Chapte 17 "Agriculture"

Chapter 17


GENERATIONS before the first white men came to this county, the Indian inhabitants were cultivating a large number of crops on the fertile soil along Haw River. Early explorers "affirmed that they had never seen twenty miles of such extraordinary rich land, lying all together, like that betwixt Haw River and the Achonechy Town."*

The Indians raised "gourds, melons, cucumbers, squashes, pulse of all sorts (beans, peas, etc.) . . . potatoes . . . Indian Corn or maiz," and a variety of other vegetables. Each village was surrounded by a patch of cleared land which served as a communal garden. "They have no fences," wrote John Lawson, "to part one another's lots in their corn-fields, but every man knows his own, and it scarce ever happens that they rob one another of so much as an ear of corn."

When the harvest was completed in the autumn, the red man held a great feast to give thanks "to the Good Spirit for the Fruits of the Earth," and "to beg the same blessings for the succeeding year."

"At these feasts," said Lawson, "they meet from all the towns within fifty or sixty miles around, where they buy and sell several commodities, as we do at fairs and markets."

The forest provided the Indians with excellent hunting- deer, bear, beaver, opossum, raccoon, hares and squirrels, and, in the early days, buffalo. Wild berries and herbs also grew there.

"The waters of the Albemarle country teemed with countless fishes. They were the principal source of subsistence to the savages, who with their rude canoes and weirs found easy living the year around. This occupation, with their military expeditions and

* Lawson, op. cit.



the pursuit of game in the forest, formed the only employment of the Indian men . . Their hapless women were condemned to all the drudgery of cultivating and preparing for food the corn, upon which was their main reliance for bread. They possessed no knowledge as to the working of metals and used fire to burn down the forest to effect clearings of their small fields. Their farming utensils were all of wood . . . . In planting maize they began by making a hole in one corner of the plot, wherein they placed four grains of corn an inch apart and then covered with mould. From this starting point rows were laid off so that the hills should be a yard apart each way. They used fertilizers of no kind but depended upon the natural richness of the soil . . . ."*

John Lawson describes the agricultural pursuits of the early Carolina white farmers, who had introduced some of their European products to the New World:

"The inhabitants of Carolina thro' the richness of their soil, live an easy and pleasant life . . . . A thousand acres of good land cannot be bought under twenty shillings an acre, besides two shillings every year in acknowledgement of every 100 acres . . . "I have seen fat and good beef at all times of the year . . . The milk is very rich, there being at present considerable quantities of butter and cheese made that is very good . . . Sheep thrive very well ....

"The pork exceeds any in Europe; the great diversity and goodness of the acorns and nuts which the woods afford, making the flesh of an excellent taste....

"Our produce for exportation to Europe and the Islands.. .. are beef, pork, tallow, hides, deer-skins, furs, pitch, tar, wheat, Indian corn, pease, masts, staves, heading, boards, and all sorts of timber . . . gums and tars . . . with some medical drugs . . . produced here . . . ."

"The wheat of this place is very good, sometimes yielding a hundred-fold measure . . . the Bushel-bean (is) . . . set in the Spring round arbours, or at the foot of poles, up which they will climb . . . The kidney beans were here before the English came, being very plentiful in the Indian corn fields .... The garden roots that thrive well in Carolina are carrots, leeks, parsnips, turnips, potatoes, artichokes, radishes, horse-radish, beets, onions . . lettice, cabbage, rhubarb, parsley, asparagus, colly-flower, water-

* Moore, John, History of N.C.



melons, muskmelons, pompions, squashes, gourds . . . besides many other species . . . ."

On the soil of Alamance County, which was, by reputation, "the most fertile high land in this part of the world," settled dozens of farm families in the eighteenth century. They built log homes on the small patches of land which they purchased from the colonial proprietors, and though many hardships beset them, they transformed the wilderness into a civilized country.

The frontier woman worked side by side with her husband. It was usually her duty to "take care of cows, hogs . . . make butter and cheese, spin cotton and flax, help to sow and reap corn, wind silk from the worms, gather fruit, and look after the house." The farmer himself usually tended to the more strenuous duties of ploughing and clearing land, and often operated a grist mill on some stream near his farm.

A petition from twenty-five inhabitants of Orange County in 1769 asked a public inspection:

". . . the making Tobacco & the cultivation of hemp, Two of the most valuable as we apprehend profitable Branches (the Quality of the soil of the Country Being Particularly suited to those articles) of Husbandry . . . "

". . . that a Publick Inspection be instituted at Hillsborough . . (in order that) . . . the Possessor . . . can be certain that his Commodity will pass an Inspection, or that he shall receive any satisfaction or Recompence, for the Fruits of his Long Industry ..."*

The charter granted to the town of Hillsboro granted "To the inhabitants of the said town . . . forever full power and authority to have, hold, and keep a Market weekly at the said Court House . . every Saturday," and "also two Fairs yearly to be held and kept at the said Court House on the first Tuesdays in May and November . . ."

Transportation had great effect on the agriculture of early Alamance. Before local markets were established, the farmer was forced to sell what surplus his land produced in Fayetteville or Petersburg, or to take his tobacco to the village of Weldon, at the

* Beecher. Investigation of Local Resources.



head of the Roanoke River, from which it could be shipped by water to the Virginia markets.

In seasons when they were not needed on the farm, some industrious farmers employed their work horses in a profitable freighting business, transporting their neighbors' crops to markets and bringing imported and manufactured goods back to the farm. Some of the difficulties of early transportation are explained in previous chapters of this book, and it was not until the railroad was built through the county that such conditions improved to any great extent.

The condition of agriculture in the Cane Creek area is described in a communication to the Hillsboro Recorder In August, 1821:

"The committee of inquiry, appointed by the Cane Creek Agricultural Society of Orange County . . . having taken into consideration the depressed and languishing state of Agriculture amongst us, feel it is their duty to impress on the minds of the members of this society . . . the importance of improvement in our system of husbandry ....

"From present appearances our corn crop will not be over abundant . . . neither fruit nor acorns to give our hogs a start .... We are of opinion that a tax on whisky . . . would be sound policy.... "John Newlin "Chairman."

Farmers frequently received "bills of credit" instead of cash money at the markets where they sold their crops, and such policy led to amusing incidents:

"From the absence of specie it is thought that some of the western banks will have to pay in Bacon or suspend operation . . . Should Bacon be substituted for specie as a circulating medium, it is thought that Irish Potatoes might be advantageously made use of for small change."*

A number of agricultural societies were formed during the early 1800's, and schoolboys were encouraged and offered prizes to write essays on the improvement of husbandry in this section.

* Beecher, Science and Change.



Throughout the Revolutionary War and the Civil War periods, farm production in Alamance remained at a high level, and provided valuable supplies for the troops.

There was some slave labor employed on the farms here prior to the War Between the States, but Alamance had fewer slaves than most counties, since her farms were usually tilled by small land-owners instead of plantation owners. When the War began, several hundred of the Negro farm hands employed in this county were freedmen. Children of impoverished parents and orphans were often bound to some farmer "to learn the art and mystery of a farmer," and were in turn, fed, clothed and educated by the farmer.

Conditions following the Civil War are well pictured in an account written by a traveller through this section:

"Most of our travel . . . is suggestive of Pennsylvania .... Small farms rather than . . . large plantations; and corn, not cotton, is the principal crop. There are apple orchards and many peach-trees, some fences, and occasionally a comfortable and pleasantly situated farm-house . . . ."*

Farm notes in the Alamance Gleaner and other newspapers of the period show that cotton was yielding from 500 to 1,000 pounds in seed in Alamance County, though the acreage planted in cotton was diminishing. The farmers had begun to pay more attention to stock raising, and improved breeds were being imported. The price of farm lands had increased to rates ranging from three dollars to ten dollars per acre.

Improved agricultural implements and machinery were in use, and tobacco was yielding 500 to 1,200 pounds per acre. Wheat and oats and other small grain were being seeded on most farms. The Gleaner editorialized on the decrease in farm labor:

"Fifty years ago a father was not ashamed to put his son to the plough or to a mechanical trade; but now they are 'too feeble' for bodily labor . . . . It seems never to occur to their foolish parents that moderate manual labor in the pure bracing air of the country is just what these puny lads need, and that to send them to small salaries and early graves . . . ."




Prior to 1886, Alamance County had no fence laws, and its farmlands, with the exception of cultivated fields, were usually an open range where livestock-cattle, hogs, sheep, goats and horses-could wander freely. The cultivated fields were enclosed by split rail fences, which were described as "horse high, bull strong, and pig tight."

At the time of the Civil War, this county was recognized as an agricultural area with large grain fields and plenty of livestock.

During the War, the livestock were almost totally destroyed. Horses were seized by the army, and cattle, sheep and swine were slaughtered for meat. After the war, there were more cattle in the middle and eastern parts of the State than in the mountains. Mountain farmers and traders would come east in the fall in covered wagons with feed for their stock and articles to sell, such as chestnuts, which abounded all over the mountain sections, red apples for the women, and-for the men-"mountain dew".

The average farmer of that day kept one or two milk cows, forty to sixty sheep, ten or fifteen hogs, and two or more horses.

The cattle were referred to as "scrubs", because with no fences the farmer seldom knew how many cows he owned, nor did he carry on any program of livestock breeding. One particular farmer in Alamance who owned a herd of eighteen cows received little more than enough milk to put in his coffee.

After the war, the South was in great need, and, wishing to aid the Quakers of the South, the Baltimore Association of Friends set up a school called Springfield and a model farm near where Guilford College is now located, spending $40,000 on the project.

An outgrowth of this model farm was the establishment of a school at Cane Creek Friends Meeting, called Sylvan Academy. In 1867, an agricultural club was organized there. Shortly afterwards, a registered Jersey bull was shipped to Company Shops from the State of Maine by the Springfield farm, with the understanding that the Sylvan club was to pay the freight on the calf. But when the bull arrived and the Sylvan club learned that the freight was fifty dollars, it declined to pay.





Tobacco has surplanted the cotton markets of early Burlington, but the above scene of main Street shows a cotton caravan, en route, perhaps, to the local cotton mills.

Piles of bright-leaf tobacco are spread in the Burlington tobacco Market, awaiting the chant of the auctioneer.



Caleb Dixon, a farmer of the Snow Camp community, paid the freight on the fawn-colored calf and registered it as "Sherman". after the famous Civil War general. To most people, "General Sherman" was vicious and dangerous, but to young Zeno Dixon, who tended the animal, it was gentle enough that he could ride it as a saddle horse.

Old "Sherman" became the sire of a large and productive Jersey herd before he was finally sold in 1876 at the State Fair in Raleigh. Encouraged by reports of the quantity of milk and the long milking-period of these improved cattle, numerous owners began to improve their stock.

David Carr, who owned a farm on the eastern bank of Haw River, produced a herd of pure bred Devon cattle and extended his breeding project to sheep, swine and poultry. A group of local farmers bought a Jersey bull in Burlington, Vermont, and brought it to Alamance to further improve their stock. Another cattle owner, William Burns, brought six registered Jersey cows and a bull to his farm, also on the River, but he was eventually "broken" by horse racing, and sold his place to Henry Ray.

Mr. Ray purchased from W. S. Long, Sr., a Jersey cow which reputedly gave a pound of butter a day, and with this cow and Mr. Burn's stock, he produced a large herd of excellent dairy cattle. Part of this herd was later sold to H. A. and Ralph H. Scott, who established the present Melville Dairy.


Extension work in Alamance began in 1911 when a group of interested farmers persuaded the county to match state and federal funds in establishing an extension office here.

Two of the biggest problems which faced H. C. Turner, the first extension agent, were soil conservation and winter cover crops. Red clover crops were diminishing, and the county agent introduced crimson clover to take its place. Corn yields were increased, and soy beans were introduced into Alamance to make up for the clover crops, which were grown with difficulty.

In 1912, Mr. Turner began to form boys' clubs in the rural section, as a forerunner of the present Four-H Clubs. A second



agent, J. P. Kerr, was added in 1925 to the extension staff. These two men toured the county with horse and buggy, visiting farms and holding community meetings. Farmers cooperated with them in setting up model improvement practices on their farms, and interest grew in the work until it was possible in 1930 to set up a board of three farmers in each of the thirteen townships to supervise farm needs and hold community meetings.

The extension service undertook to improve many phases of agriculture, particularly dairying and poultry.

In 1915, June Hornaday, a farmer and school teacher, living in Patterson township, six miles east of Liberty, worked with the extension service to establish a small creamery on his farm, the first creamery in the county.

A farmers' cooperative creamery was established at Burlington by some fifty milk producers in 1921. It was known as the Alamance Cooperative Creamery; in 1929 it was sold to Pet Milk Company.

Ralph and H. A. Scott, brothers of Governor W. Kerr Scott, established a retail milk plant on their farm in Melville township in August, 1927, and the business expanded so rapidly that they were able to build a modern dairy plant at Burlington in January, 1935.

During the First World War, the extension agent led the farmers in increasing food crops, and when the war was over, there was a tremendous surplus. Congress created an agency which bought up and stored some of these surplus crops to relieve the market, but the problem remained acute.

The Agricultural Adjustment Association (Triple-A) was created in the early "New Deal" years to answer the problem, but in 1936, Congress declared it unconstitutional. Soil conservation and domestic allotment acts were passed, however, under a modified Triple-A program.

The home demonstration work began in the county simultaneously with the county agent's work, and the home agents have succeeded in making outstanding improvements in the rural homes. Clubs were formed, and garden vegetables, fruit orchards,



One of the first dairies in the county was this creamery which was located in Burlington. The worker standing on the truck is today's Governor W. Kerr Scott.


Although Alamance County is known for its large and productive herds of dairy cattle, there is also considerable interest in sheep raising and beef cattle. The scene above shows a herd of black angus cattle on the Allen Thompson farm near Mebane.



poultry, cows, hogs and a curb market were promoted by these farm women.

Today the county extension service employs ten full-time workers to carry out its important work. The rural sections of the county show the results: good roads, good schools, electrification, automobiles and radios, attractive homes with most modern conveniencies enjoyed by urban residents. In his inauguration address in January, Governor Kerr Scott presented an extensive program for furthering rural improvement in North Carolina-a program which undoubtedly will extend to Governor Scott's own county.

There are now 2,739 farms in this county, averaging 79.7 acres in size and $3,887 in value, with approximately 2,720 farm operators or other domestic animals which were totally valued at $1,668,001. The principal crops now raised include tobacco, corn, and hay.

Alamance ranks as the fifty-first county in the entire United States in the value of vegetables grown for use on the farms, and eighty-third in the nation in its tobacco production.

Court Square in Graham was busy on the day a half century ago when this photograph was made. The present W.J. Nicks Store building was the first business establishment erected in the county seat, shortly after it was founded in 1850.



Chapter 5

Chapter 10

Chapter 15

Chapter 21

Chapter 1

Chapter 6

Chapter 11

Chapter 16


Chapter 2

Chapter 7

Chapter 12

Chapter 18

Book Index

Chapter 3

Chapter 8

Chapter 13

Chapter 19

Chapter 4

Chapter 9

Chapter 14

Chapter 20