The term planters usually refers to an Anglo-American landowner holding twenty or more slaves during the colonial and antebellum periods of American history. This definition should not be taken as hard and fast, however, since other murky categories such as large landowners, great planters, and middling planters cloud the picture. Before 1776, this elite social class was most relevant to the development of Southern colonies and the Caribbean, though some arguments could be made for the inclusion of the mid-Atlantic colonies.
Interestingly, because slavery did not exist in England or elsewhere in Great Britain, the category of planter seems to be unique to the New World. Planters from the Chesapeake, the lower South, and the Caribbean varied in their methods of pursuing wealth, but all relied on the labor of African slaves. As the eighteenth century progressed, some planters, particularly in Virginia’s tidewater region, became enamored with patriotic thought, which in part explains why they so fervently supported the movement toward independence. Planters also held a large percentage of colonial America’s wealth and exerted a great deal of its political influence.