Chapter 7 "Ante-Bellum Alamance"

Chapter 7


There were less than a half dozen community settlments west of the Haw River at the close of the Revolutionary War. Most of this region was still farm land, inhabited by people to whom church meetings, corn-huskings and occasional trips to distant marketing towns were big events in an otherwise hard and monotonous life. With the nineteenth century, however, came many changes. New roads were built, new grist mills and saw mills were erected; new taverns appeared; and, greatest by far, a new industry came-the cotton mill.

THE earliest business establishments in the frontier were the "ordinaries," combination saloons and taverns built by many an industrious merchant along the pioneer highways. Several of these taverns were operated in western Orange County. In the court records of 1754 it was:

"Ordered that country made brandy be sold in the several Ordinaries in this County at 3 shillings Proclamation Money."

A license was granted in 1763 to Hugh Smith to operate a tavern on Stinking Quarters near Alamance Creek, and Robert Hunter opened a tavern the same year in his home on Haw River. Two other "ordinaries" in this section, the "Dutchman's" at Alamance, and "Mepern's" near the present town of Mebane, were mentioned in 1752 by the Moravian Bishop Spangenberg. Located at every important fording place or ferry crossing, these taverns served farmers who gathered there to exchange "the news," and travellers who sought food and shelter.

An English humorist after touring North Carolina in these years wrote a description of the "ordinary" which probably fitted those in Alamance County.



"In order that the nature of a Carolina ordinary (or, as it ought properly to have been termed, extraordinary) may be accurately apprehended," he wrote, "I will venture to depict one . . . There were mostly log huts, or a frame weatherboarded; the better sort consisting of one story and two rooms; the more numerous have no internal division . . . One corner of the room would be occupied by a "bunk" containing the family bed; another by a pine-wood chest, the family clothes press and larder; a third would be railed off for a bar, containing a rum keg and a tumbler. The rest of the furniture consisted of two chairs and a table, all in the last stages of palsy . . .

"You might always know an ordinary . . . by an earthen jug suspended by the handle from a pole . . . or a score of black hogs luxuriating in the sunshine and mud before the door . . . If hunger or fatigue compelled you to remain, a little Indian corn for your horse, and a blanket on the hearth, with your saddle for a pillow, to represent a bed, were the most you could obtain. In summer a man would sometimes vary his enjoyment by stretching himself outside near the pigs . . .

"As to edibles, whether you called for breakfast, dinner, or supper, the reply was one-eggs and bacon . . . No sooner were you seated than the house dog . . . would arrange himself beside you, and lift his lank, hungry jaws expressively to your face . . ."*

Few homes in those days could accommodate an overnight guest, and travel was difficult and expensive. There was little opportunity for visiting among farm families. The roads were always in bad condition, and in rainy or winter weather they became impassable.

The county court, which not only tried legal cases but also acted as a governing body for the county, appointed overseers who were responsible for the upkeep of public roads, and required those who lived near streams to build and maintain public bridges. The court in 1753:

"Ordered that Francis Day, Alexander Mebane and Robert Erwin be appointed Commissioners of the Roads for the old trading path, from the county line to Haw River and thence to the Great Alamance."

* John. Retrospections of America, New York, 1887.



Many of the earliest roads followed the Indian trails or the later trading paths. These roads were usually deeply-rutted and difficult to travel. Over the main roads passengers could travel by stage coach in the early part of the nineteenth century, but this method was slower and more expensive than travel by horseback. Governor Swain described a trip through this section by stage coach in July, 1849:

"Along the proposed Rail Road from Goldsborough to Charlotte the stages run tri-weekly. If you reach Goldsborough precisely at the hour of departure . . . and meet with no delay . . . you may arrive in Charlotte in three days and a half, or 84 hours . . . Your expenses . . . in tavern bills-dinner at Smithfield, 50 cents-a day's board in Raleigh $1.50-supper at Moring's 50- breakfast at Holt's (a tavern in Alamance County) 50-dinner at Greensboro 50-supper 5O (if you get any)-breakfast in Salisbury 50-dinner in Concord 50-$5 . . . Making the aggregate expense $23 for 210 miles stage travel, performed at the rate of less than 2 1/2 miles an hour, at the average expense of about 11 cents per mile. "*


Near the middle of the last century, various companies in North Carolina began to construct plank roads in an effort to improve transportation. One such road, the Graham and Gulf Plank Road, was laid out from Snow Camp in Alamance County to the village of Gulf in Chatham County, where it intersected another plank road which ran from Salem to Fayetteville. The original plan to extend the plank road from Snow Gamp to Graham was apparently never carried out.

Construction of the Gulf and Graham Road began at Snow Camp in 1853, a long and laborious job which took several years to complete. The road bed was first graded by a method similar to that employed in constructing the modern highway. Light timbers were then placed lengthwise of the road bed on each side of the grading, over which planks from the nearest sawmill were laid crosswise, two inches in thickness and of varying width. Some of the roads of this period were called "washboard roads" because the rounded and bark-covered side of poles formed a jolting surface

* Raleigh Register, August 3, 1849.



over which a wagon could travel. Such a method of road construction is in use today in the sandy section of eastern Carolina.

Mile posts marked every mile along the route between Snow Camp and Fayetteville, and toll stations were erected every seven miles. At the first station a teamster reached on the road he purchased a ticket, paying from two and one-half cents to five cents per mile, depending upon how many horses he had hitched to his wagon and whether or not the wagon was loaded. At the nearest station to the end of his journey he surrendered the tickets. The following information appeared on one of these tickets:




From T'o


Vehicles must pass to the right,

giving half the plank where

they can; exception, hills, the

one going down must give all

the Plank.


John Stafford was president and H. W. Dixon, vice-president of the Gulf and Graham Plank Road Company. Both of these men lived at Snow Camp. Many local citizens owned stock in the road. The old plank road met a very real need of this time by affording a good, solid surface over which heavy loads of flour, pork, tobacco and other products could be hauled to market. Nevertheless, with the collapse of the South's economy during the War Between the States, the Plank Road could not pay expenses, and it was never repaired.


Another important road in ante-bellum days was the one which led from Trolinger's Crossing on Haw River westward to Greensboro and eastward to Hillsboro.

Adam Trolinger, a German immigrant, brought his family to this region and settled on the Haw River in 1747. His son,



Jacob, built a grist mill there a few years later and the site became known as Trolinger's Ford. The grist mill stood where the Proximity Manufacturing Company today operates a cotton mill in the town of Haw River.

Trolinger's grist mill, and, later, the Trolinger cotton mill of Haw River, stood near the present site of Proximity Manufacturing plant, shown above.


From Trolinger's Ford a road was built to the county seat in Hillsboro and later extended westward to Greensboro, a road to which many towns in Alamance, Guilford and Orange counties owe their beginnings.

Two miles below the present village of Saxapahaw and several miles below Trolinger's Ford, there was a second crossing of Haw River known as Wood's Ferry which competed with Trolinger's crossing as an east-west route. The road by Wood's led to Spring Friends' Church, Lindley's Mill and Snow Camp toward Salisbury Both Trollinger's and Wood's were important crossings during the Revolutionary War and later during the War Between the States.

When the North Carolina Railroad began construction of its line through Alamance County in 1850, General Benjamin Trolinger of Haw River exerted his influence to route the railroad through his village. As a result the town of Haw River was born on this site.




Tobacco for the Virginia market became an important crop in this region by 1800. In winter the farmer would load his high-wheeled farm wagon with a thousand pounds of this product and haul it over muddy roads and across treacherous creeks to the Dan or Roanoke Rivers from which it could be shipped by water to markets in Petersburg and Richmond. Later Danville grew into a market three days' wagon trip from Alamance, and Durham, Reidsville, and Greensboro still later provided closer markets.

Because of the good tobacco prices, many farmers were tempted to give more time to this crop than to well-balanced farming methods which would make their farms almost self-supporting. Farm commodities which had to be shipped farther than tobacco were not profitable because of the high freight rates. In 1842 a farmer was charged nine dollars for shipping a 500-pound bale of cotton between Raleigh and Petersburg. As a result many growers raised only what their own families could use.

Writing about his grandfather's freighting business in 1797, an Alamance County descendant states:

"In addition to carrying on his farm, grandfather was engaged in freighting in the old days before the railroad. It was said he kept a number of fine work horses which he made pay for their care by keeping them on the road when not needed on the farm. Products of the farm in those days had to be hauled by wagon to market, where they could be put aboard a sea-going vessel. From these points a return load of merchandise would be carried for the stores of inland towns. Thus the wagons were loaded both going and coming."*

Farm Life

While the farmer performed such routine chores as planting and ploughing, hog-killing and whiskey-making, there were equal tasks for the farm wife. A maiden of that day who could not cook, sew and knit was considered a poor risk by all young men.

Clothing the family was the number one task. If a woolen garment was needed, the wool must be washed and dried, carded

* Beecher, George. Science and Change in Alamance County Life, Elon College 1938.



into rolls, spun into thread, woven into cloth and then dyed. More or less the same process was performed if the fabrics were cotton or flax. With little concern for style or fashion, the farm wife dyed her homespun cloth with bark or herbs and made it into plain but serviceable wearing apparel. Homemade buttons of wood or horn were used by all except the wealthy, who sometimes wore garments with buttons of gold.

Hosiery for winter was knitted from wool, and for summer from cotton. Cloth of several colors was sometimes sewed together to make hosiery of horizontal stripes, but there was no way to make the various designed men's hosiery of today, and women had never heard of silk or rayon hosiery. Young boys and girls went barefoot in summer, but ladies-young and old-dared not show a bare ankle.

Recreation was scarce in farm life, and auctions, barn-raisings and corn-shucking gatherings were treats for every member of the rural family. Wrestling matches, jumping contests, and rifle matches were frequently masculine entertainment at these events. A game called "Rounders," predecessor of modern baseball, was also popular. A player began in left field, and as batsmen retired, played each position until his opportunity came to bat. Pitching horseshoes was popular with young and old.

Hunting was both pleasurable and profitable. Wild turkey, quail, and especially wild pigeons were plentiful. Pigeons frequently alighted on trees in such great flocks that they broke off the limbs, and many were shot by farmers to protect their grain crops. Bear and deer disappeared from the county before this time, of course; but such small game as the beaver, rabbit, squirrel, and opossum could be hunted when the farmer had time.

Camp meetings and patriotic celebrations brought families together occasionally. Later horse-racing and fairs were added to rural life as the county became more modernized.

Unlike the planters of eastern Carolina and the popularized version of the ante-bellum plantation owner, the farmer of Alamance County had few slaves and did much of the work on his place by himself. As indication of the wealth of local farms in



those days, the following inventory is found in the court records of 1800:

"Seven negroes, six horses, 27 cows large and small, 22 sheep, 33 geese, two wagons, two old wagon wheels, 16 and one half bushels of rye, 123 lbs. Iron, 14 small bars Iron, one loom, three beehives, one bag of feathers, one tub of Hemp Seed, a parcel of wool, one gin barrel, one tub of flax seed, one set of Shoe Makers tools, one round table, nine books, one man's saddle, one pair saddle bags, one bar of steel, one set money scales, one cupboard, three flax wheels, seven small tubs, one sugar box, one salt tub and six salt bags, one cake of bees wax, three bells, two shovel ploughs, two iron shovels, one tub of tobacco, one bundle of wagon cloth, one kegg of Tare, a parcel of hogsheads, 58 hogs large and small, 140 barrells of corn . . . cash, notes and accounts, $1,124.76, 1,372 pounds of tobacco."

From a diary kept by Edwin M. Holt of Alamance, the following excerpts reveal a typical picture of farm life in the early nineteenth century:

"April 1 (1844)-commenced laying off corn land-Sent Brother William (who lived and practiced medicine in Lexington) $1,000 in a barrel of flour.

"Mon. March 11-Started both my own wagons to Fayetteville with 20 bbs. of flour.

"Sept. 1-Camp meeting at Providence. Hot and dry.

"Oct. 10-Went to the Whig meeting at the regulation battle ground. About 2500 people-had fine speeches from H. Waddle, G. E. Badger, H. Miller, Jno Kerr & many others. Meeting continued two days & broke up in great harmony.

"Nov. 27-Killed my hogs-31-4463 (lbs) salted down for my own use-and but little old Bacon on hand.

"Dec. 25-Christmas-Beautiful day-Emily (Mrs. Holt) gave birth to a fine Daughter 15 minutes after 9 o'clock in the evening.

"Feb. 13 (1845) Started wagon to Fayetteville with 344 gal. whiskey & 49 lb. butter.

"Aug. 25-Went to Hillsboro. Fine road from Haw River to Hillsboro.

"Sept. 1-Not well-got bled-took med (icine) at night.



"Dec. 20-Verry cold-snowed in the evening-Wagon returned from Fayetteville-got 37 (per gallon for 298 gallons of) whiskey-got 109 in money.

"Sept. 30 (1846)-Warm -weather . . . This has been a very sickly month & many deaths have occurred, so far I have escaped for which I have great cause to be thankful to kind Providence for his tender mercy toward me and my family.

"Dec. 22-Killed 32 Hogs-sold 22 at $5 per head.

"August 13 ( 1847) Bought 75 Bales cotton from C. Faucet at 11 (per lb.)."


Numerous farms, like E. M. Holt's, relied heavily on wheat flour for cash income, so grist mills sprang up, as a matter of course. These mills which turned the grain harvest into barrels of flour were built on convenient streams and operated by water power. Each mill served several farms.

The oldest grist mill still in operation in Alamance County is Dixon's at Snow Camp, built in 1753 and used as the headquarters of General Cornwallis during the Revolutionary War. Although the original beams and stone work of this mill still remain, the old wooden overshot wheel and wooden shaft have been replaced by three turbines which develop about forty-five horsepower.

Fire in 1947 destroyed the 150-year-old Stafford Mill at Kimesville, but it was reconstructed with the lumber from the first Alamance Cotton Mill which was more recently dismantled on Alamance Creek. A steel overshot wheel is used by the Stafford Mill to generate about twelve horsepower for the grinding of grain for local farmers.

One of the latter day grist mills, now operated in conjunction with a saw mill, is found on Stinking Quarter Creek; it has been in operation about fifty years. In 1879 there were forty grist mills and twenty-four saws operating in Alamance County on water power, and as late as 1928 there were 30 mills, dams or mill sites located on the streams of the county.

Two foundries were in operation in this section early in the



1900's, importing pig iron from Richmond and other cities and making farm implements, and later industrial machinery from it.

Edwin M. Holt turned from farming in the year 1837 to manufacturing and brought to Alamance County its first cotton mill and the beginning of the important textile industry of this county today. Twelve years later the people west of Haw River broke away from Orange County and formed Alamance, a county that was already on it way to importance.



Chapter 5

Chapter 11

Chapter 16

Chapter 21

Chapter 1

Chapter 6

Chapter 12

Chapter 17


Chapter 2

Chapter 8

Chapter 13

Chapter 18

Book Index

Chapter 3

Chapter 9

Chapter 14

Chapter 19

Chapter 4

Chapter 10

Chapter 15

Chapter 20