The Bankston Textile Mill

From the book, “A History of Mississippi Cotton Mills and Mill Villages”by Narvell Strickland; October 1998 as a side note book  first printed February 1995 under title "A History of Mississippi Cotton Mills and Sanders Magnolia Mill Village. "Revised and reprinted October 1998 under current title.

The first mechanically powered cotton-manufacturing mill in Mississippi was built on the outskirts of Natchez in 1842. Built by John ROBINSON with limited financial resources, he was forced to start producing cloth before the mill had all of the appropriate machinery. It was a disastrous start and within two years he was forced to liquidate. In the spring of 1844, a second attempt was made to establish a cotton mill at Natchez. John ROBERTSON and associates of a Boston firm purchased the bankrupt Natchez Cotton Compress and brought in textile workers from New England and a twenty-eight horsepower steam engine to operate 2,000 spindles and 10 power looms. After struggling under several different owners, it closed in 1848 and left most cotton manufacturing in the state to household or cabin spinning and weaving.
The Natchez experiments were discouraging, but the failures were not sufficient to stop the establishment of three Mississippi textile mills which were at the time under construction or in the late planning stages - the Bankston textile mill in Choctaw County in 1848; the State Penitentiary textile mill at Jackson in 1849; and the Edward McGEHEE mill at Woodville in 1850. The three mills were later followed by a still larger mill: the Thomas GREEN mill at Jackson in 1857.
The Bankston textile mill is regarded as Mississippi's first successful mechanically powered textile mill and became "famous throughout the Old Southwest as a model of industrial efficiency and profitability. "Colonel James M. WESSON its founder, was associated with a textile firm in Columbus, Georgia, the "Lowell of the South," which in 1847 decided to build a cotton and woolen mill in the backcountry of northern Mississippi. In January 1847 he, together with David L. BOOKER, John P. NANCE, Richard ECTOR and Thomas J. STANFORD, organized and chartered the Mississippi Manufacturing Company. Before the end of the year, they began moving machinery and equipment to the new site on the west side of McCurtains Creek in Choctaw County.
Several experienced mill families were imported from Georgia to do the skilled work, and a few negro slaves were employed to operate the steam engine and perform other unpleasant assignments. A Semple steam engine, manufactured in Providence, Rhode Island, was brought in to power the mill. It was transported from Rhode Island to Greenwood by water and then drawn over land to the mill site by several oxen, a distance of sixty-five miles - several miles of which were through the Yazoo swamp. The eighty horsepower engine actually provided too much power for the textile mill, and the enterprising Colonel WESSON added a flourmill and a gristmill to the textile equipment to utilize the surplus power.
The Bankston textile mill began operations in December 1848 with twelve workers. It prospered and quickly expanded to include a tannery, a shoe factory, a machine shop, along with other enterprises. By June 1849, the textile mill operated 500 cotton spindles and daily spun 300 pounds of cotton into yarn and thread. During the first few years, the mill operated at a financial loss in the production of cloth but made a small profit on cotton yarn. During this period, until conditions improved in the cloth market, Colonel WESSON left the looms idle and concentrated on the production of yarn and thread, along with his other enterprises such as the milling of corn and wheat.
By 1855, the difficult years were over and the manufacturing company began to make substantial profits; reporting that year a net profit of $22,000 on a capitalization of $60,000. Over the next three years, or by 1858, Historian John Hebron MOORE noted that the company's "investment in cotton and woolen machinery alone had reached the sum of $80,000. An additional $15,500 of the firm's capital was represented by such assets as a gristmill, a flour mill, and numerous buildings comprising the company-owned village of Bankston."
During the panic of 1857, the Bankston manufacturing company not only survived but prospered, and for several years in succession, it paid annual dividends of 37 percent while building up a large reserve fund. In addition to the investors, some eighty-five workers enjoyed the prosperity. While wages were low, the company provided housing and made sure the workers were supplied with products of its several enterprises, shoes, cloth, meat, and flour.
The Bankston cotton mill became famous as it continued to grow and prosper. By 1860, it had expanded to operate 1,000 cotton spindles, 500 wool spindles, and 20 power looms. Indeed, it operated the latest in textile machinery and was regarded as the forerunner in modern cotton manufacturing in the state. Except for the few slaves employed to operate the steam engine, the workers were white. Colonel WESSON, however, recognized that slaves were capable, but he "believed that hired whites were less expensive than either bought or hired slaves."
However small, the thriving community of Bankston was a step in the direction of manufacturing in the South. Moreover, the community was in every regard a model company town, and Mississippi's first cotton mill village.
At the beginning of the Civil War, Mississippi lagged far behind in becoming industrialized, but it had made some progress. The Bankston Mill was one of the four largest cotton mills in the state, and the value of the cloth produced there annually was $72,000, before production was interrupted by the war. The Bankston Mill was able to declare a 29 percent dividend in that year, and the entire cotton industry of the state could boast that the value of its product in 1860 was $261,000 as compared with only $22,135 in 1850.
The Civil War, unfortunately, was to destroy the state's four textile mills along with most of its other small industry. In 1863 General GRANT and his troops destroyed the Woodville, Jackson, and Penitentiary mills; but because of its isolated location, the Bankston Mill survived a while longer. Federal troops later learned of the Bankston Mill. On December 30, 1864, a foraging party under the command of General Benjamin H. GRIERSON raided the defenseless village and burned the cotton and wool mill, the shoe factory, and the flour mill while the inhabitants slept and without a shot being fired.
Much of Bankston was a legitimate military target, for its mills were producing 1,000 yards of cloth and 150 pairs of shoes daily for military purposes. Unfortunately, the foraging party did not restrict its activities to legitimate targets. It not only destroyed the 5,000 yards of cloth, 10,000 pounds of wool, 125 bales of cotton on hand but in addition, destroyed 10,000 pounds of flour and took the farm animals, horses, cows, pigs, and chickens, leaving the town's people hard pressed to escape starvation.
Fortunately, Colonel WESSON before the raiders arrived, anticipated the apparent danger of a raid and distributed much of the cloth among surrounding inhabitants. At the time, the need for clothing was so great that one woman, as J. P. COLEMAN notes in his Choctaw County Chronicles, rode horseback forty miles, round trip, a few days before the raid to get a single bolt of cloth.
Soon after his mill was destroyed by fire, Colonel WESSON set out to establish another. Before the war was over, he and two associates, W. H. HALLAM and James HAMILTON, selected a wilderness site about forty miles south of Jackson, and in March 1865 the site was incorporated as the town of Wesson. Three years later, the construction of a cotton mill, the Mississippi Manufacturing Company, and seventy-five houses for workers was completed. It was Mississippi's first large mill village; and replacing a wilderness, it was built out of necessity to provide housing for the influx of workers from nearby farms and towns, rather than for the paternalistic reasons later associated with company-owned mill villages in the South.

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According to HOMETOWN MISSISSIPPI by James Brieger:  Bankston early settler by the name of Banks.A cotton and woolen goods manufacturing plant established by Colonel Wesson flourished until 1864 when it was burned
by Union Calvary. After the Civil War, another factory was built at Bankston,
but it also burned. Submitted by Peggy Mitchell

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