The Great Awakening and Southern Backcountry Revolutionaries

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Thousands rushed into the Cotton Belt. Banks in New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and even London offered lines of credit to anyone looking to buy land in the Southwest.


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Some even sent their own agents to purchase cheap land at auction for the express purpose of selling it, sometimes the very next day, at double and triple the original value, a process known as speculation. The explosion of available land in the fertile Cotton Belt brought new life to the South. By the end of the s, Petit Gulf cotton had been perfected, distributed, and planted throughout the region.

Indeed, by the end of the s, cotton had become the primary crop not only of the southwestern states but of the entire nation. The numbers were staggering. Seven years later, in , South Carolina remained the primary cotton producer in the South, sending 6. By , the five main cotton-growing states—South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana—produced more than five hundred million pounds of Petit Gulf for a global market stretching from New Orleans to New York and to London, Liverpool, Paris and beyond.

That five hundred million pounds of cotton made up nearly 55 percent of the entire United States export market, a trend that continued nearly every year until the outbreak of the Civil War. But tobacco was a rough crop. It treated the land poorly, draining the soil of nutrients. Tobacco fields did not last forever. In fact, fields rarely survived more than four or five cycles of growth, which left them dried and barren, incapable of growing much more than patches of grass. Of course, tobacco is, and was, an addictive substance, but because of its violent pattern of growth, farmers had to move around, purchasing new lands, developing new methods of production, and even creating new fields through deforestation and westward expansion.

Tobacco, then, was expensive to produce—and not only because of the ubiquitous use of slave labor. It required massive, temporary fields, large numbers of slaves and laborers, and constant movement. Cotton was different, and it arrived at a time best suited for its success. Petit Gulf cotton, in particular, grew relatively quickly on cheap, widely available land. But this all came at a violent cost. And by the s, that very tradition, seen as the backbone of southern society and culture, would split the nation in two.

The heyday of American slavery had arrived. This map, published by the US Coast Guard, shows the percentage of slaves in the population in each county of the slave-holding states in Hergesheimer cartographer , Th. Without slavery there could be no Cotton Kingdom, no massive production of raw materials stretching across thousands of acres worth millions of dollars. Indeed, cotton grew alongside slavery. The two moved hand-in-hand. The existence of slavery and its importance to the southern economy became the defining factor in what would be known as the Slave South.

Although slavery arrived in the Americas long before cotton became a profitable commodity, the use and purchase of slaves, the moralistic and economic justifications for the continuation of slavery, and even the urgency to protect the practice from extinction before the Civil War all received new life from the rise of cotton and the economic, social, and cultural growth spurt that accompanied its success. Slavery had existed in the South since at least , when a group of Dutch traders arrived at Jamestown with twenty Africans.

Slavery was everywhere by the time the American Revolution created the United States, although northern states began a process of gradually abolishing the practice soon thereafter. In the more rural, agrarian South, slavery became a way of life, especially as farmers expanded their lands, planted more crops, and entered the international trade market. Just twenty years later, in , that number had increased to more than 1. Though taken after the end of slavery, these stereographs show various stages of cotton production.

The fluffy white staple fiber is first extracted from the boll a prickly, sharp protective capsule , after which the seed is separated in the ginning and taken to a storehouse. Unknown, Picking cotton in a great plantation in North Carolina, U. During that time, the South advanced from a region of four states and one rather small territory to a region of six states Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee and three rather large territories Mississippi, Louisiana, and Orleans.

The free population of the South also nearly doubled over that period—from around 1. The enslaved population of the South did not increase at any rapid rate over the next two decades, until the cotton boom took hold in the mids. Indeed, following the constitutional ban on the international slave trade in , the number of slaves in the South increased by just , in twenty years. But then cotton came, and grew, and changed everything. Over the course of the s, s, and s, slavery became so endemic to the Cotton Belt that travelers, writers, and statisticians began referring to the area as the Black Belt, not only to describe the color of the rich land but also to describe the skin color of those forced to work its fields, line its docks, and move its products.

Perhaps the most important aspect of southern slavery during this so-called Cotton Revolution was the value placed on both the work and the body of the slaves themselves. Once the fever of the initial land rush subsided, land values became more static and credit less free-flowing. If that land, for one reason or another, be it weevils, a late freeze, or a simple lack of nutrients, did not produce a viable crop within a year, the planter would lose not only the new land but also the slaves he or she put up as a guarantee of payment.

The slave markets of the South varied in size and style, but the St. Louis Exchange in New Orleans was so frequently described it became a kind of representation for all southern slave markets. Indeed, the St. After the ruin of the St. Clare plantation, Tom and his fellow slaves were suddenly property that had to be liquidated. Starling engraver , Sale of estates, pictures and slaves in the rotunda, New Orleans , So much went into the production of cotton, the expansion of land, and the maintenance of enslaved workforces that by the s, nearly every ounce of credit offered by southern, and even northern, banks dealt directly with some aspect of the cotton market.

Millions of dollars changed hands. Slaves, the literal and figurative backbone of the southern cotton economy, served as the highest and most important expense for any successful cotton grower.


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Prices for slaves varied drastically, depending on skin color, sex, age, and location, both of purchase and birth. By the s and into the s, prices had nearly doubled—a result of both standard inflation and the increasing importance of enslaved laborers in the cotton market. The key is that cotton and slaves helped define each other, at least in the cotton South. By the s, slavery and cotton had become so intertwined that the very idea of change—be it crop diversity, antislavery ideologies, economic diversification, or the increasingly staggering cost of purchasing and maintaining slaves—became anathema to the southern economic and cultural identity.

Cotton had become the foundation of the southern economy. Indeed, it was the only major product, besides perhaps sugarcane in Louisiana, that the South could effectively market internationally. The Cotton Revolution was a time of capitalism, panic, stress, and competition. Planters expanded their lands, purchased slaves, extended lines of credit, and went into massive amounts of debt because they were constantly working against the next guy, the newcomer, the social mover, the speculator, the trader.

A single bad crop could cost even the most wealthy planter his or her entire life, along with those of his or her slaves and their families. Although the cotton market was large and profitable, it was also fickle, risky, and cost intensive. The more wealth one gained, the more land one needed to procure, which led to more slaves, more credit, and more mouths to feed. The decades before the Civil War in the South, then, were not times of slow, simple tradition. They were times of high competition, high risk, and high reward, no matter where one stood in the social hierarchy.

But the risk was not always economic. In southern cities like Norfolk, VA, markets sold not only vegetables, fruits, meats, and sundries, but also slaves. Enslaved men and women, like the two walking in the direct center, lived and labored next to free people, black and white. The most tragic, indeed horrifying, aspect of slavery was its inhumanity. All slaves had memories, emotions, experiences, and thoughts. They saw their experiences in full color, felt the pain of the lash, the heat of the sun, and the heartbreak of loss, whether through death, betrayal, or sale.

Communities developed on a shared sense of suffering, common work, and even family ties. Slaves communicated in the slave markets of the urban South and worked together to help their families, ease their loads, or simply frustrate their owners. Simple actions of resistance, such as breaking a hoe, running a wagon off the road, causing a delay in production due to injury, running away, or even pregnancy provided a language shared by nearly all slaves in the agricultural workforce, a sense of unity that remained unsaid but was acted out daily.

Beyond the basic and confounding horror of it all, the problem of slavery in the cotton South was twofold. First and most immediate was the fear and risk of rebellion. With nearly four million individual slaves residing in the South in , and nearly 2. Southern writers, planters, farmers, merchants, and politicians expressed the same fears more than a half century later. Even cowardice would not save her.

Much of pro-slavery ideology rested on the notion that slavery provided a sense of order, duty, and legitimacy to the lives of individual slaves, feelings that Africans and African Americans, it was said, could not otherwise experience. Some commentators recognized the problem in the s as the internal slave trade, the legal trade of slaves between states, along rivers, and along the Atlantic coastline.


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  • The internal trade picked up in the decade before the Civil War. The problem was rather simple. The more slaves one owned, the more money it cost to maintain them and to extract product from their work. As planters and cotton growers expanded their lands and purchased more slaves, their expectations increased. And productivity, in large part, did increase.

    But it came on the backs of slaves with heavier workloads, longer hours, and more intense punishments. And many planters recognized this limitation and worked night and day, sometimes literally, to find the furthest extent of that limit. Here was capitalism with its most colonial, violent, and exploitative face.

    Humanity became a commodity used and worked to produce profit for a select group of investors, regardless of its shortfalls, dangers, and immoralities.

    Enlightenment and Religious Revival

    But slavery, profit, and cotton did not exist only in the rural South. The Cotton Revolution sparked the growth of an urban South, cities that served as southern hubs of a global market, conduits through which the work of slaves and the profits of planters met and funded a wider world. The slave trade sold bondspeople — men, women, and children — like mere pieces of property, as seen in the advertisements produced during the era. Much of the story of slavery and cotton lies in the rural areas where cotton actually grew.

    Slaves worked in the fields, and planters and farmers held reign over their plantations and farms. But the s, s, and s saw an extraordinary spike in urban growth across the South. For nearly a half century after the Revolution, the South existed as a series of plantations, county seats, and small towns, some connected by roads, others connected only by rivers, streams, and lakes. Cities certainly existed, but they served more as local ports than as regional, or national, commercial hubs.

    For example, New Orleans, then the capital of Louisiana, which entered the union in , was home to just over 27, people in ; and even with such a seemingly small population, it was the second-largest city in the South—Baltimore had more than 62, people in As late as the s, southern life was predicated on a rural lifestyle—farming, laboring, acquiring land and slaves, and producing whatever that land and those slaves could produce.

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    The market, often located in the nearest town or city, rarely stretched beyond state lines. Even in places like New Orleans, Charleston, and Norfolk, Virginia, which had active ports as early as the s, shipments rarely, with some notable exceptions, left American waters or traveled farther than the closest port down the coast. In the first decades of the nineteenth century, American involvement in international trade was largely confined to ports in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and sometimes Baltimore—which loosely falls under the demographic category of the South.

    Imports dwarfed exports. In , U. Cotton changed much of this, at least with respect to the South. Before cotton, the South had few major ports, almost none of which actively maintained international trade routes or even domestic supply routes. Internal travel and supply was difficult, especially on the waters of the Mississippi River, the main artery of the North American continent, and the eventual gold mine of the South. The river promised a revolution in trade, transportation, and commerce only if the technology existed to handle its impossible bends and fight against its southbound current.

    By the s and into the s, small ships could successfully navigate their way to New Orleans from as far north as Memphis and even St.

    The Second Great Awakening

    Louis, if they so dared. And, like Roman Catholics, Anglicans have always favored elegantly constructed churches with ornately decorated interiors. The purpose of all this outward show is to instill those attending worship with a sense of awe and piety. Finally, like Roman Catholics, most if not all Anglicans reject Calvinism, with its emphasis on predestination and conversion, and the evangelical ethos often associated with that theology. Anglicans instead stress the capacity of humankind, enlightened by reason, to earn salvation by leading upright, moral lives.

    This mode of organization also prevailed in early modern Britain, but the American colonies, lacking a bishop, entrusted enormous authority to local church vestries composed of the most eminent laymen. This was especially true in the South, which led to frequent contests for control and influence between parsons and the vestry. So what your students really need to know is that there was more than one distinctive form of Protestantism in early America: put simply, not every colonial was a Puritan.

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    On the contrary, there were many diverse groups of Protestants within the white population—Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Dutch Reformed as well as Anglicans, Quakers, and Lutherans, to mention only the most numerous. The culture of Reformed groups—the simplicity of their church structures, the emphasis upon the sermon rather than formal rituals and set prayers—contrasted sharply with that of Anglicanism.

    Important as these points are, there is an even more telling contrast. While many Reformed churches embraced an evangelical ethos, especially in the mid-eighteenth century as the Great Awakening spread throughout British North America and revivals simultaneously swept Protestant Europe , most Anglicans the Methodists in their ranks being the great exception rejected evangelical influences. Another way of saying this is that, compared to Reformed churches, Anglicans made less stringent demands on the inner resources of individuals.

    To wit: Belonging to the Church of England did not require individuals to testify to a conversion experience or to submit to an ascetic code of conduct enforced by the clergy and watchful lay members. Nor was any premium placed on strict doctrinal conformity, for, unlike the members of the Reformed tradition, Anglicans had little taste for dogmatism and tolerated differences of opinion on many points of theology. Instead, their clergy encouraged a temperate, practical piety among the laity through liturgical observance and moral admonition.

    And many colonials found great comfort in this form of Protestantism. Ordinary Anglican lay people found spiritual satisfaction in hearing intoned from the pulpit the familiar, stately cadences of the Book of Common Prayer , the basis of worship services in the Church of England. They were uplifted and sustained by participating in the yearly cycle of rituals commemorating holy days and by savoring the music supplied by choirs and organs.

    And they took consolation from carefully composed sermons emphasizing the reasonableness of Christianity, the benevolence of God, and the innate capacity of men and women to make proper moral judgments. This is not to say that Anglicans disparaged profound religious emotion, nor is it to say that Reformed churches devalued the importance of leading a moral life. But it is to say that the religious messages of these two Protestant groups differed in their EMPHASIS—in what they told the laity was most essential in seeking God and attaining assurance of salvation.

    The Enlightenment in America was best represented by Benjamin Franklin, who clearly believed that the human condition could be improved through science. He founded the American Philosophical Society, the first truly scientific society in the colonies, and his academy grew into the University of Pennsylvania, the only college established in the eighteenth century that had no ties to a religious denomination.

    Franklin's new wood stove improved heating and ventilation in colonial homes, and his experiments with electricity led to the invention of the lightning rod Although a deist himself, Franklin was curious about the religious revival that swept through the colonies from the s into the s. The Great Awakening and its impact. The Great Awakening grew out of the sense that religion was becoming an increasingly unimportant part of people's lives.

    The Great Awakening [hiqukycona.tk]

    In practical terms, this may well have been true. In Virginia, the most populous colony, the supply of ministers compared to the potential number of congregants was small, and churches in the backcountry were rare. The religious revival's leading figures were the Congregationalist minister Jonathan Edwards and the English evangelist George Whitefield, both dynamic preachers.



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