Notes from “Five Plants that Changed the World”

Author: Henry Hobhouse

Chapter: Cotton and the American South

1. 1784, first single bail of cotton arrives in the Port of Liverpool. Refused entry. Remained on the quayside until it rotted. P. 141

2. The years 1784-1861 were critical for the American South and for the North of England. P. 142

3. By 1861, the cost of industrialized cotton cloth in Europe or the United States in terms of gold had fallen to less than 1% of its cost in 1784. P. 142

4. Picking 100 pounds of bowls would take 2 man-days; ginning would take 50 man-days at best; and bailing by hand, cleaning, and carting another 20 man-days. All this effort resulted in only about 8 pounds of spinnable cotton, which would then require 24-40 man-days to spin. P. 144

5. Cotton was the luxury cloth in 1784. P. 144

6. London’s Dr. Johnson and friends helped the development of early mill machinery. P. 146

7. Arkwright’s first mill in Nottingham was powered by horses rather than water. P. 148

8. 1765: 500,000 pounds of cotton all spun by hand.
1775: 2 million pounds mostly spun by machine.
1784: 16 million pounds all spun by machine.

Before 1790 all the mills were water-driven. P. 148

9. Lancashire attractive because of port of Liverpool, cheap coal, cheap iron, large reservoirs of workers from Ireland, local mobilization of capital by people and institutions in Manchester and Liverpool. P. 148

10. Concentration of labor in factories…obliged to live in company owned “back-to-back” without sanitation, garden, or fresh air. P. 149

11. The period 1784-1861 saw an eight-fold increase in the number of slaves in America, it also saw an increase in the misery of the British cotton industry…In 1825 90% of the workers in the spinning section of the industry were women and children; The children had no opportunity for education, no protection against abuse, no redress against brutality, no rights in common law against dangerous machinery, inhumane overseers, or over long hours with no over time pay. P. 149

12. Labor was always treated better in new England (US) than in old, at least until the wave of paupers arrived from Ireland in the 1840’s and 1850’s. P. 150

13. It is hard to over state the important of the coincidence of the escalating demand for cotton from England combined with the increased production made possible by the new ginning process. P. 152

14. Cotton acreage in the new South was to rise to match demand, and with each 100 acres of cotton, between 10 and 20 slaves were needed. P. 153

15. Cheap, virtually empty, fertile land had more influence upon the early settlers than all the rhetoric of all the politicians who have ever inspired, amused, or saddened an American audience, and has shaped the American character more than any other factor. For the first time in modern history, land was available for about 1/50th the cost of the same quality of land in Europe. P. 156

16. In England, the most important trader, net imports rose from 20 million pounds in 1784 (none of it from the North American mainland), to just under 1.5 billion pounds in 1850 (82% from Dixie), a 150-fold increase in demand. P. 157

17. 1784: 1 bail of cotton
1800: Less than 10 million pounds
1830: Less than 100 million pounds
1840: More than 80 million pounds
1850: More than 2 billion pounds
P. 158

18. The beginning of cotton monoculture followed the adoption of the gin in the 1790’s. P. 160

19. In the whole of the deep south, throughout the first half of the 19th century, the only sophisticated metropolitan area was New Orleans. According to European travelers, it was also the only place in the whole of the United States with first-class hotels or restaurants. It was a great service center and entrepot, a market place, a city of leisure, creole cuisine, theater, music, lust, and vice. Transients were said to exceed the indigenous population in number, prominence, and criminality. P. 161

20. It was in New Orleans that slave ownership for reasons of conspicuous consumption reached it’s highest pitch. P. 161

21. Of all the crops exported from what was then the southwest, cotton was the most important. …Nearly half the exports to Europe came from New Orleans, easily outpacing the older ports of Charleston and Savannah and the new port of Mobile, Alabama. P. 162

22. The rise of industrial spinning, carting, and weaving in England coincided with the first growth of upland cotton in the South and the widespread use of the whitney-gin; as a result, by about 1820 there was an apparently insatiable British demand for raw cotton combined with a huge area available for production in America. For a hundred years Britain would spin more cotton than the whole rest of the world put together, and the United States would grow the huge tonnages necessary to keep the mills fully employed. P. 165

23. If the textile trade in England produced towns wholly populated by wave slaves, the growing of cotton in the American south produced a society wholly and apparently inevitably dependent upon slavery. P. 165

24. It is one of the awkward facts of history that obscurantist, backward, tsarist Russia emancipated the surfs two years before free, progressive, democratic United states freed the slaves. P. 167

25. Of the 1860 cotton crop, consisting of over 4 million bails, nearly 80% went to Europe. Cotton was one of the bulkiest raw materials, and certainly the most valuable, in the whole United States. P. 174

26. The greatest irony of all is, of course, that this great aggrien slavocracy depended upon the steam and the iron of Europe and New England for its market. The last great slave empire fed the first great industrial revolution. Each as dependent upon the other in symbiotic relationship. P. 176

27. All over the world, cotton textile manufacture became the first element in the first industrial revolution… the first great manufacturers were those of cotton. P. 176

28. In 1861 cotton by far was the most important industry in the United States. …Nearly 60% of the American crop (was) processed in England, mostly in Lancashire… P. 176

29. America produced 2/3rds of all raw cotton exported throughout the world, and Britain exported more than 2/3’s of all manufactured cotton products. P. 176

30. By 1861, cotton had become the single most important crop traded in the world, and more than 80% of that crop was grown in the South. P. 177

31. 1784: First bail virtually no cotton grown in the U.S. No cotton processed by steam power, less than half a million slaves in the 13 colonies, only a handful of spinning mills in England, most workers were adult males, no cotton exchange, no infrastructure, no means of public investment in the textile trades.

By 1861: Cotton was the most important trade in the world, the skies above Lancashire were black with smoke from steam-raising boilers whose power was devoted almost exclusively to the cotton industry, there were nearly 4 million slaves, female and child labor in Lancashire had become a disgrace which had aroused the indignation of all humane people, sophisticated economic infrastructure arose in New Orleans, Manchester, and Liverpool to support this trade

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