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American Negro Slavery
The Introduction of Cotton and Sugar
by Phillips, Ulrich Bonnell

The decade following the peace of 1783 brought depression in all the plantation districts. The tobacco industry, upon which half of the Southern people depended in greater or less degree, was entering upon a half century of such wellnigh constant low prices that the opening of each new tract for its culture was offset by the abandonment of an old one, and the export remained stationary at a little less than half a million hogsheads. Indigo production was decadent; and rice culture was in painful transition to the new tide-flow system. Slave prices everywhere, like those of most other investments, were declining in so disquieting a manner that as late as the end of 1794 George Washington advised a friend to convert his slaves into other forms of property, and said on his own account: "Were it not that I am principled against selling negroes, as you would cattle in a market, I would not in twelve months hence be possessed of a single one as a slave. I shall be happily mistaken if they are not found to be a very troublesome species of property ere many years have passed over our heads."[1] But at that very time the addition of cotton and sugar to the American staples was on the point of transforming the slaveholders' prospects.
[Footnote 1: New York Public Library Bulletin, 1898, pp. 14, 15.]
For centuries cotton had been among the world's materials for cloth, though the dearth of supply kept it in smaller use than wool or flax. This continued to be the case even when the original sources in the Orient were considerably supplemented from the island of Bourbon and from the colonies of Demarara, Berbice and Surinam which dotted the tropical South American coast now known as Guiana. Then, in the latter half of the eighteenth century, the great English inventions of spinning and Weaving machinery so cheapened the manufacturing process that the world's demand for textiles was immensely stimulated. Europe was eagerly inquiring for new fiber supplies at the very time when the plantation states of America were under the strongest pressure for a new source of income.

The green-seed, short-staple variety of cotton had long been cultivated for domestic use in the colonies from New Jersey to Georgia, but on such a petty scale that spinners occasionally procured supplies from abroad. Thus George Washington, who amid his many activities conducted a considerable cloth-making establishment, wrote to his factor in 1773 that a bale of cotton received from England had been damaged in transit.[2] The cutting off of the foreign trade during the war for independence forced the Americans to increase their cotton production to supply their necessities for apparel. A little of it was even exported at the end of the war, eight bags of which are said to have been seized by the customs officers at Liverpool in 1784 on the ground that since America could not produce so great a quantity the invoice must be fraudulent. But cotton was as yet kept far from staple rank by one great obstacle, the lack of a gin. The fibers of the only variety at hand clung to the seed as fast as the wool to the sheep's back. It had to be cut or torn away; and because the seed-tufts were so small, this operation when performed by hand was exceedingly slow and correspondingly expensive. The preparation of a pound or two of lint a day was all that a laborer could accomplish.
[Footnote 2: MS. in the Library of Congress, Washington letter-books, XVII, 90.]
The problem of the time had two possible solutions; the invention of a machine for cleaning the lint from the seed of the sort already at hand, or the introduction of some different variety whose lint was more lightly attached. Both solutions were applied, and the latter first in point of time though not in point of importance.

About 1786 seed of several strains was imported from as many quarters by planters on the Georgia-Carolina coast. Experiments with the Bourbon variety, which yielded the finest lint then in the market, showed that the growing season was too short for the ripening of its pods; but seed procured from the Bahama Islands, of the sort which has ever since been known as sea-island, not only made crops but yielded a finer fiber than they had in their previous home. This introduction was accomplished by the simultaneous experiments of several planters on the Georgia coast. Of these, Thomas Spaulding and Alexander Bissett planted the seed in 1786 but saw their plants fail to ripen any pods that year. But the ensuing winter happened to be so mild that, although the cotton is not commonly a perennial outside the tropics, new shoots grew from the old roots in the following spring and yielded their crop in the fall.[3] Among those who promptly adopted the staple was Richard Leake, who wrote from Savannah at the end of 1788 to Tench Coxe: "I have been this year an adventurer, and the first that has attempted on a large scale, in the article of cotton. Several here as well as in Carolina have followed me and tried the experiment. I shall raise about 5000 pounds in the seed from about eight acres of land, and the next year I expect to plant from fifty to one hundred acres."[4]
[Footnote 3: Letter of Thomas Spaulding, Sapelo Island, Georgia, Jan. 20, 1844, to W.B. Scabrook, in J.A. Turner, ed., The Cotton Planter's Manual (New York, 1857), pp. 280-286.]

[Footnote 4: E.J. Donnell, Chronological and Statistical History of Cotton (New York, 1872), p. 45.]
The first success in South Carolina appears to have been attained by William Elliott, on Hilton Head near Beaufort, in 1790. He bought five and a half bushels of seed in Charleston at 14s per bushel, and sold his crop at 10-1/2d per pound. In the next year John Screven of St. Luke's parish planted thirty or forty acres, and sold his yield at from 1s. 2d. to 1s. 6d. sterling per pound. Many other planters on the islands and the adjacent mainland now joined the movement. Some of them encountered failure, among them General Moultrie of Revolutionary fame who planted one hundred and fifty acres in St. John's Berkeley in 1793 and reaped virtually nothing.[5]
[Footnote 5: Whitemarsh B. Seabrook, Memoir on the Origin, Cultivation and Uses of Cotton (Charleston, 1844), pp. 19, 20.]
The English market came promptly to esteem the long, strong, silky sea-island fiber as the finest of all cottons; and the prices at Liverpool rose before the end of the century to as high as five shillings a pound. This brought fortunes in South Carolina. Captain James Sinkler from a crop of three hundred acres on his plantation, "Belvedere," in 1794 gathered 216 pounds to the acre, which at prices ranging from fifty to seventy-five cents a pound brought him a gross return of $509 per laborer employed.[6] Peter Gaillard of St. John's Berkeley received for his crop of the same year an average of $340 per hand; and William Brisbane of St. Paul's earned so much in the three years from 1796 to 1798 that he found himself rich enough to retire from work and spend several years in travel at the North and abroad. He sold his plantation to William Seabrook at a price which the neighbors thought ruinously high, but Seabrook recouped the whole of it from the proceeds of two years' crops.[7]
[Footnote 6: Samuel DuBose, Address delivered before the Black Oak Agricultural Society, April 28, 1858, in T.G. Thomas, The Huguenots of South Carolina (New York, 1887).]

[Footnote 7: W.B. Seabrook, Memoir on Cotton, p. 20.]
The methods of tillage were quickly systematized. Instead of being planted, as at first, in separate holes, the seed came to be drilled and plants grown at intervals of one or two feet on ridges five or six feet apart; and the number of hoeings was increased. But the thinner fruiting of this variety prevented the planters from attaining generally more than about half the output per acre which their upland colleagues came to reap from their crops of the shorter staple. A hundred and fifty pounds to the acre and three or four acres to the hand was esteemed a reasonable crop on the seaboard.[8] The exports of the sea-island staple rose by 1805 to nearly nine million pounds, but no further expansion occurred until 1819 when an increase carried the exports for a decade to about eleven million pounds a year. In the course of the twenties Kinsey Burden and Hugh Wilson, both of St. John's Colleton, began breeding superfine fiber through seed selection, with such success that the latter sold two of his bales in 1828 at the unequaled price of two dollars a pound. The practice of raising fancy grades became fairly common after 1830, with the result, however, that for the following decade the exports fell again to about eight million pounds a year.[9]
[Footnote 8: John Drayton, View of South Carolina (Charleston, 1802), p. 132; J.A. Turner, ed., Cotton Planter's Manual, pp. 129, 131.]

[Footnote 9: Seabrook, pp. 35-37, 53.]
Sea-island cotton, with its fibers often measuring more than two inches in length, had the advantages of easy detachment from its glossy black seed by squeezing it between a pair of simple rollers, and of a price for even its common grades ranging usually more than twice that of the upland staple. The disadvantages were the slowness of the harvesting, caused by the failure of the bolls to open wide; the smallness of the yield; and the necessity of careful handling at all stages in preparing the lint for market. Climatic requirements, furthermore, confined its culture within a strip thirty or forty miles wide along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. In the first flush of the movement some of the rice fields were converted to cotton;[10] but experience taught the community ere long that the labor expense in the new industry absorbed too much of the gross return for it to displace rice from its primacy in the district.
[Footnote 10: F.A. Michaux, Travels, in R.G. Thwaites, ed., Early Western Travels, III, 303.]
In the Carolina-Georgia uplands the industrial and social developments of the eighteenth century had been in marked contrast with those on the seaboard. These uplands, locally known as the Piedmont, were separated from the tide-water tract by a flat and sandy region, the "pine barrens," a hundred miles or more in breadth, where the soil was generally too light for prosperous agriculture before the time when commercial fertilizers came into use. The Piedmont itself is a rolling country, extending without a break from Virginia to Alabama and from the mountains of the Blue Ridge to the line of the lowest falls on the rivers. The soil of mingled clay and sand was originally covered with rich forest mold. The climate was moderately suited to a great variety of crops; but nothing was found for which it had a marked superiority until short-staple cotton was made available.

In the second half of the eighteenth century this region had come to be occupied in scattered homesteads by migrants moving overland from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, extending their régime of frontier farms until the stubborn Creek and Cherokee Indian tribes barred further progress. Later comers from the same northeastward sources, some of them bringing a few slaves, had gradually thickened the settlement without changing materially its primitive system of life. Not many recruits had entered from the rice coast in colonial times, for the régime there was not such as to produce pioneers for the interior. The planters, unlike those of Maryland and Virginia, had never imported appreciable numbers of indentured servants to become in after years yeomen and fathers of yeomen; the slaves begat slaves alone to continue at their masters' bidding; and the planters themselves had for the time being little inducement to forsake the lowlands. The coast and the Piedmont were unassociated except by a trickle of trade by wagon and primitive river-boat across the barrens. The capture of Savannah and Charleston by the British during the War for Independence, however, doubtless caused a number of the nearby inhabitants to move into the Piedmont as refugees, carrying their slaves with them.

The commercial demands of the early settlers embraced hardly anything beyond salt, ammunition and a little hardware. The forest and their half-cleared fields furnished meat and bread; workers in the households provided rude furniture and homespun; and luxuries, except home-made liquors, were unknown. But the time soon came when zealous industry yielded more grain and cattle than each family needed for its own supply. The surplus required a market, which the seaboard was glad to furnish. The road and river traffic increased, and the procurement of miscellaneous goods from the ports removed the need of extreme diversity in each family's work. This treeing of energy led in turn to a search for more profitable market crops. Flax and hemp were tried, and tobacco with some success. Several new villages were founded, indeed, on the upper courses of the rivers to serve as stations for the inspection and shipment of tobacco; but their budding hopes of prosperity from that staple were promptly blighted. The product was of inferior grade, the price was low, and the cost of freightage high. The export from Charleston rose from 2680 hogsheads in 1784 to 9646 in 1799, but rapidly declined thereafter. Tobacco, never more than a makeshift staple, was gladly abandoned for cotton at the first opportunity.[11]
[Footnote 11: U.B. Phillips, History of Transportation in the Eastern Cotton Belt to 1860 (New York, 1908), pp. 46-55.]
At the time of the federal census of 1790 there were in the main group of upland counties of South Carolina, comprised then in the two "districts" of Camden and Ninety-six, a total of 91,704 white inhabitants, divided into 15,652 families. Of these 3787 held slaves to the number of 19,934--an average of 5-1/4 slaves in each holding. No more than five of these parcels comprised as many as one hundred slaves each, and only 156 masters, about four per cent, of the whole, had as many as twenty each. These larger holdings, along with the 335 other parcels ranging from ten to nineteen slaves each, were of course grouped mainly in the river counties in the lower part of the Piedmont, while the smallest holdings were scattered far and wide. That is to say, there was already discoverable a tendency toward a plantation régime in the localities most accessible to market, while among the farmers about one in four had one or more slaves to aid in the family's work. The Georgia Piedmont, for which the returns of the early censuses have been lost, probably had a somewhat smaller proportion of slaves by reason of its closer proximity to the Indian frontier.

A sprinkling of slaves was enough to whet the community's appetite for opportunities to employ them with effect and to buy more slaves with the proceeds. It is said that in 1792 some two or three million pounds of short-staple cotton was gathered in the Piedmont,[12] perhaps in anticipation of a practicable gin, and that the state of Georgia had appointed a commission to promote the desired invention.[13] It is certain that many of the citizens were discussing the problem when in the spring of 1793 young Eli Whitney, after graduating at Yale College, left his home in Massachusetts intending to teach school in the South. While making a visit at the home of General Greene's widow, near Savannah, he listened to a conversation on the subject by visitors from upland Georgia, and he was urged by Phineas Miller, the manager of the Greene estate, to apply his Yankee ingenuity to the solution. When Miller offered to bear the expenses of the project, Whitney set to work, and within ten days made a model which met the essential requirements. This comprised a box with a slatted side against which a wooden cylinder studded with wire points was made to play. When seed cotton was fed into the box and the cylinder was revolved, the sharp wires passing between the slats would engage the lint and pull it through as they passed out in the further revolution of the cylinder. The seed, which were too large to pass through the grating, would stay within the hopper until virtually all the wool was torn off, whereupon they would fall through a crevice on the further side. The minor problem which now remained of freeing the cylinder's teeth from their congestion of lint found a solution in Mrs. Greene's stroke with a hearth-broom. Whitney, seizing the principle, equipped his machine with a second cylinder studded with brushes, set parallel to the first but revolving in an opposite direction and at a greater speed. This would sweep the teeth clean as fast as they emerged lint-laden from the hopper. Thus was the famous cotton-gin devised.[14]
[Footnote 12: Letter of Phineas Miller to the Comptroller of South Carolina, in the American Historical Review, III, 115.]

[Footnote 13: M.B. Hammond, The Cotton Industry (New York, 1807), p. 23.]

[Footnote 14: Denison Olmstead, Memoir of Eli Whitney, Esq. (New Haven, 1846), reprinted in J.A. Turner, ed., Cotton Planter's Manual, pp. 297-320. M.B. Hammond, The Cotton Industry, pp. 25, 26.]
Miller, who now married Mrs. Greene, promptly entered into partnership with Whitney not only to manufacture gins but also to monopolize the business of operating them, charging one-third of the cotton as toll. They even ventured into the buying and selling of the staple on a large scale. Miller wrote Whitney in 1797, for example, that he was trying to raise money for the purchase of thirty or forty thousand pounds of seed cotton at the prevailing price of three cents, and was projecting a trade in the lint to far-off Tennessee.[15] By this time the partners had as many as thirty gins in operation at various points in Georgia; but misfortune had already begun to pursue them. Their shop on the Greene plantation had been forced by a mob even before their patent was procured in 1793, and Jesse Bull, Charles M. Lin and Edward Lyons, collaborating near Wrightsboro, soon put forth an improved gin in which saw-toothed iron discs replaced the wire points of the Whitney model.[16] Whitney had now returned to New Haven to establish a gin factory, and Miller wrote him in 1794 urging prompt shipments and saying: "The people of the country are running mad for them, and much can be said to justify their importunity. When the present crop is harvested there will be a real property of at least fifty thousand dollars lying useless unless we can enable the holders to bring it to market," But an epidemic prostrated Whitney's workmen that year, and a fire destroyed his factory in 1795. Meanwhile rival machines were appearing in the market, and Whitney and Miller were beginning their long involvement in lawsuits. Their overreaching policy of monopolizing the operation of their gins turned public sentiment against them and inclined the juries, particularly in Georgia, to decide in favor of their opponents. Not until 1807, when their patent was on the point of expiring did they procure a vindication in the Georgia courts. Meanwhile a grant of $50,000 from the legislature of South Carolina to extinguish the patent right in that state, and smaller grants from North Carolina and Tennessee did little more than counterbalance expenses.[17] A petition which Whitney presented to Congress in 1812 for a renewal of his expired patent was denied, and Whitney turned his talents to the manufacture of muskets.
[Footnote 15: American Historical Review. Ill, 104.]

[Footnote 16: J.A. Turner, ed., Cotton Planter's Manual, pp. 289, 290, 293-295.]

[Footnote 17: M.B. Hammond, "Correspondence of Eli Whitney relating to the Invention of the Cotton Gin," in the American Historical Review, III, 90-127.]
In Georgia the contest of lawyers in the courts was paralleled by a battle of advertisers in the newspapers. Thomas Spaulding offered to supply Joseph Eve's gins from the Bahama Islands at fifty guineas each;[18] and Eve himself shortly immigrated to Augusta to contend for his patent rights on roller-gins, for some of his workmen had changed his model in such a way as to increase the speed, and had put their rival gins upon the market.[19] Among these may have been John Currie, who offered exclusive county rights at $100 each for the making, using and vending of his type of gins,[20] also William Longstreet of Augusta who offered to sell gins of his own devising at $150 each,[21] and Robert Watkins of the short-lived town of Petersburg, Georgia, who denounced Longstreet as an infringer of his patent and advertised local non-exclusive rights for making and using his own style of gins at the bargain rate of sixty dollars.[22] All of these were described as roller gins; but all were warranted to gin upland as well as sea-island cotton.[23] By the year 1800 Miller and Whitney had also adopted the practice of selling licenses in Georgia, as is indicated by an advertisement from their agent at Augusta. Meanwhile ginners were calling for negro boys and girls ten or twelve years old on hire to help at the machines;[24] and were offering to gin for a toll of one-fifth of the cotton.[25] As years passed the rates were still further lowered. At Augusta in 1809, for example, cotton was ginned and packed in square bales of 350 pounds at a cost of $1.50 per hundredweight.[26]
[Footnote 18: Columbian Museum (Savannah, Ga.), April 26, 1796.]

[Footnote 19: J.A. Turner, ed., Cotton Planter's Manual, p. 281.]

[Footnote 20: Augusta, Ga., Chronicle, Dec. 10, 1796.]

[Footnote 21: Southern Sentinel (Augusta, Ga.), July 14, 1796.]

[Footnote 22: Ibid., Feb. 7, 1797; Augusta Chronicle, June 10, 1797.]

[Footnote 23: Augusta Chronicle, Dec. 13, 1800.]

[Footnote 24: Southern Sentinel, April 23, 1795.]

[Footnote 25: Augusta Chronicle, Jan. 16, 1796.]

[Footnote 26: Ibid., Sept. 9, 1809.]
The upland people of Georgia and the two Carolinas made prompt response to the new opportunity. By 1800 even Tennessee had joined the movement, and a gin of such excellence was erected near Nashville that the proprietors exacted fees from visitors wishing to view it;[27] and by 1802 not only were consignments being shipped to New Orleans for the European market, but part of the crop was beginning to be peddled in wagons to Kentucky and in pole-boats on the Ohio as far as Pittsburg, for the domestic making of homespun.[28] In 1805 John Baird advertised at Nashville that, having received a commission from correspondents at Baltimore, he was ready to buy as much as one hundred thousand pounds of lint at fifteen cents a pound.[29] In the settlements about Vicksburg in the Mississippi Territory, cotton was not only the staple product by 1809, but was also for the time being the medium of exchange, while in Arkansas the squatters were debarred from the new venture only by the poverty which precluded them from getting gins.[30] In Virginia also, in such of the southerly counties as had summers long enough for the crop to ripen in moderate security, cotton growing became popular. But for the time being these were merely an out-lying fringe of cotton's principality. The great rush to cotton growing prior to the war of 1812 occurred in the Carolina-Georgia Piedmont, with its trend of intensity soon pointing south-westward.
[Footnote 27: Tennessee Gazette (Nashville, Tenn.), April 9, 1800.]

[Footnote 28: F.A. Michaux in Thwaites, ed., Early Western Travels, III, 252.]

[Footnote 29: Tennessee Gazette, March 27, 1805.]

[Footnote 30: F. Cuming, Tour to the Western Country (Pittsburg, 1810), in Thwaites, ed., Early Western Travels, IV, 272, 280, 298.]
A shrewd contemporary observer found special reason to rejoice that the new staple required no large capital and involved no exposure to disease. Rice and indigo, said he, had offered the poorer whites, except the few employed as overseers, no livelihood "without the degradation of working with slaves"; but cotton, stimulating and elevating these people into the rank of substantial farmers, tended "to fill the country with an independent industrious yeomanry."[31] True as this was, it did not mean that producers on a plantation scale were at a disadvantage. Settlers of every type, in fact, adopted the crop as rapidly as they could get seed and ginning facilities, and newcomers poured in apace to share the prosperity.
[Footnote 31: David Ramsay, History of South Carolina (Charleston, 1808), II, 448-9.]
The exports mounted swiftly, but the world's market readily absorbed them at rising prices until 1801 when the short-staple output was about forty million pounds and the price at the ports about forty-four cents a pound. A trade in slaves promptly arose to meet the eager demand for labor; and migrants coming from the northward and the rice coast brought additional slaves in their train. General Wade Hampton was the first conspicuous one of these. With the masterful resolution which always characterized him, he carried his great gang from the seaboard to the neighborhood of Columbia and there in 1799 raised six hundred of the relatively light weight bales of that day on as many acres.[32] His crop was reckoned to have a value of some ninety thousand dollars.[33]
[Footnote 32: Seabrook, pp. 16, 17.]

[Footnote 33: Note made by L. C Draper from the Louisville, Ga., Gazette, Draper MSS., series VV, vol. XVI, p. 84, Wisconsin Historical Society.]
The general run of the upland cultivators, however, continued as always to operate on a minor scale; and the high cost of transportation caused them generally to continue producing miscellaneous goods to meet their domestic needs. The diversified régime is pictured in Michaux's description of a North Carolina plantation in 1802: "In eight hundred acres of which it is composed, a hundred and fifty are cultivated in cotton, Indian corn, wheat and oats, and dunged annually, which is a great degree of perfection in the present state of agriculture in this part of the country. Independent of this [the proprietor] has built in his yard several machines that the same current of water puts in motion; they consist of a corn mill, a saw mill, another to separate the cotton seeds, a tan-house, a tan-mill, a distillery to make peach brandy, and a small forge where the inhabitants of the country go to have their horses shod. Seven or eight negro slaves are employed in the different departments, some of which are only occupied at certain periods of the year. Their wives are employed under the direction of the mistress in manufacturing cotton and linen for the use of the family."[34]
[Footnote 34: F.A. Michaux in Thwaites, ed., Early Western Travels, III, 292.]
The speed of the change to a general slaveholding régime in the uplands may easily be exaggerated. In those counties of South Carolina which lay wholly within the Piedmont the fifteen thousand slaves on hand in 1790 formed slightly less than one-fifth of the gross population there. By 1800 the number of slaves increased by seventy per cent., and formed nearly one-fourth of the gross; in the following decade they increased by ninety per cent., until they comprised one-third of the whole; from 1810 to 1820 their number grew at the smaller rate of fifty per cent, and reached two-fifths of the whole; and by 1830, with a further increase of forty per cent., the number of slaves almost overtook that of the whites. The slaves were then counted at 101,982, the whites at 115,318, and the free negroes at 2,115. In Georgia the slave proportion grew more rapidly than this because it was much smaller at the outset; in North Carolina, on the other hand, the rise was less marked because cotton never throve there so greatly.

In its industrial requirements cotton was much closer to tobacco than to rice or sugar. There was no vital need for large units of production. On soils of the same quality the farmer with a single plow, if his family did the hoeing and picking, was on a similar footing with the greatest planter as to the output per hand, and in similar case as to cost of production per bale. The scale of cotton-belt slaveholdings rose not because free labor was unsuited to the industry but because slaveholders from the outside moved in to share the opportunity and because every prospering non-slaveholder and small slaveholder was eager to enlarge his personal scale of operations. Those who could save generally bought slaves with their savings; those who could not, generally continued to raise cotton nevertheless.

The gross cotton output, in which the upland crop greatly and increasingly outweighed that of the sea-island staple, rapidly advanced from about forty-eight million pounds in 1801 to about eighty million in 1806; then it was kept stationary by the embargo and the war of 1812, until the return of peace and open trade sent it up by leaps and bounds again. The price dropped abruptly from an average of forty-four cents in the New York market in 1801 to nineteen cents in 1802, but there was no further decline until the beginning of the war with Great Britain.[35]
[Footnote 35: M.B. Hammond, The Cotton Industry, table following p. 357.]
Cotton's absorption of the people's energies already tended to become excessive. In 1790 South Carolina had sent abroad a surplus of corn from the back country measuring well over a hundred thousand bushels. But by 1804 corn brought in brigs was being advertised in Savannah to meet the local deficit;[36] and in the spring of 1807 there seems to have been a dearth of grain in the Piedmont itself. At that time an editorial in the Augusta Chronicle ran as follows: "A correspondent would recommend to the planters of Georgia, now the season is opening, to raise more corn and less cotton ... The dear bought experience of the present season should teach us to be more provident for the future." [37] Under the conditions of the time this excess at the expense of grain was likely to correct itself at once, for men and their draught animals must eat to work, and in the prevailing lack of transportation facilities food could not be brought from a distance at a price within reach. The systematic basis of industry was the production, whether by planters or farmers, of such food as was locally needed and such supplies of cloth together with such other outfit as it was economical to make at home, and the devotion of all further efforts to the making of cotton.
[Footnote 36: Savannah Museum, April n, 1804.]

[Footnote 37: Reprinted in the Farmer's Gazette (Sparta, Ga.), April 11, 1807.]
Coincident with the rise of cotton culture in the Atlantic states was that of sugar in the delta lands of southeastern Louisiana. In this triangular district, whose apex is the junction of the Red and Mississippi rivers, the country is even more amphibious than the rice coast. Everywhere in fact the soil is too waterlogged for tillage except close along the Father of Waters himself and his present or aforetime outlets. Settlement must, therefore, take the form of strings of plantations and farms on these elevated riparian strips, with the homesteads fronting the streams and the fields stretching a few hundred or at most a few thousand yards to the rear; and every new establishment required its own levee against the flood. So long as there were great areas of unrestricted flood-plain above Vicksburg to impound the freshets and lower their crests, the levees below required no great height or strength; but the tasks of reclamation were at best arduous enough to make rapid expansion depend upon the spur of great expectations.

The original colony of the French, whose descendants called themselves Creoles, was clustered about the town of New Orleans. A short distance up stream the river banks in the parishes of St. Charles and St. John the Baptist were settled at an early period by German immigrants; thence the settlements were extended after the middle of the eighteenth century, first by French exiles from Acadia, next by Creole planters, and finally by Anglo-Americans who took their locations mostly above Baton Rouge. As to the westerly bayous, the initial settlers were in general Acadian small farmers. Negro slaves were gradually introduced into all these districts, though the Creoles, who were the most vigorous of the Latin elements, were the chief importers of them. Their numbers at the close of the colonial period equalled those of the whites, and more than a tenth of them had been emancipated.

The people in the later eighteenth century were drawing their livelihoods variously from hunting, fishing, cattle raising and Indian trading, from the growing of grain and vegetables for sale to the boatmen and townsmen, and from the production of indigo on a somewhat narrow margin of profit as the principal export crop. Attempts at sugar production had been made in 1725 and again in 1762, but the occurrence of winter frosts before the cane was fully ripe discouraged the enterprise; and in most years no more cane was raised than would meet the local demand for sirup and rum. In the closing decades of the century, however, worm pests devoured the indigo leaves with such thoroughness as to make harvesting futile; and thereby the planters were driven to seek an alternative staple. Projects of cotton were baffled by the lack of a gin, and recourse was once more had to sugar. A Spaniard named Solis had built a small mill below New Orleans in 1791 and was making sugar with indifferent success when, in 1794-1795, Etienne de Boré, a prominent Creole whose estate lay just above the town, bought a supply of seed cane from Solis, planted a large field with it, engaged a professional sugar maker, and installed grinding and boiling apparatus against the time of harvest. The day set for the test brought a throng of onlookers whose joy broke forth at the sight of crystals in the cooling fluid--for the good fortune of Boré, who received some $12,000 for his crop of 1796, was an earnest of general prosperity.

Other men of enterprise followed the resort to sugar when opportunity permitted them to get seed cane, mills and cauldrons. In spite of a dearth of both capital and labor and in spite of wartime restrictions on maritime commerce, the sugar estates within nine years reached the number of eighty-one, a good many of which were doubtless the property of San Domingan refugees who were now pouring into the province with whatever slaves and other movables they had been able to snatch from the black revolution. Some of these had fled first to Cuba and after a sojourn there, during which they found the Spanish government oppressive, removed afresh to Louisiana. As late as 1809 the year's immigration from the two islands was reported by the mayor of New Orleans to the governor of Louisiana at 2,731 whites and 3,102 free persons of color, together with 3,226 slaves warranted as the property of the free immigrants.[38] The volume of the San Domingan influx from first to last was great enough to double the French-speaking population. The newcomers settled mainly in the New Orleans neighborhood, the whites among them promptly merging themselves with the original Creole population. By reason of their previous familiarity with sugar culture they gave additional stimulus to that industry.
[Footnote 38: Moniteur de la Louisiane (New Orleans), Jan. 27 and Mch. 24, 1810.]
Meanwhile the purchase of Louisiana by the United States in 1803 had transformed the political destinies of the community and considerably changed its economic prospects. After prohibiting in 1804 the importation into the territory of any slaves who had been brought from Africa since 1798, Congress passed a new act in 1805 which, though probably intended to continue the prohibition, was interpreted by the attorney-general to permit the inhabitants to bring in any slaves whatever from any place within the United States.[39] This news was published with delight by the New Orleans newspapers at the end of February, 1806;[40] and from that time until the end of the following year their columns bristled with advertisements of slaves from African cargoes "just arrived from Charleston." Of these the following, issued by the firm of Kenner and Henderson, June 24, 1806, is an example: "The subscribers offer for sale 74 prime slaves of the Fantee nation on board the schooner Reliance, I. Potter master, from Charleston, now lying opposite this city. The sales will commence on the 25th. inst. at 9 o'clock A.M., and will continue from day to day until the whole is sold.[41] Good endorsed notes will be taken in payment, payable the 1st. of January, 1807. Also [for sale] the above mentioned schooner Reliance, burthen about 60 tons, completely fitted for an African voyage."
[Footnote 39: W.E.B. DuBois, Suppression of the African Slave Trade, pp. 87-90. The acts of 1804 and 1805 are printed in B.P. Poore, Charters and Constitutions (Washington, 1877), I, 691-697.]

[Footnote 40: Louisiana Gazette, Feb. 28, 1806.]

[Footnote 41: Louisiana Gazette, July 4, 1806.]
Upon the prohibition of the African trade at large in 1808, the slave demand of the sugar parishes was diverted to the Atlantic plantation states where it served to advertise the Louisiana boom. Wade Hampton of South Carolina responded in 1811 by carrying a large force of his slaves to establish a sugar estate of his own at the head of Bayou Lafourche, and a few others followed his example. The radical difference of the industrial methods in sugar from those in the other staples, however, together with the predominance of the French language, the Catholic religion and a Creole social régime in the district most favorable for sugar, made Anglo-Americans chary of the enterprise; and the revival of cotton prices after 1815 strengthened the tendency of migrating planters to stay within the cotton latitudes. Many of those who settled about Baton Rouge and on the Red River with cotton as their initial concern shifted to sugar at the end of the 'twenties, however, in response to the tariff of 1828 which heightened sugar prices at a time when the cotton market was depressed. This was in response, also, to the introduction of ribbon cane which matured earlier than the previously used Malabar and Otaheite varieties and could accordingly be grown in a somewhat higher latitude.

The territorial spread was mainly responsible for the sudden advance of the number of sugar estates from 308 operating in 1827, estimated as employing 21,000 able-bodied slaves and having a gross value of $34,000,000, to 691 plantations in 1830,[42] with some 36,000 working slaves and a gross value of $50,000,000. At this time the output was at the rate of about 75,000 hogsheads containing 1,000 pounds of sugar each, together with some forty or fifty gallons of molasses per hogshead as a by-product. Louisiana was at this time supplying about half of the whole country's consumption of sugar and bade fair to meet the whole demand ere long.[43] The reduction of protective tariff rates, coming simultaneously with a rise of cotton prices, then checked the spread of the sugar industry, and the substitution of steam engines for horse power in grinding the cane caused some consolidation of estates. In 1842 accordingly, when the slaves numbered 50,740 and the sugar crop filled 140,000 hogsheads, the plantations were but 668.[44] The raising of the tariff anew in that year increased the plantations to 762 in 1845 and they reached their maximum number of 1,536 in 1849, when more than half of their mills were driven by steam[45] and their slaves numbered probably somewhat more than a hundred thousand of all ages.[46] Thereafter the recovery of the cotton market from the severe depression of the early 'forties caused a strong advance in slave prices which again checked the sugar spread, while the introduction of vacuum pans and other improvements in apparatus[47] promoted further consolidations. The number of estates accordingly diminished to 1,298 in 1859, on 987 of which the mills were steam driven, and on 52 of which the extraction and evaporation of the sugar was done by one sort or another of the newly invented devices. The gross number of slaves in the sugar parishes was nearly doubled between 1830 and 1850, but in the final ante-bellum decade it advanced only at about the rate of natural increase.[48] The sugar output advanced to 200,000 hogsheads in 1844 and to 450,000 in 1853. Bad seasons then reduced it to 74,000 in 1856; and the previous maximum was not equaled in the remaining ante-bellum years.[49] The liability of the crop to damage from drought and early frost, and to destruction from the outpouring of the Mississippi through crevasses in the levees, explains the fluctuations in the yield. Outside of Louisiana the industry took no grip except on the Brazos River in Texas, where in 1858 thirty-seven plantations produced about six thousand hogsheads.[50]
[Footnote 42: DeBow's Review, I, 55.]

[Footnote 43: V. Debouchel, Histoire de la Louisiane (New Orleans, 1851), pp. 151 ff.]

[Footnote 44: E.J. Forstall, Agricultural Productions of Louisiana (New Orleans, 1845).]

[Footnote 45: P.A. Champonier, Statement of the Sugar Crop Made in Louisiana (New Orleans, annual, 1848-1859).]

[Footnote 46: DeBow, in the Compendium of the Seventh Census, p. 94, estimated the sugar plantation slaves at 150,000; but this is clearly an overestimate.]

[Footnote 47: Some of these are described by Judah P. Benjamin in DeBow's Review, II, 322-345.]

[Footnote 48: I. e. from 150,000 to 180,000.]

[Footnote 49: The crop of 1853, indeed, was not exceeded until near the close of the nineteenth century.]

[Footnote 50: P.A. Champonier, Statement of the Sugar Crop ... in 1858-1859, p. 40.]
In Louisiana in the banner year 1853, with perfect weather and no crevasses, each of some 50,000 able-bodied field hands cultivated, besides the incidental food crops, about five acres of cane on the average and produced about nine hogsheads of sugar and three hundred gallons of molasses per head. On certain specially favored estates, indeed, the product reached as much as fifteen hogsheads per hand[51]. In the total of 1407 fully equipped plantations 103 made less than one hundred hogsheads each, while forty produced a thousand hogsheads or more. That year's output, however, was nearly twice the size of the average crop in the period. A dozen or more proprietors owned two or more estates each, some of which were on the largest scale, while at the other extreme several dozen farmers who had no mills of their own sent cane from their few acres to be worked up in the spare time of some obliging neighbor's mill. In general the bulk of the crop was made on plantations with cane fields ranging from rather more than a hundred to somewhat less than a thousand acres, and with each acre producing in an ordinary year somewhat more than a hogshead of sugar.
[Footnote 51: DeBow's Review, XIV, 199, 200.]
Until about 1850 the sugar district as well as the cotton belt was calling for labor from whatever source it might be had; but whereas the uplands had work for people of both races and all conditions, the demand of the delta lands, to which the sugar crop was confined, was almost wholly for negro slaves. The only notable increase in the rural white population of the district came through the fecundity of the small-farming Acadians who had little to do with sugar culture.


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