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Mar. 14: Cotton holds the seeds to war

The wealth cotton generated was a cause of the USA's Civil War
The wealth cotton generated was a cause of the USA's Civil War
Image by Zik Armstrong

Here’s what happened.

On March 14, 1794, a young man from Connecticut obtained the patent for an invention that changed the course of history. He was living in Georgia during that time. His name was Eli Whitney.

Here’s why it matters.

After graduating from Yale University, Whitney moved to the USA’s South for principally the same reason many college graduates relocate today; he had education debts and needed a job. His original destination was South Carolina, but instead he became an employee and guest of Catherine Greene, a widow who owned a plantation near Savannah.

According to the Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop, “There Whitney quickly learned that Southern planters were in desperate need of a way to make the growing of cotton profitable . . . At stake was the success of cotton planting throughout the South, especially important at a time when tobacco was declining in profit due to over-supply and soil exhaustion.”

And according to New Georgia Encyclopedia, “In 1801 planters produced 48 million pounds of cotton as compared with just 2 million pounds a decade earlier. By the eve of the Civil War, the South's cotton production exceeded a billion pounds annually.” That massive economic impact compelled the South to maintain slavery, the institution that helped to make cotton so profitable.

Here’s an interesting fact!

Whitney’s time in Savannah reflected the fact that many Georgians had significant connections to Yale University. Indeed, Yale alumni played a central role in the founding of the University of Georgia.

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