A. The Cotton Gin and the Slave Trade



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Year

Cotton Production in bales1




Slave Population in the U.S.

White Population in the U.S.

Number of Slave States

1790

3,135




697,897

1,615,434

6

1795

16,719










7

1800

73,145




893,041

2,195,305

8

1805

146,290










8

1810

177,638




1,191,364

2,988,130

8

1815

208,986










9

1820

334,378




1,538,038

3,995,809

11

1825

532,915










12

1830

731,452




2,009,050

5,366,213

12

1835

1,060,711










12

1840

1,346,232




2,487,455

7,255,544

13

1845

1,804,223










15

1850

2,133,851




3,204,313

10,026,402

15

1855

3,217,417










15

1860

3,837,402




3,953,760

13,811,387

15

In 1792, Eli Whitney left Massachusetts to go work as a private tutor for Catherine Greene on a plantation in Georgia. Once in Georgia, Whitney learned that Southern planters were trying to find a way to make cotton growing more profitable. The tobacco that planters had been growing was declining in profit due to over-supply and soil exhaustion. The problem with cotton was the only variety that could be widely grown in the south had sticky green seeds that were time consuming to pick out of the fluffy white cotton bolls. Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin solved the problem. His cotton gin partnered with newly created machines to spin and weave the cotton into textiles and the steamboat to transport it created a new industry for the South.


With in fifty years of the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, the United States was producing three-quarters of the world’s cotton supply. Cotton growing became so profitable for plantation owners that it greatly increased the demand for land for slave labor to grow and pick the cotton. Between 1790 and 1808, when the importation of slaves was banned in the U.S., over 80,000 slaves were imported.
The poor treatment of slaves led many nations to begin outlawing the practice. Denmark was the first country to legislatively pass a ban on slavery in 1792. Britain banned the slave trade, but not slavery itself, in 1807. In order to keep its own colonies competitive after ending the slave trade, Britain used its naval strength to bring an end to the Atlantic slave trade. Between 1807 and 1860, Britain’s West Africa Squadron seized about 1,600 ships involved in the slave trade and freed 150,000 Africans aboard those vessels. 2

1 Data from United States Department of Agriculture, Atlas of American Agriculture, V, Sec. A, Cotton, Table IV, p. 18. Crop Year begins October 1 for 1790-1840 and July 1 for 1845-1860. Production is measured in equivalent 500-pound bales, gross weight.

2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantic_slave_trade



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