Records (1888-1968) including correspondence, legal records, reports, photographs.
Established in 1885 in Tarboro, N.C., by F. S. Royster, the Royster Mercantile Company began as a general store, buying and selling produce, seed, farm implements, machinery and other items as well as fertilizer. In 1897 Royster moved his headquarters to Norfolk, Va., and expanded to become the Royster Guano Company with subsidiary and affiliated companies like the mercantile company. Clarence A. Johnson succeeded Royster as manager of the Tarboro company and was also president of the Tarboro Ginning Company, a separate but affiliated operation. Johnson and the mercantile company also had close working relationships with other Royster affiliates in the state: the Consumers Cotton Oil Company, the Cotton Belt Land Company, the Farmers Supply and Gin Company, and the Royster Ginning Company. By the early 1920s the mercantile company was withdrawing from the general store operations and specializing in fertilizer and associated crop requirements from seed to sale. W. Rand Martin became manager in 1945 after Johnson's death and sat on the boards of several of the small North Carolina Royster subsidiary companies.
The administrative correspondence between the mercantile company and the Norfolk office (1914–1968) is arranged chronologically. The bulk of this correspondence is pre-1940 and includes some correspondence with major suppliers and mercantile company distributors.
The mercantile company's alphabetical subject file (1892–1957) is primarily post-1940 and concerns specific interests and activities of the Tarboro office.
The papers related to N.C. Royster companies (1919–1965) includes companies that the mercantile company dealt closely with either in a supervisory fashion or in a mutual supplier relationship. Also included are personal files for L. D. Hargrove, secretary of the mercantile company; C. A. Johnson; and the records of the Tarboro Merchant's Association.
The mercantile company's customer records are arranged alphabetically (1895–1961). This includes records of individual farmers, suppliers, and distributors. These papers are more specific to the mercantile company's daily activities even though to some extent distributors and suppliers also appear in the administrative correspondence.
The financial records include correspondence (1893–1968); financial topics arranged alphabetically; and ledgers. Economic topics are the major points of discussion in the collection. Correspondence with dealers throughout indicates both price of goods according to availability and also market ups and downs for specific goods handled. Economic conditions were monitored steadily by the Norfolk office which repeatedly urged the mercantile company to collect on their accounts, watch their customers' ability to pay off their notes, and not become overextended themselves. In lean years the mercantile company was encouraged to cut expenses on futures (12 November 1920). In 1932, E. O. Burroughs was sent from the main office to Bethel, N.C., to help coordinate collections. There was a constant interchange of correspondence between Johnson and C. F. Burroughs in Norfolk, assuring that company policy be maintained and that the main office understood the local situation. They discussed economic philosophy (February 1921) and the possibility of using co-ops as distributors of fertilizers (19, 21 February 1923). Fertilizer-related bills in the Legislature were closely watched (1921, 1923, 1937) as were bills concerning the Federal Intermediate Credit Banks (1931) and the 1934 $.12 government loans on cotton (1936) in the depression years. Johnson had been president of the Farmer's Banking and Trust Company and was able to provide local economic information to the Norfolk office.
All aspects of the business relationships between the main office, the mercantile company, and local subsidiary companies are reflected. The mercantile company capital stock was increased in 1920 and dividends were regularly declared except during the early depression years. Monthly funds for the Tarboro office expenses were sent from Norfolk and procedures for ordering, shipping, accounting, and contracting were worked out and refined. Bookkeeping for several of the subsidiary companies was done by the mercantile company and was then reported to the Norfolk office. Accounting practices were decided in Norfolk and then kept by the associated companies.
World War I is reflected mainly in the war tax that was applied to goods shipped (1917, 1918). A broadside from the National War Savings Committee (1918) concerns pledges to purchase war stamps and correspondence discusses Victory Bonds (1920). World War II is reflected as an agricultural war effort in mimeographed regulations fromthe Office of Price Administration (1941–1942), the War Production Board (1942–1943), and the War Food Administration (1943–1945).
Adverse weather conditions including hail, rain, drought, and flooding are reported in correspondence to the Norfolk office (1919, 1920, 1924), as is money paid by insurance companies for crop damage (1942–1946). Insurance is noted in the crop lien books of individual accounts for each farmer (1932–1944, 1948–1960).
Concern for scientific agriculture appears with the use of special formula fertilizers (1920), the employment of a former N.C.D.A. specialist in pesticides to speak at farmers' meetings (1923), and the employment of a chemist (1926). Napthalene was used in 1933, corn test plots were encouraged in 1939, anhydrous ammonia (NH3) was begun in 1955, and in 1961 a nitrogen tank was close to operation. From the mid-1930s the mercantile company joined various agricultural organizations such as the National Cottonseed Products Association, the N.C. Ginners Association, the National Fertilizer Association, and the National Cotton Council to keep current.
A personal file for L. D. Hargrove concerns his family's landholdings in Kinston, N.C. Also included are two of his father's medical ledgers (1919–1925) related to his practice in Kinston. A personal file for C. A. Johnson reflects his activity as president of the Farmer's Banking and Trust Company in Tarboro, N.C. As president of the bank, Johnson was involved in school board arbitration, funding bonds for Edgecombe County, and the town of Tarboro Sinking Fund (1927).
Information on the Tarboro Merchant's Association (1930–1937, 1943–1951) includes notices and a Weekly Bulletin which lists deeds, liens, chattels, and notes for Edgecombe County.
Gift of F. S. Royster Mercantile Company and the Town of Tarboro
Gift of Mr. Kenneth N. Carter
Processed by M. Boccaccio, January 1988
Encoded by Apex Data Services
Literary rights to specific documents are retained by the authors or their descendants in accordance with U.S. copyright law.