2,000 Trees a Day: Work and Life in the American Naval Stores Industry, 1877 to 1940
Type of Degreedissertation
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This project explores the lives of nineteenth and early twentieth century naval stores workers in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. After the Civil War, turpentine operators faced a high demand for their product, limited capital to embark on new operations, and an uncertain labor supply. Therefore, these men resorted to deceitful labor recruitment tactics to entice free workers to their camps. In addition, operators also supplemented their work force with convict labor. The preliminary focus of this dissertation is the experience—nature of work, work culture, and daily life—of turpentine employees. Previous historians, with the exception of Robert Outland, have dismissed turpentine harvesting as a makeshift operation on the periphery of civilization. In turn, this assessment has led to the misconception that turpentine workers were wild and violent frontiersmen, who rarely formed social bonds, idolized outlaws, and ascribed to a rough and tumble way of life. This work seeks to restore the reputation of naval stores laborers and contends that these men—both African American and white, both free and captive—shared a similar work culture to other industrial workers and established and supported families within the camps. Because this project deals with both African American and white workers, and their families, it will also address the relationship between race, class, and gender, with a particular focus on laborers’ concepts of masculinity. The presence of women within the camps complicates the discourse on gender because it not only adds the dimension of female labor and feminine culture to this study, it also provides male workers with a standard to define their own masculinity.