In the 1790s, cotton became desirable as the textile industry in Great Britain was exploding, thus creating enormous demand for cotton clothing. The invention of the cotton gin, which easily separated cotton fiber from its seeds, was merely a motor for a global economic machine. Slavery was its fuel and growing more cotton meant an increased demand for slaves that were brought from Africa.
The key commodity in this account is raw cotton. It was produced by coerced labor on lands expropriated from indigenous peoples. Workers were kidnapped and transported to new lands, subjected to brutal punishments, and in some accounts, often existed on the verge of starvation. There is no doubt that slavery in America tore apart families, forcefully relocated people, imposed harsh work conditions, brutalized, and sexually abused many.
Cotton was the leading American export from 1803 to 1937. The most commonly used phrase describing the growth of the American economy in the 1830s and 1840s, was “Cotton is King. The history of slaves and industrial capitalism transformed the United States and Great Britain immensely.
Historically, much of the cotton in the United States had been grown in the Southern states, and this trend continues to this day. Cotton production in the United States fluctuates significantly from year to year. In 2021, around 10 million bales of cotton were produced in the United States and 27 million tons of cotton are produced globally every year (this is equivalent to everyone on Earth getting 27 shirts a year); therefore, making it the world’s most valuable non food agricultural product.
Fast forwarding to 2022, we now make 80% of our revenue from cotton products. How we reached this point is pure evil, and there is no real evidence that justifies slavery. However, we are thankful for how far we have come as a country from the day when “Cotton is King” ruled!
Want to learn the history of T-Shirts? Read: A Look Into the History of T-shirts