From the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, Britain became known for its production of cotton textiles. Technological advances such as the spinning jenny (1764) and Eli Whitney's cotton gin created fast and efficient factories, mainly based in the north of England; Manchester became known as "Cottonopolis". Britain would buy cotton from India, process it, and sell the finished textiles to its captive colonial markets in Africa, India and China.
By the 1840s, Britain's demand for cotton was outstripping supply. It was time-consuming and costly to ship all its raw cotton from India, and the mechanized industry was using more cotton than India could produce. Britain began to look to America and the West Indies for raw cotton: it was easier to ship straight across the Atlantic, and cheaper as it was produced by slaves. As a result, cotton cultivation became the prime occupation of slaves in the United States.
Cotton plants are low-growing shrubs with sharp seed pods that can cut skin; picking cotton is back-breaking work.