Antebellum Days (Part 3)

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AGRICULTURE

The success of cotton production in the south is actually due to Massachusetts resident and Yale graduate, Eli Whitney, who patented his cotton gin invention in 1794. According to Mississippi Forests and Forestry even though cotton production greatly improved because of the Whitney’s gin, planters didn’t want to pay the high cost required to use the gin, which had been installed throughout the southern states. The cost was two-fifths of the profits paid in cotton itself. Because of this, disgruntled planters designed their own machines after Eli Whitney’s invention giving no regard to the violation of Whitney’s patent #72X dated March 14, 1794.

In 1795, John Barclay, a Natchez planter who had seen Eli Whitney’s gin in South Carolina, and Wilkinson County planter, Daniel Clark, Sr. developed a crude gin much like Whitney’s.  Barclay and Clark’s pirated machine brought mass production capabilities to the cotton industry that would soon dominate commercial agriculture in the Mississippi Territory.

Whitney and his partner, Phineas Miller, fought for the patent rights to the cotton gin with costly law suits against the owners of the pirated versions, but a loophole in the wording of the patent, which didn’t change until 1800, seriously delayed the process. Whitney never collected the monies due him. 

After the War of 1812 and the inauguration of Mississippi into the Union in 1817,

east central Mississippi, wherein Lauderdale County lies, developed the plantation order of raising cotton, selling it to English markets for approximately ten cents a pound. Two decades passed before the territory improved its cotton production, not due to the gin, but to the early varieties of cotton, such as the Creole strain imported from Siam. Though it was of high quality and yield it was difficult to pick and subject to disease.  The Tennessee green seed was immune to disease and rot, but was deficient in quality and yield.  Around 1820, a type of Mexican cotton characterized by easy-to-pick large open bolls appeared and during the next decade, this strain was crossed with Tennessee green seed, producing a hybrid that flourished throughout the South. This species, later refined by Dr. Rush Nutt and other planters, became known as Petit Gulf Cotton.

Cotton money became as well established as cotton and in 1822

the legislature established a uniform system for handling this money. This system allowed ginners to issue receipts certifying the number of pounds of cotton delivered to the gin. In turn, the receipt was used like money in settling debts or handling other business operations.  Cotton money enabled planters to operate on the basis of cotton that would be available in good salable condition at the ginner’s warehouse.

The early 1830’s expansion, including the establishment of Lauderdale County through the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, in the United States was fueled by the widespread construction of new railroads and canals. The government had sold millions of acres of public lands, mostly to speculators who hoped their well-located parcels would increase in value as the railroads and canals drew settlers into the area.

The Tariff of 1833 and government land sales brought wealth into the Treasury’s reserve.

In 1835, President Andrew Jackson paid off the national debt and the American Treasury rapidly accumulated a surplus. Congress passed a measure to distribute the surplus to the states. This surplus was invested in more railroads and canals.

As high cotton prosperity thrived in mid 1830’s, more and more forests were sacrificed for fields. Though production of cotton greatly improved and increased, corn remained the principal staple in the south throughout the antebellum period.  Easily grown all over Mississippi, corn was an important food crop to everyone, including hogs, cattle, and other livestock. The long growing season allowed for two crops of corn to be planted each year, one in early March and the other in late May or June.  Cotton seed was used as a fertilizer and cowpeas were planted between the rows of corn to reduce erosion and add nitrogen to improve the soil’s fertility. 

The boom reached its height with a wealth of cheap land, lenient credit prerequisites from state banks, and high prices.  More banks had been established and were issuing notes with no regard for solvency. State government and individuals hoarded gold and silver and used paper notes to discharge debts instead. Thousands of immigrants, planters, farmers, and speculators poured into Mississippi to reap the rewards.

Alarmed by the vast amount of state bank notes paying for public land purchases,

before leaving office, President Andrew Jackson issued Executive Order passing the Specie Circular (Coinage Act) that commanded the Treasury to no longer accept paper notes as payment for such sales. Gold and silver would be the only acceptable payment for government land.

It would be up to newly elected President Martin Van Buren to carry out that order in early 1837 when he stepped into the new administration and a major bank crisis. Banks began restricting credit and calling in loans while depositors rushed to their banks to withdraw their funds. Unemployment affected the entire nation and food riots broke out in large cities. Construction companies who couldn’t meet their obligations sparked the collapse of railroad and canal projects, and damage to thousands of land speculators.

The Panic of 1837 left the country’s economy in ruins, severely hampering the cotton trade with federal tariffs and duties. In 1838, almost $7,000,000 of “paper” money was still in circulation.  Nevertheless, as Mississippi intensified its efforts in industrial development, by 1840 east central Mississippi’s cotton production had doubled, as had its Negro slave laborers.

In 1850, the East Central Mississippi developed it agricultural and forestry resources with cotton gins, sawmills, farm implement manufacturers, grain millers carriage makers, and leather finishers,  adding greatly to the industrial capital investment. The 1850 Census records for Lauderdale County reveal that the white population was 6,052 and the slave population was 2,661. The 1850 Agriculture census reveals the following annual statistics for the year ending June 1, 1850:

Acres of improved land: 51,386

Acres of unimproved land: 86,714

Livestock:       horses – 2,080

                        Asses and mules – 418

                        Milch cows – 4,839

                        Working oxen – 1,695

                        Other cattle – 6,580

                        Sheep – 6,191

                        Swine – 28,481

Bushels of wheat: 2,808

Bushels of rye: 109

Bushels of Indian corn: 324,459

Bushels of oats: 21,771

Pounds of rice: 102,203                     

Pounds of tobacco: 1,529

Bales of cotton (400 lbs. each): 4,195

Pounds of wool: 10,500

Bushels of peas and beans: 15,411

Bushels of Irish potatoes:  3,705

Bushels of Sweet potatoes: 111,444

Bushels of barley: 20

Bushels of buckwheat: 150

Pounds of butter: 69,034

Pounds of cheese: 888

Toss of hay: 10

Pounds of hop: 20

Pounds of beeswax honey: 20,344

By 1860, corn remained the major staple crop in Lauderdale County,

enjoying an increase in production of approximately 46-47%. However, from 1850 to 1860 the county’s cotton production rose by astonishing amounts with an enormous increase of approximately 370%.

by Richelle Putnam

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