Growth in the Postbellum Economy: North and South Carolina Economic Recovery.

After the Civil War the United States entered in to a period of reconstruction. The war destroyed many of the plantations in the south, which provided for the economic need. This discussion will look at how tobacco and cotton faired in the south during reconstruction. It will analyze two different articles. The first article looked at towns in North Carolina and the second discussed South Carolina.

Because the south was decimated after the civil war and it’s economy changed, the south entered a phase of economic rebirth.  The south was at a disadvantage since the north had major urban industries and the south was more agrarian. Roger Biles, in his article, looked at different areas of North Carolinas.  The article, “Tobacco Towns: Urban Growth and Economic Development in Eastern North Carolina.”[1] looked at two towns Winston and Durham to illustrate growth.  For instance Winston’s population grew for 443 to 10,008 residents in a 10 year period demonstrating a recovery from 1890-1900.[2]

In all, Biles study he considered “the four communities that grew and prospered most because of the tobacco boom—Wilson, Kinston, Greenville, and Rocky Mount.”[3] Prior to the mid-1800s there was not wide spread planting of tobacco in North Carolina.  However innovation in how to produce the tobacco and the desire grew rapidly.  “When domestic manufacturers began using the yellow leaves as wrappers for twists of plug tobacco, market prices for the new product shot even higher. ‘Many persons have taken to growing tobacco within the last year or two who probably never raised a plant before,’ commented the editor of the North Carolina Planter in 1858. By 1860, bowing to the requests of their readership, both the North Carolina Planter and the Southern Planter published instructions for the cultivation and curing of bright leaf tobacco.”[4] Just prior to the war land in North Carolina began selling 20-30 times higher.[5]

The importance of tobacco to the North Carolina recovery after the war was even more evident when the price of cotton dripped.  By 1894 cotton was only worth about 4.59 cents per pound from 25 cents per pound in 1868.[6]  This caused more farms to switch to tobacco.  In 1894, “ officials of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad launched a campaign urging farmers to plant more tobacco. The railroad’s managers published supportive editorials in the Southern Tobacco Journal and distributed twenty thousand copies of a pamphlet titled, The Tobacco Planter’s Guide for novice growers of the crop. Soon residents of eastern North Carolina towns joined in the tobacco boom by raising the crop on small plots just beyond the municipal limits.”[7]

This shift even occurred in areas and communities that were “historically and inextricably tied to the Cotton Kingdom” such as the Rocky Mount area, which had the second oldest cotton mill in the state but turned to tobacco.[8]  In all, Biles shows that North Carolina adopted tobacco as an economic response to the falling prices of cotton and the need to rebuild an economy.

In a second article by David Latzko on the South Carolina’s economy as well.[9]  Latzo, in his article, really delved in to the pre and post war economy.  Latzko states, “the Civil War and emancipation affected agriculture and manufacturing everywhere in South Carolina, but the effects were not evenly distributed. The war and its immediate aftermath resulted in a large shift in the geographic distribution of economic activity.”[10] He showed that Farm output in South Carolina in 1860 was about $32,005,366 by 1870 is fell by 52% to $15, 345,679[11], which shows the devastation.  Most interesting about this article is that author breaks down the economic impacts of each county and the major industries.

Like the Biles article, Latzko discussed how cotton prices fell in South Carolina, along with other key factors.  “Cotton production, which accounted for half of all farm output in the state in I860, fell from 353,412 bales in 1860 to 224,500 bales in 1870, dropping in dollar value by 37 percent. The quantity of rice produced declined 73 percent, from 119,100,528 pounds to 32,304,825 pounds, between 1860 and 1870. Rice production decreased 82 percent in value. Between 1860 and 1870, sweet potato production decreased 67 percent, the quantity of wheat produced fell 39 percent, corn production fell 49 percent, and the value of animals slaughtered dropped 74 per.”[12]

Finally, Latzko discusses emancipation and how that impacted the economy of South Carolina.  “The newly freed slaves, owning little non-movable property, had less reason than whites to remain where economic prospects were meager and greater incentive to move where such opportunity.”[13] This impacted the ability to get cheap labor since whites demanded more money for the same work.

It is clear that reconstruction really devasted the economy of both North Carolina and South Carolina.  North Carolina was able to recover better because it quickly shifted from cotton to tobacco.  South’s Carolina’s greater reliance on slave labor caused their recovery to go slower.

[1] Biles, Roger. “Tobacco Towns: Urban Growth and Economic Development in Eastern North Carolina.” The North Carolina Historical Review 84, no. 2 (2007): 156-90. Accessed July 8, 2021.

[2] Ibid, 157.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 158.

[5] Ibid, 159.

[6] Ibid, 162.

[7] Ibid, 163-4.

[8] Ibid, 164.

[9] Latzko, David A. “MAPPING THE SHORT-RUN IMPACT OF THE CIVIL WAR AND EMANCIPATION ON THE SOUTH CAROLINA ECONOMY.” The South Carolina Historical Magazine 116, no. 4 (2015): 258-79. Accessed July 8, 2021.

[10] Ibid, 263.

[11] Ibid, 264.

[12] Ibid, 267.

[13] Ibid, 276.

Published by Mark King

Currently, Mark King works for the Marion County Public Defender’s Office in the Juvenile CHINS Division. He represents families that have become involved with the Department of Child Services. Like most people, Mark enjoys spending time with family and friends and enjoys golf, working out and traveling. He has been lucky with his career-- started as a prosecutor, joined the FBI, had a private practice and has appeared before the Georgia and Indiana trial courts, Indiana Court of Appeals, the United States District Court for both the Southern and Northern Districts of Indiana, and the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Mark has a Juris Doctorate from Indiana University and a Master of Arts in Military History from Norwich University. His passion for history has pushed him to begin working on his second doctorate, a PhD in History. Mark is married and lives on the south side of Indianapolis.

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