(Note: The following is part of a series of articles looking at the history and evolution of agriculture in Georgia and Bulloch County.)
In the 1700s, there were four basic materials used to make clothing: cotton, silk, wool and flax. Cotton was first planted as a garden crop in Virginia in 1621.
In 1661, after the passage of the Navigation Act by which King Charles II had robbed Virginians of the means of making a living through the sale of tobacco — their main cash crop — planting cotton took hold.
As to Georgia, cotton is recorded as having been first planted in the “Trustees Garden” in Savannah as part of a Royal Experiment in Horticulture as early as 1733. There were only two varieties of cotton plant cultivated in Georgia at first.
The first, and most common, was the “Upland,” “Wooly Seed” or “Bowed Georgia” variety, which is a green seeded plant. The second was the “Sea Island” or “Bald Headed Seed” variety, which is a black seeded plant.
The main difference was that the “Upland” variety produced a short to medium-length “staple” or fiber (up to 1 1/4 inches long) while the “Sea Island” variety produced a much longer “staple” (up to 2 1/2 inches long).
While records show in 1775 a Colonel Philip Delegall of the Georgia colony cultivated “twenty-two acres of green seed cotton near Savannah in Georgia,” other records indicate Richard Leake was the first to make “an extensive and successful experiment” with this new staple (cotton) in 1788.
Seeing his success, in 1789, two wealthy Georgians, Josiah Tattnall and Nicholas Turnbull, established cotton plantations of their own on Skidaway Island.
They were soon joined by James Gignilliat, a Liberty County rice planter, and John Du Bignon, who established a cotton plantation on Jekyll Island.
A Frenchman named Francois Levett brought Sea Island cotton plants to Georgia in 1807, which he sold for 4 shillings and 6 pence for a pound of the seed. Levett planted most of his seeds on his Sapelo Island plantation.
The “Sea Island” cotton was used exclusively in making what was called “Willimantic Thread,” the finest on the market. In fact, it was said one pound of “Sea Island” cotton was so fine that it could produce a single thread more than 1,000 miles long.
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.