The Rise and Fall of Reconstruction in Virginia

Lesson 3: Sharecropping in Virginia

Time Estimated: 1 days



Students will:

  1. Compare and contrast plantations with sharecropping by analyzing and drawing maps.
  2. Define sharecropping and explain the relationship between landowners and sharecroppers.
  3. Read a sharecropping contract and discuss the terms of agreement and fairness of the contract.







  1. List vocabulary words on the board (sharecropper, landowner, and contract).
  2. Assign students to read a textbook account about sharecropping and agriculture in Virginia and the South after the Civil War.
  3. Map Strategies
    • Again focus students on the destruction after the war, emphasizing one of the critical problems the South faced after the Civil War, rebuilding their economy. Agriculture was an important part of the South’s economy. Former plantation owners still owned a lot of land but had lost their labor supply. They decided to make contracts with former slaves creating a system called sharecropping.
  4. Essential Knowledge: Students should come to an understanding of sharecropping as a system common in Virginia after the Civil War in which freedmen and poor white farmers rented land from a landowner by promising to pay the owner with a share of the crop.
  5. Display and discuss: A Plantation (1660) and Sharecropping Land (1881) in the South.
    . Point out the years noted on the map, the plantation house, slave quarters, and sharecroppers’ homes. Explain that each sharecropper and his family were responsible for farming his portion of the land (usually 30 - 40 acres).
  6. Draw your own map of a plantation and sharecropping. (Mapping Plantations and Sharecropping) Give each map a title with the year. Include the main house, cabins, land for crops, and other important buildings on the land. Ask students to display and share their maps. As a class develop a poster that lists the similarities and differences in the plantation and sharecropping systems. Students should understand that, under a plantation system, slaves lived close together in slave quarters. Under a sharecropping system, sharecroppers were spread out across the land. Changes in the agricultural system affected how and where African American agricultural laborers lived.
  7. Respond to questions as a group, in small groups, or pairs.
  8. Introduce Sharecropper Contracts. Explain to students that before freedmen could work on the land, they had to make an agreement with the landowner. This agreement had to be signed by both parties and included details about who would do what work and what supplies the sharecropper would be supplied.
  9. Display and discuss: Sharecropper Contract, 1882.
  10. Ask students to draw a landowner and his home; draw a sharecropper and his home. (Student questions for maps and contract) Explain what each party in the sharecropping contract gives and gets from the agreement.




Provide small maps for students to use instead of drawing the plantations. Provide small pictures for students to match the Sharecropping Contract. Have students draw large maps on construction paper, including a key for building and land use.