If you visit Manatee Village Historical Park, you’ll see that the museum is organized according to the industrial, communal and familial aspects of pioneer life.
The turpentine still at the park served as inspiration for the upcoming exhibit on Manatee County’s turpentine history. One of the biggest industries of Florida, and much of the South, were the naval stores, or turpentine industry. The naval stores industry, in which turpentine is produced, was an influential part in the economic history of the United States, since the early days of the original colonies. First started to produce pine tar for use in ship building, the industry eventually grew to include various other uses. The state of Florida saw the arrival of the naval stores industry in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
29 Number of turpentine stills where the East and West Coast Railway, which led from Bradenton to South East Arcadia, stopped .
After the naval stores industry left northern Florida, it found its way to Manatee County, where numerous camps were located. The East and West Coast Railway, which led from Bradenton to South East Arcadia, stopped at an estimated 29 turpentine stills. The Hall & Cheney Camp, R.T. Hall & Company Prison Camp and the Williams Camp all were located in the Sarasota County area around 1910.
An oral history interview with Berryman “Buster” Longino, provided additional insight into the turpentine industry of Manatee and Sarasota counties. Growing up in Bradenton after moving from North Carolina, Mr. Longino’s grandfather formed several turpentine factorage companies, including T&R Factors. His father owned and operated the Sidell and Bee Ridge turpentine camps from the 1930s to the 1950s.
During the 1800s, convicts were employed at turpentine stills through the convict lease system until it was eradicated in 1920. But before the convict lease system, many of the turpentine workers were African-American slaves throughout much of the South. After emancipation, and after the end of the convict lease system, many African-Americans still took jobs in turpentine camps as a source of income and were often provided shanty housing to live in. According to Mr. Longino, the Sidell Turpentine Camp had 30 to 40 shanty homes in 1934 for the workers and their families. Between every house there was a faucet attached to a well and a commissary for most necessities, and a church and schoolhouse for the kids. At Christmastime, his mother would gather presents for each child in camp and bring candies and goodies to camp for a Christmas party. During summer months, women in the camp made homemade ice cream for an ice cream social in a “great affair.”
The woodsrider, comparable to a modern-day manager, would oversee the work being done in the woods.
Payday was often once a month. Workers would meet at the commissary, where they would meet one-on-one with the camp woodsrider and the turpentine owner. The woodsrider, comparable to a modern-day manager, would oversee the work being done in the woods. How much an individual was paid depended on how many trees were chipped, how many trees were hulled, how many barrels were dipped and how much the man owed to the commissary.
Oral history is an important source of information for many historians, as it helps to reinforce ideas and information. If any readers have any additional information regarding the African-American experience at turpentine camps, please contact me. To learn more about the turpentine industry, visit Manatee Village Historical Park for our exhibit opening 5 p.m.-7 p.m. Thursday. Light refreshments will be served following my talk.
Bridget Donahue-Farrell, curator of Manatee Village Historical Park, loves studying local history and finding comparisons to larger topics within the scope of U.S. history. Email: Bridget.Donahue-Farrell@manateeclerk.com Phone: 941-741-4075