(17) Agriculture/Forestry

Farming remained the backbone of the regional economy, with many families—white and black alike—toiling as tenants or sharecroppers. Corn remained the most important crop in acreage planted, with cotton becoming the primary cash crop. Wheat, oats, and hay were also planted throughout the region. Certain sections of the Albemarle focused on specialized crops, primarily because of varying soil types. Tobacco and peanuts thrived in Bertie, Chowan, Gates, Hertford, and Northampton counties, while vegetable or “truck” farming—primarily white Irish potatoes and later cabbages---enjoyed the rich black soil to the east in Pasquotank, Camden, and Currituck counties. Hogs were the most important meat animal, with the quality of both pork and beef being gradually improved by hybrid breeding stock and the county fence laws after the 1860s. Blacksmiths and wagon makers in the region manufactured and repaired a large variety of farm equipment and vehicles, with several inventive men patenting improvements of farm machinery. Some counties celebrated the agricultural success with annual agricultural fairs, the most successful being the Edenton Agricultural and Fish Fair, begun in 1889 and succeeded in 1915 by the still-operating Chowan Fair.

Lumber resources propelled the region’s industrial engine after the Civil War. Successful sawmills were established in the 1870s, many by experienced lumbermen from Northern states. While Elizabeth City had the most mills, the largest individual mills were the immense Pembroke and Albania mills erected in 1888 and 1893, respectively, in Edenton. Other large and important mills were located in Plymouth, Hertford, Buffalo City, Roper, and Ahoskie. While small operations, many of them were part-time or seasonal, operated in nearly every community. Some lumber companies were so large or their forest resources so extensive and remote that they operated privately.