Here at Selvedge we have Vincent McKernan’s fabulous book The Story of Cotton to give away to three lucky readers during the release of issue 76, the Trade Winds issue, out now. To enter the competition, just follow the link at the end of this page. In the meantime, we’ve published an exclusive excerpt from our current issue’s in-depth feature, Cotton Tail  written by Robin Williams, discussing cotton's influence on Savannah's architecture…


During the 19th century, Savannah was one of the world’s great cotton exporting ports, along with New Orleans, Mobile, and Charleston. At that time, the production and trade of cotton had an impact on global economics and politics comparable to the influence of oil today and helped to propel the international influence of the United States. More so than these other historic ports, Savannah preserves buildings and landscape features that testify to the remarkable impact this industry had on the city’s physical appearance. Its historic waterfront survives as a complex and unique landscape of warehouses, lanes, ramps and bridges shaped by cotton.

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Agriculture serving England’s textile industry was at the heart of Savannah’s founding in 1733 as the centre of a silk-producing colony, though an unsuitable climate and the labour-intensive nature of silk production prevented its success. Cotton fared better, especially after Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793 on a plantationa few miles outside Savannah, revolutionising the harvesting of cotton and the economy of the American South. No US city reflects the profound impact of this industry better than Savannah. Getting the cotton from up-country or Piedmont to coastal ports initially relied on rivers and canals, including the Savannah-Ogeechee Canal, opened in 1830. Railroads greatly expanded the reach of coastal seaports, and competition from Charleston pushed Savannah business leaders to establish the Central Georgia Railroad, three years after the launch of the first US railroad company.

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Cotton exerted a profound influence on Savannah’s built environment, from the innovative railroad complex to the city’s many mansions. Yet, it is the city’s waterfront that most powerfully testifies to the power of cotton to shape the fortunes and appearance of the city. Different from other American ports, where a gentle slope of land meets a broad or slow-moving water body, Savannah’s historic port facilities developed at the base of a 45-foot bluff on the bank of the relatively narrow (and at times swiftly flowing) Savannah River, 17 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. Accentuated daily by the outgoing tide, the flow of the Savannah River prevented the conventional port structure of wharfs extending perpendicularly from the shore. Instead, ships moored parallel to the riverbank, forcing the warehouses to extend for a mile in a single long, undulating line that followed the curve of the river...

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To read more of Cotton Tail, pick up a copy of issue 76 in stores now, or order yours here. To be in with a chance to win Vincent McKernan's book The Story of Cotton, click here. For more information on this book, go to Third Millennium Publishing: Photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnston 1937

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