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Modern Voices
Douglas Egerton on cotton
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Q: How did the growth of the cotton industry change the face of domestic slavery in the United States?
Douglas Egerton

A: Although it's a bit of a myth that the cotton gin of 1793 revitalized slavery, which was not by any means on the ropes, the fact is that cotton exploded across the new lands of what was then known as the Old South: Mississippi, Alabama.

By the eve of the American Civil War, it was Mississippi, and not South Carolina, that had the heaviest percentage of black Americans. And of course, these were blacks who had been living along coastal regions in South Carolina, in Virginia, in Maryland, who were uprooted and dragged west as cotton literally exploded across the American frontier.

In many ways, cotton was the perfect crop for slave labor to produce. Unlike cereal crops, it didn't grow very high. In short, workers could always be observed by the overseer. It was perfect for the gang style of labor organization.
Douglas A. Egerton
Professor of History
Le Moyne College

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