- Steven J. Niven
flatboat captain and lumber retailer, was probably born a slave in the mid-South in the early nineteenth century and brought to Mississippi in the 1820s after the Indian removal policies of President Andrew Jackson opened up the Deep South for exploitation by American businessmen and planters. The rich, alluvial soil of the Yazoo-Mississippi river basin offered prime opportunities for cotton cultivation, but the region, also heavily wooded with cypresses, first needed to be cleared. As a result an extensive lumber industry emerged in Mississippi in the 1830s and 1840s alongside the expansion of cotton cultivation. Slave labor was central to both enterprises. The hundreds of ambitious businessmen who flocked to Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama needed lumber for the plantations they hoped to construct with the vast profits to be made from cotton. They also built wood cabins for the more numerous slaves whose labors would create those profits.
A version of this article originally appeared in African American National Biography.