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BOOK VI

THE OLD SOUTH AND THE NEW

CHAPTER 64

COTTON AND THE OLD SOUTH

A LETTER from Eli Whitney to his friend Robert Fulton contained the following passage:

"My invention was new and distinct from every other; it stood alone. It was not interwoven with anything before known;-and I have always believed, that I should have had no difficulty in causing my rights to be respected, if it had been less valuable, and been used only by a small portion of the community." 1

The eagerness of Southern planters to grow upland cotton, after it could be ginned, almost passes belief. Five months after he had obtained his patent Whitney wrote: "We shall not be able to get machines made as fast as we shall want them. We have now Eight Hundred Thousand weight of cotton on hand and the next crop will begin to come in very soon. It will require Machines enough to clean 5 or 6 thousand wt. of clean cotton pr Day to satisfy the demand for next Year. And I expect the crop will be double another year."2 Ten years after the gin was invented he wrote: "The cotton cleaned annually with that machine sells for at least five Million of Dollars."3

This astonishing leap in cotton production of 1 Howe's Memoirs, as cited, pp. 130-131.

2 Whitney's Correspondence, as cited, p. 101.

The same, p. 122.

course arose from the fact that Whitney's gin made it possible exactly at the moment when the great series of English inventions, rounding to completion in the power-loom of Cartwright, had created an insatiable demand. As Baines said, "The spinning machinery in England gave birth to the cotton cultivation in America; and the increase of the latter is now in turn extending the application of the former. In the vast machine of commerce, the spindles of Manchester are as necessarily tied to the plow and hoe of the Mississippi, as to their own bobbins. Thus do mechanical improvements in England, and agricultural improvements in America, act and re-act upon each other: thus do distant nations become mutually dependent, and contribute to each other's wealth."4

Coöperating with this commercial coincidence occurred a large increase in Yankee ship-building. Massachusetts and Maine, for example, by exceeding, just prior to Whitney's invention, the heaviest tonnage of colonial times, enabled Tench Coxe to discredit effectually Lord Sheffield's confident prophecy that American shipping would come to an end after the colonies left the crown. By the year of Whitney's death, 1825, the domestic exports of the United States showed a value of over $66,000,000; and of this amount more than $36,000,000 arose from raw cotton shipped by the South to England.

Robert Fulton, a friend of both Whitney and Cartwright, by applying the steam-engine of Watt to override the immense ocean barrier dividing the gin from the home of the power-loom, manifolded a thousand times over the carrying power of the ships; while Samuel Slater, the British spinner, by setting

4 Baines, 317.

up from memory at Pawtucket a successful factory just three years before Whitney invented his gin, initiated in New England a demand for Southern cotton second only to that of the old England from which he had filed. It is little wonder that the South devoted itself thenceforward with undivided attention to the production of that precious commodity for which two continents clamored, and which the South alone could supply.

Certainly the life of the South from this time forward revolved around the cotton plant. Early in the spring the negroes with their multitudinous mules begin the plowing of straight, long, deep furrows in the fragrant mellow soil,-the deeper the better, since cotton has a tap-root which, if properly invited, will sink four feet in searching for fresh food and moisture. Fertilizer, consisting of manure and malodorous guano, or, in later times, expensive phosphates, is laid in the center of the "beds" thrown up by the furrows; and the time of actual planting awaited. When the first song of the "turtle dove" is heard, and the starry blooms of the dogwood light up the edge of the forest, and the frosts are thought to be over, came, in the old days, flocks of black women with hoes, scooping out the beds at rough intervals, followed by other women dropping careless handfuls of seed. The tender green plants, thrusting their way upward shortly, were thinned out, one stalk to a foot. When two or three weeks above the surface, more plowing was needful, to break the new crust of the soil, and kill weeds. Then, every three weeks thereafter, until the steaming "dog days" of August, the patient plow would break the crust again and again, so that on the larger plantations the plows never ceased, but re

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