The cotton gin, invented by Eli Whitney in Georgia in 1793, stimulated the extensive cultivation of cotton. The cotton plantation system and slavery spread throughout the state, especially into central and southwest Georgia. In the northern part of the state, subsistence agriculture predominated, with individual farm families doing their own labor. Most commonly they grew corn, wheat, and other food crops. Relatively little cotton was grown in this part of the state before the Civil War. The slave proportion in these counties ranged from about one-quarter of the population to as low as 4 percent in the Blue Ridge Mountain counties. In contrast, by 1860 most of the region between Atlanta and Macon and most of southwest Georgia had majority black populations and grew cotton as well as corn and other staples. Not all of Georgia was highly developed at the time of the Civil War. South-central Georgia, known as the Wiregrass Country, was largely a cattle frontier. In contrast, the Atlantic coast and the Sea Islands had Georgia’s largest plantations, growing large quantities of rice and cotton.
For the state as a whole in 1860, four of every nine persons were slaves. While the treatment of slaves varied, all were oppressed by a system that denied them basic rights and liberties. Slavery was perhaps at its worst in its impact on the family, where slave marriages had no legal standing, sexual abuse of women was frequent, and families could be broken up on the master’s whim. Many white families also lived a spartan existence in that era. It is estimated that in 1860 about half of the free families owned no land and three-fifths owned no slaves. Property became increasingly concentrated in a few hands and, by the time of the Civil War, about one-tenth of the people held nine-tenths of the wealth.
Georgians not only grew cotton, they also turned it into cloth. The first cotton mill in Georgia was built in 1829 on the Oconee River at White Hall.
By the Civil War, Georgia was the South’s leading producer of cotton goods with almost 3,000 workers, 60 percent of whom were women. In addition to cotton cloth, Georgia produced woolen and leather goods, pig iron, paper, shoes, carriages, and a variety of other products. Slavery moved from the field to the factory. In 1860 about 5 percent of the slave labor force was used in industry.
Transportation facilities were also expanded throughout the state. Georgia’s first rail line, the Georgia Railroad, chartered in 1833, ran about 160 km (100 mi) from Athens to Augusta. Atlanta began as the starting point of the state-owned Western & Atlantic (W&A) Railroad, chartered in 1836 to run through the old Cherokee country from Atlanta to Chattanooga. Soon the W&A was linked to three other lines: the Georgia Railroad ran a branch from Union Point to Atlanta; the Central of Georgia came up from Savannah through Macon to Atlanta; and the Atlanta and West Point Railroad carried passengers and freight to Alabama. Georgia’s booming economy fueled a population explosion. Between 1820 and 1840 the population more than doubled, from 341,000 to 691,000. In the 1840s and 1850s it grew by almost half again, passing 1 million by the time of the Civil War. In per-capita wealth, Georgia in 1860 was one of the ten richest states in the Union. "Georgia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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