The History of Halifax County, Virginia
1750 - 1940
Excerpts from the
Historical Monograph, Black Walnut Plantation Rural Historic District, Halifax County Virginia
,
prepared by R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates, Inc., April 1996

Chapter II

(See Chapter III - Historical Overview of Black Walnut Plantation)

Table of Contents

Colony to Nation (1750-1789)
    Formation of Halifax and Pittsylvania Counties
    Early Transportation Routes
    French and Indian War
    American Revolution
Early National Period (1789 - 1830)
    The Great Rebuilding
    Expansion of Transportation Networks
    Rise of Slave Culture
Antebellum Period (1830-1860)
    Nat Turner's Rebellion and Slave Uprising
    Improvements in Transportation Networks
    Growth of Towns
    Agricultural Economy
    Industrial Economy
Civil War (1860 - 1865)
    The Question of Secession
    Battles in Southside Virginia
    Halifax County Supports the War
    Takeover of Railroad System
Reconstruction and Growth (1865-1917)
    Political Ramifications of Civil War
    Reestablishment of Transportation Networks
    Transition in Agricultural Economy
World War I to World War II (1917-1945)
    World War I
    Depression Era
    World War II
    Continued Role of Agricultural Economy




Colony to Nation (1750-1789)

Prior to 1714, Virginians were proscribed from settling beyond the Nottoway River due to the potential threat from Indians residing in the region. Settlement of this region was made possible in 1714, when Governor Alexander Spotswood corralled Virginia's remaining Indians and brokered a treaty with North Carolina establishing a compromise over the location of the colonies' shared boundary. In 1728 the boundary was formalized.

Intensive development of Southside Virginia was initiated in the 1720s and continued into the 1770s. In 1738, the Virginia General Assembly passed an act to encourage settlement of the region, which granted a 10-year tax exemption to anyone who settled in the next two years. This act also authorized the governor to grant naturalization papers to any aliens settling in the region. As a result, the area experience a substantial growth in its population and dramatic increase in the number of land patents.

Southside Virginia's initial settlement was due, in large part, to the decrease in the role of the Chesapeake region's tobacco trade. By the 1730s, most of the Tidewater region's fertile, river-accessible farm land had been sold. Land under tobacco cultivation gradually was exhausted as a result of years of intensive planting that depleted nutrients from the soil. Wheat began to replace tobacco in the Tidewater region. Planters from the Tidewater region who chose not to turn to wheat production, instead, migrated west into Southside Virginia in search of more fertile soils. This period of out-migration resulted in many of the former Tidewater planters who "settled a vast area of piedmont Virginia between 1740 and 1775 and, with the help of credit supplied by Scottish merchants, turned hundreds of thousands of acres of land into tobacco plantations".

Settlement throughout the Southside region followed a typical pattern. The first stage in the settlement pattern was the arrival of a small group of pioneers, who squatted on the land and engaged in subsistence farming. These early settlers brought little wealth with them; most migrants had either owned little land and no slaves or had been former laborers. The second stage in the settlement pattern was the discovery by speculators who patented thousand of acres of land in the region. Many of the land speculators were absentee landowners, who either seated the land with "quarters" or rented their property to tenants. Four years after participating in the survey of the Virginia-Carolina dividing line, William Byrd II returned to the area he had named "Eden" to survey his own 131,000 acre tract, and to plan his "Blue Stone Castle" near the confluence of the Staunton and the Dan rivers, rivers that Byrd had named.

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Most speculators attracted purchasers to buy smaller parcels of land located near population centers. More prosperous planters followed the squatters into Southside; this transition coincided with the construction of roads, which provided easier access to agricultural markets. The improved roads made the area attractive to more prosperous farmers from the east. The last stage included the out-migration of poor families and in-migration of more substantial planters. Finally, once the area supported a relatively dense population, land values and associated taxes rose.

Few towns were established under this plantation settlement system. By 1725, only five towns in Virginia claimed a population of at least 100 persons: West Point, Williamsburg, Yorktown, Hampton, and Norfolk. These towns were governmental centers or points of tobacco embarkation. Though Anglican churches were also primary Virginia social centers during this period, few towns were established around these official church centers.

Throughout the second half of the eighteenth century, Virginia continued to be an agrarian state marked by few urban settlements, though new towns were incorporated. Petersburg, established in 1748, was incorporated as a town in 1784. Williamsburg was Virginia's largest urban center during this period, serving as the seat of state government between 1698 and 1780.

Several Scottish firms played an important role in developing Southside's tobacco economy during the mid-eighteenth century. The Spiers, Cuningham, and Glassford groups established businesses throughout the Southside and accelerated settlement and tobacco cultivation. "They stocked general stores near centers of frontier settlement, sent representatives to more remote areas, granted credit to planters, and bought and transported tobacco".

By 1750, Virginia's population of 230,000 supported only 10 towns with more than 100 inhabitants: Alexandria, Fredericksburg, Port Royal, Tappahannock, Urbanna, Richmond, Williamsburg, Yorktown, Hampton, and Norfolk. In 1780, the seat of government was moved to Richmond.

Formation of Halifax and Pittsylvania Counties

By 1752, the population west of the Staunton River had increased to such an extent that the formation of a separate county was warranted. Halifax County extended from the Staunton River westward to the Blue Ridge, and was named for the Second Earl of Halifax, George Montague Dunk. Dunk was president of the Board of Trade from 1748 to 1761. The modern counties of Pittsylvania, Franklin, Henry, and Patrick were carved from Halifax County's original boundaries (Loth 1986:181). Pittsylvania was the first, formed in 1766 from the western two-thirds of Halifax County.

Early settlement of Halifax County came primarily from two directions. Germans and Scotch-Irish migrated from the northwest from Pennsylvania, while English settlers came from Virginia's Tidewater Region to the east. The western portion of Halifax County specialized in cereal, orchard, and dairy production during the antebellum era. Farmers in the western region joined with their ethnic counterparts in the Shenandoah Valley and sent crops to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.

Within the eastern section of Halifax County, tobacco became the primary crop. Settlement within this portion of the county consisted predominantly of Tidewater planters who transplanted their cultural, social, economic, and political system to this new region. Each plantation strove to become a self-supporting unit, raising most of its own foodstuffs. This was due to several factors, including modest landholdings, limited capital to secure labor, and lack of adequate transportation systems.

Roads served as the primary link from the inland plantations to wharf locations. At the wharfs, planters sold crops and purchased finished goods directly from the transport ships. Much of the tobacco was shipped eastward to Petersburg, which was established in 1748 as a major tobacco inspection town, and then to Richmond. North Carolina farmers from the Northern Piedmont followed the same route to ship their products.

Early Transportation Routes

By the early eighteenth century, Virginia had established a system to survey and nominally maintain roads. In, 1738, Governor Alexander Spotswood drafted regulations establishing permanent postal routes. By 1750, the major transportation routes typically followed a north-south axis, leading from Alexandria to Richmond, Richmond to Williamsburg, and Petersburg to Halifax. This pattern of roadways reflected the sparsity of settlement west of the Blue Ridge mountains.

Halifax County settlers were forced to rely upon road travel, since the rivers west of the fall line tended to be too shallow for navigation. The Dan and Staunton rivers represented the two major rivers within the region, which merged to form the Roanoke. The Roanoke River continued [southeast] until it entered Albemarle Sound in North Carolina. The fall line presented a barrier to riverine travel. Passengers and goods travelling eastward from this region were offloaded and transported to wider and slower waters along the eastern portions of the rivers.

French and Indian War

Settlement of Halifax County was interrupted by the French and Indian War, declared two years after the county was formed. Although all organized fighting took place north of Maryland, French-allied Indians attacked British frontier settlements from Maine to Georgia. Halifax County's population growth stagnated between 1752 and the early 1760s.

By the early 1760s, the outcome of the war was apparent and local Indians curtailed their raids. When the war ended, the Indians threatened to resume raiding the frontier to contain colonial expansion. In response, King George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which forbade British settlement beyond the crest of the Appalachian Mountains. The royal proclamation halted expansion only temporarily.

American Revolution

To help repay the debt incurred fighting the French and Indians, the British turned to the American colonies. Turn-of-the century tax laws that had lapsed or had been ignored were reenforced vigorously, and a series of new taxes were imposed. The colonists bristled at the reimposition of strict rule from abroad. By 1768, Indian tribes were selling land west of the Alleghenies to colonial land speculators, who ignored the royal proclamation. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 was the first of many British actions that would irk the colonists between 1763 and 1774.

Colonial assemblies and the Royal government wrangled over political and economic issues for the next decade; in 1775, British troops and colonists clashed at Lexington, Massachusetts and an armed insurrection ensued. A year later, the colonies declared their independence from Britain. Attitudes towards independence differed between the northern and southern colonies. New England had been settled by groups intent upon escaping persecution in England. The south had been settled by speculators who desired to maintain cultural and economic ties with England. Virginia, however, was an exception among the southern colonies.

After the Battle of Lexington, few Virginians openly declared loyalty to the crown, while the populations of North and South Carolina split into vocal Colonial and Loyalist factions. Virginia delegates to the Continental Congress voted unanimously to implement an Independence movement. Between 1775 and 1781, Halifax residents supported the Revolutionary movement by volunteering for service in the Continental Army and by supplying quantities of food and other supplies.

Until 1781, the British and Colonial armies fought mainly outside of Virginia. In 1780, the British under Charles Lord Cornwallis chased the southern colonial army through South Carolina and North Carolina, attempting to corner and destroy it. By the following year, in February 1781, the American Army entered Halifax County and crossed the Dan River. The second in command of the army was Colonel Edward Carrington, a Halifax native, and he organized the collection of boats at two of the Dan's ferry crossings. The army ferried across the Dan and prepared to make a stand at Halifax.

Eight hundred men from Halifax and surrounding counties joined the 1,428 members of the American Army. The Dan River, though, was deemed unpassable by the British, who turned back into North Carolina. The Americans, including the Halifax volunteer contingent, followed. Between February and May 1781, the Americans lost several battles with the British, but succeeded in inflicting heavy casualties. Though the British army had won a series of victories, Cornwallis was forced to retreat into Virginia, again through Halifax County. Cornwallis spent a night at Wiley's Tavern in Turberville, 11 miles (17.7 km) southwest of South Boston (Barbour 1941:8).

In Virginia, Cornwallis hoped to staunch the flow of supplies to the southern American army and to be resupplied himself by a British fleet based in New York. While awaiting the fleet, though, his army was surrounded, the British fleet was turned away by a French force, and Cornwallis was defeated. The British began peace talks soon thereafter.

Though the passing of British troops through the county in 1781 created a stir, mundane daily activities were generally undisturbed in Halifax County during the Revolution. Settlers continued to arrive and patent land during and after the conflict. The last patents in Halifax County were issued during the late 1780s.

After the Revolution, the United States adopted the Articles of Confederation, which reserved most governmental power for the states. The states were soon engaged in internecine squabbles. A special convention was called in Philadelphia to strengthen the Articles of Confederation and promote peaceful interstate relations. Instead, the convention drafted a Constitution outlining a strong national government, and presented it to the states for ratification. Southside Virginians followed their leading citizen, Patrick Henry, in eschewing the proposed Federal Constitution. Both Halifax County representatives to Virginia's Constitutional Convention voted against ratification. As a whole, the Southside counties rejected the Constitution by a 29-9 vote. Despite Southside's vehement opposition, Virginia's convention voted to ratify the Constitution, 89-79.

Early National Period (1789-1830)

The Great Rebuilding

The period between the Revolution and the War of 1812 is known in Virginia as "The Great Rebuilding." The "rebuilding" referred not only to the political landscape of Virginia, but to the physical landscape as well. The Tidewater plantation landscape was slowly transformed by the growth of urban centers. Cities in the Tidewater region continued to grow, and new communities were established elsewhere in the Commonwealth. In the Southside region, the future cities of Lynchburg (1786) and Danville (1793) were established during this period.

A myriad of other communities were established throughout Southside during this period. Few of the towns grew to the size imagined by their founders; most withered and disappeared. Towns established in Halifax County during this period included South Boston, Meadesville, Banister, Mayton, Marsailles, Hairstonville, Madison, and Bentleysville.

Though no substantial towns developed in Halifax County during this period, Halifax growth did contribute to the success of towns in nearby Mecklenburg County. The town of St. Tammany (1792) was established on the Roanoke River, where the river came closest to Petersburg. St. Tammany served as a tobacco warehouse and inspection center. Plantations as far as 100 miles up the Dan and Staunton rivers transported their tobacco via bateaux to St. Tammany. A thoroughfare was established between this community and Petersburg. St. Tammany succumbed to competition from the railroad during the late nineteenth century.

Clarksville also was established during this period, at the confluence of the Staunton and Dan rivers. Tobacco and flour inspection facilities were established in Clarksville in 1818, and the town was formally founded in 1821. Clarksville rapidly rose to prominence. Two ridges conducive to the establishment of 'rolling' roads converged at Clarksville, and the Roanoke River east of the town was navigable largely until the fall line was reached. Tobacco and flour were soon leaving town on a road to Petersburg and down river via bateaux. Clarksville flourished.

Living standards throughout the Commonwealth improved during this period as reflected in dwellings. The simple, utilitarian one and two room dwellings that characterized the colonial period dwellings were either replaced or enlarged through addition. The I-house type became the prevailing dwelling type in the Piedmont and Valley during this period. Other trends during this period included the migration of Tidewater planters westward to escape the depleted Tidewater soils. With this westward migration came the Tidewater region's political, social and cultural institutions.

At the dawn of the Federal Era, Halifax County supported a population of 14,722. By 1830 the population had risen to 28,034, which was comprised primarily of planters and slaves. Prior to the Civil War, relatively few of the communities established in Halifax County rose to prominence. South Boston, which was originally located within the south floodplain of the Dan River, suffered from several floods. With the introduction of the railroad, the town was reestablished on the north bank of the Dan River. Meadesville grew steadily during the Early National and Antebellum periods, but succumbed under financial pressures inflicted by the Civil War. After the war, much of the business activity became centered around the booming economy in Danville.

Banister and Mayton united and formed the present town of Halifax Courthouse, the county seat. Though eventually situated on a railroad, Marsailles faded from the historical record and no longer exists. Hairstonville and Madison were established at ferry crossings (Henry Hairston's and John Clark's, respectively) and quickly disappeared. Bentlysville, too, was established at a river crossing, at a toll bridge across the Staunton River. This community also shriveled and disappeared after the Civil War.

Documentary evidence suggests that there was a small community near the present town of Clover as early as 1812, when the first Clover Baptist Church was established. Two stores established by a Mr. Heidelburg were located near Clover, and a bridge spanned Difficult Creek on Mosley's Ferry Road as early as 1840. Both Crozet's 1848 Map of the State of Virginia, and the ca. 1861 U. S. Coast Survey Map of Middle Virginia and North Carolina depict Moseley's Bridge and Ferry, as well as the small community of Bentleyville, near the point at which the present US Route 360 crosses the Staunton River.

Throughout the pre-Civil War era, Virginia remained almost entirely dependent upon agriculture. Manufacturing industries established in the Piedmont region during the early-nineteenth century focused on agricultural-related industries, such as tobacco and wheat.

Expansion of Transportation Networks

Growth in Southside was spurred by the chartering of the Roanoke Navigation Company by North Carolina in 1812. The Roanoke Navigation Company intended to construct a canal around the falls of the river. Four years later, Virginia chartered the company also, and plans for the canal were extended up the Roanoke, Dan, and Staunton rivers. After Virginia chartered the canal company, land values along the rivers rose. Speculators established towns along the canal route, hoping to capitalize upon increased trade. Only one of these towns, Clarksville, remains today.

The Roanoke Canal followed a southern development pattern. While northern canals were constructed to accommodate barges towed by draft animals, southern canals were intended for bateaux use. Bateaux were propelled by polemen and required no towpath. Thus, lined canal segments were required only at unnavigable portions of rivers.

In 1834 the locks around the Roanoke River's fall line were completed, but soon were washed away during a flood and were not replaced. Commerce continued to travel along up river portions of the canal. At the falls, cargo was offloaded and portaged around the fall-line, and then shipped to Norfolk via the Dismal Swamp Canal, opened in 1812. In 1831, 3,094 hogsheads, 9,768 barrels of flour, 17,680 pounds of coffee, and other goods passed through the canal.

The success of the Roanoke Canal during this period was not isolated. Since 1783, the British had exerted their influence to stifle trade in their former colonies. American frustration resulted in the declaration the War of 1812. Halifax County sent three companies of men to the defense of Norfolk during the war.

Once again, American tenacity proved victorious, and in 1815, British trade restraints were dismantled. Tobacco prices rose during this period, and the plantations of Halifax began an era of antebellum prosperity.

Rise of Slave Culture

By the early-nineteenth century, Southside's slave labor system became firmly-rooted as the economic base. The slave question was an issue in the United States from the very beginning, when Congressional representatives of South Carolina and Georgia insisted that clauses denouncing slavery be deleted from the Declaration of Independence before they would endorse it.

The first planned labor insurrection in Virginia included slaves and indentured servants, and was uncovered in 1663. Another insurrection attempt in 1682 led to the enaction of Virginia's first laws regulating the congregation rights of slaves. The first successful armed slave revolt took place in South Carolina in 1739, when two dozen slaves armed themselves and began traveling to St. Augustine, Florida, burning plantations as they went. The slaves were stopped before they had traveled 10 miles, however their temporary success alarmed planters throughout the south. During the Revolution, Halifax residents refused to send their "best" guns to the Continental Army, preferring to retain them to quell any potential slave revolt.

While these fears may have been substantially groundless before the Revolution, the theme of "Liberty or Death" used to proselytize white colonists against the British also inspired slaves. Further agitating the slaves was a British offer of emancipation to any slave who would run away. In response, the Americans offered emancipation to any slave who joined the Continental Army. Most of the slaves who joined were emancipated at the conclusion of the war.

After the war, a wave of egalitarianism swept Virginia. Colonial laws restricting emancipation were repealed, and any slaveowner who chose to free his slaves could do so . Hope pervaded the slave community that general emancipation soon would be implemented.

Slave unrest intensified after ratification of the Constitution. The Constitution did not ban slavery. In fact, the only Constitutional mention of slavery forbade Congress from interfering with the slave trade until 1808. When the ConstWion was ratified in 1788, white abolition forces assumed that slavery was a dying economic entity.

In 1792, a bill passed through the General Assembly forbidding emancipated slaves from other states to settle in Virginia. In 1806, African American migration was restricted further by requiring all former slaves in Virginia to leave the state upon emancipation.

The introduction of the Cotton Gin in 1793 reinforced slavery's economic value. Though cotton was not a major crop in Virginia, and Virginians essentially ceased importing slaves after 1780, the Virginia slave trade flourished. Tobacco plantations still used slave labor, and surplus slaves were sold to the deep southern states where cotton became the dominant crop.

The ten years following the ratification of the Constitution were especially turbulent in Virginia. Small insurrections occurred in Prince William (1791) and Southampton (1799) counties. Finally, in 1800 an insurrection known as "Gabriel's Rebellion" was uncovered just before it was to have been implemented. The rebellion involved slaves in several Virginia counties, including Halifax, and the city of Richmond. Only the leaders were captured. They were hung, and Virginia again drafted laws to regulate slave behavior. Another slave revolt, known as "The Easter Plot,' was uncovered in Virginia in 1802. Two slaves were hung in Halifax County for complicity with the rebellion.

Gabriel's Rebellion and The Easter Plot had been foiled only because slaves within these groups had turned informant. Planters felt that they had to maintain a strict vigilance against potential slave revolt. Another potential slave revolt was halted in Virginia in 1816, and in 1822 a revolt in Charleston, South Carolina was aborted. Slave rebellions in foreign countries (Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica) further reinforced planters' fears .

Antebellum Period (1830 - 1860)

Nat Turner's Rebellion and Slave Uprising

Virginian's worst fears of a slave uprising were realized in Southampton County in 183l with Turner's Rebellion. Nat Turner's Rebellion involved approximately 70 armed slaves who killed 57 whites (though sparing one family who were known to sympathize with the slaves' plight). A large force of militia and volunteers was assembled and crushed the revolt. Nat Turner's Rebellion was suspected to be the first stage of a larger insurrection, and all able bodied males in Virginia were called into service to suppress the expected state-wide slave revolt.

The Nat Turner Rebellion shocked the entire south and fueled the nascent abolition movement in the north. Southern states hurried to pass laws restricting African Americans. The Virginia General Assembly forbade African Americans from assembling in public, and deprived them of their right to drink liquor and own arms. Manumission requirements also were tightened.

Turner's rebellion sparked a debate in the Virginia legislature over the role of slavery in Virginia society. Western Virginia expressed a desire for immediate emancipation, while eastern Virginia voted to establish an African colony for slaves who wanted to leave. Another, state-wide, faction supported gradual emancipation. None of the factions were able to agree upon a course of action, and the status quo was maintained. As northern abolition movements gained momentum during the 1830s and 1840s, moderate Virginians ceased debate and chose sides with either the pro or anti-slavery factions .

Improvements in Transportation Networks

While slavery and the danger of slave revolt led to social tensions throughout the Antebellum Period, commerce and industry boomed in Virginia. Gains made in commerce and industry were related to improved transportation networks, including canals, turnpikes, and railroads. A state-wide construction campaign succeeded in opening the west and southwest to settlement. Farmers and merchants, as a result, gained greater access to markets.

The first successful railroad in the United States was established in 1828, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O). Prior to this date, the Roanoke Navigation Company had served as the Southside's primary transportation link. With rail connections, Petersburg merchants immediately sought to regain a share of the trade lost to Norfolk following the construction of the Roanoke River canal. In 1833, trains began running between the Roanoke River community of Gaston, North Carolina and Petersburg.

By 1839, canal traffic to Norfolk virtually had ceased. During that year, 3,958 hogsheads of tobacco arrived in Gaston for railroad transport to Petersburg in contrast to 137 hogsheads transported through the canal to Norfolk. The success of this rail link induced other communities to establish additional rail lines to the Roanoke River. In 1840, the Portsmouth and Roanoke Railroad reestablished the Hampton Roads connection to the Roanoke River by linking the cities of Norfolk, Virginia and Weldon, North Carolina.

Public investment was a prerequisite to railroad construction. Without initial funding from the Virginia legislature, few railroad companies had the capital necessary to begin operations. Until the late 1840s, Virginia refused to invest in long-distance railroads, preferring to establish short lines that connected two specific commercial points. In most cases, legislators preferred to fund the construction of canals to provide access to distant ports.

The success of the B&O Railroad as a transportation link for the farmers and expanding regional markets convinced a majority of legislators that railroad construction was not only viable, but necessary for the economic health of the Commonwealth. The Southside (1846), Richmond and Danville (1847), Virginia & Tennessee (l848) and Orange and Alexandria (1848) were chartered as a result.

The Richmond and Danville (R&D) Railroad was intended to replace riverine transportation to Gaston and Weldon. Track was lain westward from Richmond, and gradually was placed in service; operating sections helped pay for the construction of the next section of track. The railroad traversed Halifax County from northeast to southwest, reaching Clover in September 1854 and South Boston in December 1854. In 1856, trains began running between Richmond and Danville.

By 1859, the Roanoke Navigation Company adapted railroad competition by establishing toll stations at canal/railroad transfer points. The company further adapted by abandoning the canal east of Weldon, North Carolina. This willingness to defer to the "superior" carrying capacity of the railroads was probably engendered by the canal companies two largest stockholders, the states of Virginia (800 shares) and North Carolina (500 shares). The two states owned almost 50 per cent of the canal company's stock, and also owned significant portions of the new railroads' stock. James Coles Bruce, a prominent Halifax County resident, owned 311 canal company shares, the largest number of privately held shares.

Two canal toll stations were situated in Halifax County, one each on the Dan and Staunton rivers. The Staunton River toll station was situated at the R&D Roanoke Depot. There, bateaux landed at a river bluff and cargo was lifted by block and tackle to the station platform above. Charles Bruce further attempted to keep the canal viable by operating steam transports upon the Staunton River.

Growth of Towns

Statewide population declined during the mid-nineteenth century. Within the Tidewater region, tobacco cultivation was exhausting the soil. Though wealthy Tidewater planters relocated to "fresh" lands in other parts of the Commonwealth, yeoman farmers had to migrate west of the Alleghenies to find affordable, productive farmland.

Clarksville experienced a golden era during the Antebellum period. In 1850, three tobacco factories employing 150 workers were situated in town. By 1860, five tobacco factories employing 490 workers were in operation. Robert H. Moss represented the largest manufacturer from this period. In 1850, his Moss Brothers & Co. employed 73 persons and processed 300,000 pounds of tobacco. By 1860, the business was renamed R.H. Moss & Brothers and employed 180 persons, including 130 of them slaves, and produced 1,400,000 pounds of tobacco. Moss products were sold throughout the U.S. and Europe. With the decrease in canal traffic, a railroad spur was established in 1855 between Clarksville and Manson, North Carolina which provided direct access to Petersburg, Portsmouth, and Raleigh.

South Boston's growth during the 1850s was affected by the railroad. By 1860, a railroad depot, store, hotel, and church had been established on the north bank of the Dan River, and became part of South Boston's community.

The railroads further enhanced the position of Richmond and Petersburg as Virginia's premier cities. By, 1860 Richmond was not only the largest city in Virginia, but one of the largest and most industrialized cities in the south. On the eve of the Civil War, iron manufacturing was the chief industry in Richmond. Fourteen foundries, six rolling mills, six iron railing plants, and 50 miscellaneous iron and metal works occupied the city. Richmond also supported eight flour mills, one of which, the Gailego mill, was the world's largest, and 52 tobacco companies.

Agricultural Economy

Virginia's tobacco economy during the early-nineteenth century was characterized as a transitional period, as it adjusted from the declining Chesapeake tobacco trade to the expanding Southside tobacco market. Improvements in the region's railroads, canals, and roads helped to support this shift. By the antebellum period, many of the state's regions were unable to support tobacco cultivation as a result of soil depletion from intensive farming practices. Farmers began growing corn, wheat, and other crops that flourished in marginal soil. These commodities were transported by train and canal to regional markets.

As farms turned to less labor-intensive crops, yeoman farmers became far more common than slaveholders in Antebellum Virginia. On average, one Virginia family in four owned slaves. After 1840, as soil productivity in the region declined, slaves from many sections of Virginia were sold to planters in other states.

Southside Virginia deviated from this state-wide trend. The 1860 Agricultural Census identified corn, wheat, oats, and livestock as the major crops in the Halifax economy. However, tobacco continued as the prominent cash crop. Southside's antebellum prosperity was based primarily on the production of a type of chewing tobacco called "flat tobacco". The average planter in the Southside region owned 10 slaves, and some large landowners had as many as 100. In 1850, only 1,733 families throughout the south owned more than 100 slaves. As late as 1860, the black population of Halifax County, both slave and free, outnumbered whites by a ratio of 3:2.

Industrial Economy

On the Virginia-North Carolina border, commercial copper mining began in the 1850s, although the presence of copper ore had been known to eighteenth century residents, and even to the Indians. By 1850, Halifax County also established a number of agrarian-based industries, such as flour and grist mills, farm implement factories, and tanneries. The construction of railroads and the improvement of road systems encouraged economic growth, supported the establishment of small communities, and linked the area to regional markets.

Civil War (1860-1865)

The Question of Secession

When South Carolina seceded from the Union in December 1860, the states of the deep south followed in rapid succession. In February, these states formed the Confederate States of America (C.S.A.). Debate over secession raged in the border states, including Virginia. A special convention was held in Richmond to vote on secession. North Carolina and Tennessee voters declined to convene secession conventions. Arkansas and Missouri voters defeated secession bids. Virginia voted on April 4, 1861 to reject secession by a two-to-one margin.

On April 12, 1861, Confederate cannon opened fire on Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. President Lincoln issued a call on April 15 for 75,000 men to subdue the rebellion. In response, Virginia seceded on April 17, though support for separation was not unanimous. Slavery divided the state. Counties with an average slave composition of 2.5 per cent voted against secession, while counties with an average slave composition of 36 per cent voted for secession. The anti-secession counties eventually formed the State of West Virginia in 1863. Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee seceded during May, while Kentucky declared neutrality.

Battles in Southside Virginia

Civil War Battles in the east were fought mainly in Virginia. The Union objective was to capture the Confederate capitol in Richmond, while the Confederates were interested mainly in conducting defensive operations. Between 1861 and June 1864, all of the large battles in the east were fought north of the James River. Between June 1864 and April 1865, Southside became the venue within which the Union and Confederate eastern armies fought.

Food shortages within the state were becoming acute by 1863. Refugees from the battle zones flocked to Richmond; many of the farms within the area were unable to produce and shipment of foodstuffs from other areas was restricted greatly due to the competition with military supplies for rail transport. A drought in 1862 further exacerbated Virginia's food problem. Food prices skyrocketed in urban areas as a result. Food riots erupted in Richmond in March 1863. In response, the Confederate government released food reserves, merchants dropped prices, and Richmond expanded its food aid program.

Beginning in early May 1864, the Union Army of the Potomac slowly pushed the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia towards Richmond. Though losing battle after battle, the Union army continued to grind towards its objective, using Virginia's navigable waterways and the navy to replace men and equipment lost in combat. On 15 June, the Union army began a siege of Petersburg, 20 miles south of Richmond. Petersburg was the junction of several roads and railroads, through which Richmond and the Army of Northern Virginia maintained communications and supply links with the rest of the south.

The siege of Petersburg was accompanied by combat throughout Southside. On June 16, 17, and 18, Union and Confederate forces fought for control of the rail junction at Lynchburg. The Confederate victory led to a Confederate raid on Washington, D.C. In retaliatory strike, the Union burned farms throughout the Valley, in the path of the Washington raiders to eliminate that supply source to the Army of Northern Virginia. On June 25, 1864, the only Civil War battle in Halifax County was fought when Union cavalry intent upon destroying the Richmond & Danville Railroad encountered Confederate resistance at the Staunton River crossing. The 53rd Virginia Infantry was posted at the crossing, and rapidly was augmented by 579 additional men: 250 reserves, a 150-man South Carolina unit that was in Danville, a 150-man unit composed of "old men and boys" from Halifax County, and 29 civilians who supplemented the enlisted ranks. The Union unit, approximately 2,000 men strong, attacked the Confederate position four times before retreating, leaving the bridge intact.



The Confederate victory at Staunton River Bridge slowed, but did not prevent, the Confederate demise. On April 2, 1865, the last railroad into Petersburg was severed by the Union Army, and the Confederates were forced to abandon Richmond. The Confederate government fled via the Richmond & Danville Railroad to Danville. The Army of Northern Virginia also attempted to retreat to Danville, but Union cavalry cut the Richmond and Danville Railroad on April 5, forcing the army to seek a base of supply at Lynchburg. By April 9, the Army of Northern Virginia was surrounded at Appomattox Court House and surrendered.

Halifax County Supports the War

Although only one battle was fought in Halifax County during the war, county residents were affected throughout the conflict. In 1861, 1,740 of Halifax's 10,608 white population formed 20 full Confederate companies. In early 1862, as the one-year enlistment for Confederate volunteers was expiring, it was apparent that more troops were required to continue the fight. In April, the Confederate government instituted North America's first conscription act. All white males between the ages of 18 and 35 became eligible for military service.

Conscription was intended to promote volunteers, rather than create a coerced army. Conscripted men were placed into existing regiments. Volunteers were allowed to join their unit of choice, and to participate in the election of officers. Drafted men from northeastern Halifax County were designated for service in either the 69th or 84th Virginia Infantry.

The conscription act soon became a bone of contention throughout the south. Not only was it divisive, but it was not evenly applied. Exempted from the draft were specific categories of "war-essential" civilians. Smiths, millers, railroad employees, teachers, apothecaries, and civil servants.

In September 1862, the draft age limit was raised to 45, and exemptions were expanded; one white man on a plantation with 20 or more slaves could claim exemption. The exemption of planters with more than twenty slaves (or their overseers) proved especially galling to the general public; many planters with more than twenty slaves tended to grow cash crops such as cotton or tobacco, rather than food. By the time many of these larger plantations switched from cotton to food production, the south's transportation system was in disarray and the general population was little affected by the change.

Exacerbating the friction over exemptions was the practice of substitution. Draftees could hire anyone ineligible for the draft to serve in their stead. The military service for the substitute was up to three years, or until the substitute himself became eligible for service.

Substitution soon became a thriving business, with brokers connecting desperate conscripted men and those willing to serve. Some substitutes reported for duty and then quickly returned to Richmond where they sold their "services" again. By December 1863, substitutes could be purchased for between 150 and 6000 Confederate dollars (between 15 and 300 U.S. gold-eagle dollars).

Like slavery, substitution was a tradition that caused friction in a society stressing egalitarian values. Combined with planter exemptions, substitution led to the belief amongst the common populace that the Confederacy was waging a "rich man's war and a poor man's fight." Substitution caused such widespread unrest that the Confederate Congress legislated it out of existence in December 1863.

As the war progressed, the draft was expanded and exemption categories were pared. After February 1864 the maximum draftable age was raised from 45 to 50, and the minimum age was dropped to 17. Also, men seeking exemption status were charged $500.00 for the privilege. Overseers had to prove that they had been employed as overseers before the war, and a civil magistrate and two witnesses had to attest that the overseer was indispensable. Exempted planters had to donate a specified quantity of food stuffs to maintain their status. Planters in the Valley and Piedmont especially were encouraged to sell their excess produce to the government to support the Army of Northern Virginia.

In Halifax County, few who applied for exemptions were rejected. Among the rolls of those who were granted exemptions were many of Halifax County's leading families. But, while many of the exempted Halifax planters could have claimed exemption under the "20 slave" rule, many instead chose to hire substitutes. Within some Halifax families, younger brothers served as substitutes for their older siblings.

Takeover of Railroad System

During the Civil War, both combatants quickly recognized the utility of railroads. Not only could troops be shuttled quickly from one location to another and goods whisked from the factory to the front, but wounded and prisoners could be transported away from combat zones. As the hub of Virginia's combat-zone railroads, Richmond soon became a supply, troop transport, prison, and hospital center.

The Richmond and Danville Railroad became a primary link between Richmond and hospitals and prisons in Southside. The germ theory of disease transmission was introduced by Louis Pasteur only a few years before the war, in 1857.

Sanitary commissions lobbied in the north and the south for the establishment of clean hospital facilities. A limited number of specially designed hospitals were constructed in Richmond, Danville, Lynchburg, Farmville, and Petersburg. Petersburg supported three hospitals. In Lynchburg, 32 buildings were used to house the 10,000 wounded that passed through the city over a three year period. Otherwise, wounded were housed in private homes or in converted buildings of questionable cleanliness. A total of 32 hospitals were maintained in Richmond throughout the war.

Improvements in weapons, tactics, medicine, and transportation during the Civil War led to an unforeseen consequence: large numbers of the enemy were captured. During the war's first year, few prisoners were taken by either side. Temporary blockades were established in warehouses, jails, or other secure buildings until an informal prisoner exchange could be arranged.

During the second year of the war, both sides began taking prisoners in large numbers. An official exchange policy was enacted between the warring armies. Prisoners that could not be directly exchanged were paroled. Under the terms of parole, released prisoners agreed not to take up arms again until formally exchanged. Under these policies, only sick and wounded prisoners required extended care.

The system collapsed when the Union began to employ black troops. The Confederacy refused to exchange any black soldier who could not prove that he had been free before the war. Also, the Confederates began to return parolees to battle before they were officially exchanged. In mid-1863, the exchange system halted and prisoners accumulated rapidly on both sides. The Union constructed prisoner-of-war camps. The Confederacy jury-rigged prison camps throughout the south, with the aim of holding as many men as possible with minimal effort. By the end of the war, the Confederacy detained 194,743 Union soldiers; the Union held 214,865 Confederates.

Richmond became the primary clearing house for prisoners. By the spring of 1864, Richmond's converted tobacco warehouses, and Belle Isle in the James River, were at capacity, and prison camps were established in other cities. Six warehouses in Danville were converted to prison use. The first Union prisoners arrived in Danville during the spring of 1864. When the War in Virginia ended on April 9, 1865, 703 Union prisoners were under guard in Danville.

Though the transport of hospital patients and prisoners added to the R&D railroad's use, they were a minor part of the large increase in traffic volume promulgated by the war. At first, the government and military conducted business as usual with the railroad, competing with private individuals, farmers, and industry for space on trains. But in 1863, the Confederate government confiscated the R&D to assure that military trains would receive priority.

By the time the government assumed control of the railroad, it was beset with problems. Sections of track often failed through overuse. Since most southern industries were working at capacity to support the armies in the field, replacement rails were not readily available. Track often was scavenged from smaller lines that were not critical to the war effort. Trains frequently broke down, and repair facilities and replacement parts were unavailable. Engineers often scrounged the countryside for fuel.

The importance, and wear, upon the R&D increased as the war progressed. As Union armies made advances in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, the railroads upon which Richmond and the Army of Northern Virginia depended were cut off. On 1 June 1864, a rail link, the Piedmont Railroad, was established between Danville and Greensboro, North Carolina linking the R&D with the rest of the south's rail system. This link provided the Confederacy with a dependable rail route through "loyal" Virginia.

During the fall of 1864, the R&D became the sole rail link between Richmond and the remainder of the south. Whether food and industrial goods were produced domestically or imported into the Confederacy through the blockade, rail transport was through Greensboro to Richmond. Soon the volume of goods outstripped the railroad's capacity. While Richmonders and the Army of Northern Virginia scrabbled for supplies, goods sat by the tracks awaiting transport.

In April 1865 the Union army captured the Southside Railroad, the rail link between Richmond and Lynchburg. The R&D was Richmond's last rail link with the outside world. An evacuation of Richmond was begun immediately. The government used the R&D to escape to Danville. The Army of Northern Virginia attempted to follow the R&D line to Danville, but was turned towards Lynchburg when Union cavalry cut the railroad at Amelia Courthouse. When the war ended, the R&D was used to send Union troops homeward from North Carolina, and to shuttle former Confederate troops in Virginia southward to their homes.

Reconstruction and Growth (1865-1917)

Political Ramifications of Civil War

The defeat of the Confederacy resulted in dramatic social and economic change throughout the south. Union political leaders, who had concentrated upon ending the war, were ill-prepared for the sudden conclusion. Congress left the task of announcing a Union Reconstruction policy to the new President, Andrew Johnson. With the end of the Civil War, Confederate governments were dissolved immediately. Union troops occupied the south to ensure order. The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, commonly referred to as the Freedman's Bureau, was established to assist former slaves in the transition from slavery to citizenship.

Initially, the Freedman's Bureau intended to distribute 40-acre parcels of the lands abandoned by Confederates during the war to freed slaves. President Johnson hindered the Bureau's efforts. Johnson began Reconstruction by granting a blanket amnesty to all Southerners who were not upper-level members of the Confederate government, Confederate military officers, or planters who owned more than $20,000.00 worth of property before the war; classes generally blamed for secession and the war. Those excluded from the general amnesty had to apply individually for pardons. Those not included in the amnesty or pardoned lost the right to vote. Johnson (who wanted the Southern white vote, to regain the presidency), invalidated the Bureau's land distribution policy when he issued pardons to former Confederates. After the 1865 harvest, most Bureau lands were returned to their former Confederate owners. Freedmen were directed to sign labor contracts with their former masters . Though the Bureau's land policy was deconstructed, it was still able to help former slaves. By 1867, the Bureau established a court system to ensure that African Americans received impartial judicial services.

Voting-eligible Southerners were encouraged to reconstitute state governments as soon as possible. These governments were then told that repudiation of the secession ordinances, repudiation of debts incurred during the war, and ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution (outlawing slavery) would allow readmtance of a state into the union.

Virginia already met these qualifications when the war ended. When the Virginia secession convention had ratified secession in 1861, Virginia's pro-Union men had met in Wheeling and elected a new, pro-Union state government headed by Francis H. Pierpont. The Pierpont government seated in Alexandria, and assumed political control over Union occupied portions of Virginia, which by 1865 included a large part of the state.

The Pierpont government never endorsed secession, and in 1864 voted to emancipate Virginia's slaves and restrict the vote upon the conclusion of the war to "loyal" Virginians. Still, Virginia was placed under the temporary administration of the army.

Virginia was included in the wave of northern ire that erupted over southern actions during the summer and fall of 1865. Though Virginia's voting populace elected pro-Union men into government, many of the other southern states turned to their war-time leaders for post-war governance, which angered the north.

Further angering northerners were the debates within the newy reestablished state governments over the terms of readmittance. Though all of the states ended up agreeing to repudiate the secession ordinances, many did so grudgingly. Also, some states, such as Virginia, refused to disqualify their war debts. Finally, though all states ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, they also passed a series of laws aimed at restricting African Americans. Though these new laws did not violate the letter of the Thirteenth Amendment, they violated the intent. The last straw came in the fall of 1865, with the election of the southern Congressional delegation. Many of those elected had served in the Confederacy during the war. The highest ranking was Alexander Stevens, the former Confederate Vice-President. All of the southern delegation were physically barred from the Capitol building. The northern delegation declared presidential reconstruction at an end.

Early in 1866, the Virginia General Assembly passed the first law intended to restrict African Americans within the state. This first law declared "vagrancy" illegal. The Freedman's Bureau supported the vagrancy law, which was intended to prohibit African Americans from wandering aimlessly throughout Virginia in search of jobs. Planters as well as the Federal government were concerned that African Americans would chose not work on the plantations in large enough numbers to restore Virginia's economy.

In March 1867, Congress passed the Reconstruction Act. This act dissolved southern state governments organized following the war, extended to African Americans the right to vote, made ratification of the new Fourteenth Amendment a requirement for readmittances and established an Army presence in the south to enforce Congress' will as long as necessary.

Virginians quickly adapted to the new circumstances. In 1868 they ratified a new constitution that gave African Americans the right to vote, and protected the right to vote for all amnestied and pardoned ex-Confederates, and ratified the Fourteenth Amendment. Congress accepted Virginia into the Union in January 1870. Although slaves had gained their freedom, along with their right to own land, Virginia's political and economic climate remained white-dominated.

Though the state government was controlled by whites after the Civil War, few punitive laws against African Americans were enacted. In fact, some laws intended to keep poor whites and African Americans "in line," such as the poll tax and whipping laws, were rescinded. Many African Americans were appointed to low-level government positions, and free public education for all Virginia residents was enacted.

This period of delicate racial "harmony" passed towards the end of the century. In 1900, Virginia enacted the state's first "Jim Crow" laws, enforcing the separation of whites and African Americans within railroad cars, trolleys, and ships. Though the first Jim Crow law passed by a one-vote margin, other racially biased laws soon followed, including the reinstitution of the poll tax.

Social and Economic Ramifications of Civil War. Much of Virginia was devastated by the war. Union armies had burned most of the farms in the Valley; confiscated farm crops, seed, and machinery in Southside, Tidewater, and Piedmont; and destroyed industrial facilities throughout the state. Fires set during the fall of Richmond consumed the entire city. Nine months of shelling left many of Petersburg's buildings unusable. In the Halifax area, the war also resulted in the devastation of the town of Clarksville.

After the war, Confederate money was worthless. Few in the Commonwealth had the financial resources immediately available to begin rebuilding the state's ruined infrastructure and industry. Exacerbating Virginia's plight was the fact that the virtually untouched western third of the state had separated from Virginia in 1863 to form the new state of West Virginia. Virginia could not utilize the resources available within its former western region to rebuild.

Virginia's cities struggled to reestablish themselves as commercial and industrial centers. By the last decade of the nineteenth century, Virginia experienced considerable economic growth. This growth was due in large part to mining, timbering, tobacco manufacturing, and the expansion of railroad and shipping lines.

Richmond regained its stature as a prominent industrial city by the 1870s through the development of the cigarette industry. The first electric trolley system in the nation was established in Richmond in 1888. Danville also recovered as a large textile community took shape. The community of South Boston expanded due to its strategic location along the R&D line. By 1880, Halifax County boasted three unincorporated villages, including Halifax and South Boston in Banister Township. The population of these three villages accounted for 1,036 of a total county population of 33,588. By 1880, other agricultural-related manufacturing industries had sprung up in Halifax County. According to the 1880 Industrial Census, businesses operating in both Roanoke and Banister districts included lumber mills, blacksmith shops, flourmills, wheelwrights, and tobacco manufacturers.

Reestablishment of Transportation Networks

Virginia's transportation networks were one of the main Union targets during the war, and by 1865 were in ruins. Canal traffic along the James and Roanoke rivers was slowed considerably by the Union blockade of Confederate ports. During the final year of the war, Union troops destroyed canal walls and locks.

The Roanoke Navigation Company recovered quickly, and by 1872 the company was financing improvements to the canal. Gaston continued to be the most heavily used of the canal's "ports." In 1877, though, the company became mired in lawsuits. In both Virginia and North Carolina charges were raised of improper canal maintenance. Water overflowed into neighboring fields and causing crop damage. In Halifax County, a lawsuit was filed charging that the company levied tolls when none were due. As a result of the lawsuits, Virginia and North Carolina revoked the company's charter in 1877.

Virginia's network of railroads was virtually destroyed during the war. Tracks were torn up, many railroad bridges were destroyed, and rolling stock was in disrepair. Virginia responded quickly to this dire situation by re-establishing rail lines. This was accomplished through a combination of private investment and state aid.

William Mahone, a former president of the Norfolk & Petersburg Railroad and a former Confederate General, recognized the necessity of repairing Virginia's railroads to restore the state's economic health. Mahone succeeded in consolidating several small pre-war railroads in 1870. His new line, the Atlantic, Mississippi, & Ohio Railroad (renamed the Norfolk & Western in 1880), extended westward from Norfolk, through Petersburg, Lynchburg, and Bristol. Soon, Mahone's railroad was shuttling cotton and crops from east of the Appalachians, and coal from West Virginia and southwest Virginia to the port of Norfolk. Following the Panic of 1873, many of the region's railroads went bankrupt. Northern businessmen, recognizing the profit potential of trans-Appalachian and coal transport, subsequently acquired and consolidated much of the railroad lines. The Baltimore & Ohio and Penns@vania railroads were the two largest purchasers of Virginia's railroad stock.

The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, established in 1868, connected Hampton Roads and Richmond. By 1873, the railroad extended to the Ohio River. By 1880, the Norfolk and Western Railroad was formed, whose line extended west from Norfolk to Roanoke, crossing through Southside. In 1885, 2,430 miles of track were in operation in the state. This was 1,140 more miles than were in operation in 1860. All the tracks were of a standard gauge allowing rail connections with the rest of the country.

In 1893, the state's railroad network was consolidated into the Southern Railway System, which was controlled by the Richmond Terminal Company. The railroad's main line extended from Washington to the far South, passing through the towns of Charlottesville, Lynchburg and Danville. The Southern Railway also had branches that connected Danville to Richmond and Norfolk. The expansion of the railroads led to the growth of Virginia cities. Newport News prospered after the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad established its port terminus at this location.

The reorganization of Virginia's railroads made possible improvements in the freight and passenger service. The introduction of the refrigerator car allowed for the transportation of perishable goods, opening up new markets for agricultural production.

Transition in Agricultural Economy

The South's defeat in the Civil War brought changes in agriculture. The major change was the loss of the former slave labor force. Without such a system in place, plantation agriculture was inefficient. Initially, the plantation owners sought to replace their slave labor force with whites. When northern and immigrant labor was not forthcoming, however, they came to view their former slaves as an acceptable work force. By 1880, the transition from slavery to wage working, sharecropping, and tenant farming was complete, with many planters relying on a combination of labor systems.

In 1872-1873, the Virginia General Assembly enacted a crop lien law, which was intended to provide farmers credit and to collect debts. The crop lien law entitled a supplier to a crop lien equal to the value of any advances he made. The crop lien became the most predominant form of handling the region's credit needs. Both merchants and farmers relied on these crop liens to ensure repayment.

Wage labor was adopted by some planters, and was the preferred system since it allowed them full supervision of their agricultural affairs. Under this system, yearly contracts were drawn up and the workers received monthly wages and weekly food rations. Landowners provided "meal and meat, cabins, fuel, garden space, and sometimes clothes". Cash shortages during the immediate post-war period, however, limited the ability to pay cash wages.

Sharecropping was accepted quickly in the tobacco belt, resulting in a fairly smooth transition from their previous dependence on slave labor. Under this system, the landowner supplied the land, buildings, teams, tools, one-half the expenses, and supervision. Landowners were no longer responsible for clothing, nursing, and feeding their labor force. The sharecropper would, in turn, supply the labor and farm a portion of the plantation. The laborer was paid a fraction of the crop or its equivalent monetary value in exchange for his effort. Freedmen preferred sharecropping agreements since it provided them with a degree of independence and authority in the overall management of their land. Many planters, however, did not welcome the idea of sharing responsibility for harvesting crops.

Another alternative was rental, or tenancy. In this system, renters gave landholders either a cash or crop payment in return for the "unobstructed" use of their land. Under this system, laborers were given the opportunity to farm an individual parcel of land without supervision. Virginia's labor shortages forced many landowners to rent portions of their land to freed slaves. Planters tended to rent portions of their property that contained poor quality soils. The tenant farmer also had limited access to livestock, fertilizer, seed and tools. As a result, tenant farming did not serve as a means to rise into the status of private ownership.

Another significant trend in the state's agricultural production during the Reconstruction period was the overall decline in tobacco production. Farmers in areas with marginal soil shifted from tobacco cultivation to the production of food crops. Many tobacco belt farmers, however, continued to cultivate tobacco as their chief crop. Still, the tobacco industry only achieved a fraction of its prewar production level. By 1870, tobacco production declined roughly 55 per cent from the preceding decade. This was due, in part, to the fact that many planters were forced to scale back their previous investment in tobacco cultivation. Farmers either sold portions of their property, or let the fields lay fallow. Even with less land to manage, planters encountered difficulties working with freed African-American laborers.

Cities such as Danville, Lynchburg, Petersburg and Richmond erected large warehouses and factories connected to the tobacco industry. Farmers in southern Virginia began to grow increasing quantities of the light-colored, flue-cured variety to satisfy the growing demand for cigarettes.

One crucial development in the economic, agricultural, and labor history of the postwar tobacco belt that not only facilitated widespread sharecropping in Southside counties but kept tobacco factory operatives at work as well was the appearance of a new strain of tobacco called Bright. Bright described a yellow tobacco, often called "fancy yellow," much lighter in color than the older dark leaf variety, Orinoco. Bright was also milder, more aromatic, and had greater resistance to the bruising and staining of the manufacturing process. The most compelling feature of Bright, however, was that it actually grew best in poorer soils of light, somewhat sandy composition, its hue resulting from semistarvation. Its growth was restricted to a central band along the Virginia-North Carolina piedmont border that came to be known as the new or Bright belt..

A series of droughts between 1867, 1868, and 1869 restricted tobacco yields . The depressed market was exacerbated further by the federal government's imposition of an excise tax on tobacco products. In 1863, tobacco was taxed at 10.96 cents per pound; this amount rose to 22.08 cents by 1865, and 34.77 cents by 1866. These high taxes were passed onto the consumer. Tobacco leaves remained in high demand and, by the end of 1865, farmers were selling their tobacco at two or three times the price of antebellum tobacco.

Between 1870 and 1880, the nature of tobacco cultivation underwent a distinct change as the quality of burley, or dark, tobacco grown in Virginia decreased in most counties. Many farmers shifted to crop diversification, producing such crops as corn, wheat, oats, and dairy products. In some cases, wheat rivalled tobacco as a major source of income, especially on larger farms and plantations . By 1880, Southern tobacco farmers produced 25 million pounds less than the 1860 yield. Tobacco prices also fluctuated during this period, ranging from a high of fourteen cents per pound in 1874 to a low of six cents in 1879. "in the late 1870s, the cost of tobacco production nearly equaled the prices received for the crop, even though the acreage under cultivation had been reduced. Traditional tobacco culture in most areas of Virginia was stagnant".

Between 1885 and 1914, tobacco production declined, and alternative economic pursuits, such as grain milling, tanning, and sawmilling, became important elements of the regional economy. Mining companies further developed the mineral resources in the southern part of the county . Towns such as Virgilina formed during the 1890s around these coal and copper mines.

Several Southside counties switched successfully from the production of burley to bright tobacco. Halifax County was successful at making the transition to the cultivation of Bright tobacco and represented one of the two largest tobacco-producing counties in the state during this period .

By the late-nineteenth century, railroad construction moved tobacco production and market centers westward into Kentucky. The improved transportation network was effective in opening new farmland suitable to the new variety of Bright tobacco. This new type of tobacco replaced the darker budey tobacco grown in Tidewater, Piedmont, and Southside. "Cigarettes, which were made from bright tobacco, caught the public fancy, while pipe and chewing tobacco, both of which came from the budey variety, decreased in popularity and, therefore, in value". By 1880, Kentucky supplanted Virginia as the leading tobacco state, producing one-half of the region's crop.

Tobacco production rebounded after 1914, and once again dominated the economy of Halifax County . The town of Clover owed its twentieth century prosperity and growth in large measure to tobacco. In 1907, tobacco sales at the Clover warehouses exceeded 1 million pounds. By 1900, the town had a population of 225. Businesses located in Clover at the turn of the century included two tobacco warehouses, seven commercial establishments, one drug store, one hotel, and the Bank of Clover. Residents could chose from five churches, and there was a graded school.

World War I to World War II (1917-1945)

Three events occurred during this period that transformed the state and the nation: World War I, the Depression, and World War II. World War I affected Virginia slowly at first. When fighting began in Europe in 1914, the combatants turned to the United States as a source of agricultural and industrial goods. For example, the ammunition division of the DuPont Company was overwhelmed with orders and constructed several plants in Virginia to take advantage of the rail and riverine transportation.

World War I

The amount of commodities purchased by the combatants also led to an increase in the number of farm acres within the state, which rose dramatically when the United States entered the war in 1917. Between 1915 and 1918, the number of Virginia acres cultivated rose by 600,000 acres. The acreage devoted to truck crops increased 65 per cent, and production of tobacco increased six per cent. Another significant impact of the war on Virginia's agricultural economy was the dramatic increase in the value of rural real estate. This upward trend continued into 1920, at which time the average value per acre reached a high of $68.46.

When the United States entered the war in April 1917, a massive construction effort was begun in Virginia. Most of this construction was centered around Washington D.C., the administrative center for the war effort, and Hampton Roads, home port for the Atlantic Fleet. Towards the end of the war, during September and October 1918, an influenza epidemic swept the country. More Americans were killed by the flu during 1918 than by combat in Europe during the entire war. In Virginia, 11,641 persons died; precise statistics for Halifax County are not available.

When the war ended, volunteers returned home. African Americans who had volunteered for service expected to return to a changed state; they had fought for the United States and expected that this service would be acknowledged through the repeal of the Jim Crow laws. When they found the Jim Crow laws to be enforced as strictly as before the war, African Americans began migrating north to the country's industrial cities.

Depression Era

The second event to shake Virginia and the nation during this period was the Great Depression. The Great Depression began after the collapse of the stock market in October 1929. Prices, land values, and employment all dropped precipitously between 1929 and 1933, the low point of the depression. In Virginia, the value of rural land reached a low of $31.89 per acre, far below the $68.46 garnered in 1920.

The brunt of the drop in tobacco prices was borne mainly by farmers. Throughout the nation, people did not cease to smoke; they switched to cheaper brands. In Richmond, the cigarette industry adjusted to this change in consumption by paying lower prices for tobacco. Exacerbating situation in tobacco-dependant Halifax was the failure of several banks in South Boston.

After Franklin Roosevelt was elected president in 1933, a series of public works programs known as the New Deal were enacted to stabilize prices and provide work for the unemployed. Foremost among these programs in Virginia was the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). In 1934, only 7.6 per cent of Virginia farms had electricity; the percentage rose to 21 per cent by 1940. By 1950, electricity was nearly ubiquitous on Virginia farms.

Other New Deal measures resulted in a rise in agricultural prices to near their 1929 levels. Between 1933 and 1938, values crept steadily upward . Also, construction programs were undertaken with Federal funding. State highways were improved or established, and public parks were established. An example uniting both the road and park components of the New Deal is the Colonial Parkway that links Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown in the Virginia Peninsula.

By the late 1930s, Virginia had substantially recovered from the effects of the depression. The beginning of the third event during this period coincided with the end of the depression. In 1939, another war began in Europe.

World War II

Americans were loathe to become involved in another overseas war. Little was done at first to prepare for war. When France was conquered in little more than a month during May and June 1940, Congress began preparations for possible involvement; during the 1920s and 1930s American mobilization plans hinged upon using sites in France to train new recruits. After the Japanese attack upon Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the United States officially entered the war and mobilization efforts increased exponentially.

With the onset of World War II, many farmers shifted production efforts to support the war. In 1945, Virginia's total farm population was 801,000 operating farms. Approximately 20 per cent of these farms were engaged in the wartime production effort. Between 1940 and 1945, Virginia's farmers were successful at producing a higher yield on fewer acres. Virginia tobacco farmers increased production by 32 per cent between 1940 and 1946. In 1946, tobacco production was increased by 56 per cent.

This greater output per acre was aided, in large part, by the contributions from the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station and the Virginia Agricultural Extension Service. Both organizations provided tobacco growers with the latest research on improved varieties, fertilizer practices, disease and insect control, and improved curing methods. For example, the Chatham Experiment Station developed a yellow special tobacco that was capable of average increases in yields of 100 to 200 pounds. Tobacco seeds were distributed to thousands of Virginia farmers. Closer spacing of plants combined with high topping resulted in 10 to 20 per cent higher yields. Other innovative farming practices were the application of improved fertilizer practices, which increased yields from 15 to 25 per cent. These methods were adapted by thousands of Virginia tobacco farmers.

A major roadblock that the farmers encountered during World War II was the limited labor. The higher-paying jobs at war plants and other industrial jobs were successful at drawing many laborers away from farming. An Emergency Farm Labor program, supervised by the Virginia Agricultural Extension Service, was established in May 1943 to recruit additional farm workers. Foreign laborers, who were housed in government camps, were brought in to help harvest crops.

Continued Role of Agricultural Economy

The number of operating farms statewide declined throughout the twentieth century. This was due to several factors. Manufacturing and service industries competed for the available labor force. The introduction of more efficient farming practices, such as improved machinery and the use of fertilizers, resulted in the rise of corporate farming operations, or "agribusiness". The number of farm tenancies also witnessed a steady decline, dropping over four per cent during this decade.

Throughout World War I, the acreage under cultivation in Virginia increased more than 600,000 to reach its peak in 1918. Acreage under cultivation for truck crops increased 65 per cent, and production of other crops also increased. Potato production increased 27 per cent increase; sweet potatoes increased eight per cent; tobacco increased six per cent; and, corn increased five per cent. The average value of Virginia farmland sharply rose during the war. In 1919, Virginia farms were worth about two-thirds more than prior to the war. The average value of farmland was $60.41 per acre in 1918, in contrast to $36.24 per acre in 1913. The upward spiral of rural real estate continued into 1920, at which time the average value per acre reached a high of $68.46. Between 1921 and 1922, farm prices dropped abruptly, and then remained relatively stable until 1929. During the 1920s, the average value per acre of farmland was $49.29.

Tobacco prices suffered greatly during the Great Depression. In 1933, the flue-cured tobacco markets were closed in both North and South Carolina due to low prices. Federal government intervention in 1933 helped to improve prices slightly. Farm values declined during this period. By 1933, the average value of farmland fell to $31.89 per acre. Between 1933 and 1938, values crept steadily upward, with the average value of farmland rising from $31.89 to $40.23 per acre.

Another phenomenon during the depression years was the slow migration from urban to rural areas, due to the high unemployment levels. This trend resulted in a substantial increase in small owner and tenant farms, most of which were operated near subsistence level. As a result, Virginia's tenancy rate rose 29.5 per cent. Even with this increase in farms, the amount of tobacco production declined from 172,134 acres in 1929 to 102,270 acres in 1934. In Halifax County, production dropped from 30,328 to 16,068 during this same five-year period.

Halifax County continued to be reliant on its agricultural industry throughout the twentieth century, and tobacco remained the most important cash crop. During the 1930s, Halifax County hosted the National Tobacco Festival, an event that attracted such nationally known celebrities as Mary Pickford, Postmaster General James Fadey, the Harry James Orchestra, and Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians.

Corn, hay, livestock and dairy remained important agricultural specialties of the region. South Boston established Itself as Virginia's second largest tobacco market and, as a result, much of the county's commercial and trade activity was centered around the Halffax-South Boston area. The Southern Railroad (formerly the Richmond and Danville) and US Route 360 continued to function as the major transportation arteries throughout the twentieth century.

In 1945, the total number of operating farms in Virginia was 801,000. Approximately 20 per cent of these farms were engaged in the wartime production effort. During this period, Virginia's farmers made significant increases in production on a smaller amount of acres. Prior to the war, Virginia farmers had little trouble obtaining labor; however, labor became scarce during Wodd War II. Many laborers were attracted to the higher wages offered at war plants and other industrial jobs. In May 1943, an Emergency Farm Labor program was established to recruit farm workers and maintain a force of competent laborers. This program was supervised by the Virginia Agricultural Extension Service. Foreign laborers, principally from the Bahamas, were brought in to help harvest crops. Most of these workers were housed in government camps.

Virginia farmers reduced their tobacco acreage in order to produce essential food crops. "They planted more food and feed crops; they raised more livestock and increased their output of animal products. They toiled to achieve their goals under insurmountable handicaps such as labor shortages, little new machinery, inefficient tools, shortages of fertilizer materials, and shortages of gasoline and transportation facilities" . Despite the reduced acreage, farmers produced more pounds of tobacco between 1940 and 1946. Virginia tobacco farmers increased production by 32 per cent between 1940 and 1946; in 1946, tobacco production was increased by 56 per cent. Farmers produced more pounds of tobacco annually than during the five-year period preceding the war (1935-1939).

Halifax County's continued agricultural prosperity is reflected in the number of operating farms throughout the early-to mid-century. In 1935, the county had 5,847 operating farms. This number remained fairly constant for the following two decades. In 1950, a total of 5,619 farms were still active in Halifax County. Between the 1950s and 1970s, the number of operating farms and the total acreage of farmland under cultivation experienced a steady decline. The amount of land in farming plummeted from 487,600 acres in 1935 to 265,296 acres in 1975.


(Editor's Note: The full text of this report is planned to be made available on-line when proper permissions have been received. Dec. 20, 2002)

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