North Carolina’s Prescient Governor
North Carolina’s textiles industry has a proud history of service to the State as it helped clothe the men sent to resist enemy invasion. Many of the mills had been in operation since the early 1800s, and many free blacks and slaves joined white citizens to help sustain North Carolina’s war effort.
Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
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North Carolina’s Prescient Governor
“Governor Zebulon Vance sent at least four agents to England to procure “in foreign markets” materials such as shoes, blankets, machines, and findings. John White, a Warrenton merchant, and Thomas M. Crossan, a former ship’s captain, were the most effective. In return for North Carolina clothing its own troops, Secretary of the Treasury Christopher Memminger provided Vance with bonds that were transferred to North Carolina agents in Liverpool. Some $2.5 million was dispatched by John White in July 1863. Sales of cotton and rosin through the blockade supplemented these funds.
To bring the supplies into Wilmington, Vance purchased at Crossan’s insistence the “long-legged steamer”; the Advance made eleven round trips from Bermuda to Wilmington, bringing in “supplies of those things which could not be procured at home, especially grain scythes, card clothing for factories, hand cards for our old-fashioned looms, and medicines.”
With an eye to North Carolina factories, Vance instructed White to bring in findings, or spare parts, and “to purchase a lot of (50,000) cotton and wool cards and a machine for making them with a good supply of wire” (Dowd, 454-455). An abstract of four cargoes brought in by the Advance in 1863 showed large quantities of factory materials: wire, belting, leather, and oils.
Before the end of that year, Vance had at Bermuda or en route there some eight or ten cargoes, including “machinery and findings to refit twenty-six of our principal cotton and woolen factories, dyestuff, lubricating oils, etc.”
Due to this success, Vance advised his agents in 1863 to buy no more English clothing, for “the resources of our State and the Confederacy have developed in such a degree that we have every assurance of being able to clothe our own troops with our own goods.” This outfitting was accomplished despite the opposition of James M. Mason, Confederate commissioner in London, who prohibited the sale of North Carolina cotton bonds.
The supplies from the Advance were sold to North Carolina factories by State quartermaster Henry A. Dowd. Henry Fries at Salem requested his share of the cargoes,
Dennis Curtis, at the Deep River factory, wrote that “he (the Gov.) had now on hand a lot of card clothing and that he (Mr. Makepeace) would visit Raleigh in the course of a few days to see you in regard to purchasing clothing.”
The gradual loss of white male workers [to military service] forced the mills to turn increasingly to women, children and slaves for labor. The absence of managers or skilled workers made the training of new workers more difficult. The growing absence of males was notable at North Carolina’s Cedar Falls factory, which normally operated 50 looms and 2,400 spindles. Frank Fries at Salem, with a considerable wool trade, employed the services of as many as 40 slaves, half of them leased.”
(Confederate Industry, Manufacturers and Quartermasters in the Civil War, Harold S. Wilson, University Press of Mississippi, 2002, pp 146-147; 151; 153)