Natchez sits on bluffs overlooking the Mississippi. The flat land suitable for growing crops like cotton is on the Louisiana side. That's why most planters had a city house on one side of the river and a plantation home on the other. Until the levees were built, annual floods brought rich silt from the north over ten miles inland enabling farmers to grow good yields every year in the days before chemical fertilizer. While the plantation life is long gone, growing cotton is still a lucrative way to make a living, especially at the moment when cotton prices are especially high. We went to Frogmore to learn about how it used to be as well as how cotton is farmed now.
The original plantation was named after a great home in England and nearly all the buildings from that original plantation are gone, but the current owners were interested in preserving what they had and learning more about how life on a plantation used to be. They assembled a number of outbuildings and pieces of equipment that were used back in the day and give tours explaining how cotton was grown then and now. It was especially interesting that part of our tour was conducted by the granddaughter of a man who spent his youngest years as slave at Frogmore.
But again on this tour the role of slavery in this area was soft pedaled, but it was obvious that the work was so labor intensive, many hands were needed to get the job done. We were told how the slaves suffered after they were emancipated, because there was no longer anyone to feed and clothe them. We were told that the average life expectancy of a slave and his owner was about the same and far longer than for the factory workers in the north who worked on the processed cotton spinning, weaving and assembling clothing. It sounded like the slave owners and their live property were all in the trenches together. If that's what you want to believe...
We were glad that Frogmore had kept some plants unharvested, so we could see what picking cotton was life for ourselves. It was amazing how hard it was to get the seeds out of a boll. Each wad averaged 28 tightly wound seeds. It took me about twenty minutes to get all the seeds out of the first boll I picked with my fingers. It was easy to understand what effect Eli Whitney's cotton gin (short for cotton engine) had on increasing production.
Today's gin owners pick up bales of cotton from the farms and gin them for free. Their compensation comes from the seeds, which have many valuable components used in industry and agriculture, besides their obvious use for planting another crop.