The Athens Factory’s owners envisioned an enslaved workforce.

When the Athens Factory opened its doors in 1833, it was the first cotton mill in the city of Athens and one of the first cotton mills in Georgia. Prior to 1830, nearly all of the Georgia’s cotton was sent north or overseas to be milled into fabric, but rising tariffs encouraged southern landowners and enslavers to consider milling cotton nearer to home.

As the men who built Athens Factory contemplated building cotton mills in the south, they imagined that an enslaved labor force would operate the factory looms and spindles. They imagined a Southern manufacturing process whose laborers (unlike those in the North) could “neither strike nor quit.”

The Athenian—our local newspaper— was bullish on this use of enslaved labor for factory work, asserting that “the slave hands…learn with so much readiness as to give their instructors no trouble” and concluded that “these hands will do as well as, if not better than, whites.”

An editorial from The Athenian praises the use of enslaved labor at the original Athens Factory in 1830. The original Athens Factory, located at Whitehall in southern Clarke County, became known as the Georgia Factory after the mill that now houses UGA School of Social Work opened in 1833.

Working at the Mill

Slavery at the Factory

Child Labor at the Factory