previous next
[58] Cortes found it in use by the half-civilized Mexicans; and it has been rudely fabricated in Africa from time immemorial. India, however, is the earliest known seat of the cotton manufacture, and here it long ago attained the highest perfection possible prior to the application of steam, with complicated machinery, to its various processes; and hence it appears to have gradually extended westward through Persia and Arabia, until it attracted the attention of the Greeks, and was noticed by Herodotus about 450 B. C., as the product of an Indian tree, and the staple of an extensive manufacture. Later Greek accounts confirm the impression that the tree or shrub variety was cultivated in India previously to the plant or annual now by far the more commonly grown. The Romans began to use cotton fabrics before the time of Julius Caesar, and the cotton-plant was grown in Sicily and along the northern coast of the Mediterranean so early as the tenth century. The culture, however, does not appear to have ever attained a great importance in any portion of the world regarded by the Greeks and Romans as civilized, prior to its recent establishment in Egypt, in obedience to the despotic will of Ibrahim Pacha.

In the British colonies now composing this country, the experiment of cotton-planting was tried so early as 1621; and in 1666 the growth of the cotton-plant is on record. The cultivation slowly and fitfully expanded throughout the following century, extending northward to the eastern shore of Maryland and the southernmost point of New Jersey--where, however, the plant was grown more for ornament than use. It is stated that “seven bags of cotton-wool” were among the exports of Charleston, S. C., in 1748, and that trifling shipments from that port were likewise made in 1754 and 1757. In 1784, it is recorded that eight bags, slipped to England, were seized at the custom-house as fraudulently entered: “cotton not being a production of the United States.” The export of 1790, as returned, was eighty-one bags; and the entire cotton crop of the United States at that time was probably less than the product of some single plantation in our day.

For, though the plant grew luxuriantly and produced abundantly throughout tide-water Virginia and all that portion of our country lying southward and south-westward of Richmond, yet the enormous labor required to separate the seed from the tiny handful of fibres wherein it was imbedded, precluded its extensive and profitable cultivation. It was calcuted that the perfect separation of one pound of fibre from the seed was an average day's work; and this fact presented a formidable barrier to the production of the staple in any but a region like India, where labor can be hired for a price below the cost of subsisting slaves, however wretchedly, in this country. It seemed that the limit of American cotton cultivation had been fully reached, when an event occurred which speedily revolutionized the industry of our slaveholding States and the commerce and manufactures of the world.

Eli Whitney, a native of West-borough, Worcester County, Massachusetts, born December 8, 1765, was

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
United States (United States) (2)
Worcester County (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
New Jersey (New Jersey, United States) (1)
Maryland (Maryland, United States) (1)
England (United Kingdom) (1)
Charleston (South Carolina, United States) (1)

Visualize the most frequently mentioned Pleiades ancient places in this text.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Eli Whitney (1)
Herodotus (1)
Cortes (1)
Julius Caesar (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1790 AD (1)
1784 AD (1)
December 8th, 1765 AD (1)
1757 AD (1)
1754 AD (1)
1748 AD (1)
1666 AD (1)
1621 AD (1)
450 BC (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: