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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 >>

Establishing roots as an exceptional tobacco auctioneer

Stewart describes how his first big opportunity to work as a tobacco auctioneer came around 1960 when Burt Moore let him sell several rows of tobacco at his warehouse in Henderson, North Carolina. Within a few years, Stewart had gained experience selling tobacco in warehouses in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. His ambition piqued, Stewart began to carve out a decisive niche, seeking to master the biggest centers of tobacco sales, ranging from Greenville and Wilson, North Carolina, to Lexington, Kentucky.

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

My Daddy, he always hauled tobacco for different farmers. So, he loaded up two big truckloads of tobacco and went to Henderson. I went with him. We had a guy that worked with us on the farm. He'd always start [unclear] out on the farm, you know. I got to Henderson. I got all of it: men working the warehouse, which was labor. Early that morning everything got quiet and I went on across the row. There weren't no tobacco buyers. They were pretending they were. There were blacks, whites, them both and going down that row—. Really at that time, you know, you didn't see black tobacco buyers. We went down the first row. I was selling tobacco and we were just like a tobacco sale. Well, when I come out at the end of the row — this was early in the morning — this gentleman was standing there looking at me with his arms crossed, like this [GSC demonstrates]. I stopped. He said, "Come here, young man." He says, "Look, I was sitting down there in the office. I thought the tobacco sale had started." He says, "I'm Burt Moore, I own the warehouse." I thought he was going to get on me for doing that, you know? He says, "Son, I'm glad, you sound good. Have you ever thought about being an auctioneer?" I say, "Yeah, I have sold a few rows of tobacco, Mr. Moore." He says, "Well, I'll tell you what, you can sell a row of tobacco in this warehouse today." I say, "Yeah, I can." He says, "Yeah." I said, "My dad got a bunch of tobacco here on the floor. We put in on last night." He said, "Mr. Stewart?" I said, "Yes." He said, "He's your Daddy?" He says, "Well, there ain't no problem. You can sell tobacco rows today." He put me in the sale. I sold down there. I was way off. Well, the people that I knew weren't looking at me so I did a pretty good job. I went on down and sold to the corner of the row and stopped by the line there was a lady sitting up there in the front selling tobacco. She said, "MY god." [She] told Mr. Moore, "Let that young man sell my tobacco." I was going to get out. He carried me on to the end of the row. I got to the end of the row. He says, "You go on back and sell to the other end." I sold back to the other end. He said, "Young man, let me tell you something. Anytime you want to sell a row in this warehouse, you can. Anytime you come up here, you can sell tobacco." He said, "You're going to be a good auctioneer." I said, "Thanks." Well, I kept right on until they hired me to pitch hit. They took me to Georgia. A man that I trained with took me to Georgia with him. I worked down there, came on back to Smithfield and worked with him and he would let me sell tobacco. In Georgia, now, his brother was down there selling tobacco and the last day he sent him home and then him stayed over to Monday and they were closing the barn. He let me be the auctioneer on Monday because he run the sale. It wasn't but a few piles of tobacco. It wasn't much, but I sold it. So I come on back and I got a job in Dillon, South Carolina, as a relief officer. These jobs was offered to me that I didn't ask for. They say, "We want you." In Smithfield I come back and I had a job relieving Jimmy Jollet. Jimmy made the decision to move. Smithfield market, that's home. They said, "You just as good as anybody as come out of here to try this job, but you're awful young." He said, "I'm sure we need to hire somebody. You work with us one more year and I think you'll be ready to go." Well, they didn't hire me and my dad was going to Greenville to sell a little tobacco. He said, "I want you to go down there with me." So, I left Smithfield. I went with him to Greenville and I got to sell some tobacco out of a—. The man told me the first day, "I want you to come back tomorrow." We didn't have a tobacco [sale] that day. He said "If you were to come back down here for the next five days — there were five sets in that town — and sell tobacco, I'll pay your expense. If you want to come down and stay five days, I'll pay all of your expenses." So, the warehouseman done that. He says, "I'm interested in hiring you," and he did. He ended up hiring me to sell tobacco in Greenville which—. That was a big market.
That's pretty far to go, too.
Well, I was living in Smithfield. I went to Georgia and sold there a year and then came back to Greenville. Mr. Dixon Wallace told me, he said, "You know, Sherwood, Greenville's a big market. Most auctioneers start on a little market and go up to big markets. But you're starting your first job on a five set market." He said, "I'm just—. I feel for you." He said, "It's tougher than it is on a smaller market." I said, "Well, you know Mr. Wallace, the man offered to hire me. It's his own doing. They hired me to sell tobacco there and I'm going there to sell tobacco and do my best." I went there and sold it. I came back to Smithfield and he said, "How did you get along in Greenville?" I said, "Just fine." I said, "I had no problem at all." I said, "You know, I believe it's better to sell in a big market than in a little one." He said, "You know something, we should have hired you in Smithfield." It almost happened. He was trying to hire me back from Greenville. Then I got another job in Greenville, a better job.