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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John W. Snipes, November 20, 1976. Interview H-0098-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Network between farmers, tenant farmers, and store owners

Snipes describes the network between farmers, tenant farmers, and store owners (such as Atwater and Lambeth) in Chatham County that operated during the 1920s. The conditions of mutual dependency he describes here are in large measure responsible for his decision to leave farming in 1929 because it had become increasingly difficult to make a profit.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John W. Snipes, November 20, 1976. Interview H-0098-2. 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

BRENT GLASS:
You said you had tenants.
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Yes sir.
BRENT GLASS:
About how many during that time?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Well, at one time there was about three on the place, I believe after my father moved down here. There was about three left, and then one of them moved off. It got down to two, and then it got down to one.
BRENT GLASS:
They would farm some of your land and you'd take a percentage of their crops? Is that how it worked?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Yes sir. A third and fourth: a third of the grain, I believe, and a fourth of the…. Sometimes we furnished mules; they plowed with our mules. But sometimes they owned their own mules. It would depend on which a'way. Then we'd have to stand for the fertilizer and buy the fertilizer, and sort of look after them.
BRENT GLASS:
In order to get your money for fertilizer and seed and things like that would you have to borrow money?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Well, Atwater and Lambeth here had a big company store. After we got our land broke in the spring (in other words, we had started a crop) we could come down here and say, "Now Mr. Atwater, we want a ton of fertilizer 'til middle of November 'til we sell some cotton." We could buy it on credit. They furnished everybody for fertilizer, almost, around here.
BRENT GLASS:
What if you had a bad crop one year and couldn't pay? What would happen?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
That's the reason that Atwater and Lambeth went broke. [Laughter] They had thousands of little old mortgages. And when it did flunk, maybe if a man splurged a little and had a big farm and bought $300 worth of fertilizer, well that's still on the books now and ain't never been paid. They had a mortgage on an old cow, maybe, a mortgage on two mules. And the old mule's dead and the cow's dead. Atwater and Lambeth was a big corporation at one time. They owned the cotton mill and the grist mill.
BRENT GLASS:
Did they own the cotton mill too?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
I mean the cotton gin, the J. Modell cotton gin. They ginned cotton and made corn meal and flour and all like that. Well, Mr. J. B. Atwater of the firm of Atwater and Lambeth, at one time he kept the whole time for the cotton mill on top of that. He kept the labor time.