|Date(s):||April 1, 1860|
|Tag(s):||African-Americans, Agriculture, Economy, Migration/Transportation, Slavery|
|Course:||“Rise And Fall of the Slave South,” University of Virginia|
In a pamphlet written to encourage colonists to visit East and South Florida, Dr. Baynard Byme highlighted the advantages of the soil, climate, and production of the relatively sparsely populated state of Florida. After describing the weather, terrain, and typical lifestyle, Dr. Byme acknowledged the differences between Florida cotton and that grown in other states but made sure to clarify the reason behind the variance. It is true that the average quality of Florida Cotton is not rated so high as that of the Sea Island, but the difference in this respect is chiefly, if not entirely, attributable to the defective manner of preparing the former for market.
Despite the noted difference in quality, the long staple cotton of Florida sold for a high market price. This led Byme to claim that the lower quality (but greater amount) of Florida cotton was due more to a deficiency of care in its preparation for market than to an inferior product. Perhaps what Byme meant by claiming that there was a deficiency of care in cotton production was that the one-crop agricultural system implemented in Florida was problematic. It used crude, unscientific methods that left slaves incapable of working with the modern agricultural implements introduced in later years. Lacking versatility, Florida slaves could be taught little more than routine operations required in the growth of a single staple.
In emphasizing the importance of quantity rather than quality for the Florida cotton planter, Byme was describing an economic reality of the region. When the Florida planter found that he could make an average crop of three hundred pounds of cotton to the acre, he was unlikely to bestow as much care on its preparation for market as the planter would on the Sea Islands of South Carolina where, Willie Lee Rose explained, one hundred twenty pounds was a good average crop. Dr. Byme wrote his pamphlet in such a way that clearly illustrated a widespread desire to jumpstart the Florida economy in the mid-nineteenth century. Byme praised the climate, landscape, people, and agriculture of Florida so as to prove the state's superiority over South Carolina and Texas, specifically. He boasted that Florida's seasons were more favorable to the production of cotton than those of any other Southern state. He wrote, Florida not only surpass[ed] Texas, but far excel[led] every other state in the Union.
In 1860, when Byme wrote the main article of his pamphlet, growing and selling cotton was, indeed, the most common way for Florida residents to earn cash. However, in future years, attempting to produce a cotton crop came to be a gamble for households that had limited labor resources (i.e. only had a small number of slaves, all of whom knew how to complete the same exact task). With the onset of the war, Floridians began to realize that they needed to reduce cotton production and increase food production if they wanted the South to survive. Many did not act through purely patriotic motives, however, but to the economic fact that cotton could not be sold in large quantities, and that foodstuffs, especially corn, could be readily sold and could produce a significant profit. Dr. Byme did not foresee the development of other agricultural industries when writing his pamphlet, but those readers who bought into his real estate propaganda soon learned the economic realities and needs of plantation life in the deep South.