<b>"Cotton is King":</b> James Henry Hammond, South Carolina cotton planter and politician, 1856.
Between 1790 and 1860, the cotton gin had a greater impact on the South than any other invention. The gin made it possible to turn vast areas of the Upcountry, as well as the rest of the region, into cotton plantations.
The Cotton Plant:
"Cotton is noticed as an article of export in South Carolina, as early as the year 1754; and from that time to this, it has grown in the state; but without any particular attention, until of late years." -- John Drayton, Governor of South Carolina, 1852 (?)
The cotton plant produces a soft, fluffy fruit made of fibers used to make cloth. Several varieties are native to the Americas, and all require a warm, moist climate like that of the Southeast.
Two kinds of cotton were important in South Carolina. Sea island cotton was the first to be successful commercially. It grew near the coast in loose, sandy soil. Used mainly for delicate fabrics, its silky fibers separated easily from seeds.
Upland cotton was better suited to the rest of the South. It was grown for home use by colonists. But the seeds were so hard to separate from the fiber that it did not become important commercially until the invention of the cotton gin in the 1790s.
It took a day for a worker to remove enough seeds to make a pound of lint cotton.