(Note: The following is part of a series of articles looking at the history and evolution of agriculture in Georgia and Bulloch County.)
As cotton became a major crop in Georgia, shipments were carried to market on its major rivers, including the Oconee and the Ogeechee. Macon and Augusta were major trans-shipping points of cotton for some 50 years.
Bulloch County farmers, however, usually just carried their cotton directly to Savannah in wagons or by railroad. Whereas in 1850, only 594 bales of Bulloch County cotton were produced (each weighing 450 pounds), by 1860 there were 1,378 bales brought to market.
Caravans of wagoneers and their teams of mules would line the roadways to Augusta and Savannah, sometimes stretching for as much as a half-mile. In Statesboro, cotton caravans lined city streets all during harvest time as they gathered to head to market.
The earliest fertilizers used on most Georgia plantations were alkalis and limestone. Soon, these were supplanted by the use of “night soils”: human excrement which was collected from the area slave populations and spread on the field.
Most of the Bulloch cotton was planted at first for home consumption. The short staple variety was used to produce wool or cotton batten for stuffing mattresses, while the long staple cotton was used to produce thread.
Once cheap and seemingly inexhaustible supplies of guano (bird droppings), which served as fertilizer, were discovered in the western coastal areas of South America, cotton yields jumped in the South, in Georgia, and indeed in Bulloch County.
With the creation of industrial devices, such as the 36-sawtoothed cotton gin, enough cotton could now be cleaned by a single machine in one day to produce a 400-pound bale. This machine’s engine had one horse power, which in this case meant that one horse produced its power.
George McHenry studied cotton and its connection to the growth of slavery in the Confederate States in his book “The Cotton Trade,” published in London, England in 1863. His figures are startling about the phenomenal growth of both throughout the South.
McHenry tied the growing of cotton to the use of slaves in the south. He stated, “In 1790, there were 657,047 slaves in the Southern States, one-quarter too many … they could not be profitably employed, and the value of the best hands sunk to two hundred dollars.”
He continued, “Fortunately the cultivation of cotton commenced … had the Southern States been short of labour, they would have long since followed the example of Great Britain and France, and engaged in the coolie trade.”
McHenry declared that if not slaves or coolies, “The immense profit growing out of the ever-increasing demand for their great staple (cotton) would have induced the flow of white labour.”
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at firstname.lastname@example.org.