Tobacco-Mecklenburg’s cash crop

Gray sisters: Martha Moseley, Dolly Taylor & Nannie Kidd (from Jim Kidd)

I love this picture of 3 sisters linked arm in arm. I think they look adorable! I like to imagine from the way they look here that they were friends, and stood by each other through both good times and tough times. This is the only picture I know of, with my Virginia family on a farm. Tobacco was a huge part of their life. Peanuts, squash and sweet potatoes were also important crops. There was often a huge kitchen garden for the family near the house. They ate what they grew. Obvious to farmers, but not so obvious to me who grew up in cities and rarely saw family vegetable gardens. This picture was probably taken in Mecklenburg about 110 years ago. In the late 1890s, Nannie Gray Kidd remained in Bracey, her siblings moved to Danville, VA. Martha and Dolly (pictured) lived in Danville at the time of this picture, but as they lived in the city; I’m assuming Martha and Dolly came to visit Nannie in Mecklenburg when this picture was taken in the early 1910’s.

2007 Lindbergh Tudor

Lindbergh Tudor told me his hair was always a mess as a young boy, even in school pictures. He explained there was usually sticky tar in his hair from working in the tobacco fields and it hurt to comb that out. He also designed his wagon to work well with transporting tobacco leaves. He made spaces between slats to hold tools, which was also a good width to tie tobacco leaves to the slats. I love the inventiveness of farmers! I really enjoy meeting farmers and asking about their farms’ history.

2004 Mary Walker & sister Pearl. Farmed tobacco in LaCrosse

Mary Walker told me that as a young girl, her large family lined up in the field. The youngest children held bundles of tobacco leaves together, while the older children tied the leaves together. Teenage siblings carried the tied stalks to the wagon. They all had various jobs. They also helped and worked together with their neighbors, who were often close relatives.

I was repeatedly told that picking off hornworms and tar that stuck to them, were their least favorite part of tobacco farming; that and being exasperated with the heat and humidity . Some people told me it was their job to squash & kill hornworms to save their family crops. Those are huge, fat, scary, gross looking bugs! I’m glad I’ve never had that job!

tobacco barn

Most people I’ve interviewed from Mecklenburg told me tobacco was their cash crop, and a big part of Mecklenburg’s history and economy. I’ve heard some tobacco was hung to dry, in taller barns. I found this shorter barn pictured above near Boydton. Growing up a city girl, I’d never seen a structure like this before. I took a picture to show people and ask what it was used for. I was told the tobacco was cured differently with this type of barn. Sort of smoked dry to cure it before a lot of the crop was lost to humidity. People told me this was where Brunswick stew was big. The curing process took several days and lots of hands. People camped around the barn during this harvest and enjoyed Brunswick stew.

I’ve been asking everyone I meet for interviews about their chores when they were children. Everyone tells me farming was hard and exhausting work, even at a young age. But it was necessary for survival, to have enough food to eat, and keep the farms running. There was no big equipment, they farmed (and often still farm) with simple tools “the old fashioned way”. Not many had tractors, because they couldn’t afford it. Everyone had to work long hours with shovels, hoes, resourcefulness and as a team effort. People told me they understood why a lot of their kids and grand kids didn’t want to continue farming. They could get more money and have their finances more secure with other types of jobs. Old farms, older farming methods, and their stories are starting to disappear. So I want to preserve and share as many stories and pictures as I can find.

Do you have pictures or stories about your family farming? What were your family’s cash crops? Comment below, even if not from Mecklenburg. If you have a Mecklenburg related farming picture you’re willing to share, please let me know! I’d love to post it on this site.

tobacco barn for hanging tobacco (Brunswick VA 2006)