost 40% of the Texan cotton crop came from the Blackland Prairies—which made up just 8.8% of the total land area of the state.

Great Depression & the New Deal

Economic Decline1929

The economic decline produced by the Great Depression can be attributed to several things, such as a weak banking system, trade taxes, droughts, collapsing farm prices, and industrial overproduction. For roughly ten years, unemployment increased, and poverty proliferated. In 1933, the newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the New Deal series of programs. The programs acted by creating immediate economic relief, reform, and recovery to industry, agriculture, and finance. The rural New Deal programs targeted plantation zones of the South because of the inequality of wealth in those regions, which was then deemed the Nation’s #1 economic problem. The US and Mexico share a plantation heritage. The rural reform movements in the US were influenced by the changes being made in Mexico by President Lazaro Cardenas called agrarismo. Between the 1930s to 1950s, sharecropping and tenant farming have significantly declined as people moved to manufacturing jobs, farming became mechanized, and farm prices declined. There were a few farms in the South that still had sharecroppers and tenants, like the Harry and Tom Moore’s farm in Navasota, Texas.

Agricultural Act1933

By 1930, there are approximately 301,660 tenants and 105,122 sharecroppers in Texas. In 1933, the Agricultural Adjustments Act is passed as part of the New Deal. The Act boosted agricultural prices by offering farmers subsidies in exchange for limiting their production of certain crops.

Tenant Farmers Union1934

Southern Tenant Farmers Union meet in Arkansas in an attempt to organize black and white landless farmers against planters and their allies in government. In 1940, the decline of for labor continues, 204,462 tenants and 39,821 sharecroppers remain in Texas.

Bracero Program1942

The Bracero Program (Mexican Farm Labor Program) brought millions of Mexican guest workers to the United States from 1942 to 1964 because of the labor shortages due to WWII; it was the most extensive U.S. contract labor program.

“Tom Moore’s Farm”1948

Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins’ version of “Tom Moore’s Farm” is released and charted in Billboard’s Most Played Juke Box Race Records.

Moore Farm1956

The Bryan Daily Eagle reports that 65 African American Families lived and worked on Harry and Tom Moore’s farm in Navasota, Texas.

Civil Rights and Modernization

Civil Rights1960

Changes in the political and economic structure of the American government attempted to move the nation into the 21st century in a new direction. As agriculture becomes mechanized and mass-produced, segregation and civil rights of Americans pushed into question and transformation, America begins to evolve and begin to question the past that positioned it to its current state.

Key dates during this era include Brown vs Board of Education, 1963’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Moore Farm1970

Due to a contract with Frito-Lay, Moore shifts the production of his farm from cotton, to corn.

ITC Cabin1965

As mechanization and commercial demand for crops made tenant farming and sharecroppers unnecessary, Moore Farm cabins remained empty for some time. One of the empty cabins is transported to the Institute of Texan Cultures to be included in the Afro-American space on its exhibit floor.