Slavery and Cotton Farm History on the Territory of Arkansas

April 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Agriculture, slavery, and cotton have been associated with the Arkansas territory to date. The practice of farming has evolved over the years, its basis being cotton production (Encyclopaedia of Arkansas 1). The emergence of cotton plantations, then further ignited slavery in the region. Initially, the area was used as a dumping ground for eastern Indians or forced treks. Later on, agriculture developed and grew from subsistence to large scale farming. Agriculture and cotton production have remained continuously as a staple for the area. The civil war led to the abolishment of slavery; however, slavery is still part of the state’s history. This paper discusses the history of the Arkansas territory, its economic activities over the years, the cotton culture and slavery in the region.

Arkansas Territory

The territory is officially known as the Territory of Arkansas and was first incorporated in 1819. However, in 1836 the region was admitted to the union hence, becoming a state. During the 1850s, Arkansas Territory was a frontier state (Encyclopedia of Arkansas 1). Majority of the population in the area, especially those living in the highlands in the north and west practiced farming. Small land parcels were used for subsistence farming.

The south and the eastern lowlands were plantations that grew cotton. The growing of cotton led to an increase in settlement in the area. As the population increased and the price of cotton went up, labour was required; hence, the establishment of slavery. Thus, the demand for cotton increased, and the state thrived on its production (Encyclopedia of Arkansas 1).

Arkansas has progressively been termed as an agricultural state. Currently, the state leads to the production of rice and poultry. Also, nearly every crop available in the United States, exempting the citrus fruit, is grown in the area, illustrating that the area thrives on agriculture. Additionally, the state is home to many natural resources like petroleum, natural gas, silica stone, and bromine, hence, mining. Cotton production is still a source of revenue in the area, but the focus is on manufacturing; this is because the finished product is more valuable than a boll of cotton (Nelson 388).

Urbanization has continued to progress over the years, and a range of services are offered in the metropolitan areas. Some of the services available include wholesale industries in automobiles, farm products, and mined products. In the retail sector, department, discount, and food stores like Walmart are open. In addition, private and government services are also available to its citizens (Nelson 390). Though there has been a diverse emergence of economic activities in the area, the state gets its revenue from agriculture. Thus, agriculture has a crucial part to play in the development of the area, its history, present, and future.

Cotton Culture

During the civil war, the phrase ‘Cotton is king’ was used by the people in the south of the Arkansas Territory. After the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney cotton became a staple crop (Nelson 389). Cotton is a shrub that helped the industrial revolution spin-off. The weather in the southern region was favourable, and the yield remained a staple. Areas like Arkansas Delta had a geographical advantage because of the transport system provided by the rivers and the favourable warm weather during the day and at night. Moreover, the removal of the Indians opened up more land for cotton production, and railroads were also built, further stimulating the industry.

The growing of cotton majorly influenced the transformation from subsistence farming to plantation agriculture in the territory. Twenty-six million pounds of cotton were produced in 1859, and the production of the raw material progressively expanded over the next decade (Nelson 389). Other factors that led to the development of the cotton culture include technological advancements in the cotton ginning process. Other methods of production, like plantation ginning and automated ginning also emerged, increasing production at an easy and fast rate. Thus, the demand for cotton continued to grow as better methods of cultivation were adopted.

On the other hand, in the 1920s, the production of cotton started declining (Nelson 388). Some factors that led to the decline in cotton production include; the federal government putting up control programs that cut cotton acreage into half. Also, an increase in foreign production, thus, competition, the emergence of synthetic fibers, tariffs, the absence of a lint-processing industry, and lastly World War II. World War II brought about a shortage of labor that disrupted commerce (Encyclopedia of Arkansas 1).

Cotton plays a significant role in the making of history of the Arkansas Territory. Reason being, the production of cotton fuelled other historical events. Industrialization, large scale farming, technology advancement, and the building of infrastructure (Nelson 390). Unfortunately, slavery and the displacement of the indigenous people are other factors that remain part of the area’s history; which were founded on the backs of people’s tears and blood.


Slavery is a condition of having to work without proper remuneration. The act of being held captive and unable to pursue ones’ own life is also slavery. At the dawn of the Civil War, Arkansas had the fastest-growing slave population in the United States, holding up to 40% of the population (Edwards 12). A fourth of the entire population was in bondage, and the state was protecting the institution. There was a motion to divide the state to avoid conflict between the regions that supported Unionism in the North and those that promoted slavery in the South (Encyclopaedia of Arkansas 1). The war between the States’ rights and the national government continued to escalate. Eventually, a solution was arrived at and voters, who were uninformed on the contentious issues, were to determine the secession. In the meantime, the state was to work with the union and departments of the national government to preserve peace (Edwards 12).

In the 1850s, the fertile land along rivers like the Mississippi located on the lowlands in the south and the east, there was a slave-based plantation system. The expansion of cotton plantation directly influenced slavery in the state. In 1860, the number of slave inhabitants was approximately 110,000. In addition, in every five white citizens, one was a slave owner (Encyclopedia of Arkansas 1). Majority of the slave owners owned one to five slaves, and approximately 12% owned more than twenty slaves (Edwards 12). Possessing a disproportionate share of wealth and political power in the state, this group of individuals that possessed many slaves was termed as planters.

Slavery in Arkansas was discussed along with state’s rights; however, the political actors were more interested in the rights to own slaves. The sessions held discussions on Arkansas taking secession seriously and the threat to slavery by Abraham Lincoln and the republican party (Edwards 12). Different geographical regions in Arkansas had differences on the withdrawal of Arkansas. The Southern region profited more from slavery as compared to other regions. The maintaining of slavery in the region was highly promoted that even the Unionists from the northern part thought that the best way to protect slavery was being in the union (Edwards 12).

The Robert E. Lee Holiday is remembered because of slavery, even though legislators insist that the Civil War is about Southern Culture and heritage. The slave-based plantation systems provided cheap labour and encouraged the production of cotton; hence, the steep escalation in its output (Encyclopedia of Arkansas 1). Slavery also influenced the fight for civil rights (Edwards12). The successful abolishment of slavery encouraged other overlooked groups to fight for their reasons. Abraham Lincoln’s victory revolutionized government and Arkansas became the ninth state to join the Confederate States of America after seceding from the union.

Slaves played an essential role in the economy of the state of Arkansas. After the civil war, there was a decline in the price of cotton because of the abolishment of slavery. The abolition directly affected the production of cotton, and the new systems that were adopted were not as efficient (Edwards 12). Due to the decline, people moved to urban areas looking for work and most never returned to farm work.

In conclusion, the state of Arkansas was a profit-driven state where power and wealth dictated over civil rights. Slavery was defended fiercely, and the intervention of the national government caused a lot of riots among slave owners. After the abolition of slavery, the primary influence, which was cotton growing, declined. The intertwining or cotton, agriculture, and slavery are the main reasons as to why they are used as a point of reference to date.


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