Cotton Courtship

Mayer presents a somewhat different history of cotton. With its introduction into the Fork around 1800, "this enticing plant was at first experimental; and only farmers possessed of superabundant land and labor-force ventured to try it. The fields selected for this new kind of tillage were small that they were called patches; hence cotton-patches to this day, when the acreage is small. For several years no more was planted than was sufficient for clothing. At first the seed were separated from the lint by fingers. The cotton as picked from the bolls was heaped in the largest room of the house, and as remote from the fire-place as possible to avoid conflagration. For further security, woolen coverlets were spread over the heap to protect it from the sparks that might be projected from the fire, on winter nights. The young folks from the nearest neighborhoods now, after early supper, usually assembled together from farm-house to farm-house to engage in picking the lint of the cotton from the seed. The fun began in this sort of a way: A young woman of satisfactory beauty leaves the brightness of the blazing fire, kindled in September more for light than for warmth, goes to the cotton heap, fills her apron with the snowy locks. She then steals away into a quiet corner ostensibly in the desire to be alone, and not to be bothered by any intermeddler of the opposite sex. One can almost hear her say so, as she casts an angry, forbidding glance at a hardheaded looking fellow who at present seems disinclined for any work, at all. Now, look at the fellow. The young woman has scarcely composed herself comfortably, when he of the hard-head approaches her and, notwithstanding her gestures of disapprobation, squats himself with a bump down on the floor before her,-falling on his knees. Meanwhile, illustrating the contagiousness of example, the whole company become divided off into couples, and an unintelligible, murmuring whisper floats through the room, till the clock strikes twelve, when they all leave for their respective homes. So it went the rounds from house to house. (Kibler 1988, 73-74)