Florida Memory site photo # N043941 (You can access Florida Memory via our links page)
The essential oil of turpentine can be
separated from the rosin by steam distillation.
When pure, it is a colorless, transparent, oily liquid with a
penetrating odor and a characteristic taste. It contains a large proportion of
a compound from which camphor is manufactured. Turpentine is obtained in large amounts from
several species of pine. It is used chiefly as a solvent and drying agent in
paints and varnishes.
In addition to its naval uses, pine
products had many other pioneer uses including tar for sealing animal wounds,
honey and pine tar remedies for human bronchial infections, and resin or
"brewers' pitch" to line beer barrels or fruit juice kegs. Pine wood charcoal was used for tooth-cleaning
powder, a meat purifier, laxatives, and beverage filtration agents.
Starting in the 1870s, turpentine stills dotted the piney
woods of northwest Florida. Camps of employees grew up around the
turpentine gathering and processing sites, e.g., the ‘still’ which processed
the rosin drawn from the trees. The
turpentine still and population became known as “Turpentine camps.” These
camps - located in the forests - were isolated – away from town or city life. Many of
these camps developed a culture of their own. And, the camps became known for
their terrible working conditions and abuses.
The owner and the commissary store was the power base in the camp. It was not uncommon for workers to become
virtual slaves – unable to pay their debt at the commissary and required to
work until their debt was paid. The
worst abuses in these camps occurred during the 1930s. The Great Depression left few alternatives
for the poor. They quickly became
absorbed into the endless cycle of work and debt. Workers were rarely paid in
what it may, many people managed to make a living, provide for their families,
and give their children a better life.
Sometimes bosses used alcohol as a reward
for extra work, contributing to occasional lawlessness and violence in the
camps. Some Southern turpentine camps
included stockades. Others, especially
in Florida throughout the 1800s, were known to lease
convicts for turpentining as part of their penal system.
In the Okaloosa County
area, some residents leased their piney
wooded forest lands to ‘Bosses’ who extracted the
turpentine from the timber on
the leased land. An article in the
DeFuniak Springs, FL. newspaper in the
early 1900s mentions the Spoon family of Hall’s Still. Many
oldsters remember a still called,
“Cracker’s Neck” which was located near present-day
Wright, FL. This may be the same one mentioned as being
at Garnier’s (off present-day Lewis Turner Blvd.).
Mr. Raymon Melvin of Holley, FL., a
fourth generation Panhandle resident, puts us in touch with the industry that
dominated our area’s economy a century ago. He is able to bring the turpentine
industry to life with his accounts of the industry in our area. He describes how the tree trunks were scored
and a clay or tin container was placed below the scoring to let the rosin drain
into the pot. (A process called by some
as “pulling.”) Contents of the pots were
transferred into barrels and readied to ship to the next part of the process.
BBM to see the instruments used in the turpentining industry in the
Florida Panhandle. Here is a sample of what you will see there:
Baker Block Museum Educational Services. 2008. Baker. FL. (850) 537-5714