Length: 18.1 cm
Width: 7.7 cm
Museum number: 1888,1208.265
Purchased from Alexander Cunningham
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5 dollar Planters Bank of Fairfield banknote
Winnsboro, USA, 1853
This banknote was issued by the Planters Bank in Fairfield County, South Carolina. The central vignette shows a white male overseer on horseback. Dressed in a frock coat and hat, he looks toward a group of enslaved men who stand picking cotton in a field.
Issued in 1853, just eight years before the outbreak of civil war, the contentious issue of slavery was at the forefront of local and national American politics. In South Carolina during this period, the desire to maintain a way of life supported by slavery was a strongly held conviction. The banknote design reinforces this idea with the central image of enslaved people bordered by figures showing the physical and financial rewards of slavery; rewards which would never be distributed among the people who worked hardest for them. The woman on the left, draped in a classical style holds a scythe and has a large bushel of wheat at her side, while opposite a lady looks toward the viewer dressed in the finest clothes.
Following its creation by English settlers in the seventeenth century, slaves brought forcibly from the African continent were at the very heart of the South Carolinian economy. The cotton industry required huge amounts of manual labour to satisfy an ever-increasing demand for textiles and at each point of the process, the use of enslaved men, women and children played a central role.
The production of cotton dominates representations of industry on southern banknotes to such an extent it is possible to view the entire process of its manufacture from harvesting and milling to the transportation of the final product. As criticism of slavery grew in the north, paper money offered southern banks an opportunity to promote an idealised, harmonious view of slavery, one which had little to do with the brutal reality.
R.G. Doty, Surviving Images, forgotten peoples: Native Americans, women, and African Americans on United States obsolete banknotes in The Banker’s Art, (The Trustees of the British Museum, London, 1995)
W.A. Clark, The History of the Banking Institutions Organized in South Carolina prior to 1860, (South Carolina, 1922)