EAST CENTRAL MISSISSIPPI 257 right-of-way. In turn, the railroad company sold the land to individuals and corporations to obtain needed capital to construct the rail lines. The Southern Railroad Company reincorporated as a Mississippi corporation on March 9, 1850. On September 20, 1850, Congress donated land to Alabama and Mississippi to assist in the construction of the Mobile & Ohio (M & O) Railroad. On February 10, 1852, the Gainesville & Mississippi Railroad was incorporated to build from the river town of Gainesville, Alabama, to the nearest connection with the Mobile & Ohio Railroad in Mississippi, which happened to be Narkeeta in Kemper County. On February 14, 1854, the charter was amended to change the name of the railroad to Mississippi, Gainesville & Tuscaloosa Railroad. In July 1852, Southern Railroad Company acquired the Jackson & Brandon Railroad and Bridge Company’s line between Jackson and Brandon, encompassing lands, depots, slaves, engines, and cars, and proceeded east. Marion resident Con Rea predicted that Marion, the county seat of Lauderdale County, would be the primary beneficiary. He was wrong. A railroad right-of-way granted by Congress could be twelve to thirty miles wide, making the M & O a large landowner in Lauderdale County. The M & O sold much of the land at prices four times greater than the price of public land. In June 1857, it sold 1,200 acres at land auctions held at Lauderdale Springs and Marion Station. In 1858, 500 lots were offered for sale at public outcry in the “City of Ragsdale” alias “Meridian.” Citizens L.A. Ragsdale and John Ball worked together to bring the Southern Railroad to Meridian. The Southern Railroad headed east in 1859. Originally, the line was set for Enterprise, a thriving community in Clarke County. When Enterprise residents rejected the line, Ragsdale and Ball joined efforts in bringing the Southern into their village by promising both land and assistance. The deal sealed, Ragsdale and Ball publicized and promoted the coming of the Southern. On February 10, 1860, the Mississippi legislature passed the following: “Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Mississippi that all that piece, parcel or tract of country known as the whole of Section 18, township 6, Range 16, east and the west half of the N. W. quarter of Section 17, Township 6, Range 16, east be incorporated under the name and style of the city of Meridian.” Legend has it that Ball and Ragsdale feuded over the name of the proposed city so much so that the sign at the train depot changed day to day from Ragsdale City to Meridian to Sowashee. The name of the village was changed to Meridian by William C. Smedes, president of the Southern Railroad Company, at the suggestion of John Ball. The Growth of the Cotton Economy The railroad was crucial for transporting cotton, America’s leading export. The cotton industry one of the world’s largest industries, generating vast amounts of money for the United States which enabled the nation to borrow money in global markets. Mississippi was the largest cotton-producing state in America. Following statehood, the white population grew from 5,179 in 1800 to 353,901 in 1860. The slave population expanded from 3,489 to 436,631. Cotton production in Mississippi skyrocketed from zero in 1800 to 535.1 million pounds in 1859. Producing 75 percent of the cotton supplied to Britain’s cotton mills, the South’s role in a global economy included Europe, New York, other New England states, and the American west. Slave-produced cotton aided New York City’s commercial dominance and was the driving force for territorial expansion in the Old Southwest. It was the major reason for trade between Europe and the United States. New England had 52 percent of the manufacturing establishments in the United States and 75 percent of the 5.14 million spindles in operation nationwide. Massachusetts possessed 30 percent of all spindles with Rhode Island having another 18 percent. New England mills consumed 283.7 million pounds of cotton, or 67 percent of the 422.6 million pounds of cotton used by mills in the United States in 1860. At the onset of the Civil War, New England’s economy depended upon the textile industry and the labor of slaves in the South. In short, Cotton was not only the backbone of the South; it was the backbone of America, and slaves provided the backbone for the supply the cotton demand. The railroad fueled the state’s growing need for slave labor, not only in cotton, but in the building of railroads. Although most Southerners didn’t own slaves, most grew defensive of the institution because of its economic benefits, justifying their view by saying the benevolent institution of slavery kept slaves fed, clothed, and occupied. The M & O started construction through Clarke County in the 1850s and was completed April 22, 1861, providing ready access to Mobile, Alabama and the Ohio River in the North. The 472-mile line was the longest in the South. The line between Vicksburg and Meridian was in operation two months after the first shot of the Civil The railroad was crucial for transporting cotton, America’s leading export.