THE COTTON SOUTH
BEFORE AND AFTER THE CIVIL WAR
I. Cotton, Southern Soils, and Insects
A. Ecology of Cotton South
1. Types of cotton
a. Sea Island (fibers are 1 5/8 to 2" long)
b. Upland long staple (fibers are 1 1/8 to 1 3/4 " long)
c. Upland short staple (fibers are 5/8 to 1"long)
d. Other crops: sugar, corn.
2. Rainfall: 50-60 inches per year.
3. Four major soil regions
a. Eastern coastal plain
b. Gulf Coastal Plain
c. Central Alluvial Valleys
d. Western Prairie lands
4. Temperature: Cotton needs a 200-day frost-free growing season.
5. Geographical region for cotton: Southern border of Virginia, to southern border of Tennessee, to northern border of Arkansas and Oklahoma, down to meet the arid regions of West Texas.
B. Factors disrupting the ecology of the Cotton South
1. Population: After cotton gin (1793) makes short staple cotton profitable, people migrate west pushing Indians off Gulf lands. Cotton boom in 1830s in Alabama and Mississippi; in 1850s in Louisiana and Texas. South remains rural in contrast to North. In 1860: 2.3 people per square mile in Texas, 15.6 in Louisiana, 18.0 in Georgia (compared to 153.1 per square mile in Massachusetts). Largest city is New Orleans, Louisiana (169,000 people); Charleston, South Carolina has 41,000; Richmond, Virginia has 38,000.
2. Rise of Market
a. Plantation system is organized for maximizing market production. Requires fertile soil on level or rolling land, cheap labor, social and economic management, and staple, routinely cultivated crops (tobacco, sugar, rice, indigo, cotton). Tobacco, rice, and indigo decline by 1780s. Demand steadily rises for cotton in textile mills in England beginning in 1790s; New England in 1800s. Between 1820 and 1860 world demand grows at 5 percent per year. South produces 10,410 bales of cotton in 1793; 177,824 in 1810 after invention of cotton gin; 7,000,000 in 1860. Sugar production rises in Mississippi Delta between Red River and Mississippi River. Sugar industry reaches its height in 1849, with 1,536 plantations, 100,000 slaves, and 450,000 hogsheads of sugar per year.
b. During Civil War, other countries supply cotton to Great Britain. High prices after Civil War encourage rebuilding, and South recovers market share by 1878. World demand slackens to 1.3 percent annual growth by 1895. Continued cotton production in South begins to depress prices. Shortage of banks and credit after Civil War leads to increase in sharecropping, tenant farming, and crop lien systems. Prices of plantations drop tenfold; small farmers buy plantations. Between 1860 and 1880, total number of farms increases from 450,000 to 1 million, but average size declines from 347 to 156 acres. After 1900 cotton boll weevil reduces crop production by up to 50 percent.
3. Technology: Includes shovels, hoes, cultivators, harrows, bull tongue plows. Rollers separate seeds from long staple sea island cotton. Cotton gin, invented in 1793 by Eli Whitney, allows separation of sticky seeds from short staple cotton. Process is 10 times faster than by slaves. Labor intensive pest controls on cotton bollworm (a moth larva) arise in nineteenth century; cotton boll weevil (a beetle) spreads north from Mexico after 1892. Farmers control weevil by planting early maturing varieties and plowing field refuse under soil to prevent weevils from overwintering. Paris Green (copper acetoarsenite) is used in early 20th century.
4. Social Relations
a. Hierarchical social structure: In 1860 planter class is 25 percent of total; of slaveholders, 88 percent own fewer than twenty slaves. Independent Yeoman farmers comprise two-thirds of farming families. Mulattoes (mixed blood children of planters) are small minority. Free Blacks number one-quarter million in 1860; black slaves increase from fewer than 1 million in 1800 to 3 million by 1850.
b. Post Civil War reconstruction reorganizes social relations. Era sees a rise in sharecropping (farmer furnishes land, tools, mules, seed, cabin, and food in return for share of crop, usually one-quarter to one-half); tenant farming (farmer rents land by returning percentage of cotton and corn, but owns own mules and tools); crop lien system (farmers borrow supplies from merchant at interest in exchange for portion of forthcoming crop). One-third of farmers are sharecroppers or tenants in 1880; two-thirds are by 1920.
a. Planters see nature as a resource to be exploited; are characterized by profit-oriented mentality and paternalism toward slaves. Planters consider themselves as benevolent guardians of a "naturally inferior race." Critics of slavery such as Francis Kemble exhibit horror at slave treatment as well as deep appreciation of beauty of nature in the South.
b. Yeoman farmers are characterized by independence, self-reliance, freedom to use land for self-sufficiency.
c. Slaves develop a culture of defiance and resistance through belief in retribution by Christian God; plant African and African-American crops (yams, okra, collards, benne); hunt, fish, and gather additional foods; create and maintain unique black culture; retain African dress, music, dance and beliefs in spirits, ghosts, voodoo, conjuring, herbal medicines.
1. Describe agriculture in the Cotton South: What crops did people grow? What particular problems did they encounter because of southern climate and ecology? What agricultural methods, production technologies, and social institutions made cotton profitable?
2. Compare and contrast the Tobacco South with the Cotton South. What similarities and differences in agricultural systems, organization of labor, economic production, and soil exhaustion can you identify?
3. Using John Boles' essay in Chapter 5 and the documents in Chapter 7, describe how slaves interacted with the land, both in white agriculture and in their own subsistence (such as garden plots, poultry raising, gathering, hunting, and fishing)? How might slaves' knowledge of crops, animals, and insects have helped them sustain their own lives and culture? In what ways might they have used such knowledge to resist oppression?
4. Eugene Genovese wrote, "Slavery and the plantation system led to agricultural methods that depleted the soil." What is his argument? How does it differ from those of Albert Cowdrey and Pete Daniel? What is your own explanation for soil depletion in the Cotton South?
5. Discuss the history of the Cotton South after 1893 from the perspective of the boll weevil. In what ways was the boll weevil an actor in the environmental history of the Cotton South? What impact did the weevil have on human life and the environment? How did farmers, government officials, and the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Extension Service try to deal with the weevil?
6. How did life change for black people after the Civil War? How did systems such as share-cropping, farm tenancy, and the crop-lien systems disproportionately affect blacks and poor whites? How did black extension agents attempt to aid black farmers?