The Cotton Famine
In 1861, civil war broke out between the Northern and Southern States of the U.S.A. The ports of the South were blockaded by the Northern fleet, cutting off the supply of cotton to the mills of Lancashire.
By March 1862 a quarter of the 12,000 mill workers in Burnley were unemployed and the rest were working part-time and by the end of the year over 9,000 were out-of-work.
Many workers would not appeal to the Poor Law Guardians for help and a Town Committee of Relief was set up to collect money from the better-off and distribute food and other necessities. Soup kitchens were opened and help was provided in the form of clothing, clogs and blankets. There were also attempts to provide alternate sources of work on roads and municipal undertakings.
Eventually cotton began to arrive from other places, notably India but this, known as “Surat”, was of poor quality and disliked by the workers. Several Burnley mill-owners tried to obtain cotton by chartering ships to run the blockade.
After the war Abraham Lincoln sent a letter thanking the cotton workers for their support despite the hardship this had caused.