(Note: The following is part of a series of articles looking at the history and evolution of agriculture in Georgia and Bulloch County.)
According to George McHenry, between 1821 and 1830, American growers produced an average of nearly 700,000 bales (each weighing 400 pounds) of cotton per year. Between 1858 and 1860, more than 4 million bales of cotton were produced.
By 1860, Georgia alone produced 701,840 bales of cotton, establishing it as the fourth-largest cotton-growing state. Only Mississippi (1,195,699 bales), Alabama (997,978 bales) and Louisiana (722,218 bales) produced more cotton.
The price of a pound of cotton varied greatly: between 1835–1840 prices reached highs of more than 12 cents per pound; and then dipped down to the lows of 1845–1850 when a pound sold for between 7 and 8; then rose back up over 11 cents a pound in 1860.
According to the report of the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States for 1859, “Southern-grown” tobacco, rice and cotton were worth almost $185 million and were two-thirds of the nation’s exports.
By 1860, Georgia had built 33 cotton mills to process locally grown cotton. At least 12 plants were constructed in the Augusta area alone, which led in the number of cotton mills being operated within the state of Georgia.
With the onset of the Civil War, cotton became a rare but almost unsalable commodity, largely because of the Union blockade of Confederate ports.
When the war ended, the United States Department of Agriculture’s “Special Report #47” was published in Washington, D.C., written by J.C. Hemphill. He researched the agricultural situation in Georgia after the end of the Civil War.
Hemphill stated that it had become obvious that what manpower hadn’t been drafted to fight against the North or had returned afterwards had proven to be incapable of harvesting the many crops.
Therefore, Hemphill was pleased to announce, “There has been considerable agricultural improvement in Georgia since the war, and there is a general disposition amongst farmers to use labor-saving implements.”
He continued, “The old thrashing machines have been abolished, and now the golden grain is beaten out by steam power … the clumsy old plows having been almost wholly supplanted by modern improvements constructed upon scientific principles.”
However, all was not well. Hemphill warned that Georgia’s cotton farmers were “dependent in large measure upon the mercy of the speculator who furnishes the supplies to make the crops, and then depresses the market when the staple has been gathered and is ready to be sold.”
In addition, he stated, “a very large part of the provisions necessary to carry on agricultural operations is supplied by the Northwestern States, at prices greatly in excess of what they could be produced for at home.” Georgia’s cotton farmers, he said, were heavily in debt.
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.