By Janet Morrison
Did you know?
Cotton gins were made of dangerous machinery. William Eugene Alexander related the following story in “Some Sketches of Rocky River Church and Vicinity,” to illustrate that point. He wrote, “A rather tragical thing occurred here when James F. Harris, (Major or Little Jim) then about 16 years old, had the misfortune to get his arm cut off in the Harris gin. It happened when he stopped at the gin on his way home from school. He became quite proficient with his other arm, so that he could plow, play ball, and drive a car.”
Three cotton gins were in operation in Township No. 1 (known then as Rocky River Township) in 1879, according to the 1880 US Census.
John McAmy Wilson Alexander owned a water-powered cotton gin on Reedy Creek. Alexander employed three males over 16 years of age the previous year. He reported that an average workday consisted of ten to twelve hours and an average day’s wage was fifty cents. The value of the product of Alexander’s gin was $350. Alexander was the census enumerator for Township 1 in 1880. He ran for State Senate on the Democratic Party ticket that fall.
McA. Harris & Company operated a cotton gin in Township No. 1, but the location and mode of power were not given in the census. Like J.M.W. Alexander, McAmy A. Harris reported paying an average wage of fifty cents for a ten- to twelve-hour workday. Harris employed five males over 16 years old.
J.N.D. Wilson’s cotton gin on McKee Creek was still in operation in 1880. He reported the same length or workday and average wage, so that must have been the going rate in the area. He employed four males over the age of 16 and reported the value of his gin’s product was $400. Wilson also owned and operated a flouring and grist mill on McKee Creek.
By 1880, W.J. Black had bought Joseph R. Neisler’s cotton factory in Township No. 1. The Neisler Cotton Factory will be the subject as a future “Did You Know?” two-part series.
J.M. Odell bought the original cotton factory in Concord in 1880 and enlarged it. The decade of the 1880s was the beginning of cotton industrialization in Cabarrus County – an industry that would flourish here for the next 100 years.
In the mid- to late-1880s, the Concord newspapers were filled with news about the cotton industry. By then, many cotton mills were in operation in Cabarrus County and most farmers were dependent upon good cotton crops and a fair price at the market.
The Feb. 25, 1886, Concord Times reported that with the recent addition of more looms, the Odell Factory had 278 looms turning out 13,000 yards of plaids alone on a daily basis.
The “Harrisburg Items” column in the December 2, 1886, Concord Times reported that Eugene Culp’s arm got caught in “the gin” the week before, but the article did not say whose cotton gin. Dr. J.R. Wilson was able to treat Culp’s hand and arm and he was reportedly doing well.
J.D. Harris offered to give five acres of land for a cotton factory in Harrisburg, according to the “Harrisburg Items’ column in the May 5, 1887, Concord Times. He was quoted as saying, “We must keep up with Charlotte.” Such a factory was never built.
Newspapers in the fall of 1887 reported friction between farmers and cotton buyers as farmers did not think they were getting a fair price for their crops.
The “Harrisburg Items” column in the October 7, 1887, Concord Times voiced a fear that Cabarrus County would lose its good name if the conflict continued.
Part IV in this “Did You Know?” series about the local cotton economy will look at the decade of the 1890s, when the Concord newspapers were filled with news about the cotton industry.
Cabarrus Reborn: A Historical Sketch of the Founding and Development of Cannon Mills Company and Kannapolis, by James Lewis Moore and Thomas Herron Wingate, 1940.
“Some Sketches of Rocky River Church and Vicinity,” by William Eugene Alexander, 1948.
Tenth Census, Cabarrus County, North Carolina – 1880, transcribed by Betty L. Krimminger, 2003.
Various newspapers as cited.