King Cotton

These are picked bolls of raw cotton. Until their tangled fibers are combed out and their seeds are removed, they cannot be woven into fabric. Slaves did these chores by hand until 1793. In that year, twenty-eight-year-old Eli Whitney of New England invented the cotton gin, a hand-cranked machine that combed and seeded cotton in large quantities. This made cotton the "king" of the Southern economy, allowed white planters to amass fortunes — and created a need for tens of thousands of slaves to work the cotton fields.

Cotton boll

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