Northeast North Carolina Family History – Mills in Eastern North Carolina?

By: Irene Hampton

Last month I wrote about the 1890 Currituck Business Directory when in fact I meant to write about mills in eastern North Carolina. It seemed relevant to write about the reason we know that there were mills and that information comes from the business directories. After reading that Wilson Walker had a mill, I started researching mills in our area of North Carolina. Hyde County’s 1896 directory had ten mills listed and I started to see questions as to how the mills could exist without streams or rivers. Seven of Hyde’s are listed as wind-mills with the one on Ocracoke run by Eli Howard.

The power for Wilson Walker’s mill is listed as steam. Five other steam mills are given: T.P Hall in Coinjock, G.E. Stevenson, and Frost and Dudley in Snowden, and in Moyock, C.K Vandecarr and W. L. Powers. Most were gristmills and if you remember back to Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, they would tell you to “Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls…” where p. 283 of my 1974 Funk & Wagnalls Desk Dictionary gives gristmills the simple definition as: “A mill for grinding grain.” Of course our ancestors had to grind their crops for flour even on the Outer Banks. Currituck’s mill owners didn’t give the grain being milled but Hyde’s gristmills were all listed for corn. Most counties list at least one saw mill and some mill owners had both.

There were non-population censuses taken from 1850 – 1880. These included census schedules for agriculture, industry and manufacturing. Sadly Currituck does not appear in the manufacturing census but there are a few mills available in an industry census for 1870 – the only one available on at the moment. On June 1, 1870, Isaac Bell, E.H. Hunter, what appears to read B.C. Walker and William C. Stone all have mills in Moyock township. Isaac Bell had invested $1,000 dollars in his saw mill which had one machine run by steam rated with 16 horsepower. He employed 2 males over 16 years of age and over eight months paid $150 in wages. He produced 50,000 feet of lumber worth $500.

William C. Stone had a saw mill and a gristmill in Moyock township AND a grist mill in Poplar Branch township too. The gristmill in Poplar Branch had a capital investment of $1,000. It was a steam powered mill with one machine capable of six horsepower. He employed ten males over 16 and 3 females over 15 who worked for ten months for $300 paid out in wages. He lists the worth of grain after grinding as $2,500.

The other person listed in Currituck’s census for industry in Poplar Branch in 1870 is Enoch Poyner. He owns a cotton gin with $500 invested. He is literally using one horse and says it provides two horsepower to power his single machine. He employs two men over 16 and pays out $300 in wages over three months. He produces $1,000 in cotton and sold 5,000 pounds of cotton seed bringing in a grand total of $200.

If you are interested in seeing how a gristmill works there is a 22 minute YouTube video showing the final repairs on one of them and then grinding corn which most gristmills here did. I would skip to about the seven minute mark to see it working – have to admit I didn’t watch to the end as there were ads and it looked pretty much the same after they got it running but you will get the general idea. The video states that it is an 1890’s Red Lion 5’ X 7” horizontal center crank steam engine that was restored in order to fill an order for stone-ground corn for a North Texas craft distillery.

I need to repent of my lack of willingness to spend much time in these non-census schedules. Next month I plan on explaining the benefit of Currituck’s agricultural census and where you can find it as well as others for free online. Keep tabs of your Covid 19 experiences as they will be our history!!

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