Archive for the ‘Agriculture’ Category

“Blockading”: The oral autobiography of Dove Coble

October 24, 2013
Ready to run the Blockade.

Ready to Run the Blockade, from http://www.louisville.com

This is about half of an oral history interview I recorded with Dove Coble (1900-2000) at his daughter’s house on 1 March 1997.  Dove was a delightful fellow who remembered just about everything that had ever happened to him.  I had a great time talking with him, and it was the only interview I ever did with someone willing to talk about the business of running moonshine, a big part of the economy of the county in the late Nineteenth and the first half of the Twentieth centuries.

The long and colorful tradition of moonshining in Randolph County ran from Black Ankle on the Montgomery County border, through Seagrove and Millboro all the way north to Level Cross.  After the Civil War the federal government established a system of licensed distilleries in which Treasury Agents would collect a tax on each gallon of whiskey produced.  There were many “Government Stills” established across Randolph, but for each legal still there were at least two illegal producers.  Moonshiners refused to run a “government still” and pay the excise tax.  In Prohibition days (and afterwards) running the illicit liquor from the stills deep in the Randolph County countryside up to the thirsty markets in the North was a major source of cash income.  Though glass “Mason” jars were invented before the Civil War (many were produced up into the 1900s with the mark “Patent Nov 30th 1858”), moonshiners kept many a Randolph and Moore county potter in business up until World War II.  And transporting those containers to the ultimate buyers was the province of the “Blockade Runner,” or “Blockaders,” a very conscious reference to the Civil War “greyhounds of the sea” which ran the federal blockade of southern ports to supply the Confederate war effort. 

Dove Coble died just a few weeks short of his 100th birthday, and was buried in Gray’s Chapel, or “York Town,” as he called it.

My name’s William Dove Coble.  Senior.  That’s my boy at Eastern Randolph [his son, Dove Coble Jr., was a teacher at ERHS].  I was born the 11th of June, 1900.  If I live to see June I’ll be 97.   I was born over there on Sandy Creek; Brower’s Mill.  It’s Kidd’s Mill now, on Sandy Creek, back in the woods there. My daddy, Rossie Coble, died in 1917, and was buried over at Gray’s Chapel, and I’ve been there ever since.  There was five of us boys and three girls.  I was the oldest child.  They’ve all gone but me and my youngest brother, Truman Coble, lives there in Ramseur.  Seventeen years younger than me.  My daddy died in March, and in June I was seventeen, and then Truman was born after that.  My father lived in the country.  Shelly Coble was my daddy’s brother, and Will Coble, and Clem Coble, they’re buried this side of Town, there where Joe Buie’s father is buried.  Charlie Coble and Ham Coble, they’re my closest kin.  I lived over here at Gray’s Chapel, not at the schoolhouse, but on up the road where that dairy barn is, at the rock wall.  Hackett Road.  That’s where Dove Jr. lives.  My wife passed away and I’ve been over here at Opal’s [his daughter in Asheboro] since ’82, when Curtis Coble passed away….

I never did get no education, never got to seventh grade.  I get more now out of the Upper Room than I can the Bible.  The stories, you know; I ain’t got no education.  I can read, and write my name.  I started off at Patterson’s Grove.  The schoolhouse was on what you called the Ferguson road, the road from Ramseur to White’s Chapel.  I went there four years, and then over to White’s Chapel, at a little schoolhouse there, didn’t go there but one.  Just five or six years.  I moved all over the country.  I wasn’t doing nothing but running around.  We just drug up, to tell the truth about it.  I’m lucky to be here.  I lost my daddy, and I wasn’t 17; there was nine of us, and no welfare nor nothing.  It was Hoover days.  Can you imagine how I lived?  Just drug up.

I lived over there in the country when the war ended, close to Brower’s Mill.  My daddy died in 1916, and the next year I had to register.  I was up plowing corn there in the back yard, plowing around saw logs in the field.  Momma come out in the field and waved at me; we heared the bells and whistles blowing at Franklinville.  We didn’t have any telephones.  They tied them whistles down; you can imagine the racket.  Both mills sounded the same; they both had whistles; you couldn’t tell one from the other.  I registered for the war in Ramseur.  I.F. Craven ran the draft board.  He lived in a big house behind the drug store beside Fred Thomas, who run the broom shop.  I’ve got that little card; it’s the only thing I’ve got to know when I was born; didn’t get no birth certificate.

My grandpaw W.H. Coble, William, is buried right there in that old cemetery, Old Salem.   I never remember any church there, I don’t know where it fell down or what.    He’s where the William come from.  Leeshy, my grandmaw, that’s where they got the Dove;  from Dunc Dove’s crowd; my grandmaw was his sister.  They lived up towards White’s Memorial.  Dunc and his son Tracy lived there on the hill next to Dr. Fox, on that street above Burnice Jones.  My grandpaw come down on a wagon and we went to that old wooden store [the lower company store]; went and got molasses out of a fifty-gallon drum with my grandpaw.  That was back before I went to school, Nineteen Five.  The Company stores were just old country stores.  They had everything in the world you wanted in there.  But I didn’t buy nothing.  Didn’t have to buy nothing.  Wasn’t nothing I could buy.  I didn’t have no money; what could I buy?

1924 Open Cab Express Body Model TT- Ford's first pickup.  Before that model year Ford only provided the truck chassis, and local wagonmakers purpose-built the bodies.

1924 Open Cab Express Body Model TT- Ford’s first pickup. Before that model year Ford only provided the truck chassis, and local wagonmakers purpose-built the bodies.

I come there to Franklinville in Twenty.  Ed Routh, Ernest’s daddy, and Paul, and Iula, found out I needed work.  I drove a truck, the first one they ever had in Franklinville.  One ton Ford truck, open bed, to haul flour and feed and everything they made.  Had a cover for it, but it was open, open bed.  Open cab, no glass.  I hauled flour to Seagrove and Siler City, and loaded it on the train.  They shipped it to the college up there.  Women’s College bought the flour direct from the mill, and had it shipped up there.  It was too far to drive then.  Wasn’t no such thing as a hard surface.  64 wasn’t built.  No road down to Ramseur, or anywhere.  Did without ‘em.  Parks Buie told me that Joe would order five gallons of oysters of a morning, tell them to put them on the train down on the coast, and they’d come to Greensboro and down to Franklinville on the second train, that run after dinner, and he’d get it of an evening.  Five gallons of oysters for a dollar and a quarter.  The train went up in the morning, met the trains and stuff in Greensboro, and come back after dinner.

Guess how much I made in six days.  Ten dollars a week for six days, ten hours a day.  All day.  Went in six in the morning, stayed till five in the evening.  An hour out for dinner.  If they didn’t fix for me I walked back to the house for dinner, next door to Burnice Jones, where he lives now.  That house above it.  I lived with my great aunts, Bell and Lizzie and Effie Luther.  They’re all buried around there.  They worked in the mill before I went down there. My aunts were fine people, but they was old then.  They was retired.  Two of them never married.  Old widow women.  They looked after me, they was good. I maybe paid $5 a week; if I wanted to pay them anything I did, but I didn’t have to.

Ed Routh was the head knocker and manager.  He was the flour man.  Bascom Kinney ground the corn meal.  Old Davis, across the river, he was there part of the time.  They’re all gone.  They bought the truck while I was there.  I was the first driver they had, anyway.  I could drive anything then.  The first job I had, I helped put flour in the sacks, meal, flour and everything.  Corn meal went in little bitty bags, ten pounds.  Plain corn meal. They didn’t have no self-rising to start with; they put it in after I went down there. Excelsior was the plain flour; Dainty Biscuit was the self-rising.  I bagged that flour, and Ernest helped before he went on the road.  Ten pound bags; twenty-five; and them big bags is what they shipped.  They put ninety-eight pounds in them.  The college got maybe ten bags in a shipment, every week, or whenever they needed it.  I first hauled stuff through the wooden bridge, the covered bridge.  Mr. Routh lived right up there by the mill.  Basc Kinney lived next door, that worked for Ed as a miller.…

[I] Went to work in the roller mill.  Me and Ernest worked there, and his daddy.  Ed Routh done the most of the work.  He could do most anything, kept everything just as clean as a woman.  He kept us wore plumb out to keep the spider webs and things cleaned up. That mill, it run by water then.  The water wheel was in the lower end, the back end.  The race run around behind the mill, and a chute come out of there, going under to the water wheel, and the shaft run back under the mill and the belts went on up.  All of it was ground by water then.  Didn’t have no lights to start with; they finally got up to date, and got electricity.  And the cotton mill run by water then, too….

I had an old T-model, $150 copper head T-model, ‘Fifteen.  I got Joe Buie to let me have a little money, maybe a hundred dollars, and my aunt give me some. There wasn’t no bank, they put that in after I went there.  That store opened up, and the office for both mills.  I didn’t have to have but two or three hundred dollars, but I didn’t have none.  I got it the first year I was down there.  Twenty-one.  $150; drove it; kept it for five years, and I got that much out of it when I sold it.  Then when the A-Models come out, I got another one.  I had a A-Model when I got married….

1927 was the first production year for the Model A Ford.

1927 was the first production year for the Model A Ford.

[John] Clark changed everything [about Franklinsville in 1923].  But of course I was blockade running around all over the country, wasn’t married or nothing; didn’t stay down there much.  I was maybe in Siler City one night and somewheres else the next.  But I still worked every day, ten hours a day.  Back then, the hours weren’t nothing. Bob Craven, who lived in that last house by the trussell, said he could remember me going by there of a morning at daylight, going to the mill.  He said, “You was crazy as hell, then.”  I said, I didn’t have no choice.  I stayed at home there, piddled around so we didn’t starve.  You know what we had.  Just nothing.  Hoover Days.  I don’t care what your politics are. If you lived through Hoover Days, you won’t forget it, if you live to be a hundred.  I sold liquor of a night, when I was driving the truck [for the roller mill]; me and Benton Moon.  Did you know him?  Fanny Burke was his wife, and Roy Holliday married her later.  Me and Benton would go over in York Town and get a case every night.  All of them around there, Doc Cheek, that run the drugstore, he’d drink it just like water.  That’s what Franklinville was like when I went down there.

You could buy liquor anywhere you wanted it. There were a few government stills around, but I never did go to none of them. Over here in Lineberry where I live now, George Allred had one back up in the woods there.  And there was one there at Shady Grove.  Sharp Kivett, he’d give you the history of that.  Fletcher Pugh, owns that sawmill on that road, he could tell you the truth about it.  Sharp Kivett and George Allred, that’s the only two government-mades I ever went to, knew where the places were.

From the New Georgia Encyclopedia

From the New Georgia Encyclopedia

But I went to all these others, all over the country.  We had plenty of it around White’s Chapel. York Town, or White’s Chapel, it’s all the same to me.  People there made blockade whiskey, it wasn’t government liquor.  My daddy made liquor all his life.  Old man Warren Langley over here at Staley, down close to the government still at Staley; his boy Clarence died here last year;  Warren Langley was number one.  The Toomeses were good up in Level Cross.  But if you wanted good liquor, back in below Seagrove, down towards the river, old man Lucas was the one. Cross the railroad and go back down there by Luck’s, and wind around not more than a mile back over in there.  If he had bad liquor he’d tell you so.  He’d say, “I ain’t got nothing for you this week.”  I wouldn’t buy no burnt liquor.  And he

had enough sense, if had a little burnt liquor, he wouldn’t put it off on one of his customers.  You know, the mash, what makes the steam off the whiskey, if it stuck to the bottom of your still, it burnt.  It ain’t nothing to brag about, but they’d take me when I was little, and they’d poke me there after the fire was took out, and have me clean that still out.  I’ve been in one many a time.   If you make it right, you had copper from where you put it in the still.  Then it went to the wooden doubler, and then it went up in the cooler, and when it went on out down there where you catch it in a jug, it was liquor.  If it come out there, and there weren’t no bead on it, they wouldn’t save it.  You’d check the temperature by looking to see if it beaded up on the copper.  You’d shake it.  If it’s right fine on you, it ain’t rig

ht.  It all used to be made out of corn; they made out of sugar later.  That man in Staley, to start off with, he wouldn’t have no sugar liquor.  He made corn liquor.  Oscar Langley was one of Warren’s boys.  He used to play ball in Ramseur and he was drunk as a fool, and they couldn’t tell it.  He was a pitcher, I believe.  It’s all behind me, but I’ve seen lots of things in my time.   There ain’t a place between here and Staley, creek or branch or road nor nothing else that I ain’t been.  I’ve been down to a still on that Hickory Mountain road, from Siler City to Pittsboro.  It ain’t nothing to brag about, but I’ve been there.  It was the way to make money.  But I didn’t drink none of it.  I found out, it was to sell, not to drink.  I’ve never been drunk in my life.  My brother, he took enough for me and him both.  It just ruint him.  But you can’t convince him of that, even now.

Not many people would fool with brandy.  Some of them made it, and some didn’t.  I had the most brandy that’s ever been over in there.  I had twenty gallons up there in Lineberry, in the barn.  Clark Millikan made it for me, the first brandy he ever made in his life. That was R.C. Millikan, who died here recently.  I went to the mountains and got a whole load of apples, put it in the barrell, and kept it till it worked over.  Made cider.  Put them in a barrell, put your sugar in it, or after it sours you can make it without if you clear it up.  While it’s working you can’t still it.  It’s got to work over.  Clark made a little money.  But he died over here with his britches open [in the nursing home], just like me and you’s gonna do.

Moonshine run, from serbianforum.org

Moonshine run, from serbianforum.org

I could make $10 in a night.  That’s the reason I went home; I told Ed Routh I could make more than that by going to York Town one day a week.  Well, he said, you just come on and work for me while you’re here, and I’ll pay you as much again as you’re getting.  They paid me five out of the mill and five out of the Company.  It all went to different names.  Roller mill got credit for this; the mill got the other.  I still run around everywhere, but he didn’t know it.  I didn’t ever fool with it around there [the roller mill].  Ed would take a drink, but I didn’t know till after he was Register of Deeds that he ever did.  He wasn’t a drunkard, but after he’d come back to Ramseur, he told me, when you get some good, you can bring me half a gallon once in a while.  But politics didn’t change that man.  He didn’t change because he had an office job.  If you’d started down there where I did, barefooted, no daddy, you’d know about how you’d feel.  Then when you’d get up a little, you’d get above it.  But Ed was number one, and Joe Buie was just as good.  He wouldn’t tell you no lie, nor cheat you either.  And that old Spoon boy, one armed man, the banker there, run the bank beside the office; if I didn’t have a dollar I could go in there and get it.   The Sumners lived in that house across the road.  John, and George, the county doctor.  And two girls.  Dave Sumner let me put my new car in that shed behind the house, wouldn’t charge me a cent.  Edison Curtis lived up on that hill on Depot Street, and Henry Curtis, and Polly Newsom, and Will Thomas lived down through there.  There wasn’t anybody in Franklinville or between here and Staley I didn’t know.

A quart Kerr jar of white liquor.

A quart Kerr jar of white liquor.

Sometimes you’d pay $5 for six gallons; you’d take it and peddle it out; people would buy it, and you could double it.  I took it right down town there [Asheboro], where the bank used to be [Bank of Randolph], and people would give me orders to take some to Greensboro.  They couldn’t get blockade liquor in Greensboro.  They had to come out somewhere else and get it.  They could buy liquor, but they didn’t want that.  That man at the bank would say, “You go take Ben Cone five gallons.  He lives out there toward White Oak.  Just drive on out there like you own the place.  Drive in there like you have groceries.”  I had pretty good nerve then.  But they never caught me.  Tommy Brookshire that lived at Randleman was the deputy here one time.  I was going to town one night, right down here where the hospital is; I was in one of those A models.  Well, he just drove up to me and was gonna stop me, and I just turned round and went down that side street, and didn’t see him any more that night.  And he didn’t see me.  That’s as close as anybody ever caught me, but I didn’t stop.  Them days is all gone.

I stayed there till the last day of Twenty-five.  Got married, and never did work any more down there.   I moved up here to Lineberry, Acie’s Store up above Gray’s Chapel.  I didn’t have no land, and I bought that schoolhouse for $200.  Put a new roof on it, and rented it since I’ve been over here.  I give it all to the young’uns, where Acie Lineberry’s store was.   And that Highway from Asheboro to Liberty wasn’t built then.  They built it with horses. That’s how long I’ve been there.  I met my wife over here at Grays Chapel.  She was a Hackett.  She come from over at White’s Chapel.  I got married the last week of the year.  Went up there and still run around all over the country and everywhere else after I was married.  Siler City and Seagrove, or below Seagrove, was as far as I ever went.  You know what they call Black Ankle?  I used to take to a store back in there, ten miles back on that river.  Mandy’s Store.  I’ve been in there and bought liquor since I been big enough to go back.  See, I stayed down there, sold liquor, peddled liquor, and everything else.  I don’t mind telling you.  All around Franklinville, and Black Ankle, and everywhere else.  I got pretty good on my feet then.  In 1928,  I had a little money I’d saved, and I got an A-model.  Paid for it peddling liquor.  But I went in debt building this bridge here in Central Falls in Twenty-eight.  That’s where I went in debt.  I made enough to get out there, but went in debt $500, and had to give my bootlegging car away.

But I had an old truck. Do you believe I drove an A model from Greensboro to Lancaster, Pennsylvania in one day?   I had that truck, and I knew a boy that had business up there, and he helped me buy a new truck here, and I went to South Carolina and sold liquor; earned enough to pay for my land over yonder in two years.  Now, then, what can you do in two years?  Go in debt, that’s all you can do. But there was money in trucks, if you worked it out.  I had to work it out; it wasn’t give to me.  I went to Greensboro and I told them, I gonna mark me a route to Pennsylvania.  He laid down a sheet of paper and said you just follow this highway till you hit the mountains.  You don’t go round them mountains, go right on through them till you get to Pennsylvania.  It’s seventy miles from where the President is over to Lancaster.  I drove up there from 8:00 till 9 that night.  I went by myself.  My old truck was up there; kept my new one here, and went to South Carolina.

When I got out of debt I quit fooling with it.  Old man Jewell Trogdon, a preacher here in town, he was the one caused me to get out.  He just told me, over here in Gray’s Chapel Church, “What if the Lord would take these two girls away from you?”  He knowed I was running around here and yonder and everything else.  Old man Trogdon showed me where I was wrong.  So I told the man over here who built this bridge, “Ed, you better make good of this liquor.  These two cases is the last.”  He said, “What do you mean?  You can’t quit!”  I said, “Yes, I have, I’ve done quit. You can drink it, but I ain’t even gonna sell this.”  I stayed and got enough to pay for my land off what I done that year.  I had $2,000 when I got done.  I got my first truck in ’28, over here at Central Falls.  And then went down there and got enough to pay for my land.  And I went on to carpentry work, and never fooled with no more liquor.

I know time changes everything, but I’ve seen a lot of things since ‘seventeen.

Randolph County Agriculture: Wheat

September 20, 2013
Harvesting Wheat with a Cradle, Southeast Randolph County, circa 1900

Harvesting Wheat with a Cradle, Southeast Randolph County, circa 1900

I’ve promised various people for years that I’d write up some of the history of agriculture in Randolph County.  It’s one of my favorite topics, but like all of them, I find a bit and a piece here and there that add up over the course of time to something locally unique.  As each separate element is part of a larger whole, that adds richness and complexity to the individual part, sometimes it is hard to sit down and write about the pieces before the big picture takes shape.

Randolph County never followed the plantation agricultural system of the eastern part of the state and the Deep South.  The hilly, rocky terrain broken up by numerous small rivers and creeks precluded the assembly of large open flat fields, and the Quaker and German cultural heritage of the Piedmont did not support the ownership of the slave labor required to profitably grow cotton.

The last census of slavery in the United States in 1860 included 393,975 named persons holding 3,950,546 unnamed slaves, or an average of about 10 slaves per holder.  One American citizen out of 70 was a slaveholder, with an average of about 10 slaves per holder.  The year before the war that ended the practice, slaveholders of 200 or more slaves, (constituting less than 1 % of the total number of slaveholders, or 1 out of every 7,000 free persons), held 20-30% of the total number of slaves in the U.S.

One of the largest American slaveholders, Joshua Ward of Georgetown, SC, owned more than 1,100 enslaved African workers.  This was not the case in Piedmont North Carolina.  In Guilford County just 22 citizens owned more than 20 slaves, with only one owning more than one hundred (James T. Morehead- 107), and the next largest owning just 53.[i] In Randolph in 1860, just 11 persons owned 20 or more slaves, with the largest, General Alexander Gray of Trinity, owning 104.[ii]  Gray (1768-1864), a General in the War of 1812, was probably the largest slaveholder in both counties before he began distributing slave families among his children as they married and came of age.  In keeping with Randolph County’s contrarian nature, Gray was also a member in good standing of the Manumission and Colonization Society, a slave emancipation group, which met in his new barn in 1817.[iii]

Benjamin Swaim, writing in the local newspaper The Southern Citizen in 1839, noted that “our provisions are mostly of the domestic kind- plenty of cheese, Butter and Milk, from the cool recesses of the Dairy.”[iv]  Fred Burgess of Ramseur noted in 1920 that only 10% of the county’s agricultural production was from non-food crops. [v]  In 1933, County Farm Agent E.S. Millsaps reported that those non-food crops consisted of 3,086 acres of tobacco and 1,403 acres of cotton—just 6% (4,489 acres) of the 76,263 total acres cultivated in the county’s 4,000 farms.[vi]

Millsaps went on to say, “Randolph is one of twenty North Carolina counties that raise wheat on a commercial basis.  The crop in Randolph, however, is not primarily commercial, being raised chiefly for the making of flour and corn meal for family use.  In 1933 the county had 16,373 acres sown in the grain, each acre yielding an average of twelve bushels, bringing the total crop to 196.500 bushels.   Sold on the average for $1.03 per bushel the crop had a total value of $202,095.00, or a value of $12.36 per acre.”[vii]

Wheat and corn had been the region’s primary crops even before the county itself was formed in 1779.  Even as late as 1894, the county still had what apparently was the largest number of water-powered grist mills in the state- more than 90. [viii]  Wheat and corn production required grist mills to make the raw product into something more valuable- flour.  Without a mill, homemakers could grind some grain by hand for baking and cooking.  But the only commercial alternative without a mill was to ferment the grain and corn into mash in a distillery- and the county had an unusual number of those, as well.

Cutting Wheat with Cradles, Iredell Co. NC (NCSU Archives)

Cutting Wheat with Cradles, Iredell Co. NC (NCSU Archives)

Randolph County Varieties of Wheat

A snapshot of the farm economy of a local Quaker family on the eve of war is found in a letter written by  Nathan Barker [1805-1886] and wife Catharine Cox Barker [1806-1866] of Buffalo Ford, to their son Ezra [1838- 1929], a student at New Garden Boarding School.

“6th month the 21st, 1860….  [We] cut our winter oats yesterday, finished cutting wheat the day before; the wheat came on all in a few days.  We commenced on 6th day last and cut and put up what was about 17 acres that day, so thee [may] suppose we had help.  We also had one hand 7th day and two 2nd day.  The two fields of purple straw at home turned off well and we think is well-filled.  The fields of white grained wheat was thin on the ground; that away from home did not turn off very well tho I think the grain is good.  To day planting out potato slips; so busy in the corn field last week there was [no] spare time for potato planting.  No mowing done yet except some to give to the horses green.  The flax is not ripe enough to pull yet; some of ours looks pretty well, some not so well where the ground has been rather wet.”[ix]

Purplestraw

One of the interesting questions to modern historians is whether any of the agricultural products grown in the mid-19th century are still available today.  Even today, such information is glossed over in private conversation.  We say, “I planted begonias,” not “I planted Burpee’s hybrid Purple Zinger Begonias.”  The above passage is more than usually helpful, and actually includes a recognizable name: “Purple straw” wheat.  The genealogy of American wheat starts with a 1922 USDA publication, “Classification of American Wheat Varieties, by Jacob Allen Clark.  Clark surveyed wheat production across the entire United States, and collected 25 named varieties of wheat being grown in North Carolina in 1919.  One of those, “Purplestraw,” was being grown on 86,500 acres, 13.9% of the state’s total wheat production.  In his technical description Clark noted that Purplestraw was a spring-planted, early harvested midtall wheat, awnless, with red kernels and a purple stem.   Its origins were unknown, but it was first described by the Virginia agricultural writer Edmund Ruffin in 1822 as “Early Purplestraw,” and was also commonly called “Bluestem.”  “This variety is fairly hardy and has been grown from fall sowing in the southeastern states for many years.  Its principal advantage over other varieties in that section is its early maturity, which in part is due to its spring habit.”[x]

Purplestraw Wheat - Carpenter Farm, Gaston Co., NC (1929- NCSU Archives)

Purplestraw Wheat – Carpenter Farm, Gaston Co., NC (1929- NCSU Archives)

Clark’s 1919 collection of wheat varieties formed the basis of the US Department of Agriculture’s National Small Grains Collection, still grown and maintained at the Small Grains Germplasm Research Facility at Aberdeen, IdahoNot all of the 1919 grains survive, but 3 different strains of Purplestraw are still available. [xi]  In addition to the 25 varieties of which Clark collected, 21 more named varieties were reported where he was unable to obtain samples.  These 46 total named varieties reported from North Carolina were by far the most diverse collection in the Southeast.  South Carolina, in contrast, reported 10; Virginia 23.[xii]

Nathan Barker’s other wheat variety was describes only as “the white-grained wheat.”  What appears to be a poor description is actually quite specific and helpful in searching Clark’s lists, as most of the North Carolina-grown wheats have red or pink kernels.  Only three are listed as having white kernels: “Goldcoin,” “Greeson,” and “Kivett.”    The first can be immediately disregarded as post-1860– Goldcoin was first commercially distributed in 1900, a strain formerly known as “White Clawson” from Seneca, New York.[xiii]   Greeson and Kivett, however, are strong contenders, as one has a Guilford County origin, and the other evidently Randolph County roots.

Kivett.

Clark notes simply that “Kivet is a white-kerneled wheat which has been grown in NC for many years.  It was obtained by Blount (47) and reported in 1892 in his New Mexico experiments.  It is possibly the same wheat as White Wonder, as both are grown in the same localities.”[xiv]  Samples of Kivett were not found by Clark in 1919, but White Wonder was obtained is still available at the Aberdeen test station.  Franklinville native Robert A. Craven, when I interviewed him in 1997, said that Kivett was similar to Greeson (which he called “Greensboro Wheat”), but that Kivett “wasn’t quite as big a grain” [see below].[xv]

Ag Extension Agent with Wheat (NCSU Archives)

Ag Extension Agent with Wheat (NCSU Archives)

Greeson, or Greensboro.

Of “Greeson,” Clark reports a veritable mountain of information.  His technical description Is a model of how much information can be noted by a close inspection of one stem of wheat: “Plant winter habit, midseason, midtall; stem glaucus, white, midstrong to strong; spike awnless, oblong-fusiform, middense, erect to inclined; glumes aglarous, white, midlong, wide; shoulders wide, square to elevated; beaks wide, obtuse, 1mm long; apical awns few, 2 to 20 mm. long, somewhat incurved; kernels white, midlong, soft, ovate, acute; germ midsized; crease midwide, deep; cheeks rounded; brush small, midlong.”[xvi]

Distribution: grown in Chatham, Randolph and Guilford Counties, NC.

History—According to W.H. McLean of Whitsett, NC, ‘this variety originated by a man whose name was Greeson, and has been grown in this country for a number of years and is very popular.’ He reported that it constituted 40 percent of the wheat grown near Whitsett, Guilford County, NC, in 1919.”  [The seed now maintained in the Idaho germplasm bank under the name ‘Greeson’ was evidently obtained, “date unknown,” from H. P. Moffitt, of Ramseur, NC.]

Synonym– ‘Greensboro.’  Because the seed was obtained at a fair held at Greensboro, NC, this name is used for the variety in Randolph County, NC, where the wheat is most widely grown.”

Clark’s notation of possible synonyms for each variety recognizes that, in an age where each farmer or local miller saved the seed of his personal favorite variety, the seed saver often felt entitled to name the variety as he saw fit.  My cousin Danny Whatley, whose mother was a Bonkemeyer, records another such synonym as part of that Randolph County family’s history.  The immigrant ancestor Frederic Gerhard Bonkemeyer left Germany in 1853 and arrived in Randolph County in 1855, supposedly bringing from German a pocket full of seeds- what came to be known as the “Bonkemeyer Strain” of wheat. [xvii]

However, Robert Craven in his 1997 interview, without even being asked about either variety, shared an alternative history:

“They had a kind of wheat in this country they called ‘Greensboro Wheat.’  The way it got its name, an old man Bonkemeyer, I knowed him, went to Greensboro one time, to the Guilford County Fair.  I never did get to go.  He went one time, and he was looking over the grain, and he seen a pretty nice stack of wheat there that he liked the looks of, and he stuck him a handful in his pocket.  And he come home, and come wheat-sowing time, he fixed him a row out there somewhere and sprinkled that handful of wheat in that row.  Well, the way I got it, that handful growed enough wheat, after the ground it out by hand, that he had about a half a gallon the next year.  Well, he sowed that, and from then on, that’s the way Greensboro Wheat got in this country and got its name.  I’ve growed its since I’ve been a’living here.  It was a good wheat.  It made good flour.  I reckon it would be counted a hard wheat. It didn’t have no beards on it.  I always dreaded that.  They had a bearded wheat, but it didn’t go over so big.  You never did work out in that none.  If you’d ever got some of them beards in your shirt, you’d a’ quit raising it too.  I never did raise no rye to thrash on that account.  You know that rye’s got beards on it, and about the only way to get rid of them is to burn your britches and shirt.  It would irritate the life out of you.

“Greensboro Wheat was smooth wheat.    Then they had a kind they called ‘Double-Head’”  You part your hair in the middle… and that Double-Head wheat had a crease on each side, like you’d laid it off, just like you’ve parted your hair.  And then there was a kind they called ‘Kivett Wheat.’ It wasn’t much different than the other.  Wasn’t quite as big a grain.”[xviii]

For the record, I note that the USDA also has a variety named “Gleason,” collected in 1929 in Statesville, NC.  Clark listed Gleason with the “unidentified” varieties of wheat of which he had been unable to trace samples.  The similarity between the names “Greeson” and “Gleason” has me wonder if the latter is the same as the former, but the name became confused the further it travelled away from Guilford County.  Only some future comparison of the two plants and seeds could tell if they are identical.


[i] 1860 U.S. Census of Guilford County, Slave Schedule:  James T. Morehead- 107;  Jno. A.Gilmer-53; C.P. Mendenhall- 48; Miss Mary Staples- 43; Letitia Walker- 41; Strudwick Summers- 40; Isaac Thacker- 40; A.H. Lindsay- 38; Arch Powell-34; J.M. Donnell- 30; David Scott-29; Jno. A. Mebane- 27; Delphinia Mendenhall- 27; J.A. Hughes- 25; Eli Smith- 25; Alex Robbins- 25; Wm. Barringer- 24; Emsley Donnell- 23; Ralph Gorrell; C.P. Jones-23; Peter Adams- 23; Elizabeth Troxler- 22.

[ii] 1860 U.S. Census of Randolph County, Slave Schedule:  Alexander Gray, 104 slaves; son RH Gray owned 22; son in law (md. Letitia Gray) AG Foster owned 30; Josiah Cheek- 39; Lewis Lutterlough-33; O.A. Palmer- 33; Noah Smitherman- 33; Thomas Marley- 21; Thomas A. Finch- 20; Abner Coltrane- 20; Allen Skeen-20.  Among many other prominent county leaders, Clerk of Court Hugh McCain owned 16 slaves; Dempsey Brown of Trinity, 15; AS Horney of Franklinville, 10; Dr. JM Worth of Asheboro, 9.

 [iii] Randolph County (1979), p. 72.

 [iv] Quoted in Zuber, Jonathan Worth, p. 42.

 [v] RC, Economic and Social, 1924, p.55.

 [vi] “Randolph Is Great Agricultural County,” The Courier, 1 Nov. 1934, p.C-3

[vii] Id.  The article also noted that “The Farm Forecaster reports the acreage in rye for the county in 1933 at 1,853, yielding on average of 9 bushels per acre.  The total yield of 16,677 bushels, selling for an average price of $1.06 per bushel, brought $17,678.00, a little better than $9.50 per acre.”

[viii] 1894 Business Directory of Randolph County, “Branson’s Directory.”  Eli Branson, a Randolph County native, meticulously listed each individual county property owner, with the acreage owned and its tax value.  It is the best source for raw farm figures outside of the decennial census.

[ix] Original letter in the possession of Leanna Barker Roberts of Westfield, Indiana.

[x] Jacob Allen Clark, “Classification of American Wheat Varieties,” USDA Bulletin No. 1074 (Washington, DC, Nov. 8, 1922), p. 212.

[xi] The collection holdings are searchable at http://www.ars.usda.gov/main/docs.htm?docid=2884 .

 [xii] Id.

 [xiii] Id.

 [xiv] Clark, p. 206.

 [xv] Robert A.  Craven (1909- 2000)— interviewed 8-8-1997 at his home on Iron Mountain Road south of Franklinville.

[xvi] Clark, p. 60.

[xvii] Daniel J. Whatley, “Bonkemeyer Family,” Randolph County Heritage Book #1 (1993), p. 148.

 [xviii] It is an interesting question whether Craven, when he describes Greensboro wheat as “smooth,” meant that it had a shallow crease, or no crease.  Clark’s description, of course, says the Greeson kernel had a “deep” crease.  Craven goes on to contrast Greeson with another variety he calls “Double-Head,” because the crease was even deeper.   Perhaps some day if the variety is grown again, some of these questions can be answered.