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Enchanted by Tobacco: John Cameron

According to writer John D. Cameron, tobacco "throws its spell of enchantment over all mankind." Whether you're enchanted or just interested in the history of this important cash crop in North Carolina, Cameron's guide, A Sketch of Tobacco Interests in North Carolina (1881) offers a vivid introduction.

In this Sketch, Cameron celebrates tobacco's role in the Tar Heel state both as an agricultural staple and a manufactured item. He discusses tobacco marketing, the grading system, cultivation issues and processes, as well as seed and soil quality. He also advises growers on topics such as planting dates. He writes, for example, "Plants set out after the 10th of July rarely pay for growing and handling, and if not planted by that time it will be wise to plant the hills in peas, potatoes or something else."

Cameron's Sketch of Tobacco Interests in North Carolina was written during the post-Reconstruction period—a time when tobacco manufacturing was expanding throughout the state and which saw similar industrialization of textiles and furniture. By the turn of the twentieth century, tobacco factories, textile mills, lumber mills, and furniture plants became hubs of the local communities just as plantations had been in the antebellum era. Industrialists would replace planters as the state's new economic, political, and social rulers.

Cameron was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina on October 26, 1820. He graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1841 and served as a lieutenant colonel in the Confederate Army. He later became a journalist, working as editor of the Hillsboro Recorder, Raleigh News, and Durham Recorder. In 1874, he was elected Principal Clerk of the North Carolina General Assembly (then the House of Representatives) and served in this position for six terms. He was a UNC trustee from 1877-1891, and he died in Asheville on December 9, 1897.

A Sketch of Tobacco Interests in North Carolina is part of "The North Carolina Experience, Beginnings to 1940" digital collection, which contains a wide variety of print and manuscript materials that tell the story of the Tar Heel State.

Jennifer L. Larson