Cotton - Why didn't poor white farmers start co-ops

NH Civil War Gal

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#1
I talked to @jgoodguy weeks and weeks ago about starting a cotton thread but the more I tried to put my thoughts together, the crazier the thread got in my mind. So I had my little break and was in Maryland and suddenly this one idea about cotton seemed to come together.

I really, really, really, don't want this to devolve into a slanging match about slavery, so please don't let it. But let's face it, the slaves grew cotton. As we sometimes hear, slavery was going to die out anyhow, why is it then:

we don't hear about poor white farmers joining in marketing co-ops to grow cotton without using slaves, but using their own power to grow cotton, get profits and better their own lives?

I came across this in the georgiaencyclopedia.org

"By the 1850s farmers in the Northeast and South had succeeded in organizing and operating cooperatives to process and market cheese, wool, cotton, tobacco, and food grains."

I have never, not once, read about poor white farmers in the South forming or joining a co-op to better themselves or keep profits for themselves.

Surely there was a niche market in there somewhere.
 

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USS ALASKA

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#2
Ma'am, this appears to be inference to the Grange Movement. From what little I know about it, while Pres. Andrew Johnson sent commissioners to the South to improve farming conditions, they were ignored because they weren't from the South. In the North and Old Northwest, they took off, especially in their battles against the railroads. I believe they were instrumental in the formation of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC).
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USS ALASKA
 

archieclement

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#3
I talked to @jgoodguy weeks and weeks ago about starting a cotton thread but the more I tried to put my thoughts together, the crazier the thread got in my mind. So I had my little break and was in Maryland and suddenly this one idea about cotton seemed to come together.

I really, really, really, don't want this to devolve into a slanging match about slavery, so please don't let it. But let's face it, the slaves grew cotton. As we sometimes hear, slavery was going to die out anyhow, why is it then:

we don't hear about poor white farmers joining in marketing co-ops to grow cotton without using slaves, but using their own power to grow cotton, get profits and better their own lives?

I came across this in the georgiaencyclopedia.org

"By the 1850s farmers in the Northeast and South had succeeded in organizing and operating cooperatives to process and market cheese, wool, cotton, tobacco, and food grains."

I have never, not once, read about poor white farmers in the South forming or joining a co-op to better themselves or keep profits for themselves.

Surely there was a niche market in there somewhere.
I believe slavery would die out eventually, but not till machinery became a feasible and profitable alternative.. Really have a hard time in this day and age seeing farmers maintaining 1000 slaves to farm 10,000 acres when 2 or 3 combines and tractors can do the job...……..

A coop doesn't change the labor requirement, for rice or cotton have seen figures as high as 1 slave per 2-3 acres improved land in production, {It also depends on quality of land } So a 1000 acre plantation may have 3-500 slaves.

Now if 10 smaller farmers of 100 acres band together by themselves...….they are still 290-490 short on labor...……

Cotton is most commonly associated with slavery as it was more geographically spread, but rice and sugar were even more slave intensive, Sugarcane could go as high as 1 slave for every one acre

Plus farmers are notoriously independent if say Corn is $2 a bushel and have 1000 "agree" to not plant any corn until demand drives the price up to $5...……...by the time it hits $3 some will already be breaking away and planting corn again
 
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ucvrelics

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#4
The South did have CO-OPs but cotton was a whole different matter due to the labor involved. The CS camp that I'm excavating now covers over 800 acres and the farmer that leases this land to plant cotton can do it with 3 people.

I always remember going to the Co-Op with my Grand Daddy on Saturdays. He spent more BS and telling lies on well his cotton crop was then buying:D
images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQxuSE45tdU-DhPKP18R7up8NFm0YQvC7jPbrC_rmQ-X6qajVRP.jpg
 

jgoodguy

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#5
Ma'am, this appears to be inference to the Grange Movement. From what little I know about it, while Pres. Andrew Johnson sent commissioners to the South to improve farming conditions, they were ignored because they weren't from the South. In the North and Old Northwest, they took off, especially in their battles against the railroads. I believe they were instrumental in the formation of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC).
16

Cheers,
USS ALASKA
Several Southern folks tried the same thing with the same results.
Notably
James Dunwoody Brownson De Bow, publisher of De Bow's Review
Edmund Ruffin

Co ops seem to have a relationship to industrialization and commercialization, IMHO due to the cost of labor. Cheap labor deferred Co ops while dear labor encouraged them.
 

NH Civil War Gal

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#6
Let's take this in a different direction then - why didn't the poor white farmers work in the cotton fields themselves? I'm not being snarky here. Was the culture such that it was considered dishonorable for white workers to be in the cotton (rice, sugar) fields?

Is it because the crops of cotton, rice, sugar are so labor intensive that there simply weren't enough white workers to go around? @ucvrelics.com and @archieclement both make good points about industrialization - the technology wasn't there to make growing these crops simple with few workers.
 

jgoodguy

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#7
Let's take this in a different direction then - why didn't the poor white farmers work in the cotton fields themselves? I'm not being snarky here. Was the culture such that it was considered dishonorable for white workers to be in the cotton (rice, sugar) fields?
A 2 part answer.

White workers did work in the fields of their own subsistence farms looking to the day when they could increase production by having children and buying slaves.

Working in the fields of plantations was slaves work and if a white man did it, he was no more than a slave.

Is it because the crops of cotton, rice, sugar are so labor intensive that there simply weren't enough white workers to go around? @ucvrelics.com and @archieclement both make good points about industrialization - the technology wasn't there to make growing these crops simple with few workers.
In the beginning, labor shortages were relieved by slave labor. Slavery does not exist without a labor shortage. Slave labor was so much less expensive than free white labor in both actual costs and in that free whites would not work in the same conditions as slave labor. A note on mechanization.

In the real timeline, labor costs did not rise enough to justify mechanical cotton picking until nearly a century after the Civil War and factors like 2 World Wars consumption of labor affected that.
 

archieclement

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#8
Let's take this in a different direction then - why didn't the poor white farmers work in the cotton fields themselves? I'm not being snarky here. Was the culture such that it was considered dishonorable for white workers to be in the cotton (rice, sugar) fields?

Is it because the crops of cotton, rice, sugar are so labor intensive that there simply weren't enough white workers to go around? @ucvrelics.com and @archieclement both make good points about industrialization - the technology wasn't there to make growing these crops simple with few workers.
They did, Its well noted small farmers here worked side by side their slaves here. No different then most small mom and pop operations work the stores themselves still today.

For a small farmer to have a slave, it was gold to him. It would represent his single biggest investment and his single biggest chance for upward mobility as he could farms 2x one who had none. On frontier land was cheap, what limited one was how much you could clear and farm.

Its why it was generally small slaveowners going west. In the east the land had been cleared and improved, the big plantations competed over it, price of land was high leaving small to middle farmers little opportunity to advance...….out west they had the opportunity as land hadn't been cleared, improved and was still cheap, the only thing limiting how much one could grow was labor
 
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jgoodguy

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#9
Its why it was generally small slaveowners going west. In the east the land had been cleared and improved, the big plantations competed over it, price of land was high leaving small to middle farmers little opportunity to advance...….out west they had the opportunity as land hadn't been cleared, improved and was still cheap, the only thing limiting how much one could grow was labor
One of the interesting side effects is that the free white farmer out west from a slaveholding States would often oppose the territory from becoming a slave State to protect his economic status or opportunity to deter competition from large-scale slave plantation or operations such as mining. California is the prime example.
 

alan polk

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#10
It is important, I think, to keep in mind that you can’t eat cotton. Nor can mules or horses eat the plant. Cotton is a cash crop, plain and simple. When we speak of poor white farmers, I think this needs keeping in mind.

Look into how many acres of corn a farmer had to plant each year in order to feed, not his family, but simply one of his mules in that year. The more mules, the more acreage he must set aside to simply feed those mules. Then he has to set aside land to grow food for his family. One might see how difficult it is for poorer farmers to transition a portion of his land into a cash crop or into a cooperative that is not only subject to weather and disease but also to unpredictable international markets.

There were in the antebellum south a number of successful yeoman farmers that we might want to look into.

Great thread. Thanks for creating it!
 
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jgoodguy

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#11
It is important, I think, to keep in mind that you can’t eat cotton. Nor can mules or horses eat the plant. Cotton is a cash crop, plain and simple. When we speak of poor white farmers, I think this needs to be kept in mind.

Look into how many acres of corn a farmer had to plant each year in order to feed, not his family, but simply one of his mules in that year. The more mules, the more acreage he must set aside to simply feed that mule. Then he has to set aside land to grow food for his family. One might see how difficult it is for poorer farmers to transition a portion of his land into a cash crop or into a cooperative that is not only subject to weather and disease but to unpredictable international markets.

There were in the antebellum south a number of successful yeoman farmers that we might want to look into.

Great thread. Thanks for creating it!
Good points. The point of a cash crop is to have spending money after the necessities of life are provided for. Corn Whisky as a cash crop was the basis for the Whisky Rebellion. After the Civil War and the rise of sharecropping, subsistence farming declined with an increase in cash crop production.
 

NH Civil War Gal

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#12
One of the interesting side effects is that the free white farmer out west from a slaveholding States would often oppose the territory from becoming a slave State to protect his economic status or opportunity to deter competition from large-scale slave plantation or operations such as mining. California is the prime example.
I'm probably going to show a lot of ignorance in this thread but I'm trying to learn as I go along here....

Would you say in detering the large-scale slave plantations, they were trying to thwart basically a cotton monopoly of the large planters?

@alan polk can you find or point me to these small but successful southern yeoman farmers? We could either start another thread or if it works, keep it in this thread.

Why not profit sharing? Why didn't a bunch of these small guys get together and start a cotton business and do profit sharing or is that idea further down the century?
 

uaskme

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#13
There was plenty of Substance Farming into the next Century. White and Black. There was competition for the better farm lands everywhere. But many places the poorer people would be stuck with the least productive Land. Some small farmers grew smaller quantities of Cotton for their own use, or for barter. A lot of farms in the Upper South supplied the Cotton Planters their foodstuff, including pork etc. Planters weren’t stupid. There has always been Economics in Farming. If it was more Economic for them to buy their foodstuff instead of growing it, only makes sense to purchase.

Many sharecroppers were substance Farmers. These people would be the ones unable to own land. Sharecropping would be a last resort, or a starting point.
 

jackt62

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#14
I don't see how small subsistence or better off yeomen farmers in the south could have successfully banded together to grow cotton given the stranglehold that the large and politically powerful plantation owners had over the south's economic system. The owners had almost exclusive control over labor, marketing, and distribution of the four major commodity crops (cotton, rice, sugar, and tobacco).
 

jgoodguy

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Would you say in detering the large-scale slave plantations, they were trying to thwart basically a cotton monopoly of the large planters?
No. They did not want competition from slave owners. A slave owner drops by with 10 slaves, he takes 10 free white men's jobs. In the Slave South it was a developing problem at the time of the Civil War and IMHO big problem a victorous CSA would have had to face-the one IMHO that destorys slavery-white free men's resentment at slaves taking jobs. Elsewhere there was a free white voting majority, slavery had issues competing with slave labor and generally lost ground.
 

jgoodguy

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I don't see how small subsistence or better off yeomen farmers in the south could have successfully banded together to grow cotton given the stranglehold that the large and politically powerful plantation owners had over the south's economic system. The owners had almost exclusive control over labor, marketing, and distribution of the four major commodity crops (cotton, rice, sugar, and tobacco).
I agree. In addition, the plantation owners also had the local cotton gin, sold seed to the small farmers, marketed their cotton for them, provided blacksmithing services and leased labor to small farmers during planting, harvessting and for building and repair.
 
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#17
Washington Duke was a prosperous farmer in North Carolina. He grew some Brightleaf tobacco. He did not believe in slavery but purchased one man to give him his freedom and a job. When the union army occupied North Carolina they would smoke some of his tobacco and either pay him or steal it. Mr. Duke didn't care. He knew that when they got back home they would want more. He formed the American Tobacco Company and became one of the wealthiest men in the state. He donated so much money and land to Trinity College they renamed the school after him. If you are ever in Durham NC, go to the Duke Homestead. Bennett Place is nice but I found the Duke Homestead much more interesting.
 
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#18
Many white farmers did not want to devote much time and land to cash crops. If a person is growing corn and raising pigs and poultry, they can eat what they need and sell the excess. The cotton farmer is always at risk of falling into a cycle of debt, in which they have to grow cotton to pay off prior debts. It could be a debt owed locally to the store, or a debt owed to a commercial broker in New York.
 
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#19
The typical solution for many southern white farmers was to get out of the south, and either get a job or get land near enough to a railroad to have a choice of crops.
Others went out west for legal and illegal jobs in the cattle industry.
 

NH Civil War Gal

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No. They did not want competition from slave owners. A slave owner drops by with 10 slaves, he takes 10 free white men's jobs. In the Slave South it was a developing problem at the time of the Civil War and IMHO big problem a victorous CSA would have had to face-the one IMHO that destorys slavery-white free men's resentment at slaves taking jobs. Elsewhere there was a free white voting majority, slavery had issues competing with slave labor and generally lost ground.
Thought about this for a while and I think you're right. I never thought about cotton from this angle before. If the prevailing thought "rich man's war and a poor man's fight" really took hold and if the CSA had won but didn't want to share with the common soldier the wealth, so to speak, it would get ugly real fast. In fact, more and more slaves (from breeding) would have kept pushing poor white ex-soldiers to the margins. The planters would have had something to worry about with the night riders.
 



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