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WI: Boll Weevil migrates into the USA a century earlier?


Well-known member
Based upon a suggestion by @Thande on another thread, which I felt merited further discussion- namely, what if the boll weevil had migrated northwards from its native range in Central Mexico a full century earlier? So ITTL, viable breeding populations of the insect'd cross the Rio Grande into Texas in the 1790s (which at the time, was still Mexican territory, and IOTL, wouldn't break away and declare independence for another 4 decades- could this conceivably be butterflied away?) entering SE Alabama by 1810 (then divided between the Province of Georgia, Territory of Mississippi, and fleetingly semi-independent Republic of West Florida) and subsequently spread across all cotton-growing areas in continental North America by the mid-1820s. How devastating an impact might this have had on US cotton production, in the era of its peak expansion and growth to become by far the USA's primary export commodity IOTL? And how heavily might this impact upon demographics, migration, and development patterns- not just in the USA, but potentially further afield as well?

For instance, could this potentially accelerate the abolitionist movement, with the bankrupted plantations having a far harder time lobbying politicians to keep in place? Or could it conceivably have had the opposite effect- with the increased crop losses to the boll weevil, and bankruptcy rates, only serving to make cotton production on the Southern US plantations even more labor-intensive, and thus further entrenching and expanding the practice of, along with support for, slave labor (along with worsening the conditions for the slaves on the plantations themselves)? And might there even be greater, earlier agitation for the expansion of the USA and slavery, as a result of the earlier Boll Weevil invasion (for instance, an equivalent to OTL's 'Knights of the Golden Circle' secessionist movement, with the Boll Weevil IOTL having only managed to cross over onto the island plantations of the Caribbean significantly later on)? What do you think?

napoleon IV

Ignore Norms, All Dinosaurs Have Different Shapes
Washington, Douglass Commonwealth
The effects outside of the South would be interesting. The American economy was extremely reliant on cotton. Cotton powered New England's textile industry, the New York City banks were heavily invested in plantations, and Northern merchants made a lot of money shipping cotton and providing goods for Southern planters. Rising cotton prices and lost revenues from destroyed cotton would thus make it harder for the US to industrialize and possibly create a financial crisis if enough plantations default on their loans to the banks.
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History Learner

Active member
I'm not sure it would have that much effect. There were many crops other than cotton in which slavery was used. Virginia was the largest wheat producing state.
Exactly this, as odd as it is to think about now the largest and most profitable (in nominal terms) was not cotton but actually corn:

Other alternatives to Cotton also existed, such as tobacco which was very profitable in Virginia and Maryland and cultivation of it was spreading into new regions such as South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Rice was likewise in the South Carolina lowlands, and in the Gulf Region you had sugar start to become big too. However, I think you're very much right on a more industrialized South. Industrial Slavery in the Old South by Robert S. Starobin showed that slavery was more extensively used in industrial or proto-industrial processes than commonly known, and was at least just as efficient as free labor sources available in the South while also being cheaper. He also found that industrial work involving slaves contained a high rate of return, sometimes rivaling cotton, so I'd imagine in this ATL that many planters would take to getting into the manufacturing business as the Industrial Revolution gets underway.

On the whole, I thus don't see slavery going away although its form will be much different. How this effects Westward settlement and issues such as Texas, I know not enough to speculate.