United States Expansion, Expansion: The Southwest
Appalachian wilderness, rapid settlement, slave plantations, cotton farms, Cotton Belt
Equally dramatic was the rapid settlement of the trans-Appalachian South. At the conclusion of the War of 1812, Andrew Jackson forced the Creeks to cede huge territories in the Southwest. Settlers, often with the help of state governments, began pressuring the Cherokee, Choctaw, and other tribes to give up their lands. The land was eagerly sought by Southeastern whites who had small, worn–out farms, and who faced lives of tenancy and rural poverty.
The best lands, however, were taken by planters who since the 1790s had been reaping huge profits from the cotton boom. Fertile land beside navigable rivers in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri became slave plantations devoted to cotton. These cotton farms were among the largest, the most intensely commercialized, and the most profitable business operations in the Western Hemisphere.
Farmers who owned few or no slaves took higher, more isolated, and less fertile land in the same states. Like their cousins who settled north of the Ohio River, they practiced a mixed agriculture that included animals and plants (primarily hogs and corn), provided for themselves and their neighbors, and sold the surplus to outside markets. Some of those markets were reached by floating produce downriver to the seaports, while other markets were on plantations that grew only cotton and that bought food from farmers in their region.
The big cotton farms relied on slave labor, and slaves performed the immense task of turning a huge trans–Appalachian wilderness into cotton farms. Much of the slave population that was moved west came from the slave centers of South Carolina and coastal Georgia. But the cotton boom also provided a market for Virginia and Maryland slaves who were not as economically useful as they had been in the 18th century. In the 1790s, as the cotton boom began, about 1 in 12 Chesapeake slaves was moved south and west. Chesapeake slave exports rose to 1 in 10 in the first decade of the 19th century and 1 in 5 between 1810 and 1820. The movement of slaves from the Chesapeake to the new cotton states was immense. The Cotton Belt of the Deep South had become the center of American slavery.
Article key phrases: