The Civil War and Reconstruction brought great social and economic stress to the citizens of South Carolina, and maintaining or starting a family after war’s end was challenging. Examining the 1880 Federal Agricultural Census Schedule gives an interesting snapshot of how well four of my grandfathers coped with the challenge.

Rolin Kite

Second great grandfather Rolin Kite was born in 1818. On 13 April 1861 he was enlisted for a period of twelve months. On July 19, 1861 he was admitted to the General Hospital at Charlottesville, Virginia suffering from “measles & pneumonia”. On 21 September 1861 he was discharged with a diagnosis of “extreme debility”.

Thomas Henry Watson

Second great grandfather Thomas Henry Watson was born about 1835 in Chesterfield county, South Carolina. On 2 June, 1862 he was enlisted at Chesterfield. On 29 January 1863 he was recorded as “sick in Florence hospital”, and by January 1864 he was home on a sixty day medical furlough. He returned to service, but on 5 September 1864 he was admitted to Episcopal Church Hospital, Williamsburg, Virginia, suffering from “diarrohea, chron”. How he spent the remaining months of the war is unrecorded.

George B. Pool

Great grandfather George B. Pool was born in 1838 in Laurens county, South Carolina. On 15 April 1862 he was enlisted at Laurens. From 1862 through May 1864 he was first absent on sick furlough then absent without leave. On 9 April 1865 he entered the C. S. A. General Hospital at Farmville, Virginia suffering from “debilitas”. The hospital was taken over by the Union after Lee’s surrender, and George was paroled shortly thereafter. He returned to Laurens to find his wife and two sons “… living on the charity of friends”. The first year, George “ …made his provision crop and his cotton crop was only sufficient to pay such”.

Isaac Jacob Davis

Great grandfather Isaac Jacob Davis was born in 1848 in Chesterfield, South Carolina. There is no record of service in the Civil War. In 1867 he married seventeen year old Isabelle Jane Teal and set about forming a family in the aftermath of the war.

The Farms in 1880

Rolin Kite had the most land under cultivation- 77 acres- followed by Thomas H. Watson with 50 acres. George B. Pool had 35 acres, and Isaac J. Davis had 15 of his 60 acres under tillage. The total Census farm value was $150 for Rolin Kite, $1100 for Thomas Watson, $215 for George B. Pool, and $100 for Isaac J. Davis.

However, the largest farm was not the most productive. Using the estimated value of all farm production for 1879 to calculate a value of produce per acre cultivated:

Rolin Kite $3.64/acre
T. H. Watson $9.00/acre
G. B. Pool $8.57/acre
I. J. Davis $15.67/acre

Farm Power

The farms illustrate the full range of animal power in use in Southern agriculture. Rolin Kite was cultivating his land with 2 horses, 2 mules, and 3 oxen. I. J. Davis was using 2 oxen. George B. Pool and T. H. Watson each owned 2 mules.

It is likely that Kite’s horses saw most of their service as personal transportation. Every farmer who could afford it retained horses for transportation even after the mule became the standard draft animal on Southern farms.

For decades there was a lively debate over the best source of animal power- the horse, the mule, or the ox. By 1880, the mule was the dominant choice in South Carolina. It is interesting that the oldest farmer- Kite- and the youngest- Davis- used oxen. For Kite, it was probably a situation of holding on to the older tried-and-true choice while embracing the new. For Davis, it was probably an economic issue. Oxen were cheaper to purchase, cheaper to feed, and replacements could be produced on the farm. Southern farmers had resisted producing their own mules, preferring to purchase them, with the majority shipped in from Kentucky and Tennessee.

Oxen could utilize older and simpler farm implements. Davis showed only $5 worth of farm machinery. The others had much higher valuations.

Crops

The three farmers with mules and horses had to dedicate a portion of their cropland to raising oats for feed. Kite had 15 acres of oats, Watson 10, and Pool 5 acres. Davis, as an ox farmer, raised no oats.

All except George B. Pool raised Indian corn. Kite harvested 10 bushels per acre, Watson 1 ½ bushels per acre, and Davis 15 bushels per acre.

King Cotton

Cotton was the major cash crop, and Rolin Kite was the most successful planter in 1879, ginning 7 bales on 8 acres of land. On an identical acreage, Watson only produced 3 bales. Pool ginned 6 bales on 16 acres, and Davis 4 bales on 10 acres.

Assuming an average bale weight of 480 pounds, and an average market price of 14 cents per pound, the potential cash income for each farmer in 1880 was:

1880 Dollars Estimated 2013 Dollars
Kite $470.00 $11,000.00
Watson $201.00 $4,720.00
Pool $403.00 $9,470.00
Davis $269.00 $6,320.00

 

George B. Pool had ¼ acre of his farm dedicated to peach production, with 20 trees producing 50 bushels of peaches. Since George had a history of supplementing his farming income with distilling, as evidenced by a string of arrests for alcohol tax violations, my speculation is that the majority of the 50 bushels of peaches were marketed as peach brandy.

Fifteen years after the end of the Civil War, all four men owned their own homes, had functioning farms, and made a modest income from cash sales of cotton. While there were significant differences in the extent of their farm operations, and differences in their economic status, all appeared to have weathered the storm of war and Reconstruction.

Epilogue

So far as I have been able to determine, Rolin Kite, Thomas H. Watson and Isaac J. Davis all remained in farming for their lifetime. Shortly after the 1800 Agricultural Census, George B. Pool ceased to farm, moved to the town of Laurens, and opened a saloon and other business ventures.

Rolin Kite died 12 November 1897. His daughter, Mary Rebecca, married Miles Watson, son of Thomas Henry Watson. Thomas H. Watson died 16 September 1904. Isaac J. Davis died 14 October 1917. His son Waterman Jacob Davis, married Ada Elizabeth Watson, granddaughter of Thomas H. Watson. George B. Pool died 8 May 1900. His grandson, James Furman Poole and Leona Davis, granddaughter of Isaac J. Davis, are my parents.

References

Rolin Kite

Census Year: 1880; Census Place: Chesterfield, Chesterfield, South Carolina; Archive Collection Number: AD270; Roll: 9; Page: 32; Line: 09; Schedule Type: Agriculture; farm of Rolin Kite.

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Confederate Organizations, compiled 1903 – 1927, documenting the period 1861 – 1865; Catalog ID: 586957; Record Group #: 109; Roll #: 231.

Thomas Henry Watson

Census Year: 1880; Census Place: Cole Hill, Chesterfield, South Carolina; Archive Collection Number: AD270; Roll: 9; Page: 1; Line: 09; Schedule Type: Agriculture; farm of Thos H Watson.

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Confederate Organizations, compiled 1903 – 1927, documenting the period 1861 – 1865; Catalog ID: 586957; Record Group #: 109; Roll #: 44.

George B. Pool

Census Year: 1880; Census Place: Scuffletown, Laurens, South Carolina; Archive Collection Number: AD273; Roll: 12; Page: 4; Line: 07; Schedule Type: Agriculture; farm of George B Pool.

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Confederate Organizations, compiled 1903 – 1927, documenting the period 1861 – 1865; Catalog ID: 586957; Record Group #: 109; Roll #: 124.

Laurens County Office: Equity Court; Equity Court Report Book 1841- 1867, p. 181; film at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.

Isaac Jacob Davis

Census Year: 1880; Census Place: Chesterfield, Chesterfield, South Carolina; Archive Collection Number: AD270; Roll: 9; Page: 24; Line: 09; Schedule Type: Agriculture; farm of Jacob Davis.

General

Ellenberg, George B.. Mule South to Tractor South Mules, Machines, and the Transformation of the Cotton South. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2007. Print.

Cotton production and prices; see http://www.historync.org/cotton.htm .

Present value of money; see http://www.measuringworth.com/index.php.