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Thomas Jefferson made plans to have enslaved laborers cultivate cotton at Monticello, and he made purchases of cotton seed. Yet little record remains to show how much cotton enslaved people produced or how successful the crop became at Monticello. By 1809, cotton was no longer grown in Virginia on a large scale. The growing season was simply too short compared with the deeper South. By this period, cotton was becoming quite expensive to buy as the U.S. stopped importing it.

At Monticello, the cotton harvested by enslaved laborers was used primarily for home manufacture.

Primary Source References

1769 October 1. "Pd. Mrs. Agey's waggoner for bringg. cotton 4/."1

1769 December 16. "Gave Dan. Hutchins (master of the packet) to buy 10 ‚Ñî of cotton W. Indian 20/."2

1770 January 2. "Gave Mrs. Bolling to buy cotton & pay spinng. 31/."3

1774 December 16. "Bought 3. ‚Ñî cotton in the seed of Branford44 for which I pd. him 1/ & still owe 3¾d."4

1774 December 18. "Pd. Branford in full for cotton & chickens 1/3."5

1774 December 24. "Pd. old York in full for cotton 3/6. Pd. Cuffy for cotton 2/3."6

1775 February 8. "A pint of cotton seed contains of good seeds 900. Consequently a bushel will contain 57600. Put 4. in a hill, and it will plant hills 14400. If hills are 2.f. apart, an acre will contain abt. 11025. So that a bushel of seed will plant 1‚Öì acres."7

1775 April 4. "Gave old York to pay for 3 ‚Ñî cotton he bought and 2 ‚Ñî more he is to bring from one of Skelton's negroes 7/6."8

1775 April 9. "Pd. Skelton's Sam for cotton 2/9."9

1775 September 20. "Sent my mother ... 4 ‚Ñî of picked cotton which charge."10

[1783 January 27]. (Jefferson’s Statement of Losses to the British at His Cumberland Plantations in 1781). "130. ‚Ñî. of cotton."11

1796 May 6. "Pd. for 3. ‚Ñî cotton 7/."12

1806 July 10. (Jefferson to James Bowdoin). "[O]f tobacco not half a crop has been planted for want of rain, & even this half, with cotton & Indian corn, have yet many chances to run."13

1808 July 15. (Jefferson to C. P. de Lasteyrie). "[T]he limits within which the cotton plant is worth cultivating in the U.S. are the Rappahanoc river to the North, and the first mountains to the West, and even, from the Rappahanoc to the Roanoke, we only cultivate for family use as it cannot there be afforded at market in competition with that of the more Southern region. the Missisipi country also within the same latitudes, admits the culture of cotton."14

1812 January 21. (Jefferson to John Adams). "[W]e consider a sheep for every person in the family as sufficient to clothe it, in addition to the cotton, hemp & flax which we raise ourselves."15

1813 January 12. (Jefferson to James Ronaldson). "[B]ut we must acknolege their [Southern fellow citizens] services in furnishing us an abundance of cotton, a substitute for silk, flax & hemp."16

1818 March 20. (Jefferson to Bernard Peyton). "[T]he impossibility of buying raw cotton obliges me to recur to the cultivating it myself. so much has it got out of practice that even the seed is lost in this part of the country. could you possibly buy me a sack or barrel of about 5. bushels[?]"17

Further Sources

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