"Tar Heel" is a common nickname for North Carolina residents, but do you know the origin of the term? Tar Heel was originally an insult referring to North Carolina’s perceived backwardness and the state’s heavy involvement in the turpentine industry, where tar from the trees could easily coat the workers.
Join the Local and State History Room staff from Headquarters Library and the Fayetteville History Museum for an informative talk on Cumberland County’s rich history in the longleaf pine naval stores industry.
The program is scheduled for 1 p.m. Aug. 23 in the Local and State History room at Headquarters Library, 300 Maiden Lane. To register, call 910-483-7727, Ext. 1365, or visit cumberlandcountync.gov/library.
Turpentine is made by distilling resin (pine tree sap) collected from trees. In the state’s early history, it was used in a variety of products such as soap and lamps, as well as in waterproofing and repairing ships. North Carolina’s plentiful longleaf pine trees fueled the turpentine industry.
At one time, the longleaf pine covered almost a quarter of the land in the southern United States, including a substantial chunk of North Carolina. However, the tree’s range declined over the years, and Cumberland County has very few longleaf pine trees left. Nationally, less than 3% of historic longleaf pine forests remain.
Longleaf pine trees were important for early North Carolina settlers, particularly because of their use in the naval-stores industry. Naval stores were essential to the shipbuilding industry.
Great Britain had a massive navy and needed a lot of timber and tar for its ships, and the British colonies provided much of the turpentine. North Carolina had the largest naval-stores industry in the country. By the time of the Civil War, the state was producing more than 90% of the turpentine in the United States.
By the 1850s, Fayetteville served as one of the centers of the naval stores industry because of its location on the Cape Fear River and the area’s network of plank roads, which allowed for efficient transportation of naval products to other areas.
There were around 40 turpentine distillers in the
Fayetteville region. Even as the longleaf pine forests declined, the turpentine industry remained a major employer in Cumberland County through the 1920s.
We hope to see you at the Local and State History Room at 1 p.m. Aug. 23.
Joseph Westendorf is the Local & State History Department manager at the Cumberland County Public Library.