Cotton After the Revolutionary War

Cotton became a major crop in America after the colonies won their independence. Cotton mills were established in both the North and South.

Cotton became a major crop in the South. This was particularly true after the Revolutionary War. By the early 1800s cotton was of major importance in South Carolina. Cotton cultivation also spread as the nation expanded westward. Two factors were largely responsible for the success of cotton in America. These were the invention of the cotton gin in 1792 and the widespread institution of slavery in the South. The expansion of cotton cultivation continued until the Civil War began.

American Cotton Mills Established

The U.S. began manufacturing its own cotton goods quite a bit later than England and Europe. Early on, this was largely due to the fact that British manufacturers carefully protected their trade secrets to prevent the colonists from manufacturing their own cotton. In order to minimize such threats, the British lowered the price of the fabrics they sold to the colonies.

Despite the delays, American cotton mills were eventually founded. The Cocheco Manufacturing Company emerged from the Dover Cotton Factory in Dover, New Hampshire in 1812. At that time it was only one of three New England mills that made printed cotton. Initially, these mills used block printing. But, they later adopted the newer methods favored by the British. As a result of the efficient, automated techniques, printed cotton became fairly affordable in America over time. Within fifty years the price of American printed cotton fell from 22 cents per yard to five cents.

The Civil War Disrupts Cotton Shipments

During the 1860s, cotton and muslin were replaced by other types of fabrics. This was largely a result of the Civil War. The conflict created a shortage of Southern cotton for making these materials.

The shipment of Southern raw cotton to New England and England resumed after the Civil War. The number of bales leaving the Charleston port doubled within three years after the war ended. The shipments didn’t reach pre-war levels until 1877.

The Rise of Southern Cotton Mills

Beginning in the 1880s, the first cotton mills were established in Charleston and elsewhere in the South. The Charleston Cotton Mill operated until the early 1900s.

Francis W. Dawson of Charleston coined the slogan “Bring the cotton mills to the cotton.” Dawson was editor of the News and Courier. He became a prime spokesman of the New South movement.

There were numerous international expositions in the South promoting cotton and cotton manufacturing. Charleston held an exposition, which included a building called the Cotton Palace.

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