I am maybe 12 or 13. It’s late summer, eastern North Carolina broiling summer, and I am whining to be allowed to hop on a truck at dawn and spend my days “cropping” tobacco. Some of my friends are going to do it, and it sounds like fun? My father laughs this away. No. My friends lasted a day, two days, then toppled from sun or nicotine poisoning or monstrous tobacco worms. I am still thanking him.
East to west, the tobacco industry dominated North Carolina’s economic life for much of the 20th century. Though I honor their memory, there is no way to list everyone in my family who raised tobacco or labored in its fields. They number in the thousands. However, here are some who worked to prepare the Golden Weed for market or manufacture, mostly in the cavernous brick warehouses and factory buildings that stretched for blocks across southeast Wilson:
Eugene Stockton, Statesville NC – husband of Ida Colvert Stockton Stockton; tobacco roller at tobacco factory, circa 1910.
Mary Barnes Jones, Wilson NC – stemmer, tobacco factory, 1910s.
Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver, Wilson NC – occasional tobacco factory worker, 1910s-1920s.
William I. Barnes, Wilson NC – husband of Madie Taylor Barnes; laborer, Export Leaf Tobacco Company, circa 1918.
Watt Kilpatrick, Winston-Salem NC – husband of Lizzie McNeely Kilpatrick Long; shape puller, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, circa 1918.
Sylvester Watson, Wilson NC – tobacco worker, circa 1920.
Elnora Artis, Norfolk VA – stemmer, tobacco factory, circa 1920.
Hattie Artis Johnson, Norfolk VA – stemmer, tobacco factory, circa 1920.
Sylvester Barnes, Wilson NC – tobacco factory worker, circa 1936.
Eliza Taylor Taylor, Wilson NC – tobacco factory worker.
Jordan T. Taylor, Wilson NC – husband of Eliza T. Taylor; tobacco warehouse worker.
James Beasley, Greensboro NC — husband of Doris Holt Beasley; P.J. Lorillard employee, 1950s-1980s.
James W. Cooper, Wilson NC – husband of A. Alberta Artis Cooper; fireman, Jas.I. Miller tobacco company, 1960s.
From the 1913 Sanborn Fire Insurance maps of Wilson, North Carolina.