I am a graduate student creating a webpage lesson for an imaginary fourth grade class.
The title of this lesson is "COTTON." This lesson is part of a unit on the Civil War.


So where do slaves fit into the cotton industry?

Before machines were created to make the cotton industry more efficient, all the cotton had to be picked by hand.
Who do you think was made to do this task? The slaves.
For many years prior to the Civil War, plantation owners used slaves to grow and pick the cotton by hand
which would then be sent to a cotton gin for manufacturing.
Picking cotton was a long and tedious task for the slaves to have to do every day.
It required them to remain bent over in the hot sun as they moved down the rows picking the cotton seed from each plant.

So what would happen if a slave didn't do a good job?

If they didn’t do their job to their master’s liking, many slaves would be whipped and beaten.
Overseers, who were sometimes even fellow slaves, watched carefully to insure that no one was slow in doing their job.
Also, they checked the cotton after it had been collected to make sure there was no leaves in it and that each person had picked their required amount for the day.
If the overseers claimed the slaves had failed to do their job properly in any way, the slaves would be whipped with a raw hide whip.
A small offense may result in twenty-five “licks” whereas a major offense could mean up to five hundred licks.

Day after day, the slaves worked from before sun up to after sun down.
Most were give very little food and only a small cabin or space in the slave quarters to live in.
No matter what the weather or how sick they might become, they had to work hard.
They depended on their masters for everything.
Most worked hard to please their masters and keep from being punished by their overseers.


Imagine you were a slave living on a Southern plantation...
What stories would you tell about your life picking cotton? Would you want to be an overseer?


  • Take the cotton quiz
  • Write a 1/2 page journal entry on what it would be like to be a slave working in a cotton field

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Related links

http://rpsec.usca.edu/Classwork/731sp2008/Lesson/Duren/DurenLessonP2.html (March, 2008)

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