Cotton was a small-time crop prior to 1793, due to the labor intensive requirement to separate cotton seeds from the cotton. For example, in the 18th Century, 25 farm hands working on 25 cotton bales often took 100 days to seed the crop.

   While widely grown, cotton was a small crop intended for local use in homespun cloth. There were small jenny mills, sometimes on plantations, operated by hand, mules or oxen producing a crude yarn suitable for homespun.
   As Moses Brown, who funded and owned the first powered spinning (Arkwright system of machinery) mill with Samuel Slater in 1791 in Rhode Island, said about Southern cotton: "The unripe, short, and dusty part being so enveloped with that which would be good, if separated properly at first, so spoils the whole as to discourage the use of it in the machines."
   But the Eli Whitney Cotton Gin, invented in 1793, did the work of ten men. As the gin was improved and access spread, it encouraged North Carolina farmers to grow the crop, which could be easily sold. Crop was hauled overland or on river boats to access points (Fayetteville, Columbia, Charleston, Cheraw, etc.) to ship north to powered textile spinning mills.
   Beginning about 1840, cotton became a leading cash crop for North Carolina farmers.
   The lure of being near the fields caused many to think about creating a powered textile mill. (See textiles). But the demand for cotton, focused farmers primarily on growing the crop in the South until 1840, when the effort to create new planting areas slowed. This allowed more resources to be diverted to cotton processing. Plus, pioneering efforts proved that cotton mills could be highly profitable.
   The first mill in North Carolina was established around 1815 near Lincolnton and operated until 1819. It was replaced by another Lincolnton area mill in 1819 which operated under different owners until 1863. Textile mills proliferated during the 1840s in Alamance and other Piedmont areas, reaching 45 mills operating by 1860. 
   Cotton farming increased until the Civil War.  The North Carolina cotton crop began to grow between 1860 with 145,514 bales and 1870 with 203,000 bales (480-lb. equivalent bales). Cotton production continued its steady increase until the 1920s,
   By 1880, North Carolina was growing 446,000 bales annually, placing the state in 8th place, behind Mississippi, Georgia, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Louisiana. But the price of cotton continued to remain low in the post-war era, creating massive hardships on farmers.
   By 1900, North Carolina was producing 497,000 bales, which accelerated in the early 1900s to match the explosive growth of the textile industry. By 1925, North Carolina was producing 1,102,000 bales of cotton.
   The Great Depression in the 1930s and the boll weevil began a downward trend in growing cotton until by 1980, the crop output was equivalent to the 1840s. But pressure on tobacco, insect-resistant cotton crop and a jump in cotton prices caused a renaissance in cotton planting in the state in the 1990s.

NC Cotton Crop*
(equivalent 480 lb bales)
1810          3,296 bales est.
          8,172 bales est.
        17,571 bales est.
        34,617 bales
        73,845 bales 
      145,514 bales
      203,000 bales
      446,000 bales
      509,000 bales
      497,000 bales
      735,000 bales
    961,000 bales
      803,000 bales
      770,000 bales
      181,000 bales
      231,000 bales
      155,000 bales
        52,000 bales
      263,000 bales
   1,429,000 bales

*source: 1870 - present are from the NC Agriculture Department; statistics prior to 1840 are unreliable; our estimates are statistical projections
derived from U.S. cotton
crop figures.
Note: cotton bales did not
reach the standard 480 lb
rate until 1880s-1940s.
Therefore, these equivalent
480 lb bales do not reflect the
actual number of bales made.
For example, in 1810, the 
average bale weighted 228 lbs.;
1820 - 297 lbs.; 1830 - 341
lbs.; 1840 - 394 lbs.; 1850 -
414 lbs; 1860 - 477 lbs.

Cotton Prices (upland, per lb.)
1810   18.9 cents
1820   16.8 cents
1830   12.2 cents
1840   10.7 cents
1850   16.1 cents
1860   12.4 cents
1864 141.9 cents
1870   18.2 cents
1880   14.1 cents
1890   11.1 cents
1900   12.0 cents
1910   14.1 cents
1920   14.8 cents
1930     9.6 cents
1940     9.9 cents
1950   41.0 cents
1960   33.3 cents
1970   22.5 cents
1980   79.5 cents
1990   69.0 cents
2000   53.0 cents

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