LESSON 3: EARLY FOREST PRODUCTS

The early colonies in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia quickly recognized that certain products made from trees were valuable commodities for both local use and for export. Lumber, tall pines for ship masts, and various products made from pine sap (called "naval stores") became important even during the 1600's in those colonies. English monarchs placed great value on these products and closely regulated exports. Some products could only be exported to England, and some were considered exclusive property of the King.

Pines suitable for ship masts were especially prized. According to the charter for Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691, any pine measuring 24" in diameter at the stump was the property of the Royal Navy. Cutting such a tree was a violation of the law and punishable by a heavy fine. Similar provisions were enacted in other areas. Legend has it that the town of Kingstree, S.C., was so named because one of the King's trees was located in the area.

Have the class write to the Williamsburg County Public Library for more information. 


Williamsburg County Public Library
135 Hampton Ave.
Kingstree, SC 29556

Although there were settlements in South Carolina in the 1600's, the value of the forest was not exploited very much until the eighteenth century. It was during this time (1700's) that the coastal pinelands achieved importance as a source of naval stores. Southern longleaf and slash pine were such excellent producers of tar, pitch, and turpentine that the naval stores industry in the northern colonies soon collapsed. Note: these products derive their name from extensive use on ships. Tar and pitch were used to treat rope against decay and as caulking and waterproofing for wooden ships. English sailors were sometimes called "tars."

There may still be some local people who worked in the naval stores industry. Locate one or more of these (they are probably in their  80's) and invite them to talk to the class. Record living history interviews as you find people who worked in the turpentine woods. Begin developing a collection of turpentine tools for display in the school. Make this a priority project . . . in a few years it will no longer be possible.

Agriculture was the primary activity in South Carolina and many coastal planters owned thousands of acres of land sometimes. When the fertility of a field was exhausted, a new field was cleared; old fields were abandoned and allowed to revert to forest again. Since pine is usually the first tree species to re-seed on bare soil, this practice helped perpetuate the pinelands in the coastal plain.

Compare this to the Indian farming described in Lesson 1.

By the mid-1700's, much of the land along the coast was controlled by large planters, forcing new arrivals in the South Carolina colony to move farther inland. Once again, the forest was an obstacle to be cleared.

Independence from England removed many of the restrictions on timber export. Logging and lumber manufacture developed into a booming business. By the late 1800's, lumbering was consistently among the top five industries in the country. During this period, the forest was heavily exploited for its products. No one was very concerned by this; there had always been plenty of wood.

In the early1900's, however, the inevitable happened: good timber was becoming hard to find in South Carolina. Many of the large sawmills closed down or reduced their operations due to a lack of readily available raw material. The virgin forest  was gone.

Reference Resources / Education

Contents / Lesson 1 / Lesson 2 / Lesson 3 / Lesson 4 / Lesson 5 / Lesson 6 / Lesson 7