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Antebellum South: Cotton Becomes King

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Leslie Schwalm

on 1 February 2016

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Transcript of Antebellum South: Cotton Becomes King

What was the "Cotton South," and why is it important?
How does cotton become the most
important crop produced by slave labor in the 19th century U.S.?
Impact of American


Territorial expansion

Interstate Slave Trade

The Cotton Revolution

Consumer boycotts increase value of subsistence cotton production
cotton production becomes a patriotic activity during consumer boycotts
cotton cultivation gave planters an alternate use for land and slaves
Late 18th century: mechanization of British textile industry creates expanded demand for raw cotton
Obstacle: hand-cleaning cotton
1793: Eli Whitney's improvement on exisiting cotton gin technology
1790-1860: 1 million people sold from east (MD, VA, SC) to west (GA, MISS, ALA, TENN, LA, AK, TX)
U.S. seizure of Native lands and removal of Native populations, especially 1826-1838
Migration to the South's interior
US becomes leading producer of raw cotton in the world
Impact on enslaved people:
Young women separated from families at vulnerable age
"Marriages" and families (not recognized by law) broken up
Older children separated from families
Constant source of anxiety and grief
Lack of generational depth on new farms and plantations
Increased demand for slaves
Increased value of slaves
Increased exploitation of slave laborers
Slavery at Mid-Century
of 2.5 million slaves in Southern agriculture,
73% were cultivating cotton
14% were cultivating tobacco
6% were cultivating sugar
5% were cultivating rice

In 1850:

76% of southern white families did not own slaves
80% of all slaveowners owned fewer than 20 slaves (Plantations of 20 and more slaves numbered 46,274 in 1860)
50% of all slaveowners owned only one slave
Less than 1% of all slaveowners owned 100 or more slaves (about 2300 families in a white population of 8 million)

1860: 62% of all slaves lived on plantations, 1/3 on substantial plantations of more than 50 slaves.
1860 Patterns of slaveholding:

raising mixed crops and livestock, frequently hiring skilled white labor as well as slave labor to supplement family labor and the work of a single slave owned by the family.

Enslaved people, from children
to adults, were commodified and objects of speculation
1860: the South provides 2/3 of world's supply of cotton, and cotton accounts for 60% of US exports
the growing supply of cotton increased demand for textile machinery, leading to many 19th century inventions
the South's investments in cotton fueled the insurance industry, the shipping industry, and the majority of American financial institutions North & South
Northern manufacturers depended on southern markets for factory-produced goods
US Exports
Banking and Insurance Industries
Markets for Northern Manufacturing
the growth and success of cotton agriculture relied on the commodification of enslaved African Americans--they were used to secure loans for land and more slaves; to pay debts; their sale was a source of tax revenue for local & state governments; the value of slaves was a major part of the value of each slave owner's estate. Slave labor was tortured into unprecedented levels of efficiency.
Eyre Crowe, After the Sale: Slaves Going South from Richmond, 1854. Oil on canvas.
Taylor, An American Slave Market, after 1852. Oil on canvas.
More than half of nation's antebellum exports consisted of raw cotton grown by slave labor
planters, needing $ to invest in land and slaves, drew on global capital markets from NY to London
Mapping slavery's geographic expansion:
Slave labor was tortured and deprived into
levels of efficiency and productivity unseen in any other aspect of the US economy (1820-1860, six-fold increase in productivity)
did not own slaves.
Full transcript