“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Hermitage in Davidson County, Tennessee — The American South (East South Central)

Ginning and Pressing “King Cotton”

Wealth Created by Enslaved Hands

Ginning and Pressing "King Cotton" Marker image. Click for full size.
By J. Makali Bruton, June 14, 2015
1. Ginning and Pressing "King Cotton" Marker
Inscription. Andrew Jackson built a cotton gin and press at The Hermitage in 1807, both of which stood in the field in front of you. It was a shrewd decision on Jackson's part, not only making his plantation more self-sufficient, but also generating additional income from ginning and baling other planters's cotton. The gin and press, which cleaned the cotton and compressed loose cotton into 300- to 500-pound bales, were expensive machinery operated by skilled and trusted slaves. At The Hermitage, these vital jobs fell to Ben, the ginner, and Squire, the press operator. If the cotton was ginned badly, the bales not packed properly, or if the operator carelessly or wantonly damaged the equipment, it could mean financial ruin for the Jacksons. The gin house, a large barn-like building, housed the gin on the second floor and provided shelter on the first floor for the animals driving the gears. The rest of the building stored cotton ready to be ginned and finished bales waiting to be shipped. The Hermitage gin house was abandoned in the late nineteenth century, when local farmers ceased growing cotton, and was demolished in the 1890s.

The gin must not be trusted to any but Ben. Squire who understands the press will do it without any injury to the screw. - Andrew Jackson to Andrew Jackson Jr., November 12 and 19, 1834

The Cotton
Ginning and Pressing "King Cotton" Marker image. Click for full size.
By J. Makali Bruton, June 14, 2015
2. Ginning and Pressing "King Cotton" Marker

Eli Whitney patented his revolutionary cotton gin in 1794, and set cotton on its course to becoming “King Cotton” in the American South. Essentially, the gin cleans short-fiber cotton of seed and debris, a job previously done by hand. As Whitney's gin made cotton a more profitable crop to grow, technological innovations in textile production and a booming textile industry in Europe and the United States created an insatiable demand for cotton. As Southerners saw their peers profit from cotton, competition began for more land and slaves. Slavery and slave values boomed in unison with cotton production. By the 1850s, cotton comprised over fifty percent of all United States exports.
Cotton grew best in a broad swath of land across South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, land largely occupied by Indians. As white settlers pushed west, their hunger for more land led to armed conflict with the Indians. The Indian Removal Act of 1830, which Jackson essentially authored, forcibly removed Indians from their land in the late 1830s.

These photographs from the John Blue House in Laurinburg, North Carolina show a working gin and press. Jackson's gin and press would have been similar. Animal powered gears on the bottom floor of the gin house drove the gin on the second floor. The press depended on a large metal or wood screw that animals turned to compress the cotton into rectangular bales. (Press, Press Screw, Gin, Gin House, Gin House Gears)

Jackson employed Maunsel White, a shipping agent in New Orleans, to warehouse and sell his cotton. This bill-of-lading shows the number and weight of the cotton bales The Hermitage produced in 1825. Along with the textile industry and cotton planters, the cotton boom also enriched those who shipped, warehoused and arranged buyers for cotton.

This is a model and diagram of Eli Whitney's cotton gin.

Cotton is no longer grown commercially in Davidson County, Tennessee. Every year a few historic sites including The Hermitage grow a small crop for educational purposes.
Erected by The Hermitage Foundation.
Location. 36° 13.052′ N, 86° 36.649′ W. Marker is in Hermitage, Tennessee, in Davidson County. Marker is on Field Quarter Trail. Touch for map. The marker is on The Field Quarter at The Hermitage. Marker is in this post office area: Hermitage TN 37076, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The North Cabin (here, next to this marker); Field Quarter Trail (within shouting distance of this marker); The Belted Galloway (within shouting distance of this marker); Abandonment and Preservation (within shouting distance of this marker); The Hermitage Landscape (within shouting distance of this marker); A home for Jackson’s Slaves (within shouting distance of this marker); The Hermitage Overseer (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); A Future President's Home (about 300 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Hermitage.
Categories. African AmericansAgricultureAnthropologyNative Americans
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on July 14, 2015, by J. Makali Bruton of Querétaro, Mexico. This page has been viewed 240 times since then and 12 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on July 14, 2015, by J. Makali Bruton of Querétaro, Mexico. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.
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