Obituary for Eli Whitney, in Niles Weekly Register, 25 January 1825

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This obituary for Eli Whitney praised the "mechanical ingennuity" of the man largely credited with inventing the cotton gin. Even after Eli Whitney patented his machine, there were other mechanics and inventors that made their own versions of the gin.  Whitney never became rich from his invention.  There is also some evidence that indicates Henry Ogden Holmes, also known as Hodgen Holmes, invented a similar gin prior to Whitney’s design.  Some people claim that Hodgen Holmes started working on a plan for a saw-toothed gin in 1787 at Kinkaid Plantation in Craven County.  Holmes obtained a Caveat of Intention for a saw-toothed cotton gin on March 14, 1789.  The Caveat was good for five years, expiring on March 14, 1794.  Whitney was granted his patent on that same date.

After the invention of the cotton gin, cotton became America’s leading crop.  Cotton was king.  In 1790, America produced 1,500 pounds of cotton.  By 1800, production had increased to 35,000 pounds.  By 1815, production had reached 100,000 pounds. In 1848, production exceeded 1,000,000 pounds.  Simultaneously, slavery spread across the Deep South.  In 1790, the slave population was concentrated in Virginia on tobacco plantations and along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia on rice plantations, but by 1820, slavery had spread westward to Mississippi.  By the Civil War, about 4 million slaves lived in the South. 


Obituary for Eli Whitney, Esq. 29 January, 1825. Niles' Weekly Register. Third Series, No. 22, Vol IIII. Baltimore, MD. Published Materials Division, South Caroliniana Library, Columbia, South Carolina.


 The late Mr. Whitney.  Died at his residence in New-Haven, on Saturday morning 8th inst. after a long and distressing illness, Eli Whitney, esq. aged 57 years.  Mr. Whitney was one of the most distinguished men whom our country has produced, and his loss will be deeply felt and lamented throughout the nation.  He was a native of Westborough, Mass. and was a graduate of Yale College, in 1792.  His inventive genius rendered him one of the greatest benefactors of the age, and was the means of changing the whole course of industry in the southern section of the union.  Previous to the invention of his cotton gin, in 1793 or 4, scarcely a pound of upland cotton was raised for exportation.  In the short period of twelve years, the export amounted to about 12,000,000 dollars.

Judge Johnson, of South Carolina, speaking of this invention, in 1807, says, “The whole interior of the southern states was languishing. and its inhabitants emigrating for want of some object to engage their attention and employ their industry, when the invention of this machine at once opened views to them which set the whole country in motion. From childhood to age, it has presented to us a lucrative employment.  Individuals, who were depressed with poverty and sunk in idleness, have suddenly risen to wealth and respectability. Our debts have been paid, our capitals increased, and our lands trebled in value.  We cannot express the weight of obligations which the country owes to this invention:  the extent of it cannot now be seen.”

The mechanical ingenuity by Mr. Whitney, in the invention of the cotton gin, was next directed, at the instance of the government of the United States, to the manufacture of fire arms. He undertook the execution of a contract to a large amount, before he had ever attempted to make a single musket.  Here, as in every other instance in which the powers of his mind were directed to the accomplishment of an important object, he was eminently successful; and the benefit of the great improvements suggested by his genius, is now felt and appreciated by the government, in the national armories at Springfield and Harper’s Ferry.

Mr. Whitney was a gentleman of extensive literary and scientific attainments, of liberal and expanded views, benevolent in his feelings, and mild and unassuming in his manners.  While his death will be regarded by the nation as a public calamity, it will be felt in the circle of his private friends as a bereavement of its brightest ornament.
-Connecticut Herald

Correlating SC Social Studies Academic Standards:

Standard 3-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the events that led to the Civil War, the course of the War and Reconstruction, and South Carolina’s role in these events.

Inidcator 3-4.1 Compare the conditions of daily life for various classes of people in South Carolina, including the elite, the middle class, the lower class, the independent farmers, and the free and enslaved African Americans.  (H, E)

Indicator 3-4.2 Summarize state leaders’ defense of the institution of slavery prior to the Civil War, including reference to conditions in South Carolina, the invention of the cotton gin, subsequent expansion of slavery, and economic dependence on slavery.  (H, E, P)

Indicator 3-4.7 Summarize the effects of Reconstruction in South Carolina, including the development of public education, racial advancements and tensions, and economic changes.  (H, E, P)

Standard 4-6: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the Civil War and its impact on America.

Indicator 4-6.1 Compare characteristics of the regions of the North and South prior to the Civil War, including agrarian versus industrialist economies, geographic differences and boundaries, and ways of life. (G, E, H)

Standard 7-3: The student will demonstrate an understanding of political, social, and economic upheavals that occurred throughout the world during the age of revolution, from 1770 through 1848

Indicator 7-3.5 Explain the impact of the new technology that emerged during the Industrial Revolution, including changes that promoted the industrialization of textile production in England and the impact of interchangeable parts and mass production.  (E, H)

Standard 8-2: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the American Revolution—the beginnings of the new American nation and South Carolina’s part in the development of that nation.

Indicator 8-2.4 Explain the economic and political tensions between the people of the Upcountry and Lowcountry, including economic struggles of both groups following the American Revolution, their disagreement over representation in the General Assembly and the location of the new capital city, and the transformation of the state’s economy that was caused by the production of cotton and convinced Lowcountry men to share power with Upcountry men.  (H, G, P, E)

Standard 8-3: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the American Civil War—its causes and effects and the major events that occurred during that time.

Indicator 8-3.1 Explain the importance of agriculture in antebellum South Carolina including plantation life, slavery, and the impact of the cotton gin. (H, G, E)

Standard USHC-3: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the westward movement and the resulting regional conflicts that took place in America in the nineteenth century.

Indicator USHC-3.3 Compare economic development in different regions of the country during the early 19th century, including agriculture in the South, industry and finance in the North, and the development of new resources in the West. (E, H)

Lessons Using This Document:

The Impact of the Cotton Gin


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