Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Asa T. Spaulding, April 14, 1979. Interview C-0013-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Remembering a hard-working father

Spaulding recalls his father's business interests, recollections that describe some of North Carolina's industries in the twentieth century. His father hunted, owned a sawmill, ran a community store, operated a turpentine still, and owned tar kilns. Spaulding describes how his father extracted tar from pine logs and how he distilled turpentine from tree sap.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Asa T. Spaulding, April 14, 1979. Interview C-0013-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

WALTER WEARE:
We were talking about this distinction between Columbus County and race relations and Durham and race relations, particularly in connection with your father, who ran this hunting camp. Let's recapitulate that. I think that's interesting.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Well my father had a lot of interests. He was a great hunter. He was enterprising. Because, in addition to farming and the principal crops—corn, tobacco, cotton, wheat, and of course peas, that were as cover crops as well as for gathering. From this the pea vines were cut and baled into hay for the feeding of the cattle. Some oats were planted also. And in addition to that, as a hobby, the aforementioned hunting. And in addition was that at one time, he and his half-brother, and his brother-in-law owned a sawmill together, later in life. But prior to that, he operated a general merchandisestore for the community. A community store. You could go there and buy clothes, cloth. A lot of the women did their own sewing, you know, and made what they wore. And he would order bolts of cloth from Wilmington, North Carolina. And he'd buy the flour by the barrels, sugar, all of the groceries, all of the staple foods. And it was a general merchandisestore. In other words, you could go there and get whatever you needed.
WALTER WEARE:
Was this just a country store out in the rural area? Not in town?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
No, not in town. He was at the crossroads, coming from another section—I guess about seven miles. A crossroads between Whiteville, North Carolina on the Coastline, which was south of where we lived, and Rosindale, which was on the Seaboard Railroad. We had the Seaboard Railroad on one side and the Atlantic Coastal on the other. Whiteville, which was the county seat of Columbus County, was about nine miles from the intersection of these crossroads where we lived. And his store was on what would be the northwest corner of the intersection. It was between five and six miles from there to Rosindale, which was the Seaboard Coastal Railroad. Rosindale was the station stop where we would take around the…sell, getting a little ahead here. He also operated a turpentine still. North Carolina is a great turpentine state. The turpentine was distilled and converted into rosin. And of course the liquid spirits of turpentine that you would buy in grocery stores, and can still buy, was another by product that came from this distillery. And, in addition to that, he had tar kilns. Of course he'd get people to help build these kilns, usually from heart pine. The longleaf pines in particular. And it was a circular kind of a thing, like some of the mud huts that you find in these foreign countries. It was cut in sections of about eight feet, these logs. And these sections were split just like you split cord wood today. And they were laid around in a circular fashion. And there was a pit at the center of this kiln. So when the kiln was lighted and the wood would burn slowly, the tar from the pit in the center, and channels led it out. They'd gather it on the outside. And when you laid this wood in that fashion, and covered it with pine straw, and then covered that with dirt. So it would be a slow process of sweating the tar out of the wood. In fact, there was so much of that done in North Carolina at that time, it became known as the Tarheel State during the Civil War, I think it was.
WALTER WEARE:
To whom would he sell all these products?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
He would take it to Rosindale. I think that's the reason that railraod station got its name, because it was a center for selling rosin. And shipping it to Wilmington. The merchant there would buy it, the rosin and turpentine, and ship it to Wilmington.
WALTER WEARE:
Would many of the farmers in this colored community do the same thing? Would they have a turpentine business?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
He was the only one who had the distillery for it.
WALTER WEARE:
Would other farmers bring their products to him?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
They'd bring it there. So with those different activities going on, I always had an interest in seeing how it was done, and being a part of it. Even though I was only five or six years when he started with that kind of thing. [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
ASA T. SPAULDING:
In addition to tar, there was another industry, the turpentine industry, in North Carolina, in which my father participated. And the process of gathering the turpentine, you would chip what you call chip boxes in the trees. What you did there was, you would cut a container into the tree cup-like, semi-circular on the outer rim, and, or course, in the form of container into the tree. And then at the beginning of that, you'd have what you call the chipper, where you'd chip the sap from the tree. The process is similar to the rubber plantations in Liberia today. Same principal in turpentine. And you'd have period, when you start that chipper, to go around weekly, and go up another section. And that turpentine would drain into that box that you had cut into the tree. And the collectors would come around with their buckets periodically. They knew just about how many days where that box would be filled. And would dip the turpentine out of the box and go on to another tree, and so forth.