(Note: The following is part of a series of articles looking at the history and evolution of agriculture in Georgia and Bulloch County.)
It soon became evident that the new colony of Georgia had a large number of forests that would produce some of the best naval stores — tar, pitch, paint and varnish — in the world.
The monetary value of naval stores from Georgia and the Carolinas was well known. In 1790, a barrel of pitch (31 1/2 gallons) fetched 25 shillings and 8 pence ($114.18 in today’s money).
The first naval stores products collected were gum rosin and gum turpentine, from which they made pitch (thickened resin) and tar (liquefied resin) for sealing the hulls of sailing ships.
Later, even more products were created, including soaps, candles, medicines, paints and varnishes, lampblack, lubricants and grease.
The regular method of collecting turpentine was by “boxing” the tree: making a large 12-inch-long and three-foot-wide cut. Above the cut, “chippings” were made into the tree every week with an axe or knife to keep the turpentine flowing.
Gum would then flow from the cut into the box hung on the tree. Then, a “dipper” would come back and remove the rosin with a trowel-like spade and scrape off the hardened gum.
They would place this rosin into huge wooden barrels (weighing as much as 700 pounds each when full), which were hauled through the forest to the stills and then to market on turpentine wagons.
The ungainly horse-drawn turpentine wagons were capable of carrying three large barrels because of their nine-foot high wooden wheels that helped to offset the weight.
The turpentine still was a curious looking device, which consisted of a copper condensing tube (or worm) that carried steam and turpentine oil from a huge copper kettle to wooden barrels, where the oil floated to the top and the gum settled on the bottom.
The crop (the area serviced by one still) was large, usually containing around 10,500 trees. Every year there was an eight-month “dipping” season when the gum was collected.
A “woods rider” (sort of an overseer on horseback) supervised the collection of the gum in the woods.During the first two years of operation, an average crop would produce some 83,000 pounds of crude turpentine.
The finished rosin product was graded for clarity and purity into 13 classes (from WW-Extra, the best, to B, the worst), and prices were adjusted accordingly.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at firstname.lastname@example.org.