HISTORY OF CHRISTIAN COUNTY KENTUCKY
charles m. meacham
FROM RECONSTRUCTION DAYS
The Last Quarter of the Century; A Period of Prosperity; The Tobacco’ Market Organized; The Method of Selling.
Christian County had not been laid waste during the civil war period and there was no dark season of reconstruction under carpet-bag government. True there were changed conditions, but homes had not been burned and the lands were fertile. The negroes had been set free, but most of them had nowhere to go and were more than willing to remain as laborers on the farms where they had always found homes and plenty to eat. Some preferred to change from one neighborhood to another, but there was work for all who wanted work. One difference was that there were no longer meals for those who did not earn them. The former slave owners soon reconciled themselves to the loss of their human chattels. A few years’ trial had demonstrated that, after all, it was better to let the colored man be made the architect of his own fortunes. The negro himself was at first dazed and appalled by his own good fortune, in having liberty thrust upon him without efforts of his own, before he had time to realize that it was coming. But it had come and ten years had passed under the new order of things.
The farmers selected such help as they needed, paying wages as earned or farming on shares, financing the tenants until the crops were marketed. Under the new system, both had prospered. The soldiers from both armies, in some cases brothers who had divided in their allegiance, had come home from the army and gone to work together in harmony. The spirit of animosity and hatred engendered by war is not always shared by the soldiers who fight each other in battle.
An officer in the World War who was on the battle front in France, November 11, 1918, related this incident:
“We had been making an advance each day near Toul and digging in to hold the day’s advance and the engineers would bring up the lines sometimes under fire. While thus engaged Saturday they had lost two or three men and next day the boys had been buried in sight of the German lines. Sunday was a day of ominous quiet and preparation, every soldier was eager for another ‘big push’ Monday morning. Every preparation had been made and by daylight the order to advance was awaited. The order did not come. Time dragged, hour by hour, but still something was wrong. There was impatience and disappointment in the trenches until the hour of eleven o’clock arrived. Then simultaneously on both fronts a long line of white flags were unfurled to the November breezes. The armistice hour of which the soldiers in the trenches were in ignorance had come! The war was over! Then out of the German trenches like ants coming out of a hole swarmed a long line of uniformed men delirious with joy. They threw their helmets upon the ground, they danced and embraced each other, they yelled in their foreign accents across to the Americans who had also emerged and were looking on. Then with guns thrown down and clapping their hands in wild delight, groups of them came running across. As they drew near, one of them called out in English, “Is there anybody here from good old New York? I want to hear from home.” And a moment later the soldier who had been recalled to Germany to fight was shaking hands with American soldiers from New York. Then there followed a mingling of soldiers from both sides and the animosities of four years were forgotten in an hour, at least by those who had been shedding each others’ blood.”
When the war of the states was over, Gen. Grant had been magnanimous enough to let the Confederate soldiers keep their horses and many a war horse had ended his career pulling a plow.
With the spirit of true Kentuckians inspiring them, the soldiers on both sides returned home to take up where they had left off. All of the succeeding years had not been fruitful.
The great national panic of 1873 had made times hard, and the year 1874 had been the year of the great drouth in Christian County, when there was no rain from early in May until near the middle of July, and hardly any tobacco was raised. These hard years had been lived through. Late corn crops had been raised in 1874 and the year 1875 found an era of great prosperity at hand. It is with the events of this period, the last quarter of the nineteenth century, that this section will attempt to deal. Hopkinsville at that time had more than 5,000 people. It had a railroad and had a crude system of street lighting, with oil lamps in the dowii town district and in front of the churches. Many things happened before the century ended.
The schools had greatly improved since the war. The two colleges with boarding departments for girls, had re-opened and were full of students. Major J. 0. Ferrell had arrived in 1873 and opened his famous high school, that was to run for thirty years and of which more will be said in another chapter.
THE TOBACCO MARKET
Hopkinsville did not establish a tobacco market until after the war between the States. It had been the custom to prize the tobacco into hogs-heads, and send it to other markets, to be sold. As the production increased, this became a matter of vital importance in Christian and adjacent counties. There were few roads passable in winter, for heavy hauling, and the first railroad did not come until 1868. (Jlarksville, being a river town, had a market before Hopkinsville. The necessity for a local market became so great, that in the year 1869, following close upon the railroad, the first tobacco warehouse in Hopkinsville was built by Carter L. Bradshaw, George W. Cayce and H. G. Abernathy, under the firm name of Abernathy & Co. The first year it sold two thousand four hundred and
seventy-six hogsheads. On Jan. 12, 1870, when the first sale was held, Wm. W. West sold the first hogshead, and it was bought by E. H. Hopper, a local druggist. The price was $8.10 per hundred. The principal buyers were Jesup and Gant, Thompson and Mills, Dr. J. D. Clardy, E. H. Hopper, S. T. Fox, E. S. Quisenberry and others, all local buyers. It was not long, though, before a board of buyers from other markets was formed. Other warehouses were opened, and Hopkinsville rapidly took a position that it has maintained for nearly sixty years, as the greatest dark fired tobacco market in the district comprising about thirty counties. Large European orders soon came, and the heavy, fat types of tobacco, grown almost exclusively in Western Kentucky and Tennessee, were sought on the Hopkinsville market. The selling, in those days, was by an entirely different method from that practiced at the present time. The tobacco was prized in hogsheads and brought to market, and samples were drawn from the hogsheads, after the casings were removed, and these samples were sold to the buyers, who sat around a table. They were passed from one to another, and knocked off to the highest bidders. This system obtained for several years, and was then superseded by the plan of placing the samples on the bulks when drawn upon the bulk of tobacco, and the board of buyers went from house to house, in regular order, and this plan was followed as long as the tobacco was prized in hogsheads. The present plan of selling at public auction was introduced after the prizing, by farmers, had been discontinued, and the tobacco was being sold at the barns of the growers. As the number of buyers had been greatly reduced, caused by the formation of huge corporations, all farmers were not visited by buyers, and hence the plan of hauling to some central market was necessary, and the present plan of placing tobacco on Loose Leaf Floors was adopted and is now in operation.
The first loose leaf floor was opened on Ninth street, by Robert M. Wooldridge, in the early nineties. Before this the market had reached rather a low ebb. The large buyers had almost put the warehouses out of business, by sending buyers to the barns to buy direct from the farmers. Receiving houses prized the tobacco, and the warehouses were used principally for storage purposes. This system soon grew unpopular. The farmers complained that the buyers divided the territory so that only one buyer visited each producer, giving him no option but to accept the only offer made. The prices were very low, and about 1905 the farmers began to organize, and the Planters Protective Association was formed in Christian and adjacent counties. There was much unrest, and troubles arose, that will not be discussed in this connection. By 1906 two or three loose leaf warehouses were in operation, selling tobacco for those who did not join the association. The buyers found conditions unpleasant in the country and sales increased on the loose leaf floors, causing organized opposition and violent methods to prevent the sale of tobacco, except through the association. These disorders caused a reaction, many refusing
to remain in the association, which soon went out of business. The warehouse firm of J. P. Thompson & Co., under military protection, opened a loose leaf warehouse in January, 1909, which proved to be the pioneer of the present universal system. It was followed by others, and in a few years the buyers practically gave up purchasing from the growers direct, until now ninety per cent of the tobacco is sold on the loose leaf floors, which have increased to eleven in Hopkinsville. In 1922 the Dark Tobacco Growers Protective Association was organized in fifty or more counties of Kentucky and Tennessee, with about 70,000 members, under a five-year contract. The co-operative method of selling was accepted by only a part of the growers, and the warehouses continued in business, selling for outsiders. There was no violence shown, but the Co-operative Association again proved an unpopular way to market the crop and there was no renewal of the contract in 1927, and the association went into liquidation. The loose leaf sales method seems to be firmly established at this time. Under this system, Hopkinsville has developed the greatest market in the world, for the sale of the dark fired type of tobacco. In some years it has sold as high as forty-eight million pounds, about twenty-five to thirty per cent of all of that type produced.
About thirty per cent of this tobacco is consumed in the United States. The rest of it is exported to seventy foreign countries, going practically all over the world. Buyers are located in Hopkinsville, to represent all demands, domestic and foreign. Nearly all of the tobacco is sold in the warehouses, probably as much as ninety per cent. The market is no longer for Christian County alone. Its patronage extends into many counties, and as the roads are improved the field is extended in distant counties, more and more every year.
About five years ago, owing to the increased popularity of Burley tobacco, Christian County began to grow it in a small way. The tobacco produced became popular at once, and the production increased until it is now four million to five million pounds annually. Hopkinsville is the only market, thus far, in the Dark Fired Export Belt, that is selling both types.
The highest prices so far obtained, during the season of 1929, were $48.00 per hundred pounds for Dark and $46.00 for Burley. The average price, for the season, was $14.19 for Dark and $21.98 for Burley.
The tobacco market is conducted by the Tobacco Board of Trade, composed of all buyers and warehouse men in the city. No dealers not operating under its rules and regulations, are recognized. A governing committee is appointed by the president to see that all rules and regulations are strictly observed and carried out. All sales are conducted under the supervision of a sales committee, authorized to impose penalties for violations of the rules. The President of this Board is elected annually. The first President was J. P. Thompson, who served from 1908 to 1910. He was succeeded by R. E. Cooper, who served from 1910 to 1915. Next came L. B. Cornette, who served from 1915 to 1919. J. W. Hancock was elected in 1919, and has been re-elected every year since.
The large corporations having warehouses in Hopkinsville, and in no other markets of the district are: The Imperial Tobacco Company, the George W. Helme Company, The American Snuff Company and the Southwestern Tobacco Company. They own their own mammoth plants and maintain a corps of buyers. Other corporations and firms, owning their own plants are: J. W. Hancock & Co., W. R. Dorris & Co., L.. B. Cornette & Co., U. S. Tobacco Co., B. M. Fairleigh & Co., Continental Tobacco Co., W. H. Simmons & Co., and Carter & Cannon. The warehouse firms in the city are: Butlers Loose Floor, Camp, Dickinson & Chestnut, Dickinson’s Loose Floor, Farmers Loose Floor, Hancock-Cooper Loose Floor, Hancock Warehouse Co., Hopkinsville Loose Floor, McConnell’s Loose Floor, New Enterprise Loose Floor, Tandy’s Loose Floor and Thompson’s Loose Floor.
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