Cotton

Cotton clothing is as old as civilization. It clad the people of Egypt, India, and China long before the Christian era. Cotton fabrics from Muslim countries appeared in Italy and Spain in the first century. Moorish Spain cultivated cotton in the ninth century, and Peruvians and Mexicans used cotton for garments and tapestries in pre-Columbian times. Cotton was not significant during the colonial period, either economically or socially. Long-staple Sea Island cotton was valued, because it was easy to clean and made a high-quality, fine thread, but it could be grown only in a few places. Short-staple cotton, the variety best suited to the greater part of colonial North America, required a great deal of labor it often took a full day to clean a single pound. Consequently, colonists usually dressed in fabric woven from linen (made from flax) and sheep’s wool. The Spanish made the first European effort to produce cotton commercially in the New World, in Florida in 1556. But the attempt failed, because the land was poorly drained and rains were excessive. In 1607, the English at Jamestown encountered similar difficulties in growing cotton as a viable commercial crop. Early seventeenth-century settlers in the South grew cotton to make a coarse cloth for household use, not commerce. The first decades of colonial life were a struggle for subsistence, and the cash crop that took hold was tobacco, not cotton. American cotton was laborintensive and not really suited for the primitive technology of the English textile industry. Then, the Industrial Revolution in England began in textiles, formerly a cottage industry. In 1760, the English cotton trade employed only 40,000 people, and its value was only around 600,000 pounds. Exports were growing, however, rising in value from 23,253 pounds in 1701, to 45,986 pounds in 1751, and 200,354 pounds in 1764. Even so, the 1764 value of cotton exports was but one-twentieth of the value of wool exports. At the time, only coarse cloth was made in England; the technology was not yet capable of handling finer fabrics, which were supplied through imports from Continental Europe. The first cotton mill in America was established by Samuel Slater in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, in 1793 the same year Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. Cotton production skyrocketed in the following decades, as did the slave population. (Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC /Bridgeman Art Library) Late in the eighteenth century, American farmers began specializing in cash crops as surpluses became possible. Long-staple Sea Island cotton became one of the cash crops in the lowlands and islands of South Carolina and Georgia, two of the places where slavery was most common. More important Southern crops at the time were rice, sugar, flax, and hemp. Sir Richard Arkwright established the first water-powered spinning mill in 1771 at Cromford, Derbyshire, England. American inventor Eli Whitney developed the concept of the cotton gin in 1793, which made it possible to clean short-staple cotton much more easily. With the new technology, the volume of the cotton trade had increased threefold by 1803, and cultivation expanded of short-staple cotton, which was suitable for cultivation in many more places than long-staple cotton. The increase in cotton crops led to a massive increase in slavery in the American South from 750,000 slaves in 1790, when the United States produced 3,000 bales of cotton, to 1 million slaves ten years later, when production totaled 75,000 bales, and 4.5 million slaves on the eve of the Civil War, when the country produced over 3.8 million bales of cotton. John H. Barnhill See also: Agriculture; Clothing; Columbian Exchange; Furnishings; Slavery, African American. Bibliography Bruchey, Stuart, ed. Cotton and the Growth of the American Economy, 1790 1860. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1967 Kane, Nancy. Textiles in Transition. New York: Greenwood, 1988. Toynbee, Arnold. “Lectures on the Industrial Revolution in England.” 1884. socserv.mcmaster.ca/~econ/ugcm/3ll3/toynbee/indrev. Von Tunzelmann, George N. “Time-Saving Technical Change: The Cotton Industry in the English Industrial Revolution.” Explorations in Economic History 31:1 (1995): 1 27. Cotton Industries WWF Cotton Incorporated – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 7 Steps to a Contamination-Free Cotton Harvest – Cotton – News …

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