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SE Georgia becomes center for turpentine production
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Roger Allen - photo by Special

    (Note: The following is part of a series of articles looking at the history and evolution of agriculture in Georgia and Bulloch County.)
    In 1850, North Carolina had 785 turpentine stills in operation, while Georgia had only 14. By 1891, however, Georgia had 228 turpentine stills that produced 52 percent of the nation’s naval stores.
    Most were located in the Wiregrass of southeast Georgia. The biggest firms were J.P. Williams, B.T. Outland, W.M. Foy & J.W. Williams, J.A. McDougald, J.N. Wood, the Robertsons, the Registers and the Johnson & Graham Co.
    The biggest company of all was owned by J.P. Williams, who ran the largest naval store commission house in the entire southeastern U.S. and managed 700,000 acres of turpentine crops.
    In July 1882, the Savannah Naval Stores Exchange was founded and, according to records, 63,408 barrels of stores were shipped in the Exchange’s first year.
    In June 1883, the name of the Exchange was changed to the Savannah Board of Trade. Soon, the ports of Savannah and Brunswick led the nation in all naval stores shipments, exporting more than one million barrels in 1891–92.
    Meanwhile, lumber was becoming a huge industry in southeast Georgia. In 1810 Georgia sawmills cut and processed board lumber worth only $25,400; and in 1860 Georgia’s sawmills produced board lumber worth nearly $2.5 million, by 1890 Georgia’s mills produced nearly $6.6 million worth of board lumber.
    During this time, a large percentage of that timber was floated down the Ogeechee and Canoochie Rivers. In fact, much of it was cut down in the Lotts Creek area of Bulloch County.
    Once the Ogeechee Canal was completed, many log-raftmen were willing to pay its toll, as the canal was much easier to navigate with log-flows than the rivers.
    Expert lumbermen (or axemen, as they were called) would look for white oaks to use to make ship ribs. The larger white oaks were actually rafted downriver with the root ball still attached.
    It was from these massive trunks that many ship keels would be constructed, often carving the root ball into highly decorated figureheads on the bowsprit.
    Large yellow pine and cypress trees were also much sought after. After the trees were tied or pegged together, they were floated downstream to mills in Savannah.
    The Riggs family of Bulloch County was forced by local officials to construct “locks” so that lumber could be floated past the dam at Riggs Mill in order to get across Lotts Creek.
    Once it reached Savannah, much of the wood was given a fine finish and then shipped to Europe. That wood which was left rough-cut was sold on the Savannah market.
    Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at

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