Cotton Production in the United States - North American Colonies

Taken from The British Empire in the Nineteenth Century (1898) by Edgar Sanderson

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It is idle to speculate on what would have happened if the motherland had never quarrelled with her offspring. It is certain that Great Britain quickly recovered from the shock received in the loss of her colonies. The trade of the old country grew fast along with the growth of prosperity in the new. The United States, with her rich and virgin soil, soon acquired the means of largely importing the manufactured goods poured into the market by the workers in the British hives of industry. William Pitt strove for perfect freedom of trade with the new republic, and, though he failed in this effort, the commerce between the countries soon attained proportions which had never yet been reached.

This was largely due to the cultivation of cotton, which was successfully begun in the southern states during the War of Independence. This valuable shrub, known from distant ages in India, and brought thence into Egypt in the sixth century before the Christian era, was introduced into Europe about the ninth century, being planted by the Moorish conquerors of Spain in the fertile plains of Valencia. Cotton factories soon arose at Cordova, Granada, and Seville, and by the fourteenth century the cotton stuffs of Granada were held to be superior even to the Syrian fabrics. The making of cotton-cloth appears to have been practised by the Mexicans and Peruvians long before Europeans arrived in the New World. The British colonists of Virginia began to plant the cotton-shrub as an experiment in 1621, but the amount of cotton produced was very small, and the first impetus towards a large culture appears to have been given by the introduction of new plants, at the time above-mentioned, from the Bahamas into Carolina and Georgia. The invention of the cotton-gin, in 1793, by Eli Whitney, a native of Massachusetts, was a great event in the history of the United States. This machine effected with ease and rapidity the separation of the fibre from the seed, a process hitherto performed by hand with slow and toilsome labour. The cotton was thus made ready for export at a lower price, and a new source for raw material at a cheap rate was thus laid open to British manufacturers.


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