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The Tobacco Ball returns
SoVaNow.com / August 04, 2010The Halifax County Historical Society continues to share with the public different aspects of our heritage. Part of the Society’s mission is remember events that helped build our community. One such event was a celebration of the harvesting tobacco in the fall. The first year’s was in 1939 and it lasted through 1941, only stopping because of World War II. The three-day festival included parades, pageants, tours of historic homes, auctions, round and square dances, parties, free movies for visitors at the Princess and Lee theatres, baseball games, the famous local Drum and Bugle Corps, and many other forms of entertainment. Celebrities around the country came - Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians; Bob Fletcher and His Orchestra; Hal Kemp and His Orchestra; movie stars Mary Pickford, Martha Scott, Fred McMurray; Harry James; and others. Members of New York University directed dramas written by nationally known playwrights.
Each pageant week concluded with two “Harvest Balls.” Since the community was still segregated, there were two held on different nights. The historical society brought the ball back for the first time in 2006 and then again in 2008. This year marks the third biannual event. The ball will be held Sept. 18, at The Prizery in South Boston. Ticket prices continue to remain the same - $75 per person. This includes cocktails, seated dinner, and dancing to 30s and 40s music by an-eighteen piece orchestra. As was done during 1935-1941, princesses will be selected and from that group a queen will be crowned during the evening and much more. The dress for the gala evening will be black-tie optional, but participants are encouraged to help recreate the era by donning vintage clothing of the period or reminiscent of the age. Tickets may be purchased at the Chamber of Commerce, Triangle Florist, Sacs SoBo, Electric Service, and The Prizery. It is suggested that tickets be purchased early. Consider getting a group of friends together and have a table reserved (ten to a table). For more information call Barbara Bass (434-753-2137).
The Society wishes to thank its “sponsors to-date” for helping it share a part of our heritage with the community. They include South Boston Insurance Company, B & B Consultants, Lewis Metal Works, Boston Lumber Company, Franklins Garage, ODEC, Climate Control, Inc., Nationwide Insurance, Halifax Regional Community Partnership, and Properties By Cannon. Proceeds will be used for historical society’s projects. Each year the Society helps to sponsor educational activities for the Middle School involving the Crossing of the Dan that occurred in Halifax County during the American Revolution. The Society has published numerous books including: Yesterday - Gone Forever by Faye Tuck, a reprint of The History of Halifax County (two-volumes) by Pocahontas Edmunds, The Race to the Dan by Larry Aaron, Booboo’s One Hundred Years by Sam and Ruby Barnes, A Tribute to Black History in Halifax County, Black History in Virginia 1607-2000. At present an architectural book on the county is being researched.
A Brief History Lesson
In Virginia, the story of tobacco according to many authorities started with John Rolfe at Jamestown in 1612. It has been said that he brought the Indies seed, Nicotina tabacum, to Virginia and the combination of the seed and the soil produced a better quality of tobacco. Another case is that he crossbred the local tobacco with the West Indies tobacco for a better leaf. Whatever the story, tobacco use increased rapidly in the colonies. Though there was a strong moral opposition to its use by the beginning of the eighteenth century, the tobacco industry was well underway. As tobacco farming increased, so did a movement for larger farms leading eventually to even larger plantations, the first of which were built in Virginia. The tobacco leaf changed the economies of the colonies. In 1618 the export of tobacco to England was 20,000 pounds and by 1770 over one hundred million pounds were exported annually.
England encouraged the colonists to grow tobacco. It was not unusual to find tobacco growing in the open streets of Jamestown, Virginia. It became the currency of Virginia even though King James was known to have called tobacco smoke the “fumes of hell.” Tobacco became the standard for bartering. Workers were paid salaries in tobacco; farmers paid their debts with it; and in some cases brides coming from England on ships could be purchased with a payment of tobacco. In 1621, the cost for a wife - “120 pounds of best leaf.” In 1633 the House of Burgesses in Virginia passed a law to stop the use of tobacco as legal tender. However, in 1942, another act restored its monetary use. It was again used as currency by World War II troops overseas. Cigarettes were used as barter and for two years following V-E Day, cigarettes remained a stable currency in Germany, Italy, and France.
Quotas as we knew them during the twentieth century were nothing new. Even in 1621 farmers were given quotas of 100 plants per person. Virginia began having great export sales. In 1627 Virginia exported over 500,000 pounds to England and by 1690 over 22,000,000 pounds. In 1754 it shipped 50,000 hogsheads, approximately 50,000,000 pounds of tobacco. Hogsheads were barrel-shaped containers that measured between 54 and 72 inches high and 38 to 50 inches wide with the smaller ones being more popular. Many were made of pine and could hold approximately 1000 to 1600 pounds of tobacco.
Starting with the Colonial period, tobacco was sent to market by hauling hogsheads on wagons, which were used to carry larger loads. The most widely used method of transportation was by rivers and canals. The main rivers used were the Staunton (Roanoke) and the James. Canoes and bateaux (flat-bottom boats) were used to transport the hogsheads. These river transportation methods were followed by the use of railroads in the late 1800s.
By the end of the seventeenth century smoking was prevalent throughout the world. It became a social “novelty.” At the beginning of the eighteenth century another form of tobacco for use appeared on the market - Snuff! In London, it was welcomed for it helped minimize the odors of the streets and alleys. It was said that snuffing, as it was called, would destroy the “sense of smell, suffocate the moist humors of the brain and fill the crevices of the head with soot, cause apoplexy, dyspepsia, nausea, ruin the complexion and affect the vocal cords.” By 1732 Virginia factories were producing snuff and pipe tobacco.
Over the next several centuries, the growing of tobacco increased from its beginning in Jamestown, Virginia, to other parts of the country. It was the greatest revenue producer in the world during the seventeenth century. Governments, recognizing the economic potential of tobacco, imposed heavier taxes on it than on any other product. As the quality of tobacco improved, so did its demand. By the twentieth century over 700,000 acres in the United States were devoted to tobacco with over 500 million pounds grown.
Beginning with the first agricultural census in 1840 and continuing through 1950, various categories of information, in addition to the population count, were gathered every ten years. After 1950 the Census Bureau began collecting agricultural data in odd-numbered years, making it a separate category from the others. By 1915 approximately one-half of the world’s tobacco crop was produced in the United States. The highest production year in Halifax County was 1964 with 24.1 million pounds, even though that was not a census year. 2004 was the last year data was collected due to the tobacco buyouts. Production in Halifax County was 10.2 million pounds.
In the early 1700s, warehouses or rolling houses were set up to make sure tobacco was of top quality, free of trash, worm-eaten leaves, suckers, and other impurities. Warehouses emerged in almost every small town as the production of tobacco increased. During the late 1800s, Danville, Virginia, had two warehouses that enjoyed national reputations. Except for warehouses in Richmond and Petersburg, more tobacco was processed in 1860 at the Tobacco Factory of R. H. Moss & Bro. in Clarksville, Virginia (Mecklenburg County), than anywhere else in Virginia or North Carolina.
Tobacco factories and prizeries in Halifax County in 1889:
Bruce, S., Leaf Tobacco Prizeries (2)
Early Bird Tobacco Factory
Easley, J. W., Leaf Tobacco Prizeries (2)
Edmondson Tobacco Company Factory and Prizery
Edmondson Tobacco Company Prizeries (6)
Glass, J. A., Leaf Tobacco Factory
Glenn, J. A., Leaf Tobacco Prizeries (2)
Hudson, H. C., Leaf Tobacco Prizery
Lawson, T. T., Leaf Tobacco Prizery
Morton, Samuel, Leaf Tobacco Prizery
Shepherd, W. H., Leaf Tobacco Prizery
Tobacco prizeries and factories in Halifax County in 1923:
American Tobacco Company
Edmondson Tobacco Company
Export Leaf Tobacco Company
Imperial Tobacco Company
Lea, W. T., & Company Prizery
Liggett & Myers Prizery
Reynolds, R. J., Tobacco Company
Southern States Tobacco Company (2)
South Boston Tobacco Company
Walters, C. W., and Company
From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, South Boston was the second largest bright-leaf tobacco market in the United States. Major tobacco companies had facilities here including processing plants and warehouses. Most of the original warehouses in South Boston have either been converted to other uses or have been demolished or lost by fire. The community is fortunate to have been able to preserve some of them.
Tobacco warehouses in Halifax County in 1923:
Co-op Tobacco Warehouse
Edmondson Tobacco Warehouse
Farmers Tobacco Sales Warehouse
Independent Tobacco Warehouse
Motley, R. R., Tobacco Warehouse
Planters Tobacco Warehouse
Star Tobacco Warehouse
Warehouse (not named)
Warehouses for tobacco storage
The following buildings located in the warehouse district (or nearby) in South Boston are as follows:
Imperial Tobacco Company (c. 1890s)
American Tobacco Prizery (c. 1890s)
Liggett-Myers Tobacco Company (c. 1900s)
J. P. Taylor Tobacco Company (c. 1900)
R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (c. 1900s)
New Brick Warehouse (c. 1900s)
History of the Festivals
The first year for the National Tobacco Festival was 1935 and lasted three days. The chairman of the festival was Paige H. Vaughan; W. Starke Holt, manager; and Dr. W. B. Barbour, publicity director together with committees involving over 300 members. The festivities began on a Thursday with an automobile and tobacco parade from the Dan River ending at the Fairgrounds (old fairgrounds behind the current location of the museum). The fiddlers’ contests followed at the Independent Warehouse. A free air circus over South Boston was held in the downtown area. Everything from beauty contests, musical contests, square dancing and tobacco auction sale demonstrations were held.
The first queen was Miss Westwood Byrd, daughter of United States’ Senator Harry Flood Byrd. Princesses accompanying the Queen came primarily form Virginia and North Carolina with more than 24 localities accepting invitations. The crowning of the queen by Governor of Virginia preceded the ball. The event cost $30,000. The publicity was worldwide and the attendees numbered 25,000 from all over the world . This was quite a feat for a town of 5,252. By 1941, over 170,000 people came to Halifax County to help celebrate our heritage. This event was the number one advertised in the county and by 1941 it was second only in attendance.