Bitter Sweet History - aspects of the British Slave Trade

Unfair Trade: Cotton

Cotton is a versatile fabric: It is easy to wash, it can be dyed or printed with bright colours and patterns, and mass-production ensures that it is cheap.


All of this was a novelty in the early years of the 19th century, when recent technological developments brought mass-produced cotton textiles within the reach of ordinary people for the first time.


Britain emerged as the most productive cotton manufacturing base in the world, and by the middle of the 19th century the cotton industry dominated the British economy. Hundreds of mills, many of them in Lancashire, produced huge quantities of cotton cloth to be sold at home and exported all over the world.


Huge supplies of raw cotton were needed to feed this lucrative market. Most of the cotton came from North American cotton plantations, where slave labour was used until the end of the American civil war in 1865.


Cotton was a labour-intensive crop, and at the height of the plantation system in the 1850s, nearly three-quarters of the slaves in the United States, over one-and-a-half-million were involved in cotton production. Between 1825 and 1870 raw cotton was Britainís largest import.


Even though the slave trade was abolished in 1807, the products and profits of slavery were to continue for another 60 years.

See where Lancashire is.»

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