Cotton Tale

When I was in between eleventh and twelfth grade I took a summer school civics class. At the beginning of the class our teacher had us take a short true or false quiz to see how much of American history we remembered.

One question was ‘Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin’ True or False?


The cotton gin.

I circled false, and after our teacher had gone over the answers (saying that one was actually ‘True’) he asked if there were any questions.

I said something to the effect of “In AP US history, you taught us that one of Whitney’s slaves invented the cotton gin. He just took credit.” (Looking back, I was incredibly lucky that this teacher was a nice guy and one that I had worked for while on Student Council.) He said “That’s true but most history says it’s not true.”

That was the end of it except for a kid saying ‘thanks Sarah, I passed the quiz since he gave us that one as a freebie.”

That was what was running through my mind as my mom and I scrabbled from the front of our rattly pickup truck, just outside of Gregory Town Eleuthra. We jogged across the road to what must have been the now-wild remains of a long-forgotten cotton field. At first glance it looked like a just a few plants were still growing, but on closer inspection, there were still tons.

We spent about five minutes pulling every white tuft that we could reach. Once back in the cab and on our way, I stared at the pile of fluff in my lap. “I bet there were cotton plantations around here at one point. There’s no way cotton is native.” According to my mother, there were cotton plantations on the islands during the Civil War.

When we got back to the house I went and sat on the deck to begin de-seeding the cotton.

Every bit of fluff grows from a seed and there are about four or five seeds per ball. I had my work cut out for me. There was a whole bowl full of cotton fluffs, each with its own seed to be picked.


I spent a few hours peeling each seed from its cotton. I began to develop blisters on my hands. I  began to ponder history and my being a interloper into it. It felt almost unsettling. I’m not afraid of philosophy or finding myself in the wrong. However, sometimes, thinking about what was (not to mention what is) can be unsettling.

Hours later I had a bowl full of fluff, professionally called lint, and a bowl full of seeds and wormy cotton. (Some of it had been turned into nests and had to be thrown out with the seeds.)

Fast forward to now, I’m home with ziploc full of cotton. I haven’t weighed it yet so I’m not sure how much I’ve got. I’m also unsure what to do with it. Obviously, I want to spin it but I’m not going to get much out of if on its own. I’m thinking about blending it with another fiber and if I should dye it.

Thank  you for following me through a rather lengthy post, and if you have any insight about what I could do (I really don’t know anything about spinning or prepping cotton) feel free to drop me a line in the comments.


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