The thirty years prior to 1860 mark a distinct epoch in the advance of agriculture, the utilization of natural resources, the expansion of industries, and the growth of transportation. Then appeared the foundations, somewhat rudimentary, for that economic life which received its greatest impetus after 1865.
In 1860 more than 98 per cent of the population was rural. The largest city was Wilmington, with 9,555 souls. Agriculture was the principal occupation. In several aspects it differed from conditions in other states. The average size of farms was •316 acres, to •352 for the South Atlantic states; the percentage of improved land was 27.4, less than in Georgia, South Carolina, or Virginia; the value per acre was $7.59, to $11.33 for the South Atlantic region. Yet between 1850 and 1860 the value of farm property increased 101.4 per cent and the value of implements from $78 per farm to $115.
For this relative backwardness the causes were patent. One was that North Carolina from its earliest days was a refuge for men of small property who hoped to improve their economic condition. Few had the financial resources or the knowledge to conserve or improve the land. The method of tillage was wasteful. The early settlers cleared the forests and tilled the virgin soil repeatedly, year after year, with little rotation of crops and no application of fertilizers, until its fertility was exhausted. Then the pioneers pushed on in search of new virgin lands. By this process the country was reclaimed from the savages, but for several generations there was no improvement in the method of cultivation. p332Gulleys, galls, and old fields marred a land naturally productive. To these causes should be added the poor facilities for transportation. The long distance from market centers made for isolation; new ideas, inventions, and better methods slowly reached the people. Ignorance hung like a pall over the masses.
Although this picture is depressing, there was notable progress between 1850 and 1860 when the value of farm products increased 101 per cent. The reason for this improvement was a general awakening in regard to agriculture throughout the state. Its first manifestation was the establishment of agricultural journals. In 1839 John Sherwood began the publication of the Farmers' Advocate at Jamestown. In 1852 Dr. J. F. Tompkins of Bath founded the Farmers' Journal, which he removed to Raleigh in 1853. In the latter year two more publications were begun at Raleigh: the Arator, by the venerable and experienced journalist, Thomas J. Lemay, and the Carolina Cultivator, by William D. Cooke, director of the asylum for the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind. Later, in 1858, A. M. Gorman established the North Carolina Planter at Raleigh. In all these journals the prevalent methods of cultivation were attacked, and attention was called to the use of fertilizers, the value of deep lowing, terracing, and the chemistry of soils. Another phase of the agricultural revival was the foundation of the State Agricultural Society in 1852 and its annual fair, the first of which was held at Raleigh in 1853. Co-operating were county societies in every section of the state. Still another evidence of progress was the investigation of the state's agricultural resources, in which the guiding spirit was Dr. Ebenezer Emmons, state geologist from 1852 to 1863. Several of his reports touched on agriculture; the first, issued in 1852, included a study of the agriculture of the eastern counties; the third, in 1858, contained a general treatise on agriculture; the fourth and fifth, which appeared in 1860, consisted respectively of "Sketches of Lower North Carolina," by the foremost Virginia agriculturist, Edmund Ruffin, and a report on the swamp lands belonging to the Literary Fund. The University p333was also responsive to the new movement, establishing a chair of Applied Chemistry in 1854.
There were some notable results from this intelligent interest in agricultural improvement. Said Chief Justice Ruffin before the Agricultural Society in 1855:
Of the counties ranging along our northern border, from Warren to Stokes, inclusive, I have had for about fifty years, considerable knowledge. That was the principal region of tobacco culture. According to the course of that culture, wherever it prevailed in our annals, the country was cut down rapidly, cropped mercilessly with a view to quantity rather than quality, then put into corn, and exhausted quickly and almost entirely. When I first knew it, and for a long time afterwards, there were abounding evidences of former fertility, and existing and sorrowful sterility. Corn and tobacco and oats were almost the only crops. But little wheat and no grasses were to be seen in the country. Warren and Granville bought the little flour they used from Orange wagons. Large tracts were disfigured by frightful galls and gulleys, turned out as "old fields," with pines and broom straws for their only vesture instead of their stately primeval forests, or rich crops for the use of man. This is a sad picture. But it is a true one; and there was more fact than figure in the saying by many, whose work of destruction rendered that region so desolate, and who then abandoned it, that it was "old and worn out." Happily, some thought its condition not so hopeless, and cherishing this attachment for the spots of their nativity, within these few years — since the time of railroads and river navigation began — set about repairing the ravages of former days. Do you suppose they were content with less crops, and therefore that they cultivated less land than before, leaving a larger portion for recovery by rest? That was not their course. They did not give up the cultivation of tobacco, but gradually increased it, and corn also; and they added to their rotation wheat, when so much more easily and cheaply carried to market. But they gradually increased the collection and application of manures from washing by judicious hill-side trenching and more thorough washing. The result has been that many old fields have been reclaimed and brought into cultivation, that lands generally much increased in fertility, and, of course, in actual and market value in a like proportion, while the production has probably doubled in quantity and value in all the range of counties mentioned.
The pioneer and presumably the banner county in agricultural improvement was Edgecombe. There, about 1847, the use of marl and fertilizers of various kinds was introduced on the plantations of the Battles', Bridges', Danceys', p334Norfleets', and others. Within six years production wonderfully increased, until Edgecombe was widely known as the leading agricultural county of the state.
Among the principal crops there were both a notable increase of production and also tendencies toward concentration. Tobacco culture is illustrative. It had its origin in the colonial period and followed the tide of immigration as it flowed into the piedmont region. Production almost trebled between 1850 and 1860, increasing from 11,984,786 pounds to 32,853,250 pounds. Yet in 1850 about eighty per cent of the crop was produced in Caswell, Granville, Person and Wayne counties; and in 1860 the same percentage held good for these counties and four others, Franklin, Orange, Rockingham and Stokes. Rice culture was concentrated in Brunswick County, which produced over 6,700,000 of the 7,593,000 pounds yielded in 1860. Cotton culture did not expand rapidly until after 1820; production in 1801 was around 10,000 bales; it probably increased to 25,000 in 1821 and by 1840 had reached 129,815. In 1850 there was a sharp decline to 73,845 bales, but in 1860 production shot up to 145,514. The area of large production (over 1,000 bales per county) included the following counties: Anson, Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, Montgomery, Rowan, Richmond, Surry, Union and Wake in the piedmont region; and Bertie, Duplin, Edgecombe, Franklin, Greene, Halifax, Hertford, Johnston, Martin, Nash, Northampton, Pitt, Robeson, Wayne, and Wilson in the east. It is notable that the production of cereals did not decline with the increase of tobacco and cotton. The wheat crop of 1860 was 4,743,706 bushels, an increase of over 2,500,000 compared with that of 1850. The corn crop of 1860 was over 30,000,000 bushels, likewise an increase of over 2,500,000 compared with that of 1850. In the production of peas and beans North Carolina was exceeded only by Mississippi.
In the development of manufactures there were three distinct periods. The first extended from colonial days through the first decade of the nineteenth century. Domestic and household production flourished. The eastern counties were notable for their naval stores and lumber. In the piedmont and western counties the industrial genius of the Scotch-p335Irish and Germans was manifest in a number of industries. There in 1814 Tenche Coxe listed fifteen of the twenty fulling mills in the state, twenty-three iron works, three paper mills, and eight powder mills. In 1813 Michael Schenck established in Lincolnton a cotton mill, certainly the second, and probably the first, south of the Potomac River. In 1814 it was estimated that 23,750 fur hats were produced in the western region. In all sections distilleries and looms were plentiful. The former in 1814 numbered 5,426, with a product estimated at 1,386,691 gallons. In the same year the looms numbered 40,798, producing 7,376,154 yards of cloth, far more than the woolen and cotton output of Massachusetts. Evidently in the early nineteenth century there was a strong tendency for North Carolina to become a manufacturing center. But with the advent of cotton culture after 1800, for almost a generation agriculture dominated all other economic interests; leadership in manufacturing was taken by New England and the middle states, where machinery and the mill supplanted domestic and home production.
There were two by-products of this predominance of agriculture; one was the exhaustion of the soil and a steady emigration to other states in search of virgin lands; the other was the decline in the price of cotton after 1825, due to the increased production throughout the South. These facts contributed to the profound sense of economic depression, so notable in the criticisms of North Carolina during the period. In the legislature of 1827‑28 resolutions were passed to inquire into the expediency of encouraging the growth of wool and of establishing cotton and woolen factories. The report of the committee to which the resolutions were referred declared that "a crisis is at hand, when our citizens must turn a portion of their labour and enterprise into the other channels of industry; otherwise, poverty and ruin will fall to every class in our community. * * * The great fall in the prices of agricultural products has not only reduced the value of every species of property, but as a consequence, has in effect doubled the debts of individuals. * * * If the planter in North Carolina can barely afford to raise cotton at eight cents per pound, he must soon be driven from its culture p336altogether, by farmers in the west, whose new rich lands enable them to produce it with less labour and expense." On the other hand, consumption of imported goods did not decline in proportion to the decline of agricultural values, so resulting in a depression of trade balances. The notes of North Carolina banks were sold at a discount in 1828 and the banks themselves were facing liquidation. "This creates a distress that impels thousands of our citizens to abandon their homes and their hopes in their native state, and seek relief abroad, where better prospects are opened to them. If, in transplanting themselves from their native soil, they better their condition, it is certain that their friends who remain behind are left in a worse condition."
The remedy suggested for the condition thus presented was an economic reform that would "enable us to buy less and sell more — that will enable us to supply within ourselves, our own wants and necessities. But how is this important revolution to be accomplished? We unhesitatingly answer, by introducing the Manufacturing System and fabricating at least to the extent of our own wants. We go further. Instead of sending off at great expense our raw material, convert it into fabrics at home, and in that state bring it into market. * * * But the profits arising from the process of converting the raw material are not the only advantages attending the system. Another is, that it will take from agriculture some of the surplus labor, and turn it into other pursuits. It will convert producers into consumers, and thus create at home, in the bosom of the community, good markets for the products of the farmer."1
Even before the legislative report pioneer factories had been started. As early as 1802 cotton spinning machines were reported at Fayetteville. The Schenck mill near Lincolnton had been in operation since 1813. In 1820 another factory was built at Rocky Mount, Edgecombe County, with approximately 2,000 spindles, in which negro labor was used until 1851. A smaller mill was built near Lincolnton in 1822. In p3371825 a cotton factory was erected at Fayetteville. In 1830 the Mount Hecla Mill at Greensboro was opened, and in 1837 Holt and Carrigan started another factory at Alamance Creek. Some years before 1840 Francis Fries and the Salem Manufacturing Co. were engaged in the manufacture of cotton goods. The census of 1840 listed twenty-five cotton mills located as follows: eight in Cumberland County, three in Orange, two in Randolph, and one each in Chatham, Caswell, Davie, Davidson, Edgecombe, Guilford, Lincoln, Montgomery, Rockingham, Richmond, Surry, and Stokes.
Old Alamance Mill, Burlington, North Carolina,
The first colored cotton fabric in the South was woven in this mill. It was built in 1837. Today North Carolina leads all the states in number of cotton mills.
This nascent industrialism was the subject of comment by the press at home and abroad. Said the editor of the Raleigh Register in 1840: "The enterprise of the citizens of this state is rapidly enabling it to become independent of the North in almost every branch of manufacture. It has now more factories than were ten years ago in the whole South." In 1843 the editor of Niles Register declared that a "complete revolution in the trade of cotton yarns has been effected in North Carolina within a few years by the establishment of a p338number of factories in that state. Prior to the year 1836, immense quantities of the article were imported into the state from the North. In that year a factory was established in Fayetteville; others were soon after established throughout the state; and now, instead of drawing their supplies from abroad, large quantities are now exported. In Fayetteville, there are six factories which cost about $347,000. Three of these manufacture brown sheetings; the fourth has just commenced to weave heavy Osnaburgs, weighing a half pound to the yard; the other two make yarns only. Sheetings, shirtings, and bagging manufacture there have acquired a reputation second to none." The manufacturing revival was not limited to cotton. Three woolen mills were established, two in Davie, and one in Stokes. Distilleries supplying the wholesale trade were numerous, 2,802 reported in 1840 producing over 1,000,000 gallons of liquor. Tanneries and lumber mills were also productive. The following table represents the general progress of manufacturing from 1840 to 1860:
|* Incomplete, for liquors not included.|
Leading Industries in 1860
|Name of Industry||No. Establishments||Capital||Products|
|Flour and Meal Mills||639||1,719,823||4,354,309|
Concerning management, labor, and other important problems of industry, little is known. Most of the factories were owned and operated by private manufacturers, while in South Carolina and in Georgia the corporate type dominated. The average profits in 1845 were reported to be 14 per cent. Labor was cheap — about 50 cents a day — and this was one of the inducements p339to capitalists mentioned in the legislative report of 1828. It was also held that negro labor proved more efficient and less costly than white labor in New England. Mr. Donaldson, owning a cotton mill at Fayetteville, was quoted as holding that negro labor was "not only equal to whites in aptness to learn and skill to execute, but, all things considered, he actually prefers them." Mr. Donaldson further stated that he had had several superintendents from the North, and all of them, with the exception of one, decidedly preferred black help, as they called it, to white. "With the black there is no turning out for wages, and no time lost in visiting musters and other public exhibitions." In spite of these advantages negro labor was rarely used. Yet the task of recruiting white laborers was not an easy one. The operators came mainly from the farms; they were individualists, seeking better economic advantages, and hoping some day to rise to the planter class. Their residence at the mills was not always permanent, and they were liable to become restless under the supervision of the mill bosses. Gradually a class of permanent workers was built up who were willing to adopt mill labor as a life occupation. In 1850 the average annual wage was $163.
Extending through the periods of domestic manufactures and the nascent factory system was the lumber and naval stores industry. The exploitation of the long leaf pine region along the coast began in the eighteenth century. Tar, pitch, and turpentine, produced by the same methods used by the ancient Greeks, were shipped to England principally through Norfolk and Wilmington. "The crude turpentine was brought down the rivers on rafts and small boats from as high as Edgecombe county to Washington, from Wayne to Newbern, and from all northern tributaries of the Cape Fear river to Wilmington, and was distilled in crude iron stills partly at the shipping points, partly in Philadelphia and New York, and much also went to England to be there distilled. The spirits of turpentine usually found quick sales and good prices except when over-production took place, and was preferred in France even to the Bordeaux turpentine, which was made in the department of the Landes in Gascony, p340being less odorous and more uniform in quality than that. The rosin manufactured was worth very little, getting down as low as 25 cents a barrel and then so low it would not pay to handle it. The tar and pitch manufactured at first gave general satisfaction and were made in large quantities."2 Gradually the industry declined in the northeastern counties and was concentrated in those of the southeast. By 1800 Wilmington was one of the largest shipping points in the world for turpentine and tar, the amount of crude turpentine shipped in 1804 being 77,000 barrels.
As the forests of the coastal region were exhausted, the industry moved inland. By 1844 Fayetteville had a turpentine distillery to which was shipped the crude turpentine produced in Harnett, Cumberland, Chatham and Moore counties. In spite of the extension of the industry into states further south, North Carolina in 1860 was the source of 70 per cent of all the turpentine produced in the United States.
Lumber was another product. Wilmington in the eighteenth century made shipments to the West Indies, and from the Albemarle section staves were exported in quantity. After 1840 the business declined, due to the exhaustion of the forests of the coastal region; thereafter production was mainly for home consumption.
With the opening of the nineteenth century began the exploitation of mineral resources. Gold deposits were disclosed in three regions; in Franklin County, to a greater degree in the central piedmont plateau and also along the foot of the Blue Ridge. According to tradition the metal was first mined in the present boundaries of Gaston County prior to the Revolution, while the Cherokee Indians are said to have found gold in the mountain region long before their removal from the state. The first recorded discovery of gold was in Mecklenburg County in 1799 by Conrad Reed. From 1804 to 1827 North Carolina mines were the source of all the gold produced in the United States. Yet the area of production before 1825 was not extensive; Olmsted declared that p341the gold area was •approximately 1,000 square miles, including the greater part of Montgomery, the northern part of Anson, the northeastern corner of Mecklenburg, western Cabarrus, and a corner of Rowan and Randolph counties. After 1825 a much larger area was mined, for Doctor Emmons in 1856 also enumerated mines in Davidson, Burke, Union, Stanly, Catawba, and Guilford counties. Down to 1838 the amount of North Carolina gold coined in the United States mint amounted to $2,891,792. A large amount of the metal was also used in the jeweler's trade and was even shipped to Europe. Wrote the geologist Rothe in 1826: "It is well known that but a small portion of the gold found at these mines goes to the mint. The silversmiths of every portion of the country, north and south, purchase it up to be wrought into jewelry and plate of all descriptions. It is preferred by them on many accounts to gold coin and consequently they give a better price than the mint."3 But the drain of labor to the Southwest and the discovery of gold in California caused a decline in the industry in North Carolina. Over-capitalization, speculation, and wasteful methods of mining also characterized the gold industry; yet the first use of the hydraulic process in the South, probably in the nation, was at the mines of W. H. Vandyke in Burke County, about 1850. The conversion of bullion into coin was a difficulty on account of the long distance to Philadelphia. Hence in 1831 Christian Bechtler, a German jeweller living near Rutherfordton, began to coin gold into one, two and one-half, and five dollar pieces. In the nine years from 1831 to 1840 he coined $2,241,840.50. As this was a violation of federal authority the United States Government made an investigation, but finding that the Bechtler coins were heavier than those made by the federal mint, and realizing the need of specie in the piedmont section, there was no prosecution and the Bechtler mint remained in operation until 1857. In 1835 Congress authorized the establishment of a Government Mint at Charlotte, which began operation in 1387.
Die Used by Bechtler,
Iron was also discovered and mined. Deposits were found p343in the bog lands of the east and also in three belts, one in Chatham County, a second extending through Montgomery and Guilford to the Virginia line, and the third in North Carolina and Gaston counties. As early as 1729 small shipments were sent to England from the bog ore deposits. As immigration moved into the piedmont region, production increased; forges were erected along the Cape Fear, the Deep, and the Yadkin rivers. The Revolution stimulated production and during the conflict forges were built in Guilford (Franklin Furnace), Cleveland (near King's Mountain), Lincoln (Union Forge), and Stokes (Snow Creek). After 1800 the iron industry increased and in 1859 there were in operation forty-nine bloomeries and six charcoal furnaces. However, production was for the home market, and when railway transportation developed competition with larger fields elsewhere caused a decline rather than an expansion of the industry.
Coal, the handmaid of iron, was also disclosed in two localities; along Deep River, principally in Moore and Chatham counties, and along the Dan River region in Rockingham and Stokes counties. Mines were opened as early as the Revolution but there was practically no attempt at exploitation of the coal deposits until the decade prior to 1860. Then an investigation of Doctor Emmons, state geologist, and reports by Colonel T. T. S. Laidley and Captain Charles Wilkes on behalf of the United States Government attracted wide attention. The coal of the Egypt mines in Chatham County was declared equal to the best New Castle coal, excellent for the manufacture of gas, and less expensively mined than the coal of Pennsylvania. Considerable capital was invested. A railroad was projected from Fayetteville to the coal fields of Chatham, others from the coal region to Raleigh and to the South Carolina line, and from the Dan River region to the Raleigh and Gaston and to Greensboro.
Other minerals were also disclosed. About 1830 silver ore was mined, principally in Davidson County. There the Washington Mine or King's Mine, later the Silver Hill, Conrad Hill, Peters Mine, Cross Mine, and the Emmons Mine, also Ward's Mine in Davie and McMackin's in Cabarrus, were all widely known and attracted considerable capital, p344especially in the decade from 1850 to 1860. But the lack of improved machinery and the presence of other minerals kept silver mining from becoming profitable. Lead was also found, especially in the neighborhood of silver ore, notably in Davidson County; likewise zinc. Soapstone was mined in Chatham, copper in Guilford and Randolph. Experiments with graphite were made in Wake and Lincoln counties. Corundum was noted as early as 1846. A few diamonds were discovered before 1860 but no systematic search for gems was made until after 1865.
An important phase of the prosperity between 1850 and 1860 was the improvement in transportation facilities. The first two railroads, the Wilmington and Raleigh and the Raleigh and Gaston, not only served the public, but paid dividends after 1850. The construction of the North Carolina Railroad stimulated the popular imagination and it also enjoyed a large patronage. In fact a new wave of agitation for state aid to further improvement of transportation began about 1852. The people of the mountain counties clamored for rail communication with the piedmont and the east. Since the Raleigh and Gaston and the Wilmington and Raleigh railways fed the Virginia markets and the North Carolina Railroad, through its terminus at Charlotte, fed the markets of South Carolina, the old argument for a great home-market city was revived. Such a market, it was argued, should be built up at Beaufort, which was reported to have the best harbor between Norfolk and Charleston. There imports from Europe would be received, so cutting off the profits of Norfolk and the Northern merchants, and also the products of the state would be exported to Europe direct. Fayetteville and Wilmington also demanded consideration; the former a connection with the coal and iron counties, the latter aid in meeting the competition of the markets of upper South Carolina. Likewise the people of the tobacco belt along the Virginia line, the planters of the Albemarle region, and the large cotton producing counties of the middle east demanded better transportation. Neither political party dared obstruct the movement, for both whigs and democrats were bidding for support over the issues of manhood suffrage and a constitutional p345convention. Moreover a state-wide system of internal improvements fitted in well with the rising tide of sectionalism. Said Governor Reid in his inaugural address of 1854: "There never was a time when there existed a stronger necessity for self reliance. The North during the last twenty-five years in the way of protection and other unjust taxation, has extorted from North Carolina more money than would have been required to improve all our rivers and construct all our railroads. The farmer and other classes need cheap transportation and convenient markets where they can carry their property with safety. They need commercial and manufacturing towns and cities at home, with shipping to do their own importing and exporting, without continuing longer to pay tribute to the North."
The scheme of paramount importance was for eastern and western extensions of the North Carolina Railroad, the former to connect Goldsboro with Beaufort, the latter Salisbury with the mountain region. If this were carried through the dream of Joseph Caldwell, a generation before, for an all-state route from the mountains to the sea would be realized. In the legislature of 1852 bills for state aid to this and other projects were defeated: but two companies were chartered, the Atlantic and North Carolina and the Western; the former had an authorized capital of $900,000, the latter of $3,000,000. In the campaign of 1854 both political parties endorsed state aid to these enterprises. Consequently in the succeeding legislature not only the extension plans but a variety of other schemes were introduced as worthy of state aid. The Fayetteville interests favored connection of the west with the coast by a line from Beaufort via Warsaw, on the Wilmington and Raleigh, to Fayetteville, thence through the Deep River mineral region to Greensboro, on the North Carolina Railroad. The Wilmington influence demanded a road from Wilmington along the South Carolina line to the mountain region. The tobacco counties of the Dan River section asked for a road connecting them with the Raleigh and Gaston at Henderson. The North Carolina Railroad sought increased state aid, while the eastern interests demanded river improvement and a canal to the Chesapeake Bay. The response of p346the legislature was liberal. The North Carolina road received a new subscription of $1,000,000 for preferred stock, the state thus coming into ownership of three-fourths of the entire stock, and the charter of the corporation was so amended as to give the state eight of the twelve directors. The plea of Fayetteville for connection with Beaufort and the west was of no avail; on the other hand, the capitalization of the Atlantic and North Carolina was increased to $1,600,000, the state subscribing two‑thirds, no payment to fall due until the remaining one‑third had been subscribed and at least $300,000 paid in, both state and private subscriptions to be advanced simultaneously in four installments. In return the state was to select eight of the twelve directors. For the western extension of the North Carolina road a new charter was given under the name Western North Carolina Railroad. The corporation was authorized to issue stock to the amount of $6,000,000, the state to subscribe for two‑thirds; the construction of the road was to proceed by divisions, the eastern and the western, and the eastern division was to be completed before the work on the western should begin. The state's subscription was to be met by the issue of bonds, for which a mortgage on the road was to be taken. The state was also to be represented by a proxy at the meetings of stock holders and was to appoint eight of the twelve directors. For the Wilmington interests, and as a stroke at the South Carolina market towns, the Wilmington, Charlotte, and Rutherfordton was chartered, with a capital of $2,000,000, the state to endorse $200,000 of its bonds for each unit of •twenty-five miles completed. Evidently the North Carolina Railroad and the Wilmington and Raleigh interests dominated the railroad appropriations, for state aid was extended only to lines which would feed the existing roads.
The construction of these new lines raised unexpected problems. Under the charters towns and counties were allowed to make stock subscriptions. This aroused local opposition but the provisions were sustained by the Supreme Court. In the location of the eastern terminus of the Atlantic and North Carolina, there was division of opinion between the directors and the citizens of Beaufort; the result p347was that Carolina City and Sheppard's Point were chosen. Individual stockholders paid their subscriptions slowly and the Atlantic and North Carolina Company was forced to raise money by loans. In 1857 the state was appealed to, and further aid was given through a loan of $400,000 in the form of bonds, for which a mortgage on the road was taken; a sinking fund was also provided for from the road's income. The bonds were sold by the company at a loss of $114,269. However the road, •ninety-five miles in length, was completed in January, 1858. It proved to be serviceable and profitable; its business in 1860 amounted to $100,000, its profit of $35,000 going into the sinking fund.
Greater difficulty and complications arose in the construction of the Western North Carolina. The first division, it was provided by the company, should extend from Salisbury to Burke County. But it was soon discovered that if the road passed through the town of Newton, as planned, the funds would be exhausted before Morganton was reached. Therefore Burke County subscribers refused to make good their subscriptions and the Newton subscribers protested against any discrimination against their town. By a compromise the legislature directed that the terminus of the eastern division be Morganton, that a branch line be constructed to Newton, and that extra subscription of stock be allowed by individuals and the state to meet the cost. By 1860 the road was completed and in operation to Morganton. In the meantime the question of a terminus for the western division had to be decided. One plan, also the cheapest, was to locate this at Paint Rock where connection would be made with the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad; the other was to build via Waynesville to Ducktown, so opening up a large section of mountain country and connecting at the latter point with the Georgia and Blue Ridge Railroad. Although the estimated cost from Asheville to Ducktown was $35,000,000, the latter plan was adopted, so providing for a thorough line of track from the Tennessee line to Beaufort. The question of the Paint Rock connection was left to the Greenville and French Broad Company, which planned a road from p348South Carolina to Asheville down the French Broad River. Plans of construction on both lines were interrupted by war.
Construction of the Wilmington, Charlotte and Rutherfordton, to which state aid was given in 1854, was not speedy or satisfactory. The counties between Wilmington and the Pee Dee and those between Charlotte and Rutherfordton were enthusiastic; but the counties of the Pee Dee section feared that money subscribed by them would be used in the construction of other sections of the track. Hence the company decided to divide the construction into three sections, the first extending from Wilmington to the Pee Dee, the second from the Pee Dee to Charlotte, and the third from Charlotte to Rutherfordton. Construction was begun in 1857 and by close of 1860 the line had been completed •seventy miles west from Wilmington, and from Charlotte west to the Catawba River. But the Pee Dee counties were laggard; their subscriptions were not sufficient to carry on the work. The legislature was therefore appealed to and a loan of $966,000 was authorized, $660,000 to be used to finish the track east of Charlotte and $300,000 west, the security taken being bonds of the railroad. The plea of the directors of the road in asking for this aid contained a double appeal. The first was based on desire for economic independence from the South Carolina market towns. "Almost the entire line," they said, "has heretofore been and still is dependent upon the tender mercies of South Carolina for their transportation and their market, and this road will release them from burdensome exactions and unwilling vassalage. At Charlotte, at one single depot our citizens pay annually for transportation over $100,000 and this to Columbia alone, and $130,000 more will not cover the tax they pay to South Carolina roads to reach Charleston. Other contributions are levied on us at Cheraw, at Camden, Yorkville, Spartanburg, and Greenville. Why should our state thus contribute to enrich our southern neighbors? Why contribute to employ the laborers on their roads, to purchase their timber, and their fuel — pay their conductors, engineers, agents and employees — their draymen, their wharfmen, their commission merchants and add to her commerce on the ocean? Why should this dependence p349continue, only to be repaid by exactions and derision? Are we helpless, or are we indifferent to the wants of our household? Could we not, as a state, and should we not, transfer the employment now given to others, to those of our own state? Have we no labor that would be glad of employment, no fuel or timber to spare, no worthy young men for our employees, no commerce to foster and encourage?
The other appeal was to the sectional struggle then brewing. "Now that the Southern cloud, long portending revolution, is ready to burst with vehemence and tear up sovereignties to their foundation, shall it be said that the call of 200,000 of our citizens is unseasonable, when asking aid to dissever their past connections and secure to them the full benefits of their natural allegiance? * * * The storm now impending proclaims that they must be looked to, and no longer be permitted to wander into strange folds. We must all be one, and be all united in interest, in feeling, and commerce. Can Georgia coolly vote a million for muskets, and North Carolina hesitate to loan as much to reclaim, in the hour of peril, so large a portion of her people and her territory from dominion that in a month may be entirely foreign?? — to reclaim her sons and daughters, and bind them by indissoluble bonds into her own family? — to identify their interests, their feelings, and their sentiments with their own? — and to add to her own wealth, her strength and greatness, in case she must resume her sovereignty and take her stand amidst the nations of the earth?"
The Wilmington, Charlotte, and Rutherfordton, the Atlantic and North Carolina, and the Western North Carolina were the large undertakings during the decade from 1850 to 1860. But activity was not confined to these. A host of minor roads were chartered but not constructed. Some of these foreshadowed development of the post-bellum period. To connect Fayetteville and the coalfields of Chatham a private road was undertaken; this was rechartered as the Western Railroad and was loaned $200,00 by the state in 1858, for which a mortgage was taken. In 1860 it was authorized to build an extension to Greensboro, and in the same year the Wilmington and Weldon, formerly the Wilmington and p350Raleigh, was authorized to build a branch from Wilmington to Fayetteville. Thus was initiated the present line from Greensboro to Wilmington, completed after the Civil War. Lines were also chartered to connect Greensboro and Leaksville, and High Point with Winston and Danbury, which are also suggestive of later development. Further west a road was chartered in 1856 to connect Lenoir with the Western North Carolina, realized later in the Carolina and North Western. East of Greensboro the University Railroad, to connect Chapel Hill with the North Carolina Railroad, to connect the coal fields with Raleigh, was incorporated and was given a state subscription of $200,000; while to reach the coal fields from South Carolina the Cheraw and Coalfields had been chartered in 1856. Thus was the present stem of the Seaboard Air Line so Raleigh. Further east the Albemarle and Suffolk, to connect Suffolk, Virginia, with Edenton, and the Southern Air Line, to connect Washington and Wilmington, were chartered in 1856, very suggestive of the present Norfolk Southern. Among other roads chartered were the Williamston and Tarboro, the Greenville and Goldsboro, the Washington and Leaksville, the Warsaw and Fayetteville. Thus a network of railways connecting all sections and bringing the people into closer contact with markets and with one another was projected. The revival of railway activity after 1865 was a logical sequence of ante-bellum interests.
The railroad was not the only means of transportation prompted by individuals and aided by the state. The plank road was popular for a decade after 1848. It was constructed by laying three or four sleepers or stringers in parallel, close to the ground, and then covering them with boards •three or four inches thick. Such a road was thought to be cheaper than "the road of iron," and was therefore introduced in certain sections where sufficient capital and state aid could not be secured for railways. In 1848 the Fayetteville and Western Plank Road Company was incorporated to connect Fayetteville and Salisbury. It was capitalized at $200,000, p352with authority to increase to $300,000, and the state subscribed three‑fifths. Two years later the Fayetteville and Centre Plank Road was chartered to extend from Fayetteville to Stanly County and the state in 1854 extended aid by a bond issue of $50,000; likewise the Fayetteville and Warsaw, to bring Fayetteville in touch with Warsaw, on the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, and the Fayetteville and Northern to connect Fayetteville and Raleigh were chartered in 1854, the former receiving state aid to the amount of $10,000. Evidently it was anticipated that plank roads would bring to Fayetteville a volume of business that railways brought elsewhere. In fact the possibilities of the plank road made a wide appeal. Practically every town with a large population and ambitious trade hoped to become a terminus for one or more of these lines. Charlotte, Salisbury, Asheville, Wilmington, Oxford, and Concord were termini of roads incorporated in 1850, and in 1852 more than a score of new lines were chartered. Concerning the construction and service of these roads, little is known. The Fayetteville and Western was built from Fayetteville through Carthage, Ashboro, thence to High Point and Winston, instead of to Salisbury, and the state stock amounted to $120,000. The state also subscribed $30,000 to the stock of the Fayetteville and Albemarle. Dividends were paid for a few years by the Fayetteville and Western and then the profits declined.
Railroads in North Carolina prior to 1860
A new venture was the construction of the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal, to connect the extreme northeastern counties with Suffolk, Virginia. As early as 1807 such a work had been a part of Gallatin's plans for inland water ways. In 1854 the legislature chartered a corporation to undertake the canal and authorized the endorsement of its bonds to the extent of $250,000. In 1856, the bonds not having been sold, the endorsement was withdrawn, and an immediate subscription of $250,000 to the stock was ordered, to be followed by another subscription of $100,000 when navigation should be opened the entire length of the canal. This was accomplished by 1859, and the additional subscription was paid in. The route of the canal was from North River, a tributary of Albemarle Sound, to Currituck Sound, thence up the North Landing River, thence westwardly through an excavated channel to Elizabeth River in the vicinity of Norfolk.
Evidently by 1860 the state was facing an economic transformation. Agriculture was still the leading occupation but better methods and increased production were an actuality. Manufacturing and mining were close competitors for new thought and effort. Railroads, plankroads and canals were bringing the people into better communication with markets, and the various sections of the state into closer contact. Industrially a new sense of statehood was at hand, which coincided with the new sense of social values revealed in the common school system and the asylums.
1 Report on the establishment of cotton and woolen manufactures, etc., January 1, 1828.
2 Ashe, The Forests, Forest Lands and Forest Products of Eastern North Carolina, p74.
3 American Journal of Science, 1828.
Images with borders lead to more information.
Boyd et al.
History of NC
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
Page updated: 5 Dec 11