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Column: What I didn’t know
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About two weeks ago, I noticed two boxes of photographs and old papers in an outbuilding of my cousin, Allen Teal. Some appeared to have enough age on them to “perk up” my curiosity. He explained he had raked them up along with rat droppings from the floor of an old house that belonged to a distant Teal relative, Elmira Teal James, and her sister who had married E.E. Tarte of Hartsville. He said they were mostly records from the James and Tarte families.

I asked if I could take them so they could be processed and studied. He said to proceed. Having grown up on a cotton and tobacco farm I didn’t expect to learn much about that subject but thought I could pick up some new Teal Family information. Let’s find out what happened.

First, I had to remove them from the box they were in since the box also contained the rat droppings. I then began to sort them into the categories of personal letters, Christmas and sympathy cards, cotton, tobacco, general farm records, bank records and miscellaneous records. I placed the records in an acid free box and folders.

I had to open all letters and clip the envelope to the back of each letter. This becomes useful when a letter is undated. In that case, the envelope’s postmark date is placed in pencil on the front of the letter. I also clipped all other envelopes to the back of their contents.

I placed all of the 52 personal letters in chronological order by date from 1920 to 1951. They contained mostly chatty news plus a few from Winthrop College and Coker College which contained some college news. The content of all these letters was new to me.

The 36 Christmas and sympathy cards and messages contained the expressions of feelings of family and friends. In historical circles, they may be useful in establishing family relations to each other such as aunt, uncle, cousin, grandchild, etc. The list of friends speaks to the amount and quality of someone’s circle of friends and connections. For example, a sympathy card from a casual friend has less historical significance than one from a governor.

The letters and documents pertaining to the growing of cotton from 1933 to 1942 contained a wide variety of such items as marketing cards, ginning records, number of bales sold, price per pound, letters from the U.S. Deptartment of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., about the number of acres to plant and instructions from Darlington County. All of these were records I had never seen as a youth. I learned about some of them in college, but I never saw original examples.

I had chopped and hoed grass out of cotton, plowed it with a mule, and picked it. When growing up, it was never my lot to take the cotton to the gin house or to the sale of our cotton. I had been inside a cotton gin although never when in operation, but I knew and understood how they operated.

There had been a cotton gin in Cassatt owned by the Ratcliff Family and. for a time. my wife’s grandad, Luke McLaughlin, was the ginner. I don’t believe it was in operation when I might have gone inside it. Some of this gin house still stands.

There was an abandoned gin on my friend, Donald H. Holland’s family farm. As boys, we often played in it. Here I am at age 91 still learning new things about a cotton farm. My learning will continue as we next discuss tobacco.

I separated the sale of tobacco from the other records. I found 138 sale slips from the sale of tobacco in warehouses from 1933 to 1946. Each sale slip listed the number of pounds sold and the price per pound. By adding these up, one can ascertain the total sales by the Tarte Farm for a year or the entire period.

The Tarte Farm during 1933-1946 sold their tobacco in 14 different warehouses: in Aberdeen, N.C., Carter’s Warehouse; in Winston Salem, Peppers Warehouse; in Darlington, Center Brick Warehouse, Milling Warehouse, Carolina-Milling Warehouse, Peppers Warehouse, Prices Warehouse; in Timmonsville, Farmers Warehouse, Hite & Motley Warehouse, Palmetto Warehouse; in Mullins, Neal and Dixon Warehouse, Dixon’s 1 & 2; in Lake City, Star Warehouse.

The sale of tobacco in North Carolina may have been a “late in the season” sale after many of the markets in South Carolina had closed. I remember my father selling one time in Aberdeen. We sold most of our tobacco at Center Brick Warehouse in Darlington. I attended sales there in 1945-46.

There were other tobacco letters from Washington and locally. They included marketing cards and regulations a farmer must follow. I never saw any of this paperwork except a marketing card I used when we sold tobacco. As I saw these forms, I continued to learn.

I next took a look at the paperwork dealing with all aspects of the operation of the Tarte Farm. Usually Washington sent a form early in the year telling a farmer how much acreage he could plant in cotton, tobacco and a few other crops. The farmer would receive a form completed by someone from the county agriculture office telling him how many acres he had planted after he had measured them. After World War II, my brother, J.R. Teal, measured farms for the ASC office in Camden.

The bank records from the Tarte Farm such as cancelled checks were present. These records are vital to understanding and assessing the Tarte Farm.

The remainder of the paperwork was classified as miscellaneous. It contains bills from merchants and others. These records help complete the picture of the Tarte Farm on Swift Creek about 2 miles from Hartsville. A box of unprocessed photographs will really help complete this picture.

Once again, I had looked at paperwork I had never seen before and I had learned from my experience. I had grown up on a cotton and tobacco farm, from 1928 to 1946. I became the owner of a part of that farm in 1958 after my mother died. My wife became the owner of a part of their farm after her granddaddy died. We planted the land in pine trees and I sold some of the timber a few months ago.

When I had finished organizing all of the Tarte Farm records, I reviewed them with Allen Stokes, former director of the South Caroliniana Library. For more than 40 years, he has processed and cataloged hundreds of collections for the Library. He stated to me that this collection was the best one he had seen in describing a small cotton and tobacco farm from 1920 to 1950.

From this box of dust covered papers mixed with rat droppings there had emerged a historical treasure!

(The Kershaw County Historical Society provided this column by Harvey S. Teal to the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C.)