Fort Bragg comprises 163,000 acres of land in the Sandhills of North Carolina. Its acreage marks it among the largest of the United States bases. Before the government owned the land, however, it housed several Families who used the long leaf pine covering the area to create their own industry.
Naval stores industry
The pine trees in the Fort Bragg area were referred to as a “natural cash crop.” These trees could be harvested for turpentine, tar and pitch, resin, charcoal, rosin and lumber.
These became known as “naval stores” because of the use of all these materials in ship building. The naval stores industries thrived for over 250 years along the East Coast. It is estimated that millions of barrels of tar, pitch and turpentine left the Sandhills area and were used all over the world.
Tar and charcoal production went hand-in-hand by using a pit known as a “tar kiln.” Tar kilns are noted by their rounded or rectangular shaped low mounds and typically have a central depression. Cords of waste wood would be stacked up and lit on fire and then covered with earth to allow for a slow smoldering.
The pile would then begin to collapse near the center as the wood began releasing its tar. A drainage trench would have been created under the wood and would lead to a barrel. The tar would flow down this depression into the barrel for collection. Once the tar stopped flowing, more earth would be piled on top of the smoldering wood pile to create charcoal.
Tar was a difficult and dirty affair, and earned those who underwent such work the nickname “tarheel.” The moniker is still used widely around North Carolina.
Tar kilns can be found all over Fort Bragg, but one was very recently excavated on a new firing range by archaeologists from the Cultural Resources Management Program. It is the only tar kiln to have been excavated on Fort Bragg, and this work was done in cooperation with Fort Bragg land managers from the Forestry, Wildlife and Endangered Species branches and Range Control.
Archaeological excavation work took place over a span of four days. The uncovered kiln measured over 24 feet in diameter and was about two feet deep, although it would have been 10 to 15 feet deep before the wood was fired. A 19-foot, subterranean drainage trench was also exposed. It is estimated that a kiln this size would have burned 12 to 15 cords of waste wood. A more detailed report of this excavation will be made available in the future.
The turpentine industry didn’t begin until sometime in the early 1800s, but it too had a heavy impact on the economic shape of the land. Harvesting turpentine from trees was also a labor-intensive process. “V” shaped cuts were made along the trunk of a tree to channel the sap into containers.
The sap was then distilled and the turpentine was collected from the distillery’s condenser. The material that hadn’t evaporated hardened into a rosin, another useful byproduct. Trees around Fort Bragg still bear the “v” shaped marks of their turpentining past.
Early Families around Fort Bragg worked with harvesting tar, turpentine and other navel stores, altering how we view the landscape today.
The Blue Family
The Blue Family arrived in the U.S. from Argyllshire, Scotland before the Revolutionary War. Neill McKeithan Blue was the first of the Blue Family to move onto present day Fort Bragg in 1850. He and his wife, Eliza Smith, moved onto her Family’s land near Piney Bottom.
They practiced subsistence farming throughout the 1850s, but later began to focus on the more profitable turpentine industry. Neill’s older sons fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, but his youngest son, Neill Smith Blue, was too young to fight.
During Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s raid through Fayetteville, Neill the younger hid in the forest with a few of the Family’s slaves and was a witness to the Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads in 1865.
Neill S. had collected seeds, captured abandoned livestock and secreted away gold coins during the Civil War, and this enabled him to help get his Family back on their feet quickly after the war. He made enough money from these collecting ventures to be able to hire workers to help with the turpentine business. He also began to be involved in the naval stores industry.
Neill S. and his brother John partnered to create the Aberdeen and Rockfish Railroad Line which connected the area to Raleigh, North Carolina. He eventually sold his share of the company to his brother and used the money to buy land around the Sandhills.
When the War Department came to offer to buy his lands, Neill S. was the single largest landowner of the area that would become Fort Bragg. Neill S. rejected the initial offer from the government for his land, but did eventually capitulate to an offer he deemed acceptable. He died in the Sandy Grove Church in 1929.
The Blue Family is still in the Raeford and Fayetteville areas today.
The Murchison Family originated in Scotland. Kenneth McKenzie Murchison was born on the Isle of Skye in 1753. It is unknown when he immigrated to North Carolina, but he was wealthy enough to live on a plantation and had slaves. Upon his death in 1834, he bequeathed his personal slave, Isac, to his son. Isac’s brother, Jackson, was bequeathed to Kenneth’s grandson.
Jackson was a house servant who had been trained in Southern manners and protocol. Sometime before 1861, Jackson married a woman named Annie. They eventually had 11 children.
Jackson and Isac took the Murchison name when they received their freedom. Jackson purchased land near current day Olivia, North Carolina. He cleared the land and used part of it for farming. He also built a church. Known locally as Jack’s Chapel, it later became Murchison’s Chapel. Affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in 1910, it is now known as Bethel AME Zion Church. He financed the building of the church entirely on his own and helped build up a small community of African-Americans known as Murchisontown. Jackson played a large role in the creation of African-American churches in the Sandhills.
Isac’s descendants were sharecroppers in the Manchester area of what would be Fort Bragg until the sale of the land to the government. After the sale, they moved into Spring Lake, Raeford and Bunn Level.
The Murchisons helped make the area what it is today largely through the creation of churches. The Murchison descendants live in Fayetteville, Spring Lake and Raeford. Three Murchison Family members are buried at the Long Street Presbyterian Church.
The Goins and Walden Families
In the 1850s, the Goins brothers, Edmund, Martine and Lucian owned and operated the largest turpentine industry in the region, and the Walden Family, their friends, had a cooperating business. The Goins Family is said to have owned 2,000 acres of land in present day Fort Bragg near Pocket Creek along the Moore and Chatham county line. They used this land to harvest the long leaf pines that were abundant.
A blended Family, the Goins’ ancestors were Native Americans and free blacks who, according to oral history and historical data, first lived in the area from about 1790.
The Families have strong ties to the land that is now known as Fort Bragg. Together with the Walden Family, the Goins created a community along the Silver Run, west of Manchester Road. They built a school, a church and created a cemetery. Several members of the Family were buried here. The graves are marked by stones that are still readable, as well as homemade unreadable markers made of wood. They also created grave sites with poured cement and inlaid stones.
The Goins Cemetery is a protected site on Fort Bragg lands and members of the Family visit the cemetery every year to pay homage to their heritage. Family members lived in this Silver Run community until the sale of the land to the government in 1918.
The Goins and Walden Families moved onto Florida after their pine trees began to be tapped out in the late 1800s. Members of their community stayed in the area until 1918 when their lands were sold to the government for Fort Bragg.
The Blue, Murchison, Walden and Goins Families are just a few examples of the many Families that shaped Fort Bragg.
(Editor’s note: Information for this article was provided by Linda Carnes-McNaughton, program archaeologist/curator, DPW; Sandhill Families: Early Reminiscences of the Fort Bragg Area by Lorraine V. Aragon in conjunction with the Cultural Resources Management Program, DPW; and Historic Cemeteries of Fort Bragg, Camp Mackall and Pope Air Force Base compiled and edited by Beverly A. Boyko and William H. Kern, U.S. Army with contributions by Linda Carnes-McNaughton, Charles L. Heath, Jennifer Friend and Lisa McNeeley.
The Paraglide will publish a series of articles on the history of Fort Bragg throughout the year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the installation.)