Factors Impacting Georgia's Development from 1789-1840

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about the history of Georgia between 1789-1840. We will highlight the key events and developments in Georgian history during this time, and see how they affected Georgia's development.

Georgia in the Aftermath of the American Revolution

Of all thirteen original British colonies in North America, Georgia was among the most reluctant to separate from Great Britain. Named after King George II, the colony had a strong Loyalist presence before and even during the Revolutionary War. When the U.S. Constitution was signed in 1787, Georgians wondered what their future would look like. For many Georgians, particularly wealthy landowners, their world had been turned upside down. Independence was greeted not with shouts of triumph but sighs of distress.

King Cotton & Agriculture

Within a few years of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, a major innovation transformed Georgian society and the society of the South in general. In 1794 Savannah resident Eli Whitney patented the cotton gin. The cotton gin was a hand-cranking device used to separate cotton seed from cotton fiber. Separating these elements by hand was incredibly time consuming, and with the advent of this device, the amount of cotton produced dramatically rose. At first it was believed the cotton gin might actually help eliminate slavery, but the device actually led to an increase in slavery because more slaves were needed to plant and harvest the crop. Cotton production exploded in the early 1800s. It became so profitable that the term ''King Cotton'' was used to describe the dominance of cotton production. At its peak, the South produced 75% of the world's cotton, making plantation owners extraordinarily rich.

A 19th century cotton gin

The plantation system thrived in Antebellum Georgia. Plantations were extremely large Southern farms on which dozens of slaves labored. Plantation owners and their families typically lived in luxury, while African-American slaves lived in squalor and were often treated poorly. The plantation system and slavery provided the backbone of the Southern economy.

A typical Georgia plantation

The Industrial Revolution

The agricultural revolution in Georgia was complemented by an industrial revolution. The first half of the 19th century was a time of rapid industrialization in Georgia and throughout the United States in general. Textile factories sprang up, and by the 1830s the railroad was connecting major cities. In fact, it was the railroad that led directly to the founding of Georgia's largest city, Atlanta. Atlanta was founded as a rail hub linking the port city of Savannah with the Midwest. Called Thasherville at the time, Atlanta's founding dates back to the 1830s.


We often hear about the California Gold Rush of 1849. A lesser-known gold rush in American history, the Georgia Gold Rush, broke out in 1829 after gold was found in the North Georgia Mountains. Boom towns like Dahlonega sprang up as tens of thousands of prospectors moved into the North Georgia area. The U.S. Mint actually established a branch, the Dahlonega Mint, in the city to mint coinage. Coins were minted there between 1838-1861. Much of North Georgia at this time was under the control of the Cherokee, and the Georgia Gold Rush exacerbated tensions with the Cherokee.

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