Mixed Media

30” x 40”


When we talk about the wealth of the South we’re talking about wealth created by slavery. Before the civil war,  20% of the total wealth of the United States was generated by the labor of enslaved humans. In New Orleans, in the 1850s, an enslaved male was worth $1000 - $1500.  Today, with inflation, an enslaved male would be $230,000 - $250,000.  Enslaved people represented more capital than all the factories, all the stockS and bonds and all the currency combined.


"Cotton involved a labor-intensive process of picking and cleaning which slowed production and limited supply. In 1794, inventor Eli Whitney devised a machine that combed the cotton bolls free of their seeds in very short order. Manually, one enslaved person could pick the seeds out of 10 pounds of cotton in a day. The cotton gin, which Whitney patented in 1794, could process 100 pounds in the same time.


There was an irony in all this. Many people believed the cotton gin would reduce the need for enslaved people because the machine could supplant human labor. But in reality, the increased processing capacity accelerated demand. The more cotton processed, the more that could be exported to the mills of Great Britain and New England. And the invention of the cotton gin coincided with other developments that opened up large-scale global trade: Cargo ships were built bigger, better and easier to navigate. Powerful navies protected them against piracy. And newly invented steam engines powered these ships, as well as looms and weaving machines, which increased the capacity to produce cotton cloth."

Cotton: The Fabric of Our Lives