Thaddeus Mason Harris.

Biographical Memorials of James Oglethorpe online

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individuals were this year devoted to the culture. The silk, however,
was of a better quality, and sustained its high reputation in the
London market.

In 1768, another plan was proposed, by Mr. Delamar, "in order the
more effectually to establish the growth of raw silk in America." His
proposal was, to pay a bounty of 20_s_. per pound on every pound of
good, clear raw silk imported from any of his Majesty's dominions in
America, to be paid on the price such silk might sell for at public
sale in London; at the expiration of ten years, ten per cent. bounty
was to be allowed; the ensuing five years at five per cent., after
which time the bounty was to cease. This was the general feature of
his plan; it was not, however, adopted, though in many respects its
provisions were highly judicious and appropriate.

But this branch of industry and commerce was fast waning before the
increasing culture of more sure and lucrative products, and only one
hundred and thirty-seven different persons brought cocoons to the
filature this year. Governor Wright, in his official letter to the
Earl of Hillsborough, July 1, 1768, says, "I am persuaded that few, or
none but the very poorer sort of people, will continue to go upon
that article. Several substantial persons, who did mean to make it
an object when the price was higher, have, to my knowledge, given
it over. The reason, my Lord, is evident; for people who have their
fortune to raise or make, will always turn themselves in such a way,
and to the raising and making of such commodities, as they think will
answer best; and it is very clear to me, that those who have negroes,
may employ themselves and negroes to better advantage, &c., than by
raising cocoons at 1_s_. 6_d_. per pound, although that is, as I have
said, 7, 8, or 9_d_. more than they are intrinsically worth."

Cluny, in his "American Traveller," printed in London, 1769, says,
"The climate of Georgia has been found to agree in every respect with
the silk worm." Experience, however, proved that the climate was
not sufficiently equable to secure permanent and continued success.
Governor Wright, in the letter quoted above, says, "the variable and
uncertain weather in spring, makes it precarious," and facts amply
confirm this statement. Only five hundred and forty-one pounds of raw
silk were made this year, a smaller amount, with one exception, than
had been produced for ten years. In 1769, the quantity was still more
decreased, both from the reluctance of the people to raise worms, and
the unfavorable weather in spring. Governor Wright, on the 20th of
June, 1769, says, "We had a most extraordinary prospect, till the
middle of April, when I thought every thing safe, yet we had very cold
rains on the 17th and 18th, which were succeeded by hard black frost
on the 19th and 20th, and destroyed a great part of the worms, and
will reduce the silk very much."

The silk business was now on the irretrievable decline, though it
still maintained a nominal existence, and received the encouragement
of Parliament. The special bounty which had hitherto been paid on
cocoons, over and above their merchantable value, was suspended, and
by a statute of 9 Geo. III., c. 38, a premium of twenty-five per cent.
from the 1st of January, 1770, to the 1st of January, 1777, - of twenty
per cent, from the 1st of January, 1777, to the 1st of January,
1784, - and of fifteen per cent. from the 1st of January, 1784, to the
1st of January 1791, on the ad valorem value of all silk produced in
America and imported into Great Britain in vessels regularly navigated
by law, was substituted in its place.

The inhabitants of Ebenezer resumed the culture, which with them had
long been dormant, and its revival at that time was principally owing
to the influence of a very worthy man and magistrate, Mr. Wertsch,
who, sanguine himself of ultimate success, had imparted to the Germans
a portion of his own enthusiasm.

In 1770, they shipped two hundred and ninety-one pounds of raw silk,
the result of their own industry, and as the filature at Savannah
was discontinued in 1771, the Earl of Hillsborough, ever anxious to
advance the produce, warmly commended the zeal of the Saltzburgers,
and directed President Habersham to distribute "the basins and reels
that were left in the public filature, to such persons as Mr. Wertsch
shall recommend to be proper objects of that bounty;" and in the same
letter he promised that he would endeavor to procure for them, this
year, "a small sum from Parliament, to be laid out in purchase of
utensils for the assistance of the poor sort of people in your
province." This promise he redeemed.

So popular had the silk business become at Ebenezer, that Mr.
Habersham, in a letter dated the 30th of March, 1772, says, "some
persons in almost every family there, understand its process from the
beginning to the end." In 1771, the Germans sent four hundred and
thirty-eight pounds of raw silk to England, and in 1772, four hundred
and eighty-five pounds, all of their own raising. They made their own
reels, which were so much esteemed that one was sent to England as a
model, and another taken to the East Indies by Pickering Robinson.
The operations at Savannah were now totally discontinued, though Mr.
Ottolenghe still styled himself "Superintendent of the Silk Culture
in Georgia," and in consideration of his long and faithful service in
that office, received an annuity of 100_l_.

In a message of Sir James Wright, to the Commons House of Assembly,
19th of January, 1774, he says, "The filature buildings seem to be
going to decay and ruin; may it not, therefore, be expedient to
consider what other service or use they may be put to?" and the
Assembly answered, "We shall not fail to consider how it may be
expedient to apply the filature to some public use;" and henceforth
it was used as an assembly or ball-room, a place where societies held
their meetings, and where divine service was occasionally conducted:
more recently, it was converted into a dwelling-house, and was thus
appropriated at the time of its destruction by fire, on the afternoon
of March 25, 1839.

Thus ended the grand project for raising silk in the Province of
Georgia; for though some few individuals, together with the people of
Ebenezer, continued to raise small quantities, yet, as a branch of
general culture, it has never been resuscitated. The last parcel
brought to Savannah was in 1790, when over two hundred pounds were
purchased for exportation, at from 8_s_. to 26_s_. per pound.

On reviewing the causes which led to the suspension of this business,
after so many exertions and such vast expense, which, it must be
remembered, the profits of the culture never reimbursed, we find,
first, the unfriendliness of the climate, which, notwithstanding its
boasted excellence, interfered materially with its success. Governor
Wright, frequently speaks of its deleterious influence, and the
fluctuations in the various seasons, evidenced, to demonstration,
that the interior was better adapted to the agricultural part of the
business, than the exposed and variable sea-board. Mr. Habersham, in
a letter to the Earl of Hillsborough, dated "Savannah, 24th of April,
1772," thus expresses himself on this point. "Upwards of twenty years
ago, if my memory does not fail me, Samuel Lloyd, Esq., of London, who
was one of the late trustees for establishing this colony, and was
fourteen years in Italy, and very largely concerned in the silk
business, wrote to me, that the best silk was produced at a distance
from the sea-coast, owing, I suppose, to the richness of the soil,
which made the mulberry leaf more glutinous, nutritive and healthy to
the silk-worm; also, to their not being obnoxious to musquetoes and
sand-flies, and probably, likewise, to the weather being more equal
and less liable to sudden transition from heat to cold: and on a
conversation this day with Mr. Barnard, of Augusta, he assures me,
that from two years experience in raising cocoons there, he lost none
from sickness, which frequently destroys two-thirds of the worms
here;" and he further says, that Mr. Ottolenghe told him that the silk
reeled from the Augusta cocoons "made the strongest and most wiry
thread of any raised in these parts."

Second, the expensiveness of living, and the dearness of labor, which
was as high as 1_s_. 8_d_. to 2_s_. per day, whereas 2_d_. or 3_d_.
was the usual price paid the peasant in silk-growing countries.
Governor Wright, in a letter to the Earl of Hillsborough, frankly
told him that, "till these provinces become more populous, and labor
cheaper, I apprehend, silk will not be a commodity, or an article, of
any considerable amount."

Third, the great reduction of the bounty, which, being the stimulus to
exertion, ceased to operate as an incentive, when from 3_s_. 3_d_.
it fell to 1_s_. 3_d_., and finally to a mere premium on the general
quantity imported. The poor could not subsist on these prices, and
the rich could employ their lands to much better advantage than in
cultivating an article which would not repay the expenses of labor:
and lastly, the increasing attention, bestowed on rice and cotton,
sealed the fate of the silk culture, and the planters soon learned to
consider the latter of no importance in comparison, with the large
and lucrative crops yielded by these more staple commodities. Other
reasons might be mentioned, but these sufficiently account for its
decline there, and its total neglect even to the present day. During
the morus multicaulis epidemic, which spread over our country in 1838,
Savannah, it is true, did not escape, and for a time the fever raged,
with much violence, but the febrile action soon subsided, leaving
no permanent benefit and only a few fields of waving foliage, as a
deciduous memento of this frenzied excitement.

That silk can be produced in Georgia equal to any in the world, does
not admit of a doubt, but whether it will ever be resumed, and when,
is among the unknown events of the future.


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Online LibraryThaddeus Mason HarrisBiographical Memorials of James Oglethorpe → online text (page 24 of 24)