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Noah B. Cloud and the American Cotton Planter
By Weymouth T. Jordan.
Reprinted from Agricultural History, Vol. 31, No. 4., Fargo, N.D, October, 1957, pp. 44-49.
One of the Old South's most energetic promoters of improved agriculture was Noah B. Cloud, of Macon and Montgomery Counties, Alabama. Born in Edgefield District, South Carolina, in 1809, he attended schools in South Carolina and trained as a physician at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. In 1838, three years after graduating from medical college, he moved to Alabama. He arrived at a time when cotton culture was coming to dominate farm and plantation activities in the state. However, he did not move to the Lower South for the purpose of opening up a large plantation in order to produce large cotton crops with a large force of Negro slaves. In contrast to many of his contemporaries, he turned immediately to a study of better farming practices, and from 1838 until his death in 1875, he showed particular interest in the following activities, all aimed at advancing the cause of agriculture: (1) diversification of crops, (2) improvement of soil, (3) promotion of agricultural and other conventions and meetings, (4) establishment of agricultural societies, (5) management of the Alabama state fair, (6) editing his agricultural magazine, the American Cotton Planter and Soil of the South and (7) agricultural education. As a result of these activities he established himself, in his state and region and even in the nation, as a highly respected and recognized leader in the American agricultural reform movement of the mid-nineteenth century.1
Noah B. Cloud
The American Cotton Planter was Cloud's most significant contribution. The journal was begun in Montgomery, Alabama, in January, 1853. Its original circulation was less than 500; it reached a circulation of more than 10,000 in December, 1858. Thus, with the possible exception of the Southern Cultivator, a Georgia agricultural magazine edited by Daniel Lee, it became the most popular periodical in the South before the year 1860.2 There is much evidence to show that, next to newspapers, many Southern readers preferred agricultural journals to all forms of literature.
The American Cotton Planter was a beautifully printed magazine. It was printed by the best job printer in Alabama, and was marked by numerous and interesting illustrations. It crusaded for railroads, manufacturing, direct trade with Europe, diversification of crops, horizontal plowing, crop rotation, use of fertilizers, improved stock, hillside ditching, drainage, agricultural education, Negro management and a farm press. Cloud wrote most of the articles in the Planter during its seven years' existence, but his journal also served as a clearing house for hundreds of correspondents, including overseers, dirt farmers, women and planters, who advocated better farming practices. There does not seem to be any outstanding leader of agricultural reform in the South in the period 1853-1860 who failed to contribute to the Planter.3
The American Cotton Planter was Cloud's most significant contribution. The journal was begun in Montgomery, Alabama, in January, 1853. Its original circulation was less than 500; it reached a circulation of more than 10,000 in December, 1858. Thus, with the possible exception of the Southern Cultivator, a Georgia agricultural magazine edited by Daniel Lee, it became the most popular periodical in the South before the year 1860.2 There is much evidence to show that, next to newspapers, many Southern readers preferred agricultural journals to all forms of literature.
The American Cotton Planter was a beautifully printed magazine. It was printed by the best job printer in Alabama, and was marked by numerous and interesting illustrations. It crusaded for railroads, manufacturing, direct trade with Europe, diversification of crops, horizontal plowing, crop rotation, use of fertilizers, improved stock, hillside ditching, drainage, agricultural education, Negro management and a farm press. Cloud wrote most of the articles in the Planter during its seven years' existence, but his journal also served as a clearing house for hundreds of correspondents, including overseers, dirt farmers, women and planters, who advocated better farming practices. There does not seem to be any outstanding leader of agricultural reform in the South in the period 1853-1860 who failed to contribute to the Planter.3
Newspapers and journals throughout Alabama and the South lauded Cloud and his journal from 1853 to 1861. Contemporary opinions prove without question that Cloud was indeed significant in his field of activity and that there existed a broad interest and support of the reforms advocated in his magazine. In support of Cloud's projected journal, the Alabama Planter of Mobile stated, December, 1852, "This work promises to be of incalculable value to the southern agriculturist . . ."4 In January, 1853, a Montgomery editor boosted Cloud's magazine by remarking, "We are pleased to be able to state that its permanency is placed beyond all doubt, by the large subscription list with which it has commenced, and which is daily augmenting."5 From Mobile came the suggestion that ''our people can sustain a publication of the kind, and it is their duty to do it."6 A Huntsville newspaper stated that the magazine was "full of instructive and useful matter. We hope to see it succeed. Our farming friends should sustain, heartily sustain it."7 From Montgomery it was announced, in February, 1853, "that subscribers to the work are pouring in, and that the indications are that it will receive a living support."8 A Prattville newspaper boasted, in March of the same year, "Each number comes to us improved in some respect, and, we doubt not, it will ere long surpass all other journals of the same kind published in the South." It was "obligatory,"' added the editor, that "this noble enterprise'' be supported by the people of Alabama.9 These sentiments were echoed from Cloud's home county of Macon: "Dr. Cloud's valuable monthly is again upon our table. The dish he serves up for March [1853] is by no means inferior to those to which we set down during any of the preceding months, and the accessories are better."10
On and on went the praise for Cloud and his journal through the years 1858 to 1861. A Montgomery editor, in extolling the journal, boasted that "Its editor is just the man to make it the best Agricultural paper in the world."11 In April, 1853, the Southern Cultivator reported that Cloud's periodical "may now be considered as a 'fixed fact.' It is conducted with much talent and industry, and is well worthy of a liberal support."12 Similar good wishes came from Georgia's other significant agricultural journal, the Soil of the South, "The Doctor [Cloud] has a widespread reputation, and we hope [his magazine] may have a circulation fully commensurate with the merits of his work. Success to the American Cotton Planter."13 Cloud's "valuable journal," said the Auburn Gazette, "is steadily increasing in interest, and we hope but few of our readers are deprived of its excellent teachings."14 Of special interest was an editorial appearing in the Selma Reporter early in 1853:
The American Cotton Planter for May contains much instructive matter. We are particularly struck with an able essay on the policy of the cotton growing states. The writer gives a faithful picture of the gradual impoverishment of our lands, and suggests a remedy for this and other evils. The first error to be corrected, says he, is the planting of more land than can be cultivated, and at the same time improved. A large portion of labor should be devoted to ditching, draining, building, raising stock and provisions, etc., etc. Manufacturers should be encouraged by vigorous measures. The most effective of these measures, says the writer, would be to prohibit the further introduction of slaves except such as might be acquired by actual residents through marriage, or such as might be brought in by bonafide immigrants settling among us, and with the restriction that they should not be sold or hired for a term of years, unless under process of law. This would stop the drain of money, encourage white immigration, foster manufactures, etc.15
In its late years, as in the first year of its existence, the American Cotton Planter and its editor received an almost unbounded support from Southern newspapers and agricultural journals, thus indicating that the periodical was no mere short-lived fad. In 1857, after Cloud's journal was united with the Soil of the South, an Alabama writer advised: "Every farmer ought to have it, if it cost $10 instead of $1. We ought to have a statute in our penal code, making it a penitentiary offense for an Alabama planter to be without the * Cotton Planter.' It is just as necessary to him as a good wife."16 In January, 1857, the magazine was eulogized by J. J. Hooper, editor of the Montgomery Daily Mail:
We congratulate our friends on the great improvement of the work. It is as elegant in typographical arrangement and execution as the most fastidious could desire, the general style being far superior to that of most agricultural periodicals; . . . Besides the good reading, its pages are embellished with fine wood engravings, illustrative of subjects of interest to the stock and fruit raisers! . . . Dr. Cloud informs us that subscribers pour in by hundreds, and if the influx continues for a few weeks it will place the Planter, in point of circulation, among the first publications of its class in the Union. Let every man who desires to see a real progress in our section, lend it a helping hand!17
"In our estimation," says another Alabama editorial of March, 1857, Cloud's magazine "is the most valuable publication of the kind we have ever seen, .... It is not filled as some suppose, with vague and impracticable theories, but with practical common sense suggestions perfectly comprensible [sic] and intellible [sic] to the most novitiate farmer."18 Since Charles A. Peabody, who was a resident of Russell County, Alabama, was the horticultural editor, the magazine had two very "able editors."19 The journal was described in August, 1857, as "a gem, unsurpassed by any in the Union."20 And while praising the magazine, one editor made the following pertinent remarks:
It [the American Cotton Planter'] enforces the doctrine that farmers should raise at home every thing necessary for the operations of their farms -- leaving the cotton crop a clear profit. There can be no successful farming unless an abundant supply of provisions be produced. Without this the planter's machinery moves slowly and heavily. -- With poor horses and mules -- badly fed negroes, no man can work to advantage. This must be the case if corn has to be bought; everything is then stinted. But if large corn crops are planted, you have fat mules and horses -- slick negroes -- fine looking cattle, furnishing plenty of milk and butter, and also plenty of fat hogs. It won't do for planters to raise cotton to buy mules and horses, and hogs, and flour and oxen, etc. Try it and you will soon find out.21
Many articles from the American Cotton Planter were reprinted in newspapers and in magazines, which means that Cloud's journal was quite influential both in his own state and elsewhere in the South. Abundantly supplied with excerpts from the journal in some instances were such Alabama newspapers as the Sumter County Whig of Livingston, the Huntsville Democrat, the Macon Republican of Tuskegee, and the Greensboro Alabama Beacon. These and other state newspapers sometimes literally filled their pages with reprints of articles and illustrations from the American Cotton Planter.22 Three North Carolina agricultural magazines that frequently quoted at length from Cloud's journal were the Arator, the Farmer's Journal, and the North Carolina Planter and the editor of the South Carolina publication, The Farmer and Planter, also was a regular patron.23 DeBow's Review of New Orleans and the Southern Cultivator carried scores of articles that appeared originally in the American Cotton Planter.24
Cloud deserved his excellent reputation as a promoter of agricultural reform. As much as any man in the South, and perhaps in the United States, he warranted the compliment in 1859 that he was one "of the old veterans in the cause of our country's salvation . . . ,"25 A little newspaper in Alabama also remarked, December, 1860, that "Dr. Cloud's agricultural and horticultural monthly, . . . still holds its place among the agricultural works of the country. The Doctor is one of the most enterprising men to be found anywhere, and the pages of his work give evidence of the fact."26 If he had accomplished nothing else, his skilled editorship of his magnificent agricultural journal would have been more than enough to warrant the conclusion that he was one of the outstanding advocates of economic reform in the antebellum South.
Cloud's other special interest was the Alabama State Fair, which, in his capacity as Secretary of the Alabama Agricultural Society, he managed from 1855 through 1860. The following description was written by a visitor to the 1856 fair:
We half wish that the Fair was an 'established institution' ... always in progress like the Court of Chancery, always open and that we might always be there. It was no pageant . . . but a most interesting, elevating, inspiring exhibition a social reunion a great popular holiday ... It was a scene to be daguerreotyped on the heart of humanity to be 'set in a historical frame work' full of suggestions to a thoughtful patriot. There we were, old and young politicians, merchants, lawyers, doctors, farmers men, women and children priest, editors and people rich and poor city bred and 'sun burnt sicklemen,' pedagogue and pedlar buoyant, impulsive, generous youth and bright, innocent, radiant, fresh blown, blushing beauty; . . . There, too, were widow and widower, with wink and wile the young bachelor and the old young maid. There we were, all, and all delighted.27
Cloud, himself, wrote that the fair was on the side of science and against "old fogyism" and "stupid opposition" to improved agriculture.28 Concerning the work of the state agricultural society, he reported to the United States Commissioner of Patents in 1858:
The most important benefit resulting from our Society is the spirit of land improvement, by 'horizontalizing' and fertilizing, which is prevalent among our planters. Stock is also better, horses, mules, milch cows, and superior breeds of swine. We are giving much attention to diversifying our crops, combining to a proper extent farming, grazing and stock purposes, with planting. An evident and large increase has been exhibited in all our agricultural products for the last few years.29
Alabama did indeed make some noteworthy agricultural accomplishments during the 1850's. The acreage of improved farm land increased from 4,435,614 in 1850 to 6,385,724 in 1860, and the value of farms rose from $64,323,224 to $175,824,622. Among the 33 states in 1860, Alabama ranked second in cotton production, third in sweet potatoes, fifth in domestic manufactures, seventh in peas and beans, ninth in corn, and tenth in value of livestock and slaughtered animals.30 She was by no means self-sufficient, but she was making progress in that direction.
If Cloud had died during the Civil War, he would very possibly be remembered as a state hero; but since he lived for a decade after 1865 and became a Scalawag, he died something of a scamp in the eyes of many Alabamians. His politics were not altogether unusual, however, and it is more than likely that what he did after 1865 he did for what he considered the good of his state. The modern Southerner does not consider all Scalawags to have been dishonest. Cloud's politics are not hard to understand; he acted as did many other men of his generation. Before the Civil War he was an active member of the Whig party and he was also a Unionist, but at the same time he was a Southerner, which he showed by serving as a Confederate surgeon during the Civil War. After the War he affiliated with the Republican party in Alabama, thus becoming a Scalawag.
Still very much interested in promoting Alabama's agricultural and industrial resources, he corresponded frequently with the United States Commissioner of Agriculture. He also wrote a series of newspaper articles entitled "The Industrial Resources of Alabama," thereby helping to create a Commission of Industrial Resources. He sponsored immigration to Alabama, and became the state's first Commissioner of Immigration. Continuing his long-time interest in public education, he won election as State Superintendent of Education in 1868. Two years later he was elected to the Republican state legislature, where he reiterated his earlier support of an agricultural and mechanical college, this time under the provisions of the Morrill Act. He lived to see the establishment of A. and M. College at Auburn, Alabama, in 1872.31 As a promoter of agriculture, he unquestionably did more for the good of his state than any of his contemporaries.
*This paper was read at the joint session of the American Historical Association and the Agricultural History Society in St. Louis, Missouri, December, 1956. Portions of the paper will appear in the author's forthcoming book, Ante-Bellum Alabama: Town and Country, which is to be published as a number in the Florida State University Studies (1958). Research for the paper was conducted with grants-in-aid from the Social Science Research Council and the Florida State University Research Council.
1 For a summary of Cloud's activities, see Weymouth T. Jordan, "Noah B. Cloud's Activities on Behalf of Southern Agriculture" Agricultural History, 25:53-58 (1951).
2 Advertiser and State Gazette (Montgomery, Alabama), October 29, 1856, March 24, 1857, January 5, 1858, September 28, 1859; Harper's Weekly, 2:757 (1858); Journal and Messenger (Macon, Georgia), December 29, 1858; Macon Republican (Tuskegee, Alabama), June 12, 1856.
3 American Cotton Planter(1853-1856) and American Cotton Planter and Soil of the South (1857-1861), passim.
4 Alabama Planter, 7:29 (1852).
5 Weekly Alabama Journal (Montgomery, Alabama), January 29, 1853.
6 Ibid., February 19, 1853, quoting Tribune (Mobile, Alabama).
7 Southern Advocate (Huntsville, Alabama), February 23, 1853.
8 Advertiser and State Gazette, February 12, 1853.
9 Autauga Citizen (Prattville, Alabama), March 24, 1853.
10 Macon Republican, March 24, 1853.
11 Weekly Alabama Journal, March 12, 1853.
12 Southern Cultivator, 11:114 (1853)
13 Soi1 of the South, 3:497 (1853).
14 Gazette (Auburn, Alabama), quoted in Daily Alabama Journal (Montgomery, Alabama), May 2, 3853.
15 Tri-Weekly Journal (Montgomery, Alabama), May 25, 1853.
16 Spectator (Wetumpka, Alabama), January 15, 1857.
17 Daily Mail Montgomery, Alabama), January 7, 1857.
18 Clarice County Democrat (Grove Hill, Alabama), March 12, 1857.
19 Daily Mail, October 6. 1857.
20 Republican (Jacksonville, Alabama), August 19, 1857.
21 West Alabamian (Carrollton, Alabama), October 21, 1857.
22 See, for example, the following newspapers published in Alabama: Greensboro Alabama Beacon, April 24, 1857; Huntsville Democrat, April 7, 1853; Livingston Sumter County Whig, January 25, 1853; Tuskegee Macon Republican, July 13, 1854. See also the Carrollton West Alabamian, October 28, 1857; Florence Gazette, November 12, 1858; Gainesville Independent, October 10, 1857; Grove Hill Clarke County Democrat, November 6, 1856; Tuscaloosa Independent Monitor, June 18, 1857; and Wetumpka Dispatch, August 7, 1857.
23 Arator, 3:781 (1857) ; Farmer's Journal, 3:135-138 (1854) ; North Carolina Planter, 1:68-69 (1858); Farmer and Planter, 5:6 (1854), 10:11-13 (1859).
24 See, for example, DeBow's Review, 18:59-60 (1855), and Southern Cultivator, 12:381-382 (1854).,
25 Southern Cultivator, 17:142 (1859).
26 Independent (Gainseville, Alabama), December 15, 1860.
27 Weekly Alabama Journal, December 13, 1856.
28 American Cotton Planter and Soil of the South, 4:386 (1860).
29 Report of the Commissioner of Patents, for the Year 1858, Agriculture (Washington, 1859), 92.
30 Agriculture of the United States in 1860, Compiled from the Original Returns of the Eighth Census (Washington, 1864), xlvii-xlix, Ixxiv, Ixxxi, xciv, cxxvi, 186-187; A Compendium of the Ninth Census (Washington, 1872), 688, 690; Lewis C. Gray, History of Agriculture in the Southern United States to 1860 (2 vols., Washington, 1933), 2:1040, 1042; Donald L. Kemmerer, "The Pre-Civil War South's Leading Crop, Corn," Agricultural History, 23:236-239 (1949); James B. Sellars, Slavery in Alabama (Tuscaloosa, 1950), 41.
31 Alabama Planter, 8:297 (1854); Harper's Weekly, 2:756-757 (1858); and the following newspapers of Montgomery, Alabama: Daily Advertiser, September 27, 1872; Daily State Sentinel, August 24, September 4, October 9, 24, November 2, 9, 1867; Weekly Journal, May 24, 1851; Weekly Mail, October 19, 26, 1870. See also Tuskegee Macon Republican, August 19, 1852.

  
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