It is to be regretted that our people have taken so seriously to cotton farming

Posted by | June 2, 2016

“It is related that the late J.J. Jones, during the palmy days of the seventies (1870s) when the virgin soil in that Red Belt section was at its best, and before erosion had marred the face of the fields, raised on a certain year on his farm nearly 1500 bushels of wheat, and that Jason Conley the same year produced more than 1000 bushels.  Such was the fertility of the soil that it was not uncommon to produce from 30 to 40 bushels per acre.  At that time, too, there were few insects to interfere with growing corps and fruits as we experience them at this day.

picking cotton in Whitfield County GA, 1938

Workers picking cotton on the farm of R. Lee Davis, Whitfield County, Georgia (the county adjacent to Walker County), 1938.


“Noxious insects and weeds as we have them today are not as a rule indigenous to the soil.  They have come in by transportation.  Our forbears were not concerned about so many troublesome insects and plant diseases as we experience.  Neither were they worried with the many troublesome weeds that vex us today. Wheat, corn and other crops grew to perfection.  No need to spray fruit trees.  Most old people recall the time in their youth when peaches, apples and other fruits were faultless.

“Likewise many noxious weeds have been brought into our county to distress us. The bitter weed so common everywhere is a comparatively new arrival—probably about 20 years.  The boll weevil and bean beetle have been here a dozen years.  Other insects and weeds have come in at various times.  No doubt others are to arrive by and by.  This is one price that we must pay for our civilization.  If we had had no railroads or other convenient communication, we might have existed many years without these undesirable pests.  It is likely that the Civil war helped to spread these among us.

“Cotton of course is one of the principal crops in the county at present.  It is to be regretted that our people have taken so seriously to cotton farming.  Cotton impoverishes land.  Cotton year after year for a few years and hardly anything else will grow there profitably—not even cotton. Examine the fields of the county; observe the bare hills and knolls in every field where cotton is raised.  Lack of humus has caused erosion.  We endeavor to overcome this by the use of commercial fertilizers, thus further impoverishing the land.”

from “History of Walker County GA,” by James Alfred Sartain, AJ Showalter Co, Dalton GA, 1932,  online at

4 Responses

  • Just curious. We’ve been “taught” that only black people picked cotton in the South. Why are these folks doing so?

  • Dave Tabler says:

    Don’t confuse small-plot mountain farmers with the plantation owners of the low country. These are the owners picking on their own land, not slaves.

  • Teresa Hatcher says:

    This picture was taken in 1938. At that time, there were no slaves.

  • Mary says:

    You’re kidding, right?

    Most while people who grew cotton didn’t have slaves. Just look at the black-white ratios. Slaves only outnumbered all whites in small regions. For every white planter with 50 slaves, there were 50 white families with none.

    Slaves picked other people’s cotton from necessity.

    Poor white and black farmers picked their own cotton.

    Not-quite-so-poor people picked their own cotton with extra help, hired or slave, depending on when and where.

    Tenant farmers and sharecroppers picked their cotton on other people’s land.

    Farmhands and–below even the sharecropper–day laborers picked other people’s cotton for wages.

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