“Plug Tobacco”

“Plug Tobacco”

By Nancy Woodburn Watkins, Madison in the Daily News, c.1960)

Heny Belk’s dissertation on chewing tobacco and its 100-year-old factory is pretty vague, and its location of the Mosely plantation of the Horace Penn Moore is the Bethany section of Rockingham County seems still more vague to this old lady of a tobacco Dan River valley.

Mr. Belk should have called the chew flakes, flavored with licorice, dried peaches, etc., “plug tobacco,” as different from selected leafage, twisted into rolls for pocket biting, called “quids.” Shortly quid tobacco was plain leaf, rolled for pockets, and bore the price of the treated pressed cakes. Every plantation had its “plug” screw press, and even old in Madison (1818-1850) many back yards had plug mule-powered screw-downs for leafage brought in from plantations of the town dwellers, most of whom had town residences on acre lots.

The “plug” was treated for “Down South” covered wagon trade. The big chew cakes were cut to fit sturdy oak plank small boxes and these were plugged tightly inside. So “plug” was a luxury and “quid” was home “chaw.” The licorice trade was foreign and most important. Planters experimented with flavors to get a tasty cake.

R.J. Reynolds’ first absorption was in the plug trade and his “Brown’s Mule” every oldster recalls. This trade nourished wagon making, box making, and after 1880 wooden hogheads in which to screw-press the untreated leaf and ship to Reynolds in Winston. The hogshead industry yielded to the big gasoline trucks of the past 20 years.

Horse drovers throve by importing from the mountains over Kentucky way. Workers would load the plug boxes into long beds of covered wagons in September and start driving the two-horse wagons toward the cotton-growing South, with wayside camp cook utensils hung on the wagon. All stores en route were canvassed and the small boxes were bought as tarde warranted. Several men went with each camp wagon, and usually, a dog.

Barter brought food en route. Some comical stories persist here from 80-year-olds of first rice cooking. Homebound loads were chiefly grosses of coffee beans and sugar, plus luxury of cloth and table ware.


Note: The above article was written by Nancy W. Watkins (1884-1966), a local historian of Madison, North Carolina, in reply to the Greensboro Daily News columnist Henry Belk’s article that had appeared in one of his previous columns. Belk’s column was written about an old tobacco factory on the Hoarce P. Moore’s farm int he Bathany area of Rockingham County. The tobacco factory stood until 2011 when the building was demolished due to its poor condition. A portion of the lumber from the building was incorporated into a new house erected nearby by Horace P. Moore’s grandaughter and husband.

Image: Edward King and James Wells Chapney, illust. “Getting a Tobacco Higshead Ready for Market,” in the GReat South; A Record of Journeys in Louisiana, Texas, the Indian Territory, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, GEorgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland (Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Co., 1875). Documenting the AMerican South. 2002. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 2 February 2012 <http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/king/ill407.html>.

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