RAISING TOBACCO IN BERTIE COUNTY

Tobacco was an important cash crop for small farmers in early Bertie County. It was hard work, and these pictures and words will give you a feeling for it. [We welcome others stories as well]

Tobacco Barn
The men in the field are "primers", they break off the leaves that are turning yellow and put them in the tobacco sleigh that the mule is pulling.

Tobacco Barn
The tobacco then went to the barn where the "handers" put 3 leaves together and handed it to a "looper" who tied it onto a tobacco stick. The stick hangs on a "looping horse". This is the way tobacco was harvested until a farmer could afford a tractor to take the place of the mule. In Bertie the mule was used until the middle 1950's. I drove the mule for my Daddy to harvest tobacco and corn.
This way of harvesting tobacco is obsolete now.
Tobacco Barn
Thank you, Kay, for sharing these postcards from your Mother.
Stories Shared on our Bertie List
Down at the baccer barn the person who took the leaves off the truck were "handin' baccer" (children got 25 cents an hour, adults got 50 cents) the person who was attaching it to the sticks for curing was "stringing" or "looping" the guys in the field were the "croppers" after it was cured it went into the "pack house" where it was "tied" or "bundled" by hand so it could be taken to market.
I have a chair which was my greatgrandmother's pack-house chair .. it has a goat skin seat, and the legs were sawed off because she was a very short person ... one of my favorite possessions.
Shared by Bev

When I came along in Nash County, we got $3 a day for handing, $4 a day for loopers, and $5 a day for primers or croppers. That was a typical 12 hour day. We got up early to take out a barn, catch and harness the mules, eat breakfast and be ready to go to the fields no later than 7am. We often had to hang it up to dark. I have even had to hang it by lantern. I hated it so much, I've never smoked any. Couldn't wait to leave. Now I enjoy riding thru the country when the tobacco is growing and look at it. It still reminds me of the torture I went thru.

As a child (under 10 years of age and until I was 13), I helped my grandfather for several weeks during the summer. It was hard sweaty backbreaking work for darned little money. I hated it but that's where I got my "education." You learned a lot about life from just handing tobacco while the women talked about men. The things they would say in front of a child....I blush to remember.

I grew up helping my aunt and uncle farm tobacco. As Carol said, we called it putting in tobacco. I started just as the hand held version was on the way out. My uncle had what was called a luper. It would sew the tobacco together on the stick. It was laid out like an assembly line. I have cropped, topped, and suckered tobacco. I have cropped on foot, on a harvester, and got out before the automatic harvesters became commonplace. I have hung tobacco, and poked tobacco, and just about everything else there is you can do in tobacco. We would sometimes get up early, and take out tobacco. Stuff it in the bags and then go out to the fields and start the whole nasty process all over again. Puttin in tobacco is some of the hardest work that I have ever done, and hope to never have to do again.

Another Contributor writes:
I grew up in Moore Co but all the many Matthews familes that had been transplanted (no pun intended) from Wilson Co had huge tobacco allotments. I'm not but 50 but I vividly remember my dad offering me an extra $.10/hour to jump off the old Farmall tractor and help up the primer that was behind. It was just like in most businesses and often in schools, the movement in the fields was dictated by the slowest primer. It was my job to keep this person(s) up so we could finish faster. I was 7 and driving the tractor in the field. By age 9, I was allowed to be the barn driver and my younger brother got to be the field driver.
By age 12, my dad gave me an acre of the 30 acre allotment that was mine. All tobacco off that acre was looped onto my tobacco sticks that I had dipped the ends into a gallon of red paint so we could tell my tobacco from his when it was cured and ready for the market. By age 15, we had 3000 laying hens and several pigs, and ran two small grocery stores. We often opened the doors on a barn of tobacco on Saturday night after it finished so that the morning dew would have it ready for "take out" early (4:00 AM) on Sunday morning before going to church. After church we gathered the 2,000 eggs which by this time were mine.
With the hot weather we are having now, I couldn't imagine going back in the field to pull "sandluds" (the bottom primers). I'm sure the "money would jump on my back". When a primer would rise up with a pain in his back and groan from the constant bending and priming, all the primers would almost chant in unison about the monkey is about to get him.
Some of best memories of both grandfathers as a child was going to the market on the large farm truck we had . I once rode on the back of the truck to GA on a pile of tobacco that we were taking to the market. We couldn't afford to wait for the Eastern Belt or the Middle belt to open because we needed this money to pay for the help to get in the next barn.
In my Mom's basement we still have the old grading bench where my grandmother would sit and grade and tie tobacco for the market. Altough it hasn't had tobacco on it for 30 years, I still can rub it and smell the tobacco aroma that was absorbed into the wood.
It is times like that and visiting old cemeteries where you have relatives that we you haven't seen or can only imagine the troubled times they experienced that make the effort to collect data for your background worthwhile. That's genealogy for me. Shared by: Larry M Matthews

These stories were shared on our Bertie List.

Beginning the Crop of Tobacco
Picking plant beds before I was big enough to know the weeds from the plants.I watched Mom sew the plant bed cloth together,while standing behind the sewing machine holding on to the net cloth as it came thru the needle so the cloth would not wad up . I use to say ,"Moma you are going 90 miles an hour on that machine!!!".
I use to pull the plants,and either peg them in the long rows daddy had made. Or drop the plants in the transplanter,that daddy would be holding and also carry water to put in the planter if it was dry weather. Then the hoeing job came. And the picking all the worms off the tobacco as it grew, sucker and top the tobacco. Then the priming it. I never did that part,but I drove the truck that brought the tobacco to the barn shelter where we looped and hung it in the racks.Another Contributor:
Picking plant beds before I was big enough to know the weeds from the plants.I watched Mom sew the plant bed cloth together,while standing behind the sewing machine holding on to the net cloth as it came thru the needle so the cloth would not wad up . I use to say ,"Moma you are going 90 miles an hour on that machine!!!".
I use to pull the plants,and either peg them in the long rows daddy had made. Or drop the plants in the transplanter,that daddy would be holding and also carry water to put in the planter if it was dry weather. Then the hoeing job came..And the picking all the worms off the tobacco as it grew. sucker and top the tobacco, Then the priming it. I never did that part,but I drove the truck that brought the tobacco to the barn shelter where we looped and hung it in the racks,Another Contributor:
Picking plant beds before I was big enough to know the weeds from the plants.I watched Mom sew the plant bed cloth together,while standing behind the sewing machine holding on to the net cloth as it came thru the needle so the cloth would not wad up . I use to say ,"Moma you are going 90 miles an hour on that machine!!!".
I use to pull the plants,and either peg them in the long rows daddy had made. Or drop the plants in the transplanter,that daddy would be holding and also carry water to put in the planter if it was dry weather. Then the hoeing job came..And the picking all the worms off the tobacco as it grew. sucker and top the tobacco, Then the priming it. I never did that part,but I drove the truck that brought the tobacco to the barn shelter where we looped and hung it in the racks.
Then came the hanging it in the barn,and the week long curing it. We use to roast corn in the edge of the furnace where wood was fed to cure the tobacco. First thing on Monday AM. Daddy would wake me up at 2:30 and me and him would go to the barn and take out the whole barn of tobacco. Daddy would go in the top of the barn and I would stand on the bottom tiers when he handed me 2 sticks of cured tobacco at the time. I would hang them on the 2nd row. When he had all the tobacco off the top tiers I would get on the grown and he would hand me the sticks and I would lay them on the truck to take to the pack house.
We would get thru about day light,eat breakfast and be ready for another long day of primming, looping and hanging again. My brothers were all in the service[WW2] so I was the oldest to help Daddy. I was 13,14,and 15 years then. I hated it.
Then came the grading and tying up the tobacco to sell,This didn't interfer with the picking cotten,pulling corn, picking veggies to eat and can for winter.Well I soon got out of farming I got married at 16 to a sailer[ my brothers best friend from Leaksville NC] I figured they didn't know about tobacco up here. Daddy said his right arm left home and that was the last year he farmed. At 45 he got his first public job with Cone Mills at Smithfield. My husband was not a farmer,he drove a truck. So I never had to worry about tobacco again. I still like to have a little garden. Children today don't know what work is!!! Boy, I'm tired from that big crop of raising that tobacco.Maggie ps. daddy always told everbody that after I left home ,his right hand was gone so he had to give up farming.
Sally's Page for additional material and pictures .
Eastern NC Digital Library.
Click on Artifacts, then click on Tobacco Farm Life Museum.
There are color pictures on everything from tobacco sleds, wagons, a peg, string, grading bench, a press, a curing barn, a hand setter, a warehouse basket,etc. to a smokehouse, a hog stand, soap. Click on the photos. Video descriptions can be watched.
Bertie County Page last updated: Friday, 25-Sep-2009 15:47:08 MDT


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