Friday, February 18, 2011

The Value of Cotton

Recent reports are that the price of cotton is higher than it has been since the Civil War. Likely we all will pay more for our socks and jeans as a result. This news brought to mind an interesting land purchase made by my 2nd great-grandfather Ransom Spurlock.

In August 1865, Ransom bought approximately 45 acres of land in Claiborne Parish, Louisiana, from Mary Ann Pace. The consideration (what Ransom paid) was 800 pounds of lint cotton. Here’s a copy of the deed [Source: Claiborne, Louisiana, Conveyance Records, J:271, Mary Ann Pace to Ransom Spurlock, 19 Aug 1865; FHL microfilm 265,980.]


This is the only deed I have encountered where the consideration was not cash! Some historical research was needed to have a better understanding of this transaction.

Here is a summary of what I learned about cotton production:
  • In the Civil War era, cotton could be grown profitably on small farms as well as on large plantations.[1]
  • A person could pick about 150 pounds of cotton in a day.[2]
  • Production in northwest Louisiana averaged 15–30 bales per square mile in 1860.[3]
  • Cotton was planted in April, harvested in mid-August, and sent to the gin immediately after harvest.[4]
  • A wagon load held about 1,500 pounds of raw cotton and, after ginning, would yield 500 pounds of lint cotton.[5]
  • The price of cotton at the end of the Civil War was $1.89; equal to about $26.31 in today’s dollars.[6]

So, if all my math is correct, Ransom’s 800 pounds of cotton was roughly equivalent to $21,000 in today’s money. And the land he bought was valued at about $467 an acre!


[1] “Antebellum Louisiana: Agrarian Life,” article, Louisiana State Museum, The Cabildo: Two Centuries of Louisiana History, http://lsm.crt.state.la.us/cabildo/cab9.htm : accessed 18 February 2011.
[2] “Antebellum Louisiana: Agrarian Life.”
[3] “Cotton Production, 1860,” map, TeachingAmericanHistory.org, The Civil War, http://teachingamericanhistory.org/neh/interactives/civilwar/lesson1/ : accessed 18 February 2011.
[4] “King Cotton,” article, Shotgun’s Home of the American Civil War: Civil War Potpourri, http://www.civilwarhome.com/kingcotton.htm : accessed 18 February 2011.
[5] “Frequently Asked Questions,” article, Burton Cotton Gin & Museum, http://www.cottonginmuseum.org/Museum.htm : accessed 18 February 2011.
[6] Edward Lotterman, “Cotton prices are real high – if one ignores inflation,” article, Twin Cities.com PIONEER PRESS, http://www.twincities.com/lotterman/ci_17407153?nclick_check=1 : accessed 18 February 2011.

© 2011 Denise Spurlock

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