In the Old South, did cotton factors typically travel to Britain to sell cotton and buy merchandise for their clients?

Sep 2013
750
Chattanooga, TN
#1
In Clement Eaton's book The History of the Old South, Eaton asserts that plantation owners in the Old South would hire cotton factors to supervise the selling of the plantation owners' cotton and to acquire merchandise from Great Britain. The cotton would be loaded onto ships at ports in the southern United States. Then the ships would take the cotton to Britain to sell the cotton. Then part of the money that was obtained from the selling of cotton would be used to purchase merchandise ordered by southern plantation owners in the southern United States.

It is possible that the cotton factors would typically have arrangements with British textile factories and British companies for the selling of cotton and the buying of other merchandise, and it is possible that the cotton factors would typically not travel to Britain most of the time that the cotton factor was supervising the selling of cotton and the buying of other merchandise for a plantation owner. It is possible that someone other than the plantation owner and other than the cotton factor would usually carry out the selling of the cotton in Britain and the buying of merchandise for the plantation owner in Britain.

Before the American Civil War, would cotton factors usually personally ride on the ship that carried the cotton to Great Britain to carry out the selling of the cotton and to buy merchandise in Great Britain for southern plantation owners? Or would cotton factors hired by the plantation owners usually stay in America the entire time that the cotton factors' clients' cotton went on the ship to Great Britain?

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
P.S. I know that in the Old South, not all southern cotton was sold in Great Britain. I know that some southern cotton was sold to textile factories in the northern United States of America, so let's not get into that. In this thread, I am just asking about the cotton grown in the southern United States of America that did get sold in Great Britain.
 
Last edited:

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
5,500
#2
I have a relative who was a cotton broker in New Orleans and died of a stroke on the floor of the Pit in Chicago. I kind of doubt the broker would travel to Britain with each shipment, but brokers did travel.
 
Likes: grey fox
Sep 2013
750
Chattanooga, TN
#3
I have a relative who was a cotton broker in New Orleans and died of a stroke on the floor of the Pit in Chicago. I kind of doubt the broker would travel to Britain with each shipment, but brokers did travel.
The technology of today makes it so that today it's far less likely to be necessary to have a middle man who personally goes along to supervise transactions than it would be in the 19th century. We have to remember that I am asking about the days before email, telephones, video conferences, online banking, and electronic transactions.
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,062
Dispargum
#4
Did Eaton use the word 'hire' to describe the relationship between planters and cotton factors? I would think the cotton factors would be more like agents or brokers and would work on commission or perhaps on a fee basis rather than for salary or wages. I would think these cotton factors would do business with multiple planters simultaneously. If I'm right these factors or agents would be specialists. All they did was buy and sell cotton, storing it in warehouses in between. Selling supplies to planters would be a form of trade that had the advantage of reducing the amount of cash moving back and forth.
 
Likes: grey fox
Sep 2013
750
Chattanooga, TN
#5
Did Eaton use the word 'hire' to describe the relationship between planters and cotton factors?
I don't have Eaton's book available to me right now. I don't remember whether or not Eaton actually used the word hire.

I would think the cotton factors would be more like agents or brokers and would work on commission or perhaps on a fee basis rather than for salary or wages.
I agree. My post was not about how cotton factors were usually paid, but I am curious about that now as well.

I would think these cotton factors would do business with multiple planters simultaneously. If I'm right these factors or agents would be specialists. All they did was buy and sell cotton, storing it in warehouses in between. Selling supplies to planters would be a form of trade that had the advantage of reducing the amount of cash moving back and forth.
Yes, the cotton factors were specialists. All the cotton factors did was buy and sell cotton and buy and sell general merchandise (such as clothes, spices, furniture, medications, firearms, etc.) in England or other places for the planters.

I'm fairly sure (but not quite 100% sure) that Eaton mentioned that the cotton factors would store the cotton in warehouses before the factors were ready to have the cotton shipped to England and/or other places to sell it. It is possible that cotton factors would do business with multiple planters simultaneously and still usually (or perhaps always) travel with the boat shipping the cotton because more than one planters' cotton could be shipped on the same ship.

Chlodio, what do you think specifically about the question in my OP? I'm assuming that you don't know the answer or you would have answered the question otherwise, but would you care to speculate on this?
 

Sindane

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
4,545
Europe
#8
I might be wrong but as far as I know mill owners would buy raw cotton at the warehouses at the docks, Liverpool for example, or at the exchanges. This would be in the UK.

The Importing side of it was a whole industry in itself. The importers would have representatives in the USA responsible for the purchasing side. The cotton would be insured for the journey, so I don't suppose there would be any need to travel with the shipment
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,062
Dispargum
#10
Chlodio, what do you think specifically about the question in my OP? I'm assuming that you don't know the answer or you would have answered the question otherwise, but would you care to speculate on this?
My speculation is along the lines of what Sindane describes with firms having representatives on both sides of the Atlantic or two separate companies, one on each continent, but they would have long standing working business relationships with each other. There would be no need for someone to travel with the cotton on a ship. One partner would load it in American and another partner would offload it in Britain.
 

Similar History Discussions