Image 'Picking cotton on a Georgia plantation', 1858

TLF ID M008734

This is a black-and-white engraving showing a group of African American slaves - men, women and children - harvesting cotton in the fields of a plantation in Georgia, USA. The slaves are placing the cotton into bags around their waist or carried over one shoulder, and into large baskets. One slave is carrying a filled basket on his head. The illustration was published in Ballou's 'Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion', a 19th-century illustrated periodical published in Boston, Massachusetts.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This engraving is an interesting source for the year 9 history depth study elective, Movement of peoples (1750–1901), which involves a study of the influence of the industrial revolution on the movement of peoples throughout the world, including the transatlantic slave trade. Slave labour was the economic underpinning of the cotton industry in the American South and West. From 1793 to 1865 an estimated 1 million people were enslaved by transatlantic or domestic slave traders to work in the industry.
  • The life of field slaves on cotton plantations was one of hard, backbreaking labour. They were called to the fields before dawn and worked until after dark with one meal break. The women shown in this illustration used bags tied around their waists to hold the picked cotton until they reached the straw baskets. Men generally used bags, often carrying 45 kg on one shoulder. Both men and women transported filled baskets weighing around 70 kg on their heads.
  • Cotton is harvested when the fluffy fibres of seed cotton have expanded in the heat to split the cotton bolls apart and fluffy balls of cotton have burst out. Slaves had to handpick each ball of seed cotton. This involved twisting the seed cotton free from sharp burrs attached to the plants' stems. Most plantation owners expected each slave to pick between 68 kg to 90 kg of cotton a day.
Learning area
  • History
  • Studies of society and environment

Other details

  • Contributor
  • Name: The Library of Congress
  • Organization: The Library of Congress
  • Description: content provider
  • Address: UNITED STATES
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  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
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  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Commonwealth of Australia, 2011, except where indicated otherwise. You may copy, communicate and modify this material for non-commercial educational purposes provided you retain all acknowledgements associated with the material.