The creation of the cotton kingdom during the first half of the nineteenth century transformed the lives of African Americans, often for the worse. One of the most consequential inventions in American history, Eli Whitney’s cotton gin from 1794, made large-scale cotton agriculture profitable. White planters and farmers from eastern seaboard states such as Virginia and North Carolina coveted lands in newer states to the southwest such as Alabama and Mississippi for their fertile soils and long growing seasons. Due in part to the growth of the cotton kingdom, nine new slave states entered the Union between 1789 and 1860, rapidly expanding and transforming the South into a region of economic growth built on slave labor. (4)
In addition to new land, white farmers and planters demanded large numbers of slaves for clearing land and planting and picking cotton. Since the international slave trade was outlawed in 1808, planters now purchased slaves internally from traders in a process known as the domestic slave trade. African-American slave labor in the South’s cotton fields generated tremendous wealth for the region’s small slave-holding elite. By the 1850s, slaves in the South produced 75% of the world’s cotton. (Roche, 9) (1)
The creation of the cotton kingdom intensified the strain and trauma endured by slaves who feared being sold into the Deep South to work on often brutal cotton plantations and separated from family and friends. As always, African-Americans resisted slavery’s dehumanizing forces by creating strong kinship or social networks and maintaining unique cultural traditions. (4)
Julian Roche, The International Cotton Trade (Cambridge, England: Woodhead Publishing, 1994), 9.
This module addresses the following Course Learning Outcomes listed in the Syllabus for this course:
- To provide students with a general understanding of the history of African Americans within the context of American History.
- To motivate students to become interested and active in African American history by comparing current events with historical information.(1)
Additional learning outcomes associated with this module are:
- The student will be able to discuss the origins, evolution, and spread of racial slavery.
- The student will be able to describe the creation of a distinct African-American culture and how that culture became part of the broader American culture. (1)
Upon completion of this module, the student will be able to:
- Discuss two ways that the cotton kingdom transformed the lives of African Americans.
- Examine the legacy of cotton slavery. (1)
Readings and Resources
Learning Unit: The Creation of the Cotton Kingdom (see below) (1)