TENNESSEE RIVER VALLEY RESOURCES
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.
The importance of river navigation
to the early settlers in the Tennessee River Valley cannot be fully
realized without an understanding of the resources of that area. The
pioneers who traveled over the Appalachians to fashion their lives in
this rich region envisioned some of the major opportunities that challenged
them if they could establish and keep up an inexpensive and reliable
means of commercial enterprise with the trading centers of the world.
It was to the Tennessee River and its
tributaries that these original settlers naturally sought that crucial
connection with the world of commerce and trade. They looked, hoped
and planned as they gradually explored their agricultural, commercial,
and industrial possibilities and counted their resources.
Without proper transportation facilities
resources were considered useless. If transportation costs were too
excessive, the producer is forced to pay more than a consumer does for
what he buys or uses.
The most determined need for transportation
in the early days was for carrying cotton to market. This highly marketable
product was mostly marketed for cash. In the early period of river development,
Tennessee supplied much of the crop produced in the Valley. As time
passed it was found that the soil and climate of the eastern section
were not so suited as the country farther south in northern Alabama
and south central and western Tennessee. Northern Alabama, particularly
along the Big Bend of the River, enjoyed a rich soil fit for cotton
The producers were always faced with difficulties
in getting their cotton to market. An estimate shows that from the 75,000-bale
crop of 1838 a loss of $1,500,000 was experienced because the producers
were unable to choose the time at which the crop could be offered to
the market. When the river was too low for navigation, cotton was often
piled up in warehouses rather than being sent on to New Orleans to be
sold at advantageous prices. Generally, six months elapsed before the
cotton reached New Orleans because of the many obstacles the industry
Wheat raising was also important in early
days in the Tennessee River Valley, especially in East Tennessee where
five to ten million bushels were grown annually around 1870. Flour from
Tennessee was greatly in demand and was listed regularly among the cargo
lists of early flatboats and steamboats.
Oats was an important crop; the harvest
for Tennessee was running five million bushels per year. This cereal,
like corn is one that is rarely raised with any expectation of moving
a great distance from the place of production.
As time passed, the soil of the Tennessee
Valley was found suitable for growing tobacco. Its production was confined
primarily to Tennessee, which in 1874 ranked next to Kentucky and Virginia
in the production of this commodity.
Other products, such as barley, rye, buckwheat, flax, peanuts, sorghum,
and hemp were raised in the Valley. Hemp furnished the raw material
for a cord and rope-making business that flourished for a while in the
Many kinds of fruits and vegetables were
produced, but almost entirely for local consumption. Sweet potatoes
and white potatoes were easily raised; the latter being much relied
upon by the settlers.
Along with the cultivation of crops, livestock
raising held an important place in the agriculture of the Tennessee
Valley. The Valley was well suited for this purpose, since it is a grassy
The early settlers brought with them their
native stock cattle from the Atlantic seaboard. These animals were hardy
and flourished in the new region. As time passed the type of cattle
was greatly improved by the introduction of finer blooded breeding animals
cargoes of flatboats using the Tennessee, and later the steamboats.