The era of plantation mansion construction in the U.S. South ran roughly from the 1770’s until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1860. The rich plantation owners (farmers that had more than 50 slaves) grew a variety of crops which were for the most part exported to Europe. The main crop however was cotton. The plantation owners built big houses, many of which fall into the category of mansions.
It must always be remembered much of the wealth acquired by these plantation owners came on the backs of Black slaves.
The Cotton Belt
In colonial Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, the earliest plantation houses tended to follow British-derived folk forms such as the hall and parlor house-type and central-passage house-type.
Grander structures during the later colonial period usually conformed to the neoclassically-influenced Georgian and Palladian styles, although some very early and rare Jacobean structures survive in Virginia. Following the Revolutionary War, Federal and Jeffersonian-type neoclassicism became dominant in formal plantation architecture.
When the cotton boom years began in the 1830s, the United States was entering its second neoclassical phase, with Greek Revival architecture being the dominant style. By this point trained architects were also becoming more common, and several introduced the style to the South. Whereas the earlier Federal and Jeffersonian neoclassicism displayed an almost feminine lightness, academic Greek Revival was very masculine, with a heaviness not seen in the earlier styles.
Greek Revival would remain a favorite architectural style in the agrarian South until well after the Civil War, but other styles had appeared in the nation about the same time as Greek Revival or soon afterward. These were primarily the Italianate and Gothic Revival. They were slower to be adopted in whole for domestic plantation architecture, but they can be seen in a fusion of stylistic influences. Houses that were basically Greek Revival in character sprouted Italianate towers, bracketed eaves, or adopted the asymmetrical massing characteristic of that style.