Plantations in Southern US produced cash crops, including cotton. How was the price and output of cotton in the Southern US affected shortly after the abolition of slavery at the end of the American Civil War?

I also understand that the textile industry spearheaded the industrial revolution in Britain, and it depended a lot on importing cheap cotton produced by plantations in the new world. If abolition changed the price or output of American cotton, did Britain switch to other sources of cotton, or did it continue importing from the US at the same level?

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    Remember that during the American Civil War the North organized a naval blockade that severely limited the exports of Confederate cotton(en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaconda_Plan), so the switch to other sources (principally Egypt) had already begun before the abolition of slavery and the end of the war: smithsonianmag.com/history/…
    – SJuan76
    Oct 20, 2017 at 7:18
  • @SJuan76: Thanks. Is there any data about price and total of cotton exports from pre-war Southern US vs Egypt? After the war, how much demand returned to the Southern US and how much remained in Egypt?
    – user69715
    Oct 20, 2017 at 20:25
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    As far as I know, the Civil war (due to the blockade referred by SJuan, and destruction of plantations) severely affected the cotton trade. At that time Brazilian landowners were switching to cotton from sugar cane. The market seems to have stabilised shortly after the capitulation of the CSA (and Brazilian landowners quickly switched back to sugar cane). So the abolition in itself had little effect; the war, and the destruction it brought, severely affected the trade. Peace restored normality in a short term, so the trade must have adapted to "free" labour quite quickly. Oct 25, 2017 at 10:45
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    google.com.br/… - a table of Brazilian exports during the 19th century. As you see, Brazilian cotton, which was in decadence 1821-1860, tripled its share in Brazilian exports in 1861-1870. In 1871-1880 it was back to pre-Civil War levels, and in 1881-1890 it fell even below that. Oct 25, 2017 at 13:50
  • One must also factor in the destruction wreaked on the southern states by the war, when looking at production figures. Infrastructure was wrecked, landowners quite often had disappeared, and the people to work the farms were scattered. Farms can't just be turned on or off... it takes a few years to bring an idle farm back to full production. After the war, freed slaves were simply hired to work on the farms and paid a wage, so the impact of abolishing slavery and all those deaths during the war... wasn't actually that great.
    – tj1000
    Oct 26, 2017 at 5:34

2 Answers 2


A pdf file THE GROWTH OF THE COTTON INDUSTRY IN AMERICA seems to have some relevant information to the first half of your question. A table, on publication page 73, (pdf pg 3) has some production,export and value figures.

enter image description here

This shows there was a spike in the price of cotton during and after the war, but by 1875 production and export figures were higher, and cost was back down to pre-civil war numbers.

Edit by OP: I took the "export bales", multiplied it against "average net weight per bale" to get exports in lbs, and plot it together with the price before & after the Civil War. I excluded the price during the war because it would visually dwarf the pre- and post-war prices. So here goes:

enter image description here

  • I wonder what happened between 1868 and 1872. First production increases from 2.3mil to 4.3mil within 2 years, the next it crashes back down to 3mil, only to rise again to 4mil the year after.
    – Dulkan
    Oct 23, 2017 at 13:45
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    Hard to say, could have been a weather related crop failure. Most data sets fluctuate over short periods. I was actually surprised to find year by year info.
    – justCal
    Oct 23, 2017 at 14:20
  • Thanks, this is the direction I'm looking for. By the way, the PDF link in your answer points to a local file in your computer. Is the file available online?
    – user69715
    Oct 23, 2017 at 16:08
  • Fixed the link. I had to download it to be able to clip the image of the chart. This should work now.
    – justCal
    Oct 23, 2017 at 16:43
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    I added a chart. Hope you don't mind.
    – user69715
    Oct 25, 2017 at 4:37

During the Civil War, Britain relied heavily on cotton from Egypt and India, which also have a lot of good cotton growing land. After the war, Britain had diversified its sourcing so that it was not as dependent on U.S. cotton. This can be seen in another poster's price chart, which showed cotton prices declining significantly even during the war.

The other takeaway from the price chart is that after the civil war, cotton prices returned roughly to prewar levels. So the main effect of "Abolition" on cotton prices was during the war itself (when southern supplies were largely cut off from Europe and prices were an order of magnitude higher), not in the postwar period.


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