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  • Notes on the Turpentine Trade

  • Further Notes


The production and selling of turpentine didn’t matter very much to the average early settlers. They would have had to own many acres of pine woods but, the early ones just weren’t wealthy enough.

Usually those who did the work of gathering and cooking the resin were very poor and unskilled for other work. Around the turn of the century, many men from the Carolinas, predominately blacks, arrived to work in the growing turpentine industry. The men lived in shacks in a "turpentine camp," and traded at the company store. They went home for several weeks each year during the Christmas holidays.

Usually the average pioneers did not work in the turpentine industry, as it required more skilled workers such as woods riders, foremen, stillers, coopers, commissary clerk, etc. These men enjoyed a good income from this and their families prospered.

Most of the time landowners leased their acreage for three year contracts to a company that hired hands to work in the woods and at their turpentine still. Building a turpentine still and hiring a stiller and a cooper to make barrels, and keeping a commissary was expensive and was the responsibility of the company who leased the land.

Lois B. Mays


Further notes on Turpentine:

Many families charged their “bought” groceries and clothes at the General Mercantile Store and paid at the end of the year or after the cotton or tobacco was sold. Many paid on the bill during the year by bringing young chickens and dozens of eggs to the grocer, who bought them and deleted the amount they would have paid, from the total owed.  The store sold live chickens to  the housewives in the towns.  Many farmers brought bushels of sweet potatoes or cords of wood to town to pay the doctor bill, or for the newspaper subscription, etc.

The Waycross Reporter, 2-2-1889: We’re informed that the first turpentining done in the state was in this county [Charlton]. It was carried on extensively before the War, on the Satilla and St. Marys Rivers. After the close of the War and the building of the road [railroad] from Waycross to Jacksonville, the business rapidly expanded into the interior till 4/5 of the county is now boxed.

Waycross Headlight, 11-30-1887:  Captain W.W. Milliken of Racepond shipped 2800 casks spirits of turpentine last year. Though the Captain runs two stills he will not get through with the distillation of his scrape until about the first of March.

Savannah Morning News, 6-13-1895:  Cole & Covington’s turpentine plant, including their mules and teams and lease of turpentine timber, were sold at public outcry at Traders Hill Tuesday and bought by Messrs. Peacock, Hunt & Co. for $5,000.00. Several prominent attorneys were present looking after other claims of C.C. Grace and Mr. McNeil on the property that was sold.

These companies were some of the earliest in Charlton County. There were  others as well.

When turpentine workers traded at the company commissary, they bought food, like beans, fatback, rice, coffee, etc. and charged it. Then on payday, the clerk totaled up everything they had charged, subtracted it from money they were to receive for their work, and paid the workers the balance. 

See article by Terry Dickson on the life of a turpentine worker in the June 11, 1984 issue of the Fla. Times-Union.

from DeBrahm's Report
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