DURHAM, North Carolina

the origin of the tobacco industry

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cover new england

This is an extract of the article, with small photos. You will find the complete article with full-sized photos in my e-book View America: South Atlantic - Part 1

In the travel series View America, South Atlantic - Part 1 covers Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.

My book does not describe lodgings, restaurants or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 150 full-sized photos.

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the center of the tobacco industry

Durham is a city with a long history. Originally the area housed two Indian Sioux tribes, the Eno and the Occaneechi. The town of Adsusheer was right on the major Indian trade route. In 1701 the explorer John Lawson called this area "the flower of the Carolina's", and hordes of Scots, Irish and English settled in the territory of John Carteret, that was given to him by the English King Charles I, hence the name of Carolina.

Immense plantations were established to grow vegetables, grain and tobacco. The Bennehan and Cameron families owned some 30,000 acres (12,000 hectares) of plantations, and employed 900 slaves. In 1860 the Stagville Plantation lay in the center of this region, with its nearly 4,000 acres (1.620 hectares) the largest plantation in the south. The name Durham comes from Dr. Bartlett Durham, who in 1849 gave land to the railroad to a build a station.

In 1865, General Johnston signed the southern surrender to the northern General Sherman in southern Durham, which meant the end of the civil war. Legend has it that soldiers of both armies celebrated the cease-fire by smoking the local Bright Leaf tobacco. This tobacco pleased them so well that the local farmer Washington Duke resolutely switched his activities from farming to tobacco, and subsequently focused on the sale of tobacco across the whole of America.

He built a factory to manufacture tobacco products by hand, and gave them the name "Pro Bono Publico" (for the public's welfare). Sales increased so enormously, since many soldiers took his products back to the industrial north, that nine years later they built their third factory. In 1884 Duke built the first factory that produced machine-made cigarettes, and the money just streamed in.

This decision made North Carolina the center of the tobacco industry, and it would result in some of the largest companies in the U.S., American Tobacco, Liggett & Myers, P. Lorillard and RJ Reynolds. It also became the basis of the Duke's family fortune.

Washington Duke's children soon diversified alongside tobacco to textile and electricity, and they became benefactors of schools, universities and museums. Tobacco still remains the main export product of North Carolina.

In 1898 the African-American John Merrick founded the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, which to date is the largest and oldest African-American life insurance company. In 1907 the African-American M & F Bank (Mechanics and Farmers) was founded, which became one of the largest "black" banks. In the Durham Parrish Street so many other African-American companies were set up, that this street soon became known as Black Wall Street.

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