I love research! Not only do I learn many fascinating and cool facts about my subject, I usually take numerous rabbit trails and learn all sorts of things I hadn't anticipated. Such is the case with the new historical novel I'm working on. While researching life in America after the stock market crash of 1929, I discovered the existence of Turpentine Camps in the south during the 1930s. I'd never heard of these camps nor did I know manufacturing turpentine was a booming industry that used slave labor prior to the Civil War and forced labor afterward.
To understand the importance of turpentine products and why these camps existed, we have to go back in history.
In 1720, when America was still under British rule, the English Parliament enacted a bounty to encourage colonists to engage in the industry of "naval stores" -- products made from the sap of trees, including turpentine. These products were used in building and maintaining wooden sailing ships: Tar kept ropes and sail rigging from decaying, and rosin, or pitch, was used to caulk the seams between timbers in the ships' hulls. For this reason, turpentine products were called "naval stores." Naval stores would have been used on nearly everything we see in this picture of a British Man-of-War. In order to meet the high demand for naval stores, Parliament looked to the colonies rather than rely on Russia, the only other country producing large quantities of naval stores. By the 1770s, the production of naval stores was widespread in Eastern North Carolina where forests of longleaf pine existed.
Turpentine also had medicinal uses that date back to the Romans who used it to treat depression. Naval surgeons during the Age of Discovery injected hot turpentine into wounds, medics used it to try and stop heavy bleeding, and Colonists used it as a laxative. Snake Oil peddlers claimed concoctions that contained turpentine could cure many ailments, including rheumatism, whooping cough, and croup. Today, turpentine, or the spirits of turpentine, is still listed as an ingredient in good ol' Vick's VapoRub. During the 19th century, a blend of ethanol and turpentine called camphine served as the dominant lamp fuel until the arrival of kerosene.
As you can see, turpentine products were in high demand for many reasons. In order to create these highly-sought naval stores, resin from trees--specifically longleaf pine--is collected and distilled. The work was dangerous and difficult. First, Chevron-shaped gashes were carved into pine trees. Next, metal sleeves were inserted, and pots and barrels were put into place to catch the sap when it ran from early spring through October. Slave labor--men, women, and children--was used to harvest the sap until slavery was abolished after the Civil War.
|The Convict Leasing System lasted in Florida from 1875 to 1923.|
Your turn. Have you heard of turpentine camps? Do you use turpentine and for what purpose? I'm curious now that I know so much about it!
Michelle Shocklee is the award-winning author of The Planter's Daughter and The Widow of Rose Hill. Her historical novella set in the New Mexico Territory is included in The Mail-Order Brides Collection. Michelle and her husband of thirty-two years make their home in Tennessee. Connect with her at www.MichelleShocklee.com.
THE WIDOW OF ROSE HILL
Widowed during the war, Natalie Ellis finds herself solely responsible for Rose Hill plantation. When Union troops arrive with a proclamation freeing the slaves, all seems lost. How can she run the plantation without slaves? In order to save her son’s inheritance she strikes a deal with the arrogant, albeit handsome, Colonel Maish. In exchange for use of her family’s property, the army will provide workers to bring in her cotton crop. But as her admiration for the colonel grows, a shocking secret is uncovered. Can she trust him with her heart and her young, fatherless son?