Plantation life created a society with clear class divisions. A lucky few were at the top, with land holdings as far as the eyes could see. Most Southerners did not experience this degree of wealth. The contrast between rich and poor was greater in the South than in the other English colonies, because of the labor system necessary for its survival. Most Southerners were yeoman farmers, indentured servants, or slaves. The plantation system also created changes for women and family structures as well.
The tidewater aristocrats were the fortunate few who lived in stately plantation manors with hundreds of servants and slaves at their beck and call. Most plantation owners took an active part in the operations of the business. Surely they found time for leisurely activities like hunting, but on a daily basis they worked as well. The distance from one plantation to the next proved to be isolating, with consequences even for the richest class. Unlike New England, who required public schooling by law, the difficulties of travel and the distances between prospective students impeded the growth of such schools in the South. Private tutors were hired by the wealthiest families. The boys studied in the fall and winter to allow time for work in the fields during the planting times. The girls studied in the summer to allow time for weaving during the colder months. Few cities developed in the South. Consequently, there was little room for a merchant middle class. Urban professionals such as lawyers were rare in the South. Artisans often worked right on the plantation as slaves or servants.
The roles of women were dramatically changed by the plantation society. First of all, since most indentured servants were male, there were far fewer women in the colonial South. In the Chesapeake during the 1600s, men entered the colony at a rate of seven to one. From one perspective, this increased women's power. They were highly sought after by the overwhelming number of eager men. The high death rate in the region resulted in a typical marriage being dissolved by death within seven years. Consequently there was a good deal of remarriage, and a complex web of half-brothers and half-sisters evolved. Women needed to administer the property in the absence of the male. Consequently many developed managerial skills. However, being a minority had its downside. Like in New England, women were completely excluded from the political process. Female slaves and indentured servants were often the victims of aggressive male masters.