The HILL COUNTY GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY
received a ledger for the Osceola Cotton Gin which was run by E N MATTOX in the years 1917 thru 1919. We thought to share some history with all about the cotton gin and will feature index for this ledger. It is available at the Hillsboro, Hill County, Texas library if you wish to view it.
Donated by Jane PRUITT Feb. 2002
Who Invented the Cotton Gin?
Eli Whitney received the first patent for a cotton gin in 1794. Henry Ogden Holmes of Fairfield County registered a patent for a gin in 1796. Some have claimed Whitney stole Holmes' idea, but there is no evidence of this. By 1800 many people were using Whitney's idea or perfecting his work.
"Tis generally said ...that I will make a Fortune by it."
Eli Whitney, 1765-1825
In fact, he did not make a fortune. Many stole his idea. Whitney a Yale graduate, was not trained as an inventor. He had accepted a teaching job in South Carolina when the family of the late Nathaniel Greene, a Revolutionary War general, invited him to visit Georgia. It was in 1793 on Greene's plantation near Savannah that Whitney invented the gin. He returned to New England to perfect it.
Roller gins were used as early as the mid-1700s to separate seeds from sea island cotton. Similar machines, called churkas, had been used in India for centuries. But they could not process the tightly matted Upland variety of cotton.
"The cotton is put into the hopper, carried thro' the Breastwork, brushed off from the teeth by the clearer and flies off from the clearer with the assistance of the air ..."
Eli Whitney, New Haven, Conn., 1794
Whitney finished his first gin in seven months. One cylinder used wire teeth to pull lint through iron ribs, leaving the seed behind. A smaller cylinder swept the lint from the teeth. In 1796, Henry O. Holmes patented an improved gin. He used iron circles with teeth on the edges, rather than wire teeth, to pull cotton through the guard. Whitney said he had considered this method. His later models used it.
"Cotton Is King."
James Henry Hammond, S.C. cotton planter and politician, 1855
The cotton gin created a new cash crop, stimulated the South's economy, and increased the demand for slave labor. By making plantation agriculture possible throughout most of the South, the gin expanded slavery and perpetuated it for more than half a century. Until surpassed by Mississippi and Alabama in 1820, South Carolina was the largest cotton producer in the United States. Profits were invested in land and slaves. Three years before the invention of the cotton gin, 43% of the population was enslaved. Thirty years later, the figure had jumped to 52%.
Throughout the 19th century, the crop did not lend itself to mechanized farming. Plows, hoes, and strong backs made successful cotton farms. The hoe was the most important tool. Early in the cotton boom, it was used to prepare the soil, remove weeds, and cut down the stocks after the bolls were picked. Plows were not commonly used until the 1850s. The early attempt to replace men with a machine was a failure. Little progress was made until International Harvester began producing a mechanical picker in 1948.