Plate 109, “Cotton. Product Per Square Mile of Total Area by Counties…,”

↑ Parent: Scribner's Statistical Atlas of the United States

Collection: Textile Museum Collection

Name: Plate 109, “Cotton. Product Per Square Mile of Total Area by Counties…,”


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Notes: Cotton grown and harvested in the southern United States was the primary source of cotton for New England textile mills in the 19th century. The origins of cotton cultivation began in coastal South Carolina during the colonial period. With the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, cotton cultivation spread rapidly across the piedmont regions of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi into Arkansas and Texas, and the heavy demand for cotton resulted in the expansion of slavery. Reflecting the need for fertile soils and a long growing season of 180 to 200 days, the geographic distribution of cotton that was established during the first half of the 19th century remained stable after the Civil War, as depicted on this statistical map based on 1880 census data.
During the Antebellum period, cotton was considered “king” of the southern economy, in part due to the demand of Northern industrialists and the textile industry. As the anti-slavery movement grew in Massachusetts in the 1840s and 1850s, the dependence of the New England textile mills on Southern cotton, and, by association, enslaved labor, grew increasingly controversial. To this end, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts observed in a speech that the textile industry was the result of an “unholy union…between the cotton planters and fleshmongers of Louisiana and Mississippi and the cotton spinners and traffickers of New England - between the lords of the lash and the lords of the loom."The accompanying bar graph depicts the value of cotton exports and imports from 1821 to 1880. Map commentary indicates the 1879 crop, which consisted of 5.8 million bales valued at $300,000,000, was the largest crop ever produced. Cotton production was based not only on large plantations utilizing enslaved labor but also on smaller family farms. When this map was published in 1883, nearly two decades after the abolition of slavery, cotton production was transitioning to smaller tenant farms and sharecropping.

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