Sea Island Cotton Economy

Zephaniah Kingsley's main cash crop was Sea Island cotton. Data from Kingsley's claim for damages from the Patriot’s Rebellion are used to provide insight into the plantation's economy and its reliance on unpaid slave labor.

The 1811 cotton crop yielded 60 bales (21,000 pounds) of clean ginned cotton and was valued at $10,500, or fifty cents per pound. Each of those bales required 40 slave workdays, or 400 slave work hours for processing. Gathering, cleaning, and ginning the entire crop used 2,400 slave days. It was not uncommon to have some of the previous year’s cotton crop waiting to be ginned when the new crop was planted, so the 2,400 slave days may span over two consecutive cotton crops.

Each slave day spent on cotton production brought about $4.40 in revenue for the plantation. Slave days spent on producing food or maintaining the plantation were necessary overhead. Assuming a work force of 60 slaves, about 35 slaves would be working full time. Had they been paid $2.00 per week, with room and board, they would have earned at least $3,500 off the revenue each year. A slave cost about $500. In general, a slave paid for himself in 2-3 years. Since children were born as slaves, they replaced themselves without a great deal of expense.

The planter's prosperity was due to the use of unpaid slave labor.

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Last updated: April 14, 2015

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