Unit 4: Cotton Kingdom

General Timeline
General Maps

Map # 1: The "Cotton Belt"

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Course Content

The Cotton Kingdom:


The Cotton Economy

The Rise of the Cotton Kingdom

  • Previously, tobacco was the most common crop in the region

    • Its price fluctuated a lot & it caused the soil to degrade → Its farmers shifted to other crops​

  • Rice was largely confined to wet regions like Florida & Georgia

    • Required lots of irrigation & labor

  • Sugar was mostly confined to Southern Coast

    • Very labor intensive & expensive to plant

    • Struggled to compete w/ sugar from Caribbean

  • Short-staple cotton became common as it could grow in almost any climate

    • Much easier to plant than long-staple cotton

    • Eli Whitney's cotton gin (1793) made it easier to separate cotton seeds from the fiber

    • Helped revive slavery as tobacco decline caused slavery to decline

      • Actually caused slavery to grow

  • Cotton dominated the inland south (AL, MS, LA) → known as "Cotton Kingdom"

    • Wealthy planters migrated there w/ their slaves


Southern Economy

  • South had few industrial institutions

    • Small & insignificant textile mills & ironworks

  • "Factors" are brokers who would sell other farmers' crops on the market

    • Also acted as bankers for the farmers

  • Had other professionals (e.g. doctors, lawyers, etc.) but insignificant compared to the north

  • Terrible transportation network

    • No canals, few local railroads, not many intercity trains​

  • James D B De Bow wrote De Bow's Review

    • Defended slavery, advocated for southern economic nationalism

    • Hated that the south was economically dependent on the north

  • Many factors made the South's agriculture boom & the North's agriculture decline

    • South had a hotter climate, suitable for agriculture & not industrialization

    • South had lots of wealthy landlords who invested so much in agriculture

    • Southern whites were also more gracious & wanted a refined way of life (agricultural life)


Southern Society

Wealthy Landowners

  • Wealthy landowners were a minority but had the most influence

    • Lots of slaves, large homes in the countryside, sometimes also had homes in the nearby town​

    • Similar to the "old aristocracy" of England

      • Known as the "cavalier" image of life, unlike the "yankees" of the north

      • Lived an elegant, relaxing, and gracious life

        • Believed in ideals of honor and chivalry

        • Were treated with respect & courtesy

        • Males were known for dignity & authority

  • Still weren't super rich because crop prices fluctuated a lot

  • Sought to preserve slavery as they benefited from it

  • Those who hated agriculture joined the military, as it has the same ideals of chivalry


Wealthy White Women

  • Wealthy white women embodied the ideas of respect & "republican motherhood"

    • Were companions to their husbands

    • Believed in the ideals of courtesy

    • Detached from the public world due to social isolation

  • Those in large plantations rarely worked

  • Those in medium-sized plantations did spinning & weaving to make textiles

  • Often more many children, 1/2 died before age 5

  • Husbands often had children with female slaves, which their wives did not like

Middle-Class Whites

  • In addition to the wealthy whites, there were many poor & middle-class whites

    • Few had slaves, many were in debt

    • Did subsistence farming, few sold crops to the market

    • Had limited educational opportunities

    • Held few government positions compared to the wealthy whites

    • Some lived in dirty cabins & died of malnutrition

  • Many relied on wealthy whites for help

    • Used their cotton gins, sometimes sought financial assistance from them

    • Wealthy sometimes helped the poor sell their crops

  • Some could advance in society when cotton became popular

  • Had little energy to rebel against their subordinate position

    • Had a common belief of white supremacy with the wealthy whites

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Slave Life

  • Slaves had very little (if any) rights

    • Weren't allowed to learn to read or write

    • Couldn't leave masters' property w/o permission

    • Couldn't attack whites or testify in court against whites

    • Whites would freely attack blacks

    • Were treated as property, not humans

    • Couldn't own property

  • Still, some slaves managed to learn to read/write, own property, be out after dark, etc.

  • Some masters had a close relationship w/ slaves

    • White men sometimes had children w/ female slaves​

    • Slaves generally had good relations w/ their masters as they relied on them for food & clothing

  • Living conditions were poor

    • Ate good food (only positive side)

    • Had dirty houses, dirty clothes, cramped rooms, little medical care

  • US was one of the only places where slave population grew naturally

    • Gave owners an incentive to care for slaves

  • Most slaves worked in the field, but some worked in the masters' homes

    • Planted & harvested crops in the field

    • Women had to focus on domestic tasks (child rearing, cooking, etc.) on top of slave tasks

    • Domestic slaves served as cooks, butlers, etc.


Slave Families

  • Slave women bore children at a very young age

    • Often 14 or 15 y/o when they bore children

    • Sometimes married slaves of neighboring plantations

    • Some bore children with their masters as the children's father

  • Many slave families were easily broken apart

    • Owners could sell any family member away, breaking their existing family

      • Slaves would form new "adopted" families with their new fellow slaves


Slavery in the Cities

  • Aside from plantations, some slaves served in the cites

    • They were more free as they could move around the city & mingle w/ other slaves

  • Worked in mining, lumbering, construction, etc.

  • Slave women & children sometimes worked in textile mills

  • Later on, more slaves (especially men) were sold to the countryside​​

    • Those who remained in the cities faced segregation


Slave Migrations & Slave Trade

  • Many slaves migrated to the new "cotton kingdom" region of the south

    • Some came with their masters​

    • Others went with slave traders on foot, tied in coffles

  • Foreign slave trade was banned in 1808, but some slaves were still smuggled until 1850s

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Slave Resistance & Nat Turner Rebellion

  • Slaves obviously weren't happy with their condition & sought to rebel

    • Whites prohibited them from learning to read & write so they don't learn about their condition

    • Still, some managed to attempt to revolt

  • Some slaves passively revolted

    • Worked slowly & poorly, broke tools, etc.

  • Some slaves actually revolted by fighting whites

    • Very rare & unsuccessful

  • In 1831, Nat Turner led a group of slaves armed w/ guns & weapons to rebel against whites

    • Killed 60 whites in Virginia

    • Government stopped this rebellion

    • Largest slave rebellion in the South

  • Some slaves escaped to the North​

    • Traveled via the "underground railroad," a network of secret passages & safe houses to allow slaves to escape

    • Slave patrols would capture runaway slaves

      • Still, some managed to escape to the North or even to Canada​


La Amistad Slave Revolt (1839)

Slaves were on board La Amistad, a slave ship transporting slaves between 2 Cuban ports. They took over the ship & tried sailing it eastward to Africa

A US government ship seized the ship, took it back to the US

US abolitionists made the government send the slaves back to Africa

Slave Culture


Initially couldn't communicate w/ other slaves as they were from all over Africa. Now developed a common language called pidgin, harmonized English & African languages


Harmonized Western music techniques with African ones. Developed emotional & spiritual music. Call & Response music style was popular. Developed their own dancing styles. 


Created their own style of Christianity (such as voodoo), harmonizing Christianity w/ African religions. Very spiritual & emotional, emphasized their dream of freedom

What theme is common among all aspects of slave culture?

All aspects of slave culture represent the idea of cultural syncretism. Cultural syncretism is the idea of combining elements from multiple cultures to form a new culture. Slaves combined different aspects of the cultures of different regions of Africa as well as the culture of the Americas to form a new syncretic slave culture. 

Free Blacks

  • About 250k free blacks in the south

    • Often had enough money to buy their freedom

    • Most lived in poverty, but some got wealthy

      • Few even had their own slaves

  • As they became more common, cities tightened restrictions & laws on free blacks

    • Whites resented living with free blacks, especially after slave revolts

      • Believed free blacks would threaten their peaceful lifestyle

    • Some states prohibited free blacks

    • Southerners wanted to tighten control over free blacks as abolitionism grew in the North

Important Terms & People