(Note: The following is the first of a series of articles looking at the history and evolution of agriculture in Georgia and Bulloch County.)
The word silk today evokes luxury. However, in the early years, there were many public misconceptions about silk. The most common one was that silk actually was a sort of fleece that grew on trees. In reality, silk is collected from the cocoons of silk worms that seem to be most happy residing amongst the leaves of the mulberry tree.
King James 1st of England decided that his “London Company of Virginia and the Somers Isles” was the best place to “set up Silke Workes” in the New World. The silk industry in Virginia failed very quickly.
Then, in 1703, Sir Nathaniel Johnson introduced the silk industry to the Carolinas. By the mid-1760s, the Silk Hope Company on David Manigault’s plantation in South Carolina had produced North America’s first commercial crop of raw silk (360 pounds).
In an effort to jumpstart North American silk production, the British Parliament agreed to waive all duties for silk imported from its North American colonies in 1749, and labeled Georgia and South Carolina as their “Silk Colonies."
In 1750, Mr. Pickering Robinson came to Savannah to manage Georgia’s silk production. Almost all of the silkworm eggs he brought with him died.
To be a member of the new Georgia Provincial Assembly, you must have planted at least one hundred mulberry trees, have produced 15 pounds of reeled silk for every 50 acres owned and have at least one female in your house who could reel silk.
In March of 1751, work began on a public silk filature in Savannah. A rough-boarded building, it contained a loft where the green cocoons could be spread out to dry.
On May 18, 1751, the first silk weaving at the Savannah plant began. There were three grades: perfect; spongy and fuzzy; and spotted and stained. On the average, of a 50-pound sample, 27 pounds were perfect, 10 pounds were fuzzy and 13 pounds were stained.
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.