What is: fields and fields and fields of cotton…some growing, some harvested, some planted.

What was: “Cotton is King” In the years before the Civil War—American planters in the South continued to grow tobacco and rice but Cotton emerged as the antebellum South’s major commercial crop. Cotton was one of the world’s first luxury commodities, after sugar and tobacco. By 1860, the southern states were producing two-thirds of the world’s cotton.

In 1793, Eli Whitney revolutionized the production of cotton when he invented the cotton gin, a device that separated the seeds from raw cotton, rather than requiring all manual labor. The cotton gin allowed a slave to remove the seeds from fifty pounds of cotton a day, compared to one pound if done by hand. After the seeds had been removed, the cotton was pressed into bales. These bales, weighing about four hundred to five hundred pounds, were wrapped in burlap cloth and sent down the Mississippi River.

Nearly all the exported cotton was shipped to Great Britain, fueling its burgeoning textile industry at the time. They also shipped to mills in the northern US. The South’s dependence on cotton was matched by its dependence on slaves to harvest the cotton. Some southerners believed that their region’s reliance on a single cash crop and its use of slaves to produce it gave the South economic independence and made it immune from the effects of industrialization that were occurring in the North. Between the years 1820 and 1860, approximately 80 percent of the global cotton supply was produced in the United States. Source: ushistory/chapter/the-economics-of-cotton/

What is: Cotton Gin near Friars Point, Mississippi. Abandoned cotton gin between Clarksdale and Friars Point, MS.

What was: Founded in the 1830s and continuing to operate into the 20th century, the King and Anderson Plantation was an enormous spread of seventeen thousand acres just northwest of Clarksdale and reputed to be the largest family plantation in Mississippi. It was located near this Cotton Gin.

Originally, large plantations had their own private cotton gins. Over time, the increasing number of smaller farms, the emergence of sharecropping after the civil war and new technologies led to the rise of public gins. By the early twentieth century, large, public facilities that not only ginned cotton but also sold seeds to cottonseed oil firms, populated nearly every town and county in the state’s cotton belt.

In addition to the economic function, public gins served a social function. “Trips to the gin provided farmers living in the far reaches of Mississippi’s counties with breaks in the tedium and solitude of toiling on small, isolated farms. The same gins served black and white farmers, and gin operators made no efforts to serve whites before blacks. While waiting in line to gin their cotton, farmers of both races came together to discuss pests, weather patterns, and prices. As shared public spaces, therefore, gins offered brief respites from the stifling confines of Mississippi’s racial caste system.” Source: