In the Land of Cotton, Where Cotton is King
The tobacco company would have you believe that the United States was built on tobacco, and while it is true that tobacco production in the Chesapeake Bay was extremely influential in the colonization of the British Americas it did not build the United States. No, the United States was built on the backs of slaves who would plant harvest and weigh cotton. That’s right, cotton is king, by eighteen-sixteen the United States was producing up to 50% of the world’s cotton supply which would run the textile companies in both the Norther States of the United States and Europe.
Cotton was produce along the Cotton Belt of the United States which resided in the Southern States, here the weather was humid enough for allow the plant to prosper and land was in large supply. Massive plantation farms were created to plant and harvest the prosperous plant, plantations ranged from 500-1000 acres where each acre would hold up to 5,000 plants. A rough estimate concludes that the total is 2,500,000 plants on a small plantation and up to 5,000,000 on a large plantation. In order cultivate such a large amount of product it would require an abundant amount of manpower, they found such manpower in the form of African chattel slavery. Chattel slavery was the practice of holding a man against his will forcing another human against their will forcing them to do your bidding for his entire life, and any offspring he might produce in his lifetime will be yours as well. It was the idea that African slaves were nothing more than animals that could be used as pleased by their master, while slavery is a very old practice chattel slavery was a fairly new concept that gradually evolved from previous forms of slavery and the desensitization of their masters. So how many slaves were required to cultivate a plantation? Some plantations held up to 150 slaves working from sun up to sundown with very little breaks in between, under harsh working conditions with very poor management. Some plantation owners own multiple plantations owning multiple slaves, Dr. Stephen Duncan of Issaquena owned 858 slaves at one point and stated that he owned over 2,000 slaves over his entire lifetime.
So where did such a man force come from? As stated before they came from the Coastal regions of Africa, prior to the slave trade in the Atlantic agricultural goods were transported on the very same routes. Agricultural goods in the sense of staple foods we so highly depend on today, two of which are maize (corn) and potatoes. These staples increased the population all over the world, in Europe, Asia and of course Africa. A population boom in Africa led to conflicts between tribes and several wars were fought between them, when you conquered a people they would be able to take them as slaves for a period of time and would eventually free them after a period of time. As stated before slavery was an old institution but what happened next was Europeans noticed the African slaves and begun to think that they could be useful in the newly discovered Americas. The Portuguese were the first to be involved in a transatlantic voyage on 1526 transporting several slaves to the Americas where they would be set to work in the sugar, tobacco, rice and cotton plantations. Soon the rest of the European powers would follow suit and partake in the transatlantic slave. Between 1524-1866 12.5 million African human beings would be taken from their homes and shipped to a new land to work the soil under harsh conditions, of the 12.5 million roughly 2,500,000 would lose their lives in the middle passage by either harsh conditions, poor food, or suicide. Of the 10million that reached the new shore roughly 450,000 ended up in the United States. A relatively small number however the main amount of slaves in the United States were the decedents of those 450,000 reaching up to 3,949,947 by the time the American civil war ended.
Now that the United States had both the manpower and land they needed an economy for their rich product. This economy would be available after the first Industrial revolution, the industrial revolution radically changed the way products were produced throughout the world. Originally products were created by an artisan with years of experience, but with the use of machinery, factories were now able to mass produce textiles at an exponential rate. This meant they required a large amount of raw material to feed their machines increasing the demand of cotton worldwide. The South was only happy to deliver and with the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney’s in 1830 they were able to separate cotton from the seed more effectively with less workers, allowing more slaves to plant and harvest cotton. Production of cotton went up from 750,000 bales in 1830 to 2.85 million bales in 1850 all being transported by Northern merchants who would make sizable profits off of the southern slave labor.
Now, many have argued that black slaves did not build this country it was the manufacturing North that built this wonderful nation. They use the civil war as an example by stating that the civil war was a conflict between manufacturing and agricultural. While the South did lose the war of Northern Aggression it is a huge discredit to the participation and effort of the South in the construction of this nation. And while no man should own another man the facts remain that cotton was institutional in making the United States the economic powerhouse it is today.