North Carolina produces more flue cured tobacco than any other state in the US. The flue curing process was developed in Caswell County which historically has produced much tobacco. There is a well-storied history to the farming and marketing of one of the most addictive substances known to mankind. This slave Stephen who was the headman for Abisha Slade discovered this when he tossed charred logs onto the dying wood fire that was being used for curing the tobacco. The intense heat t, derived from the charred logs, produced a startling effect on the green tobacco. The result was 600 pounds of the brightest yellow tobacco ever seen in Caswell County. Abisha Slade sold the barn of bright leaf tobacco on the Danville market to W. P. Johns, a local manufacturer, for $40 a hundredweight. This discovery was the foundation for the industry to be built by the Reynolds and Dues across North Carolina.
Today the heat is derived from propane burners, metal barns rather than log barns are used, and the tobacco is no longer placed on sticks hung in the barns. It is tightly packed into the barns in metal frames. The tobacco quotas are gone, the small farmers were bought out by the government, and today all tobacco is grown, harvested, and sold by contract. The old tobacco barns are now indoor lumber yards, flea markets, or artists studios. It is likely not especially PC to talk about the tobacco industry with nostalgia but it s an interesting aspect of southern history, especially that of North Carolina.
In Caswell County one sees old tobacco barns left as relics; the tobacco curing operations are now larger with many metal barns, rows of propane gas tanks, and all sorts of farm transportation sitting about. There are no African Americans working in the fields or at the barns. I imagine that tobacco farming is not a bright spot for any generation of African American people. All of the people we saw working in the fields were Hispanic, mainly from Mexico. It is very hard hot work, and there is a risk of getting green tobacco sickness. This is caused by the absorption of nicotine through wet skin. There was a lot of dew on the tobacco that morning and each person was wearing a a slicker and heavy gloves to protect themselves. Everyone was friendly and razzed us because we would not join in the “priming” of the tobacco.