“Images of America – Sampson County” is a pictorial book showing the early history of Sampson County. It was published by the Sampson County History Museum with Kent Wrench as editor. The old photos and historical information make for an interesting read.
But the chapter that caught my attention was on the naval stores industry in the county in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. The book states, “North Carolina led the world in the production of naval store products from about 1720 until 1870. Sampson County led all other counties many of those years. Fortunes were made in the bountiful long leaf pine forest.”
So, what in the world are naval stores? The resin extracted from pine trees provided the raw material for the naval stores industry. Tar kept ropes and sail rigging from decaying, and pitch on a boat’s sides and bottom prevented leaking. Turpentine was also used, when combined with alcohol, as a primary source of lighting. The abundance of pine trees in the area at that time and demand for timber and turpentine made for a profitable business.
The chapter on naval stores describes naval stores work as follows, “Smoldering lightwood from the tar kilns and gather resin from pine trees was dirty, sticky work. After a long day’s work, the laborers would find the heels of their feet black from tar, hence the nickname, Tar Heels.”
There are pictures in the book of the barrels of turpentine being stacked by the river at Boykin Bridge and Starlings Bridge being ready to be floated on barges down to Wilmington. This was an important business of significant economic impact to this area. But by the early 1900’s, it was all but over. It would soon only be remembered by old-timers and in history books. What happened?
There were several reasons. The Civil War led northern shipbuilders to look elsewhere for their naval stores. The development and wide spread use of cheaper kerosene replaced the turpentine based camphene for lighting in homes and businesses. The destruction of the long leaf pine forests by over harvesting was the final nail in the coffin of the naval stores industry. It now took 3,000 long leaf pines to obtain barely 75 barrels of raw turpentine.
There are always lessons to be learned from history. Actions by government which led to the Civil War, technological improvements with the creation of metal hulled ships and kerosene and loss of natural resources were among the causes that led to the downfall of the naval stores industry. It’s interesting that these same causes are among those affecting many of the changes that are occurring today.
Actions by government. The recent healthcare bill will lead to significant changes in peoples’ individual health decisions, employer health responsibilities and the whole healthcare industry, which is considered one sixth of the nation’s economy. Whether this will be good or bad is not known yet, but the changes the new healthcare bill brings will be widespread.
Technological improvements. Nearly everyone has been affected by the rapid growth in technology over the past twenty years. Jobs have been created and jobs have been lost. Everyone, in one way or another has had to change or adapt to the technological revolution.
Loss of natural resources. The depletion of oil reserves has led to lifestyle changes and has affected everyone’s pocketbook. The shortage of this resource affects us daily and even led the United States to war in the Middle East. Loss or lack of other natural resources, like fresh water, will effect major changes in our lives in the future, as it is already affecting other areas in the world.
So change happens. There are no longer barges filled with barrels of turpentine flowing down the Black River to Wilmington. I wonder in one hundred years what present day industry or occupation will only be remembered in history books and by old-timers.