and a Dream
Article and photes by Kathleen Walls
The Duke Homestead story begins with a man who had fifty cents,
a war devastated farm, a dream and not much else. When a young
farmer, Washington Duke, built his home in 1852 on his small farm,
he never dreamed it would be a National Historic Landmark one day.
But this two-story frame house was to become the birthplace of one
of the largest industries in the United States.
|One of the Homestead outbuildings
He had begun experimenting with Bright Leaf Tobacco when the
War between the States broke out. He joined the Confederate military
to help defend his home state even though he opposed slavery. He
reached the rank of Lieutenant and was captured by Union forces just
days before the end of the war when they took Richmond. He was
walking home with just a five dollar Confederate bill in his pocket
when he met some Union soldiers who traded him fifty cents American
money for the bill. When he arrived at his plundered farm, that and
the fifty cent piece were all he had to his name. That and four
children. Both of Washington Duke’s wives died young. Mary Caroline
Clinton. his first wife died in 1847: she was just 22. His second
wife, Artelia Romey died in 1858 at the age of 29.
| An individual tobacco plant
Perhaps he recalled many nights during the war when the
opposing forces camped on adjacent sides of a stream. They might try
to kill one another the following morning but at night in camp, they
were both just lonely men far from home. Both sides walked to the
stream at night to wash and get water. Union soldiers had gladly
traded their coffee for the Confederate soldiers tobacco.
He did find a little tobacco that the raiding Union Army had missed.
With that tobacco he began his dream of a tobacco products factory
again. He and the children began a small factory on the premises.
Ironically, in light of future discoveries about the effects of
tobacco, he named his product "Pro Bono Publico," a Latin phrase
meaning "for the public good."
The factory was so successful that soon had to utilize an old
stable, called the second factory, for production and then built a
two-story frame building, the third factory, and had to hire workers
and buy tobacco from neighboring farmers. Washington financed a
factory in Durham for his son. By 1873, the Dukes were producing
around 125,000 pounds of smoking tobacco annually.
Today, that small farm where it all began is a living history
museum. Along with the farm and early factory buildings, there is a
museum, the Tobacco Museum, that traces the history of tobacco.
A good way to begin the tour is by viewing the doc
"Legacy of the Golden Leaf," highlighting the history of the
Duke family, the North Carolina tobacco industry, and the history of
the town of Durham.
|A piece of equiptment at the
||A dried Bright Leaf Tobacco leaf
||A guide explains tobacco processing
A small plot of tobacco is still cultivated so visitors can see
the process. Since I have never been a smoker, I was in for a new
experience. I saw the growing tobacco and realized it was a
beautiful plant. When we visited the drying barn, I was surprised at
how pleasant the tobacco leaves smelled.
The Duke home is also open to view. It's a modest two story
house with just a touch of Greek Revival influence. Washington Duke
built the original house with heart of pine boards in 1852. It's
furnished much as it would have been when Washington Duke and his
family lived in it.
|Furnisihng at the
Perhaps the thing that impressed me most was how modest the
beginnings of what was to become the largest tobacco manufacturing
company in the United States, American Tobacco.
Still, I think this alternative is so much better.
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