Sunday, October 29, 2017

How Sweet It Is—Molasses

            Before World War I, molasses, known as treacle in England, was the main sweetening agent throughout the United States. In the South, much of what was called molasses was really sorghum syrup, made from the juice of the sorghum plant. People bought it by the gallon and used it in many different ways.
            The production of sorghum syrup aka molasses was often a community affair. Usually, one or two people had a reputation of being good molasses cooks and they would be in charge of how everything was done. The residents of Goose Creek Island[1] in Pamlico County grew sorghum and produced their own sorghum molasses. The process is described in the book The Goose Creek Islander 1879-1974.
            In the fall, the sorghum stalks (similar in appearance to corn) were stripped of their leaves and “stalks were cut and piled heads and tails together. The heads were cut off and when dried, children parched them like corn and ate them.”
            The juice was removed from the canes by a press. It takes about 10 gallons of juice to produce 1 gallon of syrup. “The press which was used to squeeze the juice from the cane was turned by a horse or mule which was harnessed to a twelve or fourteen foot pole and operated clockwise. The horses had to be changed frequently because they became drunk from walking in circles. The prepared cane stalks were fed into the press, small end first, by men and as the juice was squeezed, it ran into a bucket, lard tub, or any available container.”

This is a picture of a sorghum press in the mountains of North Carolina.
Taken from Digital lHeritage Organization -

            The sorghum syrup was produced by boiling it several times. “A furnace, which was approximately six by four feet, was used to cook the molasses juice. The furnace, fired with wood, contained seven cooking vats. The raw juice was poured into the first vat and as it cooked, it was stirred with wooden paddles. After some of the water was cooked from the juice, the juice was let out of this vat through a trap door into the next vat. This process continued until the juice was syrup or molasses.”
            As the juice boiled down, a greenish foam formed on top. “Parents made wooden paddles for their children to use to dip the foam off the juice as it was cooking. That was a great treat for children, because they didn’t get the sweets our children get today.
            “The cooked molasses was stored in wooden barrels and used for sopping, baking cakes and cookies, making candy, and as a sweetener. If overcooked, the molasses turned to sugar, but was still used in baking and as a sweetener. If undercooked, the molasses tasted green."
            Each of Goose Creek Island’s communities had a molasses cooker.[2] “The earliest known resident of Lowland to operate a molasses cooker was Benajah Carawan (1825-1892). Benajah’s son, Jesse Carawan (1858-1935), operated the molasses cooker on a road that branched off the Middle Prong Road and led to the Jesse Carawan Landing. At Jesse Carawan’s death, his son, John Carawan, (1886 -1962) operated the molasses cooker. John Carawan moved the cooker to … the main road in Lowland."

Located long Lowland Road (SR 1230) just west of where this route and SR 1232 intersect, is this two-story frame house and barn where Jesse Monroe Carawan (1858-1935), son of Benajah Carawan once lived.  The old cistern, used for the family’s water supply, can be seen at the corner of the front porch.  
Pictures taken in January 2002. William Odell Spain Photographic Collection 
            “The first known molasses cooker on Hobucken was purchased new by the Farmer’s Alliance members in 1890. It was operated by Simeon Sadler (1854-1914) on the Steve Jones property across from the present Virgil Carawan home site. Louis Goodwin (?-1908) took over the operation of the molasses cooker from Simeon Sadler and moved the cooker to a site behind the Wade Barnett home. After the death of Louis Goodwin, the cooker was moved around the community so each cane farmer could use it.”

 [Taken from The Goose Creek Islander 1874-1974]


[1] Goose Creek Island is at the northeastern point of Pamlico County, cut off from the mainland by the intercoastal waterway. In 1874, the residents of Goose Creek Island’s two communities —Hobucken and Lowlands—voted to become part of Pamlico County, rather than Beaufort. The island is a magnet for fishermen and duck hunters and is home to a unit of the U.S. Coast Guard, which is located on the Intracoastal Waterway. The book, The Goose Creek Islander 1879-1974, was compiled to commemorate the centennial of Goose Island in Pamlico.
[2] The event of making sorghum syrup and sorghum molasses would typically see the ladies of the community as skimmers while their men brought the cane in from the fields and ran it through the rollers of the cane mill. However, only the "syrup master" could pronounce the end compartment ready to be "poured up." It was his practiced eye and keen sense of taste that told him when it was time. Fain’s Sorghum Molasses

Monday, October 16, 2017


Shoots Through The Air, 17 Miles To Wake Forest In Lieut. Maynard’s Plane


            Governor Thomas W. Bickett climbed aboard Lieutenant Belvin W. Maynard’s De Haviland airplane yesterday afternoon shortly after two o’clock and in less than ten minutes was swooping in dizzy circles above the heads of a welcoming crowd gathered on the golf links at Wake Forest, seventeen miles away, to greet the winner in the trans-continental air race.[1]
            The short field prohibited a landing, and the ceremonies which had been planned in honor of Lieutenant Maynard were postponed until last night when Governor Bickett and President W. L. Poteat, of Wake Forest, plus hundreds of Meredith College and Oxford College girls and the normal Wake Forest contingent heaped on Maynard the delayed honors.
            Society Day at Wake Forest and the exercise for Lieutenant Maynard, who matriculated there this year to complete his course, were combined, with Dr. J. B. Turner, the master of ceremonies. It was after the orations in the Wingate Memorial Hall at night that Lieutenant Maynard talked to the crowd in a reception in the gymnasium.
            It was by the Governor’s insistence that he took his first air flight. Arrangements had been made to carry him over to Wake Forest in the afternoon in readiness for the arrival of Lieutenant Maynard, Sergeant Kline and “Trixie” in their plane a few minutes later. But the Governor insisted on flying, and Lieutenant Maynard was willing. Mrs. Bickett, it appears, was not consulted, but the Governor was careful, after he donned Sergeant Kline’s tight-fitting coat, his helmet and goggles to remind someone to tell his wife how pretty he looked.

North Carolina's Governor enjoyed his airplane ride with Lieutenant Maynard immensely yesterday afternoon until the flyer reached Wake Forest. The Governor confesses that he considered the aviator somewhat reckless in skimming down into the classic groves of the College and then gliding quickly up again. Governor Bickett is on the right in the picture standing beside Lieutenant Maynard just before they started for their "Joy Ride."

Regards To Max.
            “Give my regards to Max Gardner and tell him go make the best Governor he can,”[2] the Governor called out as he crammed himself down in the seat that Sergeant Kline and Trixie usually occupy. “Trixie” was a not a bit impressed with the honor of having a mere governor occupy her accustomed place, and she put up a merry little piece of disorder as the plane took off. Then she found that Sergeant Kline had been left behind also, and took the loss philosophically.
            It was an ideal day for flying. A slight wind was blowing, but the sun was warm and the sky entirely clear. For thirty minutes or more, the Governor was in the air. With Lieutenant Maynard, he circled about Raleigh, then made a straight course for Wake Forest, coming into the golf links first from the east. Around and around the plane soared, the powerful motor roaring.
Landing Field Too Short.
            The landing field selected by Lieutenant Maynard Sunday afternoon, was that part of the golf links composing a sort of level valley between two sloping hills half a mile from Wake Forest. On either side of the embankment the crowds were thick. Eagerly they watched the plane as it swept around coming low over the tree tops and then darting upward. Several times, the pilot plunged downward, as if to land, and then took off skyward again. Finally, there was a yell: “Here he comes.” The big plane shot down over the tree tops, almost kissed the earth, ran parallel with it for twenty-five yards and then as Lieutenant Maynard shook his head vigorously in negative fashion, pointed its nose at startling angle and Maynard was leaving Wake Forest.
            He explained last night to a disappointed crowd that his inability to land was due to the face that the wind was blowing from the north and it was necessary for him to enter the field from that direction. Under such conditions, the field lacked much of being long enough to make a safe landing.
Didn’t Like The Swooping.
            Lieutenant Maynard made a perfect landing at Raleigh on the return trip and the governor climbed out of the car, having completed another during his administration of varied happenings.
            “That flying was great,” the Governor said. “The only thing I didn’t like was that swooping down over the tree tops. That made me nervous.”

[From The News and Observer (Raleigh, NC) 4 Nov 1919]

[1] See “ ‘Flying Parson,’ Sampson County, NC Pilot Made Aviation History” posted on March 17, 1916
[2] Max Gardner was Lieutenant Governor in 1919. He lost the nomination for governor in 1920, but was elected in 1928.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Ancient—Cashie River—Natural Beauty—An Appropriation Needed—Bertie Railroad—Harding Manufacturing Co.—What the South Needs
[By Our Special Reporter.]
Windsor, Bertie Co., N. C.
Nov. 1st, 1879.

            Your reporter reached this ancient town on Sunday last, 26th ultimo.
            Steamers run on the Cashie (River) between here and Plymouth (Washington Co.) daily. The Cashie is a very deep, narrow river, being about 20 feet deep at the wharf here. It is impossible for the pen, or the brush of the painter, to do justice to the autumnal gilded foliage of the trees, which consists of every variety known to this climate, which so densely grow in their primeval wildness on the banks of this deep, dark and currentless little river. The river is very narrow from here for some eight miles below, and being very crooked, the overhanging limbs and fallen trees render navigation tedious and difficult in the extreme. An appropriation of $3,000 would be sufficient to cut away the limbs and trees and make navigation safe. The member of Congress from this district should attend to this matter as soon as possible and secure the above appropriate from congress. The people of Bertie pay their proportionate part of the governmental taxes, and their wants are entitled to substantial consideration. If Mr. Martin will not or cannot effect anything, perhaps some of his more energetic democratic colleagues may.
Cashie River:

            Bertie has a Narrow Gauge Railroad below here, which runs from the Cashie for five miles back to the highlands. This little road is owned and was built by Greenleaf Johnson & Son, of Baltimore, for hauling logs to the river, where they are made into rafts and tow boated to Norfolk and Baltimore.
            The Harding Manufacturing company are putting more machinery in their factory, preparatory for making “ply twist.” “Ply twist” is worth 20 cents per lb. in New York. It would take half dozen more such mills as this to fill the present orders. This factory has two Clement Attachments*, 612 spindles, uses about a bale of cotton per day turning out 300 lbs. of spun cotton from 1,000 pounds of seed cotton. All the waste cotton and cotton seed find a ready sale. The seed cotton is first put through a patent cleaner which thoroughly frees it from all dirt, is then placed on rolling tables which carries it to the “Attachments” from whence it comes out ready for the spindles. This factory cost, complete, $12,000. Mr. Hardin, the President of the company, says the enterprise is now paying 20 per cent. Less politics but more cotton factories is what the South needs.

[The Tarborough Southerner (Tarboro, NC) 6 Nov 1879, p. 3]

            Mr. Hardin, President of Harding Manufacturing wrote to Mr. J. R. Adams of Montgomery, Alabama in June 1880 describing his experience with the Clement Attachment:
            “We started last June, and have been running smoothly ever since. We are pleased with our mill and have already enlarged it, and are going to enlarge it to double the size it is in the fall. We are now running two attachments, 612 spindles. Our mill cost $11,000 as it now stands. We are averaging three hundred pounds of first class yarn per day. Our mill is paying 35 per cent on the investment, and we expect to make it pay 45 per cent as soon as our hands become expert. We have not got a hand that ever saw a mill before. We have met with no reverse, and had no mishap to stop the mill a day since starting. There is an unlimited demand for our yarns. We get the highest market price for our goods.”

[The Weekly Star (Wilmington, NC) 4 Jun 1880, p. 1]

Gin with Clement Attachment: Chicago Tribune(Chicago, Illinois)10 Jan 1880, Page 16

          *The Clement Attachment was invented about 1874 in by a Tennessean named Clement. He lived in Memphis where he had a small shop. He proposed to manufacture his attachment, but died shortly after making his invention, passing it to his heirs. Mr. F. E. Whitfield of Corinth, MS bought ½ interest from the heirs and built , patented and put it into operation. 
          Cotton bolls contain seeds that must be separated from the fiber before it can be used. Before Eli Whitley invented the cotton gin in 1794, this was done by hand. An average worker could only remove seeds from about a pound of cotton per day.
           The cotton gin—the word “gin” was derived from “engine”—had hooks that caught the cotton fiber and pulled it through a mesh too fine for the seeds to go through. Small gins were cranked by hand and larger ones were powered by steam engines. The hand-cranked machine could process 50 pounds of cotton per day.
            The Clement Attachment was explained by its owner F. E. Whitfield:
            “To convert an old into a new process cotton mill, little else is necessary than to get a cleanser of seed cotton…cost from $75 to $100, and to substitute an attachment, costing about $175, for the lickerin and feed rollers on each card.” As the cotton passes through the cleanser, dirt, dust and most motes, trash, etc. are removed. It is then carried by a revolving apron into the attachment where the lint is removed from the seed. As the filaments pass through the attachments, any remaining trash is removed and is combed out so that the filaments are delivered to the card and converted into yarns.[1]

[1] Our country’s wealth and influence, by Linus Pierpont Brockett and Henry Barnard: 1882; page 169.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


Who was born in Currituck County, North Carolina August 3, 1859. My much beloved husband who was brutally murdered on August 18, 1879, by Chester Doggett, who died five days later and is buried three miles from this cemetery, and for whom hell is too good. Oh, that it might be made thrice as hot for him.

            The granddaughter of Ephriam S. Davis told the story: “On August 18, 1879, longtime friends Ephriam and Chester went fishing together. Ephriam’s highly prized dog, Bouncer … trotted along with them to the creek, a mile or so from the home farm.
            “At the creek side, Chester stumbled over the sleeping dog and fell hard on the sand. In a fit of anger, he jumped up and gave the dog two or three hard kicks, which greatly angered Ephriam. Hot words ensued, leading to a violent fight. Chester finally managed to draw his pocketknife and cut Ephriam’s throat from ear to ear.
            “Within minutes, Ephriam bled to death. Chester dragged the body to a fallen sycamore in a nearby swamp and covered it with sand. In a short while, he arrived at Ephriam’s home and told that his friend had walked into the swamp and disappeared, implying that perhaps he had perished in one of the pits of quicksand in the swamp.

A beautiful photograph of Currituck County swamp taken by Edd Fuller and posted on his blog  "Photography in Place." It can be seen at: 

            Over the next five days and intensive search was carried on in the vast swamp, without success. On the fifth day, the searchers took along Ephriam’s dog. When Bouncer reached the sycamore, the dog sniffed around and began howling, arousing suspicious of the searchers, who soon uncovered the body. The gaping slash of the poor man’s throat was still visible.
            Chester, who was among the searchers, quickly fled into the dense swamp, hotly pursued by angry neighbors. Late that day they found him badly swollen and delirious, in a clump of bushes where he had apparently tried to hide. Two large cottonmouth moccasins were found nearby. Apparently the poisonous snakes had bitten him after he intruded into their lair. He died within minutes after the discovery.
            “Before either body was buried, Chester’s wife confessed that her husband had told her the details of his crime. It has bothered her conscience night and day, and now that he was gone, she felt free to tell the story.

(Taken from Forgive Me, Father, For I Have Grinned, by B. N. (Bud) Phillips; pages 76-77: 2006)