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