Fred Siegel oral history interview, March 20, 1975

Part 1

Fred Siegel
March 20, 1975

Charles Price:

--will fill us in on the next entry of the nineteenth century. Fred Siegel was a native of New York City who was educated at Rutgers for his undergraduate work, received his master's and PhD at the University of Pittsburgh. He has taught at the University of Pittsburgh and is at present a professor at State University of New York at Westbury. He has a number of publications in Historical Methods Newsletter, the Journal of Economic History, Civil War History; he has recently produced a teachers' guide for upper division American history which was brought out by Prentice Hall. He is a former book review editor for Business and Society Review. His topic is "Economic Aspects of Tobacco Marketing and Trade in the Nineteenth Century Danville, Virginia Area." With a great deal of pleasure I give you Dr. Fred Siegel.

Fred Siegel:

I have to confess I'm not quite yet a doctor, but I hope in the next few months I'll hand in my dissertation and I will be done. Let me start off by saying that I very much agree with Dr. Ellen that the history of tobacco in terms of the history of the South has been very much ignored. There is an enormous debate in recent years over the Cotton South and over slavery, and in both cases historians seem to lack a historical sense themselves. They begin their story of the South as if there had been no Tobacco South and as if the characteristics of the Tobacco South hadn't been transferred to cotton areas and to the West. My interest in Danville comes in a rather roundabout way, and I think it will tie into this general concern with interpretations of southern history; that is, I was concerned with relative economic underdevelopment in the United States, why certain areas seem to be relatively undeveloped, and I thought one of the keys to this relative lack of development was urbanization or the relative lack of urbanization. Now I read the works of Dr. Jacob Price and he dealt with what might be called the demand side of the problem, supply in certain markets. What I tried to concentrate on when I looked at Danville is the supply side, the technical aspects of tobacco supply in the nineteenth century.

I'm going to be very brief and general in this paper. What I really want to do is sketch an argument rather than present a historical narrative. I want to sketch an argument which by its very nature of abstracting distorts, but yet makes certain points, I think, about the relationship between tobacco and urbanization. One general proposition, I think, that slavery has been emphasized, overemphasized, to the detriment of other factors like crop and climate in explaining southern history. By way of explanation we point out that most of the characteristics associated with tobacco and slave societies of the nineteenth century were already present before the introduction of black slavery. To paraphrase Aubrey Land, slavery was possible because of the nature of tobacco production; slavery wasn't the source of the nature of tobacco production.

This may seem a long roundabout way to talk about Danville, but I think this long route is necessary for the relationship between tobacco and Danville's development to be put into proper perspective. We first talk in very general terms about the relationships between cities and staples and how that relationship develops in Virginia and finally how that relationship comes to fruition in Danville.

Business can only be done where men meet. If there's an opportunity for a great deal of business, many men meet. Cities are in essence groups of men organized not for living as in the countryside but for accomplishment. The farmer expresses himself in his own work and that of his family and animals. The man of the city expresses himself in the coordination of the work of other men. Cities represent a focal point of a viable economic and commercial life. Much of the history of the modern world is a history of staple crops and urbanization. Late medieval and early modern England depended economically on the export of wool. The England that produced wool for export was like the Old South. It was thinly populated and without substantial organization. It wasn't until the export of raw wool was limited by mercantilism and some wool manufacture was established that England began to become a modern metropolitan society.

On the eve of the American Revolution, Virginia was by far the most populous colony, and its chief export staple, tobacco, had been for a century, and still was, clearly the most valuable export in North America, yet Virginia had no major city. Richmond on the eve of the Civil War had probably not three thousand inhabitants, while Philadelphia was over thirty thousand, New York approaching thirty thousand, Boston was over fifteen thousand, and even inland cities like Harrisburg and Albany were as large as a port city like Richmond. Newport and Baltimore were the exceptions that proved the rule. Newport and Baltimore were two areas of tobacco country that produced rapid urbanization in the eighteenth century. What's crucial to know about both Newport and Baltimore is that tobacco was of little importance in the rise of either. Newport depended on a hinterland which produced forest products like pitch, tar, and lumber, plus corn, pork, and beef for the West Indies, while Baltimore's trade was heavily dependent on the growth of wheat exports from Maryland and the Susquehanna Valley of Pennsylvania. The question then is, why, until the post-Civil War South, did tobacco and urbanization seem to be mutually exclusive terms? I think those questions are important both to the history of North Carolina, obviously, and Virginia, but the history of the South as well.

The inhabitants of seventeenth century Virginia were very much disturbed by the lack of towns. Their literature was full of self reproach and condemnation for their failure to develop towns to measure up to the vision of their founders. It wasn't until the eighteenth century that the pastoral, the rural, was glorified. The seventeenth century was filled with attempts by government officials, often with significant popular support, to create town life, but these attempts were almost totally unsuccessful. We have a fairly standard and accepted generalization for this failure. The explanation [07:47] is as follows: 1) geography; 2) the nature of the planters. More specifically, the geography of the Chesapeake, with its many deep rivers and estuaries, was such that many planters could trade directly with the English ships, the kind of ships that were just talked about in the previous paper. Because there was direct trade, there was no need for towns. Secondly, in the words of Hugh Jones, "...neither the [interest nor] inclinations of the Virginians induce them to cohabit in towns, so that they are not forward in contributing their assistance towards the making of particular places, every plantation affording the owner the provision of a little market, wherefore they most commonly build upon some convenient spot or neck of land in their own plantation, though towns are laid out and established in each county...." In other words, direct trade with England meant you didn't need towns as break and bulk points, or as transshipments points, and secondly, given the lack of towns for these reasons, planters became essentially little towns in themselves. Planter-merchants essentially provided the marketplace, scattered marketplaces. The third set of explanations deals with the lack of density of the population. This lack of density was due to two factors: one, the headright system, which we don't have to go into, but [09:07] and therefore lack of population density, and secondly it was the nature of tobacco production itself. Because it was soil exhaustive and because there was a considerable amount of relatively free land nearby, it paid to move on rather than developing dense, clustered, settled agriculture.

For these and other reasons, the Chesapeake was largely bereft of towns of any size by the end of the seventeenth century, but toward the eighteenth century there was a considerable advance in urbanization. Several factors were important here: the increase in population density, the accumulation of capital [09:45] The accumulation of capital meant that some year-round stores were developed as an alternative to the more casual plantation stores. In addition, new legislation grew more successful in inducing trade to concentrate in specific locations. Seventeenth century legislation had been very extensive and very detailed in requiring the development of towns, but very ineffectual. The eighteenth century legislation succeeded in part because it provided public funds to build and maintain year-round warehouse tobacco storage. With storage facilities available, English merchant ships could stop one or two places to complete their cargo rather than flitting from wharf to wharf.

Then the question remains as to why eighteenth-century town development was so limited. The answer is in part provided by Jacob Price, who you've already heard about today. Price's research described how the peculiar nature of the tobacco trade as compared to the trade of provisions or lumber limited the development in Virginia of an indigenous merchant class. The key word is indigenous. The tobacco trader in Virginia served to build cities in the British Isles, like Glasgow and Whitehaven, rather than cities at home. The key to this development was the fact that most of the tobacco sold in England was then re-exported to the continent. Since the English navigation laws forced Virginia to send their tobacco to England before it could be sent elsewhere, England, not Virginia, became the great center of trade for Continental tobacco. Surely it's a great irony. Because tobacco was the most lucrative of colonial crops, it was the most closely controlled, and because it was the most closely controlled it did the least to benefit the long-term economic growth of the region it came from. In other words, Virginia's lack of urbanization is a function not of a commercial development, not of the attitudes of the population to a large extent, but it's a function of the British system of navigation laws and mercantilists. It's precisely because Britain found Virginia so valuable that Virginia was least able among the colonies to develop her own cities and merchants.

This brings us back to our starting point, Virginia on the eve of the Revolution. It was after the Revolution that changes in the marketing of tobacco served to spur urban growth, of which Danville would later be a part. After the Revolution, a greater emphasis was placed on the quality of tobacco. Up until the Revolution, most tobacco warehousing and sales were done impersonally. A seller brought his tobacco to an inspection point and received a receipt for it. The seller was then free to use this receipt in negotiating with buyers who had not usually seen the tobacco, but the new emphasis on quality demanded personal inspection on the part of the buyers. Buyers became willing to pay a higher price for tobacco that they inspected personally. This meant that sellers and buyers began to congregate and create a nascent commodities market. The sellers and buyers of course needed food and drink as well as lodging while they negotiated, and of course if you came to a place to sell your tobacco you might also find it convenient after receiving payment to buy your goods there, hence the growth of this personal tobacco market to replace the old impersonal one engendered urban services and town life.

The intense speculation in tobacco after the War of 1812 attracted buyers in larger numbers to the principal inspection points, resulting in the expansion of market towns and the elimination of the smaller market centers. Farmers wanted to bring their quality leaf to a place where a group of buyers competed for their leaf, thus driving up the price. After 1810 over ninety percent of the tobacco inspected was in the counties containing Richmond, Lynchburg, and Petersburg, although the towns themselves had only twenty-seven percent of the inspections. In other words, you're beginning to get a concentration of marketing services. We start in the beginning with incredible dispersion. Each planter is essentially his own town; however, the changes in marketing I just talked about meant that you could have some kind of concentration of merchants. Curiously, in Virginia the only time merchants came together was in Williamsburg, to do essentially governmental business, and then they'd talk about tobacco prices.

In any case, the changes in marketing meant the crops in order to be inspected by buyers before sale could be brought to market in loose bunches in order to be inspected to determine their quality. Bringing the tobacco in loose bunches meant you could eliminate the prizing. Prizing in those days was taking the tobacco and pressing it into the cooper's barrel. Prizing was an arduous task that was usually done once a year with marketing to follow. With prizing eliminated or reduced so all the tobacco could be inspected personally, tobacco could be brought into the city at various times of the year. This brought a more regular flow of business to the town and hence invigorated urban life.

At this point let me stop and summarize what I've said by comparing wheat to tobacco. Tobacco had many advantages. It had a high yield per acre, it didn't spoil easily, and when ready for shipment its weight was very low; that is, its value per unit of weight was very high. Because of its great value per unit of weight, it sustained the cost of being shipped to distant markets. However, as William Humphries pointed out in his paper given here last year, the technology involved in tobacco production has always been relatively stagnant. On the smaller tobacco farms of the eighteenth century, there were only a few tools used, hoes and axes. Toward the end of the eighteenth century there was an increased use of plows, but then there were few major changes in field production through the Revolution and the Civil War. Compare this to wheat production. There, cast iron plows replaced wooden plows. There, the sickle replaced the scythe, which was in turn replaced by the cradle, a heavier form of scythe. By 1850 the grain drill had replaced the broadcast sowing of wheat, and of course by the end of the antebellum era, the most important change: the introduction of the McCormick Harvester.

Because of the delicate nature of the culture, tobacco was not subject to the sort of mechanization associated with wheat. Just listening this morning on the television, I was amazed to see how rapid mechanization is in tobacco now. I think Bill Humphries figures were that in 1971 there were only three mechanical harvesters and the fellow on television estimated there are now 800. Of course that's a process that went on in cotton in the 1920s and wheat in the 1850s. Because of the delicate nature of tobacco, tobacco remained what might be called an artisanal crop, a crop not subject to mechanization and modernization. But it's important to point out that despite the lack of machine tool technology, the quality of tobacco farmers was such that there were significant improvements in product per hand. In other words, acreage production wasn't increased, but production per hand could be increased. These improvements came because tobacco farmers as a group were responsive to market pressures and continually attempted to improve their efficiency. As Cornelius Cathey noted for North Carolina, "Tobacco not only required more management than any other crop, but also more than any other crop reflected at all stages of its growth and processing the quality of the management it received." The important point here is that because wheat was going through these mechanical changes it required vast numbers of artisans and urban merchants to then sell those new tools the artisans were creating, and of course these people congregated in cities.

Towns supply services. They're congregating points for middlemen, speculators, and processors. Tobacco, however, required relatively few of these, particularly in the impersonal market system. Wheat, on the other hand, has to be marketed, milled, and packed or baked into biscuits, then stored and taken by wagons. All this calls for mills and bakers, storage space and public agencies, to establish links between producer and purchaser. The collecting, storing and processing of wheat required an army of entrepreneurs and middlemen besides the army of entrepreneurs and middlemen who were producing the mechanical innovations. You can sum this up by describing tobacco as until very recently an artisanal crop, a crop that depended very much on the personal knowledge and personal skill of the farmer.

The relationship between an export and urbanization is reciprocal. An export which because of its mechanical and commercial needs induces urbanization will in turn benefit from that urbanization. The agricultural areas where the greatest number of agricultural innovations were developed had those innovations developed in their cities. There is a close correlation between the density of a region and the number of innovations it produces. In other words, the process is cumulative. If you don't have a crop to produce the cities, you don't have cities that produce the kind of innovations that lead to increased productivity and then lead to more cities.

Let me stop here in terms of tobacco and wheat, and I hope this [19:33 hasn't been a long and I hope not only] a long introduction to the problems Danville faced. On the basis of the kind of obstacles to urbanization discussed so far, Danville should have experienced a rapid and unimpeded growth. Located deep in the Piedmont of Virginia, there were no alternatives to towns that there had been for the Tidewater planters, and her development began after the American Revolution freed tobacco from the grip of the British merchants. Danville should have been different, but was she? She was deep in the interior, well located on a bend of the Dan River, a branch of the Roanoke, and in the center of what in the 1830s would become the bright tobacco district. By the 1850s Danville was the entrepot for a region of more than one hundred thousand people from eight surrounding counties in Virginia and North Carolina. She was tied to these areas both by river and a system of roads and turnpikes. She had an early tradition of manufacturing and was well endowed with water power from the falls of the Dan. She possessed a self-confident and energetic business class ready and willing to expand the city's influence. She became a banking and insurance center for her region and her soils were the best in Virginia for the new bright tobacco. Yet on the eve of the Civil War her population was a mere twenty-five hundred people. Why? A brief narrative may provide some of the answers.

Danville is located in Pittsylvania County, a county situated in south midland Virginia, touching on the North Carolina line. It's just north of Caswell and Rockingham. It's the largest county in Virginia, with over a thousand square miles. It lies wholly in the Piedmont plateau, is endowed with a rolling surface broken by many small mountain ridges. Along the low ranges and low rolling hills are valleys watered by numerous streams, which is well drained. It's good land. It's drained in the south by the Dan, in the north by the Staunton, and in the center by the Banister Rivers. From its earliest settlement, tobacco was the chief cash crop. Substantial settlement began in the late eighteenth century when large numbers of Scotch-Irish and Germans from Pennsylvania moved down through the valley of Virginia and crossed into the Piedmont. Most went on to North Carolina and points south, but many stayed, and those doughty Calvinists who stayed became the core of the county's population.

Economic growth was slow in the years before 1814. That's because there is no outlet to the sea. The Roanoke emptied out at the Albemarle Sound, and as you know there was a problem getting any goods out through Albemarle Sound. It was only with the opening of the Dismal Swamp Canal in 1814, which tied Danville to Norfolk, that the town's growth began to take off, in fact the entire region's growth. But without ready access earlier to the coast or to Lynchburg and Petersburg, the county developed a strong tradition of manufacturing. The 1810 Manufacturing Census, the first reliable manufacturing census for the country, show that Pittsylvania was the sole representative of Virginia tobacco counties [22:56] distillery products. Similarly, Pittsylvania was sixth in the shoes, boots, and slippers manufacture, not something you associate with early tobacco development, and Pittsylvania was similarly well ranked in the production of cotton goods.

Towns like Danville and its rival Milton, which was discussed here last year by Durwood Stokes, and Clarksburg in Mecklenburg County, were given life by the opening of the canal. Because of the canal, an enormous increase in flour and tobacco inspections occurred in the years between 1814 and 1820. In economist terms, the area was truly entering what might be called a takeoff stage. Between 1820 and 1833, Danville acquired five tobacco warehouses and five tobacco factories, so right after she begins to grow at all she begins to manufacture tobacco. Despite this growth and despite the fact there were no large cities for nearly a hundred miles in any direction at that time, Danville remained, like its rival, Milton, a very small place. Other than the tobacco factories and warehouses the town consisted in 1829 of only a large flour mill, a sawmill, a common tub mill with one pair of stones for grinding corn, a linseed oil mill, a cotton gin, and a wool carding machine, all run by water power from the Dan. They were all very efficient operations. There were only two regular stores, an agency of the Farmers Bank of Virginia, two tailor shops, only one blacksmith shop, and a shoemaker's shop.

Despite this lack of growth, the town's businessmen and leaders were primed for growth. They were imbued with what has come to be called the Protestant ethic. When one of the leading businessmen of Pittsylvania, Sam Pannill, received a letter from his son in Danville requesting a few days off, the father wrote back to his son, yes, he could take the days off, but only if he was ill. Time off for pleasure was inexcusable.

Another leader in the business community was B.W.S. Cabell. Cabell came to Pittsylvania after the War of 1812 and settled on the outskirts of Danville. His first enterprise was to set up a grain mill on the banks of the Dan. It was one of the first enterprises to utilize the town's water power. Then he began constructing a canal around the falls of Danville. Of course what that canal meant was that merchants further downstream could then ship their goods through Danville. After completing the canal he erected a large flour, corn, and linseed mill. In 1828 he was one of the group of Danville promoters who established a cotton mill, once again one of the earliest in the South. But despite [all] of the wealth gained from these ventures, he lived in part of a tenement he himself owned in the town. In the 1830s Cabell sat on the city council and started a newspaper. Cabell was typical of Danville businessmen in his enterprise and daring-do. A lifelong advocate of internal improvements, he undertook a series of canoe and boat trips designed to explore the possibilities of connecting Danville to broader markets.

Through the efforts of men like Cabell, Danville grew rapidly between 1828 and 1835, although tobacco production significantly was increasing at an even more rapid rate. In 1835, on the eve of the great expansion of bright tobacco, Danville's population had grown to 1,000, including slaves. Martin's Gazetteer describes it as containing 115 houses and numerous stores, mills, artisan shops, and banks. This prosperity came temporarily to a halt with the Depression of 1837, which was a nationwide depression. The depression saw the closing of Danville's tobacco inspection warehouses. Now those inspection warehouses are crucial if you're going to export your tobacco. Tobacco had to be taken to those warehouses in order to be exported. But Danville's merchants and entrepreneurs responded innovatively. Tobacco inspection was necessary if tobacco was to be exported abroad, but there was no reason that the same tobacco which would be grown for export abroad couldn't be brought to Danville for manufacture and sale within the United States. Danville turned adversity to her advantage and began to concentrate on tobacco manufacturing.

With the growth of manufacturing, Danville began to develop a new image of herself and began to think of herself as a potentially great city, a manufacturing and commercial center for maybe a ten- or fifteen-county region in Virginia and North Carolina. Toward that end, the leading newspaper, the Danville Register, exhorted its readers to "encourage your own mechanics," and by mechanics I mean artisans, a nineteenth-century term for artisans. This slogan was regularly emblazoned across the top of the pages of the newspaper. One article on mechanics went on to argue that, "If you encourage the town's mechanics they will encourage you." It goes back to this question I talked about earlier about density and innovation. The [28:17 paper felt constrained to argue this] because clearly despite the value of the county's tobacco manufacturers, soaring to well over $1,000,000, the area was able to attract few artisans. The article went on, "There are people who think no article can be good for anything unless it is an important one. Such persons are enemies to the towns in which they live."

Despite its inability to develop a native artisanal group, the town's leaders still had grandiose visions of its future. After stressing the importance of internal improvements a, petition to the legislature went on to state:

There is no town in the United States which is more conveniently situated for the creation of manufacturing establishments on a large scale. What other situation in the state unites so many conveniences and facilities as Danville does for operations of this kind? Every material which is necessary for the manufacture of guns, swords, and cannons are afforded in abundance by several of the towns which are contiguous to this town.

I might add here that when they were referring to guns and manufacturers, they are thinking of the possibility of civil war and thought of themselves as, if not a manufacturing center for the United States, then a manufacturing center for the Confederacy, which is what they become in part during the war.

Pursuant to these goals, Danville entrepreneurs attempted both to connect Danville with the ports of Richmond and Petersburg and to capture an extended hinterland by building roads and improving rivers. Danville merchants and entrepreneurs built a road to Lynchburg and then sponsored a road to Franklin and Botetourt Counties toward the northwest in order to compete with Lynchburg. Roads were also built to [30:02] in the mountains to the west and to Henry County, her neighbor directly to the west. River improvements were designed to bring in increased commerce from the portions of North Carolina that later were west of the Dan River and in terms of surrounding counties she took an interest in seeing to it that the legislature improved some of the minor rivers which flowed into the Dan. But most crucially, Danville mounted a strong campaign to secure a railroad. As early as the mid 1830s, Danville entrepreneurs organized conventions and lobbying groups to pressure the state legislature into chartering and providing financial support for a railroad connecting Danville with Richmond. Those efforts paid off, and in 1854 Danville had a railroad to Richmond. She was the first town in that region of the Piedmont in either North Carolina or Virginia to be connected to Richmond by railroad.

The efforts of Danville's businessmen and Pittsylvania's farmers produced substantial payoffs. Between 1851 and 1861, on the eve of the Civil War, the total value of Danville's real estate increased from $328,000 to $768,000, a growth of 234%. The number of slaves employed doubled between 1851 and 1861. The town's population increased from 1,500 to 2,500 in those same years. But what's important in terms of traditional images of the South, is that despite the great increase in the town's prosperity, the value of gold and silver jewelry owned by the residents barely kept pace with population growth, an indication that most of the newfound wealth was being channeled back into productive investments.

The basis of this growth was clearly the enormous increase in tobacco manufacturing in Danville and the surrounding countryside. The value of tobacco produced in and around Danville in 1840 was merely $300,000. This required the work of 380. In 1860 the totals were well over $1,000,000 in the value of tobacco manufacture and almost 1,000 hands employed, a 300% increase in the value of tobacco and a 250% increase in the number of people employed primarily in tobacco manufacture.

The question to ask now is, given this growth and given this prosperity, why doesn't Danville develop into a thriving metropolis? Why is it restrained, so to speak, in a relatively narrow manufacturing base, first tobacco and then textiles, never to go beyond that base? The catch, I think, is the nature of tobacco manufacture; that is, as tobacco growing earlier had restricted town growth because of its lack of a need for artisans, tobacco manufacturing was similarly without a need for artisans. So what you had in Danville was quantitative growth without a quality of change in the nature of the urban base. You had no change in the nature of work force while population was growing. Tobacco manufacture didn't lead to a broadening and diversification of the services offered by the city to the countryside. You could see this clearly in terms of the number of fabricators and blacksmiths employed in Danville. In 1850 there were thirty-seven fabricators. This is on the eve of tremendous expansion in tobacco manufacture. There were thirty-seven fabricator manufacturers with $4,800 invested in capital investment. In 1860, after a decade of rapid growth, there were less fabricators, thirty-one, and there was a decrease in capital investment to $3,500. The explanation for this is in part simple. Tobacco manufacture, like tobacco agriculture, did not require elaborate tooling. Most of the process was done by hand. There's a second factor I haven't introduced, which is the question of when the railroad comes in and allows goods to be imported more cheaply than they could be manufactured at home.

It's because most of the manufacturing was done by hand that Danville grew more slowly than might be expected. Since tobacco manufacture requires no elaborate tools, no substantial capital investment, a large number of planters use the relatively slack months of the winter to manufacture some tobacco. The historical record is very clear here. Until 1850, more tobacco that was manufactured in the area of south Pittsylvania was manufactured outside of Danville than inside of Danville. The efficiencies of a specialized labor force and urban production were insufficient to outweigh the benefits to the individual planter of producing tobacco for himself. But even when the big expansion and city production came between 1850 and 1860, the characteristics of the labor force remained similar. The proportion of the workers in various sectors of the urban economy remained relatively stable. In 1850 and 1860, well over half the working force in Danville was engaged in the hand manufacture of tobacco. There was some increase in retail and commercial services performed, but hardly can measure with the overall level of change.

The effects of tobacco on economic development are brought into sharp relief when the occupational distribution of Danville and the surrounding countryside are compared with Augusta County in the valley of Virginia. Augusta was the second largest county in Virginia, but also had a substantial slave population. It was also settled by Scotch-Irish coming down from Pennsylvania. But Augusta County was diversified. Wheat and cattle were its crucial items. With the diversified wheat and cattle agriculture of Augusta, only forty-three percent of the rural population engaged in agriculture, while twenty percent of the rural population were artisans. Compare that to figures from Pittsylvania: seventy percent of the population were farmers and only thirteen percent artisans. If you compare the chief city of Augusta, Staunton, with the chief city of Pittsylvania, Danville, a similar difference emerges. Augusta is almost the same size as Danville, yet forty-three percent of Augusta's urban population was engaged in artisanal tasks, to about twenty percent for Pittsylvania. Similarly, when you look at commercial services, about twenty percent greater commercial services were provided by Staunton than by Danville.

Now the issue here is that single-crop agriculture will always produce problems, but certain types of single type agriculture will produce more problems than others. What I think can be shown in terms of the history of Danville and the history of tobacco, in that region at least, is that the failure of the area to achieve an economic growth that can measure with the rest of the United States was not a function of the attitudes of the population, nor a function of the attitudes engendered by slavery, but a function of the technical exigencies of producing tobacco. Thank you. [Applause]

Charles Price:

We will have just a few minutes for questions. Does anyone have any questions for Dr. Siegel?

Fred Siegel:

There's two kinds of services you need. You need commercial services, the extension of credit, and marketing connections, and English merchants supply that taking that task away from the Virginia merchants. That's the eighteenth century, so you can see in the eighteenth century the failure of Virginia to develop its own merchant class. What happens in the nineteenth century is a failure to develop a manufacturing and mechanical class. It's never a question in the eighteenth century because tobacco production remained so relatively crude in terms of the tools they used. What's obvious when you read about tobacco production, no matter what region of the country, whether it be Kentucky or Virginia or North Carolina, is that tobacco production in the nineteenth century required an enormous amount of skill, but it was all mental. You had to know an awful lot about what you were doing at each stage of production. It wasn't like wheat, where you put it into the ground and pretty much left it there. But on the other hand, those skill requirements didn't extend to the skills needed for creating tools, and of course if you don't need tools you essentially don't need one whole sector of a city, so cities are diminished by that much proportionally, diminished proportionally by the lack of need for artisans. That's abstracted, and personally, as I think about this, I can think of a number of exceptions to what I'm saying, but I think in the main it holds true.

Charles Price:

Any other questions? Thank you very much, Dr. Siegel. We appreciate it very much and appreciate your coming down.


Transcriber: Deborah Mitchum

Date: October 19, 2010

Fred Siegel oral history interview, March 20, 1975
Transcript and audio of a lecture entitled "Economic Aspects of Tobacco Marketing and Trade in the Nineteenth Century Danville, Virginia Area." given by Dr. Fred Siegel, a professor at State University of New York at Westbury. Siegel gave this lecture at the third annual Tobacco History Symposium sponsored by the Institute for Historical Research in Tobacco at East Carolina University, March 20, 1975. Introduction to speaker by Charles Price.
March 20, 1975
Original Format
oral histories
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East Carolina Manuscript Collection
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