The end of the Civil War ushered in decades of hard times for farmers in the South and those in North Carolina shared the suffering. A variety of economic and political factors made it difficult for farmers to make a good living. The Patrons of Husbandry, a national organization founded in 1867, tried to improve the lives of farm families. A chapter of the Grange, as the organization came to be known, began operating in Guilford County in 1873, and in February 1875 the North Carolina General Assembly incorporated the state-level organization. Many farmers in Franklin County joined the Patrons of Husbandry in the hope of overcoming the hardships they suffered.
Several factors contributed to farmers’ distress. With the end of slavery, many large landowners lost a reliable source of labor. Consequently, the size of farms declined and the systems of tenancy and sharecropping spread. Commodity prices fell, but railroads, which were unregulated, charged high prices for transporting crops. The country’s protective tariff resulted in higher prices for goods farmers needed, including fertilizer and equipment. Debts incurred at high rates of interest were difficult to repay because of the drop in crop prices and the scarcity of currency.
It is not surprising that farmers in Franklin County embraced the Patrons of Husbandry. The Franklin Courier reported in April 1875 that fourteen chapters, with a total of approximately 400 members, had been established, and that the organization was growing in strength. In September 1875, the Courier noted that the organization had opened a “cooperative store” in Louisburg for the sale of general merchandise. Located in a building formerly occupied by Peyton J. Brown, the enterprise was managed by Dr. Orren L. Ellis and Jeff Stokes. By late December, the business, which was thriving, had been moved to a larger building on Nash Street.
Prominent citizens decided that the rapidly expanding organization needed structure. On November 1, 1875, George W. Newell, William A. Moore, William T. Minga, Reubin Stallings, J. M. Bell, G. M. Cooley, A. S. Monger, M. J. Hunt, A. S. Perry, Edward A. Crudup, and Orren L. Ellis signed articles of incorporation of the Patron’s Cooperative Association of Franklin County, North Carolina. The purpose of the organization was to purchase and sell goods needed by the farming community, to manage a general mercantile business, to purchase produce and ship it on commission, and to “bring the producers & consumers of agricultural implements & products closer together by buying & selling through this Association, or through such parties as may make arrangements with this Association ….” The business was to be managed on a cash basis. Members of the Patrons of Husbandry could purchase up to fifty shares of stock at ten dollars per share. The affairs of the organization were to be managed by a president, secretary, and no fewer than five directors.
By the time of a meeting of the corporation held on February 9, 1876, in the Franklin County Courthouse, 100 individuals had purchased shares of stock valued at $2,430. During this meeting, the attendees approved the organization’s articles of incorporation and bylaws. The stockholders elected A. S. Perry as president and George W. Newell as secretary. The following men were chosen to serve as directors: William A. Moore, Reubin Stallings, G. M. Cooley, W. P. Bridgers, and J. H. Edwards.
The association remained active at least until January 1878, when Dr. Orren Ellis posted bond in his role as superintendent. The Grange soon declined in North Carolina, however, and it is likely that Franklin County’s organization also proved to be short lived. During the late 1880s, the Farmers’ Alliance picked up the mantle of improving the plight of suffering farmers.
Published in The Franklin Times on June 23, 2016.
Maury York is director of the Tar River Center for History and Culture at Louisburg College and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sources for this article include records of the Patron’s Cooperative Association of Franklin County in the Franklin County Miscellaneous Records, State Archives of North Carolina; Hugh Talmage Lefler and Albert Ray Newsome, North Carolina: the History of a Southern State (1973); and William A. Link, North Carolina: Change and Tradition in a Southern State (2009).