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Bulloch History by Roger Allen
Cotton becomes Bulloch staple
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    Cotton is the lifeblood of many Bulloch Countians today, as it has been for more than a hundred years. The word “Cotton” translates to “coton” in French, and evens sounds the same in Arabic: “Qutun”. This very versatile fabric revolutionized the way the world’s population dressed, not to mention how they ran most of their daily affairs. The cotton plant is actually a member of the Mallow family, which also includes milkweed and hollyhock.
    There have always been two basic varieties of this plant: the Georgia “Upland”, “Asiatic”, or “Old World” variety, which is a short stapled green seeded plant; and the Georgia “Sea Island”, “Persian”, or “Russian” variety, which is a long stapled black seeded plant. In both plants, the staple of the cotton is the filament of cotton which is both silken and delicate.
    According to reliable sources, cotton was first recorded as having been planted in the “Trustees Garden” in Savannah as part of a Royal Experiment in Horticulture in 1733. The colony of Georgia was actually the first colony to produce cotton as a commercial crop, although both Florida and Virginia both had established substantial cotton plantations within their borders.
    According to most historians, a Frenchman named Francois Levett brought the first Sea Island cotton plants to Georgia in 1807. The seeds were sold to a select group of Georgia planters for 4 shillings and 6 pence for a pound of the seed. He planted most of his seeds on Sapelo Island, where he had established a plantation.
    In Bulloch County, cotton growing rapidly became a mainstay of the agricultural establishment. Whereas in 1850 only 594 bales (each weighing 450 pounds) were produced, by 1860 there were 1378 bales brought to market.
    The value of cotton lands, thought by many to be dead and unproductive, soon jumped in value with the discovery that fertilizers made the land perfect for this plant. The earliest fertilizers used on Wiregrass plantations were alkalis and limestone. These were soon supplanted by the use of “night soils”, in which human excrement was collected from the areas slave populations and spread on the field.
    It wasn’t until the discovery of almost inexhaustible supplies of guano (bird droppings) from the western coastal areas of South America that cotton yields jumped to near where they were at the peak of cotton production in Bulloch County. Bulloch County inventors created many new machines for the area’s cotton crop, including cotton planters, chippers, and even cotton gins.
    With the onset of the War Between the States”, cotton became a rare but also largely unsaleable commodity, largely because of the Union blockade of Southern Confederate ports. Thus began what became known as the “Cotton Famine” in Georgia: first, there was an abundance of cotton stocks in England, the states biggest client; secondly, the production of cotton garments in New England factories was meeting the Union’s needs; thirdly, there were now competing producers, in both Egypt and India, who were more than happy to supply Britain’s future cotton needs.
    Finally, and most importantly, what manpower hadn’t been drafted to fight against the North that still lived near the cotton plantations was incapable of harvesting the existing crops of cotton. After the war ended, people in Bulloch County began looking for new and additional ways to use cotton in their own daily lives. Cotton prices at market dropped an average of between 70 percent and 90 percent between the years of 1874 and 1894. That meant the price of one 450 pound bale of cotton dropped to a low of only $51 per bale. Bulloch Countians decided to take some action to get more from their cotton crops.
    As such, their first major task was the building of the Mill” in 1902, and the mill became Bulloch County’s first industrial plant and first real industry. Cotton Gins were everywhere, but most everything else was being discarded.     There were three basic parts of the cotton plant that could be salvaged here for the first time: first there were the linters, or the short fuzzy fibers clinging to the seed; secondly, there were the hulls, or the coatings of the seeds themselves, and finally there were the oil-rich kernels. Linters began to be used to produce a cellulose substance; the hulls were collected and became an additional source of roughage for area livestock.
    Within a short period of time, other counties also established their own oil mills, usually as private ventures unlike the Bulloch County public ownership of the mill. Until its demise, the old Oil Mill played a vital part in the Bulloch County cotton crop, and saved many in the county from unnecessary economic hardships. Without it, the lives of many Bulloch Countians might have been much different indeed.
    Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look at Bulloch County's historical past. E-mail Roger at roger
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