J Walker Clarke talking about the cotton trade
American cotton merchant J Walker Clarke, from Columbia, South Carolina, talks about the cotton trade and its close links with Liverpool.
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"My grandfather started our business in 1923. He actually had been in the business since about 1905, so we’ve actually had a family business going on now for about 100 years.
When I first came into the cotton business in the United States, back in 1962 actually, cotton was still being picked by hand in the US along with some machine picking. My first job was to actually go to each of the cotton gins in the nearby counties around South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia.
And take a knife and cut the bale of cotton, pull out a sample and take a look at it, classify it according to colour, trash content and preparation, and then staple the bale. And that is an art of pulling the fibres out in an even matt to determine the length of the fibre. So it was all done by hand. That was just the first process.
One of my favourite books, and I read it over and over again because it's such a delightful piece of literature - it was written by a fella named Ben Robertson who was a native of South Carolina born back in 1905 and he lived in a cotton producing part of our state - and he wrote a book a beautiful book called ‘Redhills and Cotton’.
Our wagon was hitched to a cotton star where it had been hitched for a 100 years and where it still is hitched. We’ve been growing cotton since the time of the grandfather of my grandfather’s father.
Cotton is a state of mind with us - a philosophy - and we continue to plant it and I might say sell it, in spite of the fact that we have not made money on cotton more than once in about ten or twenty years.
The beauty of the cotton business is that it is based on relationships; relationships between the merchant and the farmer, relationships between the merchant and the customer that he ships the cotton to, and those relationships have formed a very strong family of cotton people now around the world. And this cotton community, so to speak, have been responsible for the delivery and for the consumption of cotton in various parts of the country, which now seem to be more and more into the Asian market.
The union that we have between the state of South Carolina and Liverpool, England has just been a remarkable, remarkable journey. Just to look at my business and to see where it was at one time - my grandfather shipping cotton out of the port of Charleston to Liverpool, and now here we are partnering with a Liverpool company shipping cotton all over the world and it’s just a delightful thing to see and it has a life of its own."