By 1890, North Carolina’s long-leaf pine forests had been decimated, and the state’s once-dominant share of the national naval stores production had plummeted. As highlighted in Imagination Station‘s exhibit “Journey to Wilson,” though the county was never a major player in the turpentine game, western Wilson County had a thriving naval stores industry through much of the nineteenth century. When workers began to follow the work, the Advance took notice.
Like thousands of North Carolinians, Harry and Pet Sharp left Wilson County for better opportunities. However, unlike most African-American migrants, they headed south. A clue to their unusual movement is found in the 1900 census of Tatnall County, in which Harry’s occupation was listed as woods rider. A woods rider was a foreman on horseback who oversaw the rough labors of the turpentine workers moving on foot through brutally hot, rattlesnake-infested forests, “dipping” pine gum. With eastern North Carolina’s longleaf pines bled to ruin, its large and lucrative naval stores industry shifted southward to Georgia and Florida, with displaced workers in its wake. The Sharps were among them.
This Sharp family portrait was probably taken about 1900 in Georgia.
In the 1870 census of Otter Creek, Edgecombe County, North Carolina: Gustin Sharp, 51, wife Bithy, 54, and children Lisha, 16, Harry 12, and Amanda, 10.
In the 1880 census of Auters Creek, Edgecombe County: Gustin Sharp, 63, wife Bythy, 65, and children or grandchildren Sarah, 18, Harry, 23, and Green, 15.
In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Nelson Farmer, 30, wife Rose, 45, children Pett, 10, and Luke, 6, nieces Jimmie Ann, 14, and Lou, 10, and Rose’s children Daniel, 21, Lear, 18, and Jef, 16.
On 30 January 1889, H.H. Sharp, 31, of Wilson, married Pett Farmer, 19, of Wilson, at G.S Sharp’s in Wilson. Missionary Baptist minister J.T.Clark performed the ceremony before B.R. Winstead, William Connor and John Hardy.
In the 1900 census of Lyons, Tattnall County, Georgia: woods rider Harry Sharpe, 38, wife Pet, 30, and children Rena, 10, Lela, 8, Jessie, 5, Menar, 5, Cora, 2, and Mittie, 5 months. Rena was born in North Carolina; the remaining children in Georgia.
In the 1910 census of Toombs County, Georgia: farmer Harry H. Sharpe, 53, wife Pet, 40, and children Rena, 21, Jessie, 17, Mena, 13, Cora, 12, James, 9, David, 8, Harry, 6, Green, 4, and Caesar, 2 months.
Harry Sharp died in 1917, and Pet Farmer Sharp died in 1945, both in Toombs County, Georgia.
Photograph courtesy of Ancestry.com user lavoniarcarter.