A History Of Mississippi Cotton Mills
and Mill Villages
By Narvell Strickland
Chapter I: First American Cotton Mills
Chapter II: Early Mississippi Mills
Chapter III: Post Civil War Mills: 1865-1898
Chapter IV: Mill Campaigns: 1870s-1890s
Chapter V: Twentieth Century Mills: 1898-1953
Chapter VI: Independent Mills
Chapter VII: Sanders Industries Mills
Chapter VIII: Magnolia Mill Reopens: 1932
Chapter IX: Nation-wide Textile Strike: 1934
Chapter X: Mills & Village: Depression Years
Chapter XI: Mills & Village: War Years-1953
1. Mississippi Cotton Mills: 1906
2. Sanders Cotton Mills: 1932
3. Mississippi Cotton Mills Closed: 1910-1942
Tyler, Myles, Laura Ash,
Anna Rourke, and the memory of Brian
First printed February 1995 under
title A History of Mississippi Cotton Mills and The Sanders Magnolia
Mill Village. October 1998, revised and reprinted under title A
History of Mississippi Cotton Mills and Mill Villages.
in the history of Mississippi cotton manufacturing started in February 1993
when, by chance, I was browsing in the Magnolia, Mississippi public
library and happened to pick up some material prepared for the town's
1956 Centennial Celebration. As I thumbed through it, I was shocked
that there was no mention, not a word, regarding the Magnolia Cotton
Mill. The mill, with its village of 105 houses, provided the economic
base for the small town from 1903 to 1953 and, in fact, kept the community
alive through the difficult depression years of the 1920s and 1930s.
I then visited the library at nearby McComb, the largest library in Pike County, Mississippi, with similar results. The library had no material on either of the town's two former cotton mills -- the McComb Cotton Mill and the Berthadale Cotton Mill -- which together employed nearly eight hundred workers during the depression years of the 1920s and 1930s. After checking with libraries at other former twentieth century cotton mill towns -- Batesville, Columbus, Kosciusko, Meridian, Moorhead, Natchez, Port Gibson, Shuqualak, Starkville, Stonewall, Tupelo, Wesson, West Point, Water Valley, Winona, and Yazoo City -- it began to appear that almost nothing had been written about the revival of the Mississippi cotton textile industry after its destruction during the Civil War, except for a few passing references in general histories of the state.
By then, I had decided to research and record some of the history of the Mississippi textile industry. Before starting, I reviewed my thoughts with Dr. Roman Heleniak, Dr. Michael Kurtz, Dr. Billy Wyche, Professors of History at Southeastern Louisiana University, and Dr. John Hebron Moore, noted author and former Professor of History at the University of Mississippi, who had done some study of antebellum textile history. I am indebted to them for their encouragement, support, and direction. Dr. Wyche was especially helpful as he spent considerable time reviewing my material and making valuable suggestions along the way. As it turned out, my research ignited an insatiable interest in the history of Mississippi cotton manufacturing and forms the foundation for this book. That interest, I should add, may have already been present (but dormant) because of my experiences as a youth, growing up in Mississippi mill villages at Tupelo, Winona, Kosciusko, Meridian, and Magnolia in the late thirties and early forties.
I am deeply grateful to Elene Hutson, Wesson, Mississippi librarian, for sharing with me her collection of papers, newspaper articles and photographs relating to the Wesson Cotton Mill and its founder; Dorrit Varnado of Magnolia, Mississippi for letting me review the Charles K. Taylor Papers; the Stonewall Cotton Mill for the material from its archives about the history of the mill; Marja Lynne Mueller, Reference Librarian, Special Collections at Mississippi State University, for her interest, assistance, and direction; and Pike County, Mississippi Courthouse employees, Rodney Barr and Lucy Lowery, for their assistance in reviewing county land conveyance records.
In reviewing mill village life, the book draws heavily on my personal experiences as a youth, growing up in the late thirties and early forties in the several Mississippi mill villages mentioned earlier. But the greater source, by far, was the several individuals who shared with me accounts of their lives in Mississippi mill villages from the early twenties to the early fifties, especially the Depression and World War II years. I spent many hours with them, meeting with some on several occasions. It is a history they were happy to review and eager to see recorded; they encouraged my research and participated by reviewing the material and making comments along the way.
O . L. Anderson Jr. Jewel Rushing
Evelyn (Rushing) Bridges Jewell (Ellzey) Rushing
Dr. Trelles Case Johnnie Carl Rushing
Jewel Case Susie (Counsell) Rushing
Ella (Pugh) Chadwick Frank Shaw Sr.
Guy Compton Beulah Mae (Bird) Simmons
Bernice (Rushing) Daugherty Paul Smith
R. Gene Davis Thelma (Grafton) Sterling
Fred Hardin Betty (Shaw) Strickland
J. W. Herring Ruby (Herring) Strickand
Ethel Mae (Dickinson) Hyde Ernest Strickland Jr.
Alton Lea Robert Sullivan
William Phurrough Willa Dean Sullivan
James Rushing Jr. Inez (Strickland) Wilkerson
I am also grateful to the many librarians and archivists at Jackson, Kosciusko, Meridian, McComb, Mississippi State University, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Oktibbaha County Heritage Museum, Tupelo, West Point, Wesson, and Winona who graciously extended themselves to be helpful. Finally, my wife, Betty Jean, deserves special mention for her encouragement and patience in traveling with me to visit former Sanders mill villages (or sites) at Kosciusko, Magnolia, Meridian, Starkville, Natchez, West Point, Winona, and Yazoo City; former non-Sanders villages at Wesson, McComb, Stonewall, and Tupelo, Mississippi; and finally a former mill village at Albemarle, North Carolina where a few Mississippi textile workers had migrated to in the late nineteen twenties and early thirties.
manufacturing is generally recognized as one of the most important industries
in history, dating back thousands of years before the Christian era --
to 6,000 B.C. in Mexico and Peru and to at least 3,000 B.C. in East Africa
and Southern Asia. From the beginning and continuing for centuries,
cotton was spun and woven into cloth by hand until England, in the late
1700s, developed textile machinery that was to revolutionize cotton
manufacturing and provide the impetus for the Industrial Revolution.
The advances required coal for fuel and iron for the new machinery; the
increase in coal and iron mining required improvements in transportation;
and the transportation requirements in turn brought about the development
of railroads and steamships. By the end of the eighteenth century,
the various specializations had intermeshed, with the achievements of
one contributing to the success of the other, and suddenly the world's
first industrial revolution was underway.
In the 1820s, cotton manufacturing crossed the English Channel into Belgium to start the industrialization of continental Europe. By the 1840s, it had leaped the Atlantic to spearhead the beginning of the Industrial Revolution of New England which in turn brought about the Factory System and the Corporation. The introduction of Eli Whitney's cotton gin in 1793, James Watt's steam engine in 1776, Fulton's steamboat in 1807, Stephenson's locomotive in 1825, Cyrus McCormick's reaper in 1831, the Howe-Singer sewing machine in 1854, and Sir Henry Bessemer's converter in 1858 made essential contributions to the revolution. The new devices lowered the cost of producing cotton clothing, creating a worldwide demand for it, and in the process, freed farm workers to enter the newly created factories.
The resulting increase in cotton manufacturing created a corresponding need for cotton, and the South began to invest virtually all of its capital and labor in cotton growing plantations. Big planters began to make great fortunes by raising cotton with slave labor, and Mississippi quickly developed an economy based on cotton growing and soon led the country in its production. Later cotton textile manufacturing began to move closer to the cotton fields, and by 1880 the Industrial Revolution of the South was under- way. Initially, most of the mills moved from New England to the Piedmont regions of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia because of the availability of water power. But in spite of the state’s shortage of water power, Mississippi participated in the movement with the advent of the then developing electrical power.
The cotton textile industry has perhaps been studied as much as any industry in history, and this is particularly true of cotton manufacturing in England, continental Europe, New England, and the Piedmont states of Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Hundreds of books, dissertations, theses, and magazine articles have examined the mills and their villages from several points of view, historical, economical, and sociological. But after exhaustive research, this writer has not found a single book devoted to the history of cotton textile manufacturing in Mississippi. While it fell short of igniting an industrial revolution, cotton textile manufacturing in Mississippi was extensive relative to other industry and paved the way for the state's industrialization that finally came with World War II and the 1940s.
My purpose with this book is to review and record some of that history to prevent its loss. It will examine the historical development of cotton textile mills in the state: the few antebellum mills, the post Civil War mills, the several turn of the century mills, the Sanders Industries conglomerate of mills in the first half of the twentieth century, and finally its demise in the 1950s. Special attention will be given to the five most influential men in the history of Mississippi cotton textile manufacturing. They were Colonel James Wesson who built the state's first successful mechanically powered cotton mill at Bankston in 1848, and after it was burned by Federal troops in 1864, the mill at Wesson in 1867; Captain William Oliver who, in the 1870s and 1880s, guided the Wesson mill in its phenomenal growth and to nation-wide fame; T. L. Wainwright who, from 1875 to 1921, brought the Stonewall mill from near bankruptcy to one of the state's greatest industrial success stories; and finally James Sanders and his son, Robert, who established and operated a conglomerate of Mississippi cotton mills in the first half of the twentieth century, from 1911 to 1953.
Along the way, it will highlight Mississippi mill village life and living conditions from the 1920s to the early 1950s -- especially villages at Magnolia, Kosciusko, Meridian, Starkville, and Tupelo -- and the impact of the nation- wide textile strike of 1934 and the Tupelo mill strike of 1937. Along with my own, it will draw on the personal experiences of the several individuals who shared their experiences with me. Life on the Magnolia mill village, purchased by Sanders Industries in 1932, is reviewed in greater detail than the others, but I hasten to add that living conditions there were typical of those at other Sanders villages and illustrate the struggles of Mississippi textile workers in general during those difficult years.
The Industrial Revolution of the South, spearheaded by the rapid south- ward movement of cotton textile manufacturing in the 1880s, was slow to come to Mississippi. The state and its people were reluctant to break away from its agricultural economy, but some twenty-five cotton textile mills did at least introduce the industrialization that finally came with World War II and the 1940s. But in spite of its slow start, the cotton textile industry played an important role in the state's history. It acted as a bridge, during the first half of the Twentieth Century -- especially the 1920s and 1930s--between the farm and the factory, with people cautiously shedding the shackles of colonial farm life and moving in the direction of an urban activity promising greater income, better working conditions, and improved living and social conditions. Of those who made the move, very few ever returned to labor as sharecroppers or tenant farmers, for despite the low wages and long hours, cotton mill life generally represented a marked improvement over conditions in the country.
For a better perspective of the role played by Mississippi in cotton manufacturing, we will start with a brief review of the first American cotton mills.