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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with G. Sherwood Stewart, September 21, 2002. Interview R-0194. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Determined to become a tobacco auctioneer

Stewart explains how it was that he came to be a tobacco auctioneer. The son of a tobacco tenant farmer, Stewart had grown up spending time in tobacco barns and at tobacco sales. When he was ten, he first saw a tobacco auctioneer at work and determined that he would one day follow suit. Here, he describes how his father's friend, C.E. "Snoxic" Stevenson, a noted tobacco auctioneer in the area, taught him the craft and how auctioneer Jimmy Jollet also helped him get his foot in the door. Stewart sold his first tobacco (his father's) at the age of fifteen and had become a regular auctioneer by the time he was in his late teens.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with G. Sherwood Stewart, September 21, 2002. Interview R-0194. 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

SALLY PETERSON:
Mr. Stewart made a lot of contributions in our panel discussion this morning, so we're following up with an interview. I want to thank you, and I was hoping you would tell me a little bit about your career as an auctioneer and how you got into it and where you came up and what's your story?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Well, first, I was born and raised in Smithfield, North Carolina, Johnston County. My daddy was a tobacco farmer, tenant farmer. Raised on the farm, just a little country boy. And uh, he would go to sell tobacco, probably I was ten years old. When he went to sell tobacco, I went with him. It just fascinated me: the auctioneer would go down the row selling tobacco. It just — at the age of ten! A lot of people [they may say] that couldn't have happened. Yes, they did happen. I, uh, my Dad was a friend of a tobacco auctioneer that was doing the auction that day. And uh, everywhere this auctioneer was at, my Dad would sell tobacco. He liked him. They were good friends, and uh, I came back home that day and well, I guess it was about the first time I visited a tobacco sale— I'd say pretty near close, anyway. I told my Dad, riding back home—. He let me stay at the warehouse until the sale was over. I followed right behind him, looking. I told my Dad, I said, "Dad, I believe I'll be a tobacco auctioneer." He said, "Oh, son, now that's a whole lot now to learn and how can you do that?" I said, "I'll try." I began to try to make a chant, do the chant, at that age. I'd go home and I'd practice and do everything else. This guy that was auctioneering, we'll say he was a friend of my Daddy, he'd come by our house and visit. My Daddy told him, "That boy of mine went to see you sell tobacco and he just got it in him. He's trying to auctioneer everything around. He sold everything that's around here." He told me, though, he chanted off, you know. Well, I didn't know what I was doing but I was making the fuss he was making, but, oh, it went on and uh I kept right on continuing to do it, going to tobacco sales. I was about fourteen. I was fourteen years old. This man started a tobacco auctioneering school. He came to my house and I was the first one signed up. He said, "I'm going to sign that kid up in that school." He said, "I'm going to make a tobacco auctioneer out of him." His name was C.E. Stevenson. They called him Snoxic Stevenson. He would come out and he would mess with me. So he started a school! I went to school! I think it was six or seven weeks, something like that. We put baskets on the floor and practiced. I think there was thirty-two of us in that school. I was the youngest one in it. There was someone about forty years old there. Some of them seemed to think, you know, later on, said like, "Well, he'll probably be the auctioneer. He's so young. He's determined." I became fifteen years old before the tobacco market opened. I went with my Daddy to sell tobacco again. Snoxic came by and he said, "Look son, when we get to your Daddy's tobacco I'm going to let you sell it." He said, "You can do it." I said, "Well, look—." He said, "You come on over and you get right behind me and you watch everything I do. When we get there, I'm going to let you sell it." Now imagine a fifteen-year-old kid getting into a tobacco sale. [I don't know what I thought of everything he did?]. So we got to the pile. He stopped and he told the tobacco buyers, "I'm going to let this kid sell tobacco. I've had him at auctioning school and this is his Daddy's tobacco." He said, "Y'all help him." They didn't probably want me to sell someone else's tobacco, but Daddy said, "All right you can sell this." So I got in there and I was scared to death. Really, I was shaking. But something happened that day. Back those days, tobacco buyers, everybody wore cuffs in their pants, you know, and one of these tobacco buyers had an artificial leg. And he hopped. I was just shaking so bad, and scared at trying to sell it. He was trying to help me, but something happened. His britches leg caught on fire, while I was selling tobacco. And [unclear] and said he called the fire truck. Said Johnny Map's peg wooden leg is on fire. He said he had a wooden leg and it was on fire and he was going to burn up. And so, they stopped and he put it out. Everything was ok. It took the fright off of me. Everybody got to laughing at him and I went on and done a pretty good job. [I] sold [my first tobacco] that afternoon.
SALLY PETERSON:
So, he helped you out all right!
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
And I got out with Daddy's tobacco — sold good. They did. They helped me out. When we got through I got to go on back to the warehouse and they — every now and then — they put me in and let me sell a little bit of tobacco. Daddy's [tobacco], anyway. Every time he sold tobacco, I'd get in there and sell it, you know.
SALLY PETERSON:
You bet. That's so neat. He must have loved that.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Well, Daddy, he really wanted me to be a tobacco auctioneer. My mother wanted me to be a preacher. But, I'd get in there and I'd go down the row and I'd sell and I got better and better at it, you know? I got right much better. Well this gentleman who was here today was Jimmy Jollet. You remember him?
SALLY PETERSON:
Oh yes, very well.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
He sold tobacco in Smithfield. I said, I didn't know, uh, who was—. I didn't probably think there was but two tobacco auctioneers in the world: Snoxic Steveson and Jimmy Jollet. So I go up to Jimmy Jollet and some of the tobacco buyers on the sale said, "Jimmy, you got an auctioneer back there." Well, he looked back at me and went on. I'm a kid. Finally he let me sell a row of tobacco. I would go back to Jimmy and that's what I told him the other day. I said, "The farmer don't want you to sell his tobacco because you're learning how, see, and a lot of the warehousemen hate to put you in there because it might make the farmer mad." But Jimmy someway or another found out how to get me into the sale. I'd go up there just to let him put me in the sale and he got to doing it more and more, you know, as I was getting better. I got where I could sell tobacco pretty good. I got to visiting the other markets. I even went to Henderson and came to Durham, here, and got to sell some. I just, at a younger age—. I started selling tobacco young.
SALLY PETERSON:
You were young. By the time you were working with Jimmy and by the time you started visiting the other [markets], like Henderson, how old were you then?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Still in my teens — eighteen, nineteen. I think I was about twenty-one years old when I started selling regular.