A New South--the Textile Development


FROM the time when the terms North and South were first used to designate two phases of civilization, the two divisions of culture into which American development branched, the peculiar genius of the North has been accepted as being fundamentally commercial, that of the South, agricultural. In the first is found a people with a taste, in the early days, for barter and for trade, progressing to the higher realms of commerce and of manufacturing. In the latter is found a people following agriculture on a scale of constantly increasing magnitude, until at length slavery becomes commercially profitable to the ruling classes and, therefore, acceptable to the public conscience.

In the North, owing to the growth of large commercial enterprises and involved manufacturing processes, the people soon became interdependent, and the rights of the individual became in a certain degree subordinate to the common good. In the South, the vaster the scale of agricultural development, the larger became the personal unit of enterprise, the wider the sphere of individual authority; and thus was created a distinct type — individualistic, aristocratic, ill-fitted for that coöperation necessary in the conduct of large manufacturing enterprises, requiring obedience to authority and management.

Probably the most typical example of what one might term the Northern type is New England. Here the activitics of the very first settlers were, as is the case in all newly settled regions, directed toward farming. However, because of the short growing season and the harsh nature of much of the soil, agriculture did not long engage the deepest interest, but it was found more profitable to enter into fishing, commerce, and manufacturing; the products of the soil were more profitably obtained from other sections more favored as to soil and climate.

An equally good example of the Southern type of culture is found in the Carolinas. Here, as throughout the colonial South, the extensive coastal plains, and the frequent river valleys extending far inland, were early occupied by Englishmen who promptly began the cultivation of the soil. Here they did not stop content with the mere production of sufficient food for their own necessities, turning, when that point was attained, to seek other avenues of wealth-producing activity; but they sought, diligently and successfully, crops which could be sold to other sections and distant lands, and so become the basis of prosperity and civilization.

In Virginia and North Carolina tobacco became the wealth-producing crop; in Georgia and South Carolina indigo and rice were shipped across the seas, in exchange for England’s gold and goods. The wealth of the great planters attracted settlers of agricultural inclination from far and wide. Agriculture became the honored pursuit, the gentleman’s vocation. For the gentleman’s son there were offered only the law, the church, and the plantation. The youth from Charleston or Savannah, who may have had a taste for commercial or mechanical life, frequently moved to more congenial sections, feeling that there was no field at home for the exercise of such talents.

Likewise the New England youth, feeling the call of the soil, began the long trek which carried him to an empire of fertile prairie lands, and ended only when he saw the sun set beyond the Golden Gate. Thus, by a process of elimination, were the tendencies of the two sections accentuated.

With the introduction of cotton into America, the two industries based upon cotton — the growing of the plant and the manufacture of the fibre into cloth — divided naturally, as the conditions which I have mentioned had previously shaped the tastes of the people. For climatic reasons cotton-growing was necessarily confined to the South, but it was eagerly seized upon as being ideally in harmony with the inclination of the people. As I have shown in a previous article, it was a crop, above all others, which could be produced by the lowest type of labor and with a minimum of expert supervision. So nothing could have better suited an aristocratic, leisure-loving civilization, with countless slaves to shoulder the rough burdens. The invention of the cotton gin by Whitney, in 1792, gave enormous impetus to cotton-growing in the South, yet it seems to have created almost no ambition on the part of the Southern people to become the manufacturers of their own product. Here, however, was an activity which suited the New Englander; and the men of affairs who had amassed fortunes upon the sea found profitable investment for their capital in the building of cottonmills. The falls and rapids of the short rivers furnished ample power; the large families from the hillside farms found easy, profitable employment in the mills, and a welcome shelter from a bitter rural struggle through long bleak winters.

So the South, land of men who gloried in the cultivation of the soil as the noblest calling, land of patient, toiling slaves, of fertile fields, sluggish streams, and mild climate, produced the cotton. New England, land of commerce, industry, keen bracing air, rapid streams, and prolific, hardy, native stock from the hills, made the cotton into cloth; and from her convenient ports her ships carried the finished product to the far corners of the earth. On account of lack of land-transport, such an industry could have existed then only in close proximity to seaports. As early as 1793, a cotton-mill was in operation in Rhode Island; by 1811, one hundred and two mills were in operation in the several New England states, with a total of more than 80,000 spindles.

In the light of recent events, it is interesting to review in some detail the growth of the industry in America. At the close of the Civil War, New England had 6,500,000 spindles, while in all the Southern States at that time there were only 200,000. By 1875, New England had increased to 10,000,000 spindles, while the South had not quite half a million. It was said to be unprofitable and impractical to bring the mills to the cotton country, where it would have seemed the logical thing to locate them. About 1890, the Southern textile industry began to indicate by a sudden growth that some hitherto overlooked factor had entered in. In the year 1900, the New England spindles numbered 15,000,000, while the South had reached the noticeable figure of 4,500,000. But soon after this we meet an amazing statement: figures which seem to belie our entire reasoning up to this point. For at the present time, 1922, we find New England with 20,000,000 spindles and the Southern States with 15,000,000; and in the month of May of this year, 65 per cent of all the cotton manufactured in the United States was spun in the South. Financial interests having the welfare of New England’s textiles at heart have begun to take marked notice, and from many sides reasons are being advanced to explain the Aladdin growth of the textile industry in a land where, for a century, it seemed unable to strike root. There must also be some factor at work which has caused the relative slowing-up in the growth of this industry in that section which has always seemed the best suited of all to its highest development.

A high official of one of the national textile associations, in a recent address, dwells at some length upon the present situation of the industry in the two sections of the country, and mentions a number of factors which may have brought about the recent changes in relative volume. For the checked growth of the industry in the North, he assigns as the chief cause the New England state legislatures, many of whose acts he deems hostile to her manufacturing interests. In his opinion, the time has arrived when the local law-makers must decide whether they desire their section of the country to retain its industries, or to become a mere summer resort. State laws restricting working hours, high taxes, and similar handicaps may, of course, serve to curtail for the time being the profits of the New England mills; but these things cannot possibly furnish a satisfactory explanation of the almost over-night growth of a mighty industry, in a section whose people have always been considered as being unsuited by tradition, environment, and temperament for skilled technical enterprise on a large scale.

Were this textile growth diffused throughout the entire South, or were it confined to a given area, but one with nothing to differentiate it from the South in general, then it would seem necessary to change the entire popular conception of Southern culture, as our deductions up to this point would not be justified by the event.

However, even a casual survey will disclose the fact that, while not confined to any one state, the successful textile plants of the South are, almost without exception, located in a clearly defined area, comprising portions of several states, yet at the same time comprising a section of country similar in all its extent, and standing out in marked contrast to all other portions of the South, and to all popular conceptions of the Southern land and people. I refer to the Piedmont Plateau, which begins in Virginia, crosses both Carolinas, and ends in the hills of northwest Georgia. This is the home of the textile industry, and this region differs so strikingly from its surroundings as to seem an island of alien culture. Therefore, fully to understand the development which is taking place there, it is important to note the character of the country, the history of its settlement, and the causes of those differences which set it off as a land apart.

It is a continuation of that hill country which skirts the whole eastern base of the Alleghanies, from Pennsylvania through Maryland and Virginia. From 1740 until the beginning of the Revolution, there flowed southward along this high tableland a constant stream of Scotch-Irish and German settlers from Pennsylvania. The coastal plains were already preëmpted by the English planters, who had the lands divided into vast estates, where they established their slave baronies. They clung to the coast and to the lands near navigable streams, where the cultivation of the great money crops was profitable, and where the waterways furnished easy communication with the culture and life of the Mother Country.

The hill lands they deemed worthless, and so left them open for the influx of a hardy yeoman stock from the northward. Into this open gap flowed the vigorous, liberty-loving stock which had settled the Northeast and which later was to set toward the West. About twenty years after this movement began, many shiploads of Scotch, Irish, and Palatines landed at the Georgia and Carolina ports. Finding the coast lands already taken up by the planters, under whose system there was no dignified place for the small landowner or the white laborer, these settlers pushed on through to the hill lands, and there found already established their own people, who had come by way of Pennsylvania. They mingled with them, and so the Piedmont Plateau was settled. Its people had nothing in common with the Bourbon culture of the low countries.

During the Civil War and the period just before that conflict, the civilization of the Piedmont was merged and joined with the remainder of the South in the face of a common enemy. As soon as the crisis was past, the fundamental differences of the two peoples became at once evident. The coastal South, whose prosperity and wealth were founded on slavery and on class, lay prostrate for decades. The Piedmont, under the new order of things, came into its own and advanced rapidly toward healthy and well-rounded development. As soon as the first shock of the great war was past, and when means of transportation had been established, its people turned naturally to that industrial progress for which they were in all respects well fitted.

Even the religions of the two sections of the South marked a difference of origin. The Church of England was supreme on the coast, while the men of the hill-country were Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Moravians. As a proof of the extent of the movement which I have mentioned, it is a fact of church history that nearly all the early Presbyterian churches in the upper Carolinas were supplied with pastors from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The country became a land of small farmers—industrious pioneers, who cleared up the hardwood forests, tilled the soil with their own hands, lived simple, frugal lives, and on Sundays gathered at their little log meeting-houses. Here, for a long while, slavery was almost unknown; and it never gained sufficient volume to leave its effects upon the people.

Naturally, two such distinct types of culture could not long exist in such close proximity without some strife and some modification. As early as the year 1800, considerable friction developed between the Pennsylvania pastors and the slave-owners of the lower districts. As the country filled up, and communication became easier and frequent, the manners and customs of the coast did to some extent penetrate into the up-country, and change the life there, especially in the larger towns. Ohio and the Near West were nowopened up, and the tide which had flowed south into the Piedmont for fifty years receded and turned westward.

While that culture which bounded the Piedmont lands on the east did change to some degree the life of the towns, the character of the rural districts remained almost identical with that of the states located north of the Potomac. From the Piedmont there was also a constant trickle from the hills into the coves and gaps of the high mountains which lay just to the west. It is important to note that here, in a country very similar to the highlands of Scotland, the pioneer Anglo-Saxon stock has remained almost unchanged down to the present day.

The wealthy planter element of the coastal plains, having leisure to travel and to engage in public life, forced the acceptance of its particular brand of culture as being representative of the spirit of the South. They were good publicity men; and so in time the world lost sight of the latent possibilities which lay in the simpler, hard-working small farmers scattered over the wide extent of the hill country and the mountains.


It is often said that France is that portion of the earth best fitted to be a dwelling-place of the human race. Possibly, taking the country as a whole, this may be true; yet I cannot believe that even France contains any one spot better suited for the development of a happy well-rounded civilization than the Piedmont of the Carolinas.

Owing to the latitude, the winters are mild; yet one finds pleasant summers, and the invigorating effects due to a considerable altitude. The elevation is from 600 to 1200 feet above the sea; the surface of the land is gently rolling; the soil is nearly everywhere fertile, producing bounteous crops of cotton, corn, wheat, and all kinds of fruit. The streams are clear and cold, and in their rapid descent from the mountains offer almost unlimited power for hydro-electric development.

From some open vantage-point one frequently obtains a wide outlook over the landscape of low hills, checkered into well-tilled fields and small patches of woodland, white farmhouses, and, here and there, the tall stacks marking busy industrial towns. It is, indeed, a pleasant land viewed against a setting of the blue mountains to the west. As one travels nearer to the mountains, past neat prosperous mill villages, past compact stone farm homes, by cool springs shaded with white pine and hemlock, one feels on all sides a brooding spirit of peace, of contentment. Entering the passes of the mountains, which rise blue and abrupt on either side, one hears at evening from high pastures the tinkle of Alpine bells, and the vision is of a land where not only is the laborer deemed worthy of his hire, but of a goodly land where he who plougheth shall plough in hope.

The population, as we have shown, is pure Anglo-Saxon stock, of Colonial American traditions. Extremes of wealth or poverty have been negligible since the first settlement; so that we find here to-day probably as pure an example of democracy as exists anywhere. Sufficient negroes are found for certain necessary labor, yet not enough ever to become a problem.

We have seen that the first chapter of cotton in America was that the South raised the plant and New England manufactured the fibre into the finished product. At first, the AngloSaxon stock of the New England hills bred large families but scanty crops, and so provided ideal labor for the mills. During the Civil War, most of the looms stood idle, while the former operatives carried the blue lines across distant cotton fields. After the war, they never returned to the mills. They had traveled far, and their vision was broadened. Some returned home to other pursuits, while many moved into the new states of the West. Their place was, at first, filled by Irish and some English labor; but after a time this also was replaced by labor from Central and Southern Europe. So, at last, those who owned and managed the mills, and those who labored in the mills, were poles apart in race, understanding, and frequently in language. The conditions which had once given birth to successful textile development had changed and passed, and the industry was forced to shape itself to meet new conditions. The labor was now chiefly that class most susceptible to the influences of trades-unionism, and to all those new doctrines concerning the relations of capital and labor which, whatever may be their fundamental merits, have not, thus far, made for the efficient and harmonious operation of large industrial enterprises.

In the Piedmont section of the Southern States, on the other hand, are found conditions almost exactly paralleling the New England of sixty years ago. The population is of a hardy stock, reared amid hard work and rural simplicity, from which spring leaders of enterprise and efficient captains of industry. Unlimited native labor comes from those mountain coves where the pioneers from Scotland and Ireland ended the long migration. These people better their condition of living when they move from a lonely log-cabin in the mountains to a comfortable bungalow, with all modern conveniences, situated in some Piedmont mill town. Living conditions for labor in a Southern country are necessarily easier than they are in the North. As I have suggested, the languor and lassitude often associated with a southern climate are here overcome by altitude, and by bracing air from near-by mountains. Long summers and short winters give greater opportunity for raising vegetables and poultry, and there is also less expense for fuel and heavy clothing.

A factor which makes for harmony is that the labor here has never developed class-consciousness or social isolation. Farming conditions are easy, and real estate is cheap. Many families retain and operate small farms, while certain members move to near-by mills and obtain there profitable employment. Thrifty operatives frequently own real estate in town, which they either occupy or rent. They thus retain a keen interest in the economic and agricultural life of the country. They are simply individual citizens who are engaged in textile work. Should one, for any reason, become dissatisfied with his mill-life, he would probably move back to a farm or find other town employment. It is hard to picture such a group of individuals becoming a solid class-mass, apart from the general life of the home state. We have here good American stock, well pleased with their lot in life. The walking delegate who comes to this country is wise if he brings with him his return fare.

In many instances the presidents of large mills are men who were raised on adjacent farms. Neighboring farms produce alike presidents, superintendents, and operatives. Employment in a cotton-mill is looked upon as an honorable vocation, which any may enter, and as a good training-school for young men who hope to expand into leaders.

The manufacturing cities, such as Greenville, Charlotte, Gastonia, and Spartanburg, are attractive places, of from twenty to fifty thousand inhabitants. As a rule, the mill villages are located in the outskirts, so that ample space for healthy living is furnished. All operatives occupy individual homes; civic pride is encouraged by cash prizes offered for the best-kept lawns and gardens. Parks, paved and shaded streets, good schools, libraries, and churches all tend to render the lives of the operatives satisfactory. In several instances, large mountain tracts are owned by the mills and turned over to the operatives for summer campingsites and recreation parks.

While I do not believe that the Southern States will ever have a monopoly of American textile industry, I do believe that this Piedmont land is today adapted for the highest development of this industry in all its branches. The most intricate processes and the production of the finest fabrics can here be successfully carried on.

New England’s lawmakers, while not unmindful of the welfare of labor, must also remember to temper their legislation with wisdom, and not suffer themselves to be led by the voices of political expediency. Also, her labor, in making its demands, should realize that this section to-day holds no natural advantage in cotton-manufacturing over the favored section which I have described. If too many and too great legal burdens and handicaps are placed upon her industries, then Southward will the Star of Textile Empire inevitably take its way.