When I was growing up in Lowndes County, no members of my father’s family were still farming. The farmland my father’s parents and his siblings grew up on had been taken in by houses, stores and paved roads. On my mother’s side however, we still had relatives actively farming on Rocky Ford and Troupeville roads. So, I have been to several cane grindings in my time, watching a mule circle the grinder, while one of my relatives fed in stalks of sugar cane. Neither am I a stranger to a cool cup of cane juice. At the time, when we headed back into town from a cane grinding, my curiosity dried up and I had no idea how important the process just observed had been in days gone by. Nor did I have any idea what one could do with cane juice other than drink it.
In the early days of southwest Georgia there were very few roads and very few bridges. Ferries were a larger part of local life than most imagine. Local merchants stocked their stores mainly from Savannah. The arrival of wagon loads of their orders from that city were a planned event. The local population wanted to buy things they could not grow or make for themselves. They grew much of the food they ate. Bartering with local merchants using food items they could produce in abundance was a normal occurrence. Extra eggs, lard, sugar and syrup from the farm helped reduce their bills for buttons, cloth, medicine, plows and other tools.
Sugar cane could be easily propagated and grown in southwest Georgia. There was a demand for the raw product by sugar factories, but at the time those facilities were well beyond the shipping capabilities of local growers. Most if not all of the sugar cane produced was used locally for making sugar and syrup. Based on the administration of many estates and the legal confiscations of property in and around Lowndes County, sugar kettles, sugar tables, sugar barrels as well as sugar and syrup themselves were valuable possessions in many households.
The Savannah Daily Republican March 30, 1848 page 2
(Correspondence Savannah Republican)
Okapilco, Lowndes co. Ga. March 24, 1848
Messrs. Editors of the Republican: Gentleman: Southwestern and Central Georgia have sent you samples brown Sugar, made on their pinelands, I have also forwarded via Mobley’s Bluff, on Ocmulgee, a special sample of our sugar made on the pinelands of Lowndes county. I have presumed thus to trespass upon your time, not as a competitor but to show you Lowndes has a hankering for the sweets of the world, as well as others. My patch was small and experience less, but yielded at ten barrels sugar (200 lbs. each), four barrels syrup and about two barrels molasses per acre, reserving seed cane and stubble sufficient to double the quantity of ground. We have had piercing cold and frosty weather for the last fortnight. I am apprehensive our peach crop being in full bloom. Respectfully, your obedient servant, B.
The Savannah Daily Republican March 26, 1849 page 2
Thomas County Sugar: We have been shown two specimens of sugar made near Grooverville, Thomas county-one of them from the plantation of Mr. William Groover, which fully equals the best St. Croix or New Orleans sugar. Sugar has become an important crop in Thomas and Lowndes-it can also be made to certain extents in Early, Baker and Irwin; if we had the advantages of Railroad transportation in this section of Georgia it would soon be possible to supply the whole state with sugar and thus retain in the State the vast amount of money spent abroad to purchase this important article. (From the Albany Patriot)
The Albany Patriot July 13, 1849 page 1
Lowndes Postponed Sales
On the First Day in October Next, will be sold before the Court House door in Troupville, Lowndes county, the following property to wit: one copper sugar boiler containing about seventy-five gallons, levied on as the property of Simeon Strickland, to satisfy a fifa from Lowndes Inferior Court in favor of Israel F. Waldhauer vs Simeon Strickland and one in favor of Rufus Dickinson vs said Strickland.
When a woman was widowed the Court of Ordinary appointed commissioners to create support from her husband’s estate. Their goal was to assess and “set aside” sufficient property, both real and personal, to support the widow and children, if there were any, for twelve months. In the records I have researched from Lowndes and other southwest Georgia counties, an allotment of sugar and syrup were most always on the “set aside” list.
Widow’s Support Estate L.R. Boyd
State of Georgia Lowndes County} Return of appraisers. The undersigned in the discharge of their duty to assess the sum of $350 for the support of the widow and six children of L.R. Boyd deceased for twelve months. This sum has been based off forty bushels of Corn at one dollar per bushel, one thousand pounds of Bacon at twenty five cents per pound, one hundred pounds of Lard at twenty five cents per pound, half a barrel of Sugar at twenty five dollars and half a barrel of syrup at twenty five dollars and same set apart three Beds and Clothing & Quilts, small Table and Trunk, large Table, large Chest, Spinning Wheel & Sleigh Trunk, Smoothing Irons and Andirons, four Chairs, Weaving Loom, four Jars, all the Kitchen Furniture of said deceased set apart for the widow and children this February 20th 1863 W.H. Prosser, I. F. Waldhauer, Solomon Newsom
Widow’s Support Estate Archibald McIntyre
Georgia Lowndes County} The undersigned in discharge of their duty has set apart the following for the support of the widow and children of Archibald McIntyre deceased.
150 bushels Corn, 1000 lbs. Fodder, 4 bushels Salt, 1 Barrel Syrup, 1 Barrel Sugar, 10 gallons Lard, 2 Sides Leather, Cupboard & Crockery, 2 Bedsteads, 1 Bedstead, Bed & Clothing, 6 Chairs, 1 Table and all the Kitchen furniture of aid deceased for the use of the widow and children this 7th January 1864 M.M. Caswell, J.F. Scruggs, Wm. T. Brinson, J.G. Moore
The following article relates one man’s observations of the making and pricing of sugar in southwest Georgia.
The Southern Recorder March 27, 1860 page 2
Sugar-Making in South-Western Georgia
The Editor of the Savannah Republican travelling in South-Western Georgia writes as follows: On my way down through Lowndes county I noticed several sugar boilers and learned that all the sugar consumed is made by the planters. It is said to be quite profitable and thought by some to be a better crop than cotton. It is not sold by the pound but by the barrel. It is first packed away in flour or whiskey barrels and then set aside to drip; after which a flour barrel full of sugar is worth $15 and a whiskey barrel $20. The syrup is very good and sells for 37 to 50 cents per gallon. Rice I also find is raised in sufficient quantities to supply all home wants. As you approach the Rocky Ford on Withlacoochee River about three miles from Florida the country assumes a more broken appearance and resembles land in Middle Georgia. The difficulty of getting goods to market has always been an obstacle but this will be relieved by the Main Trunk Line.
A gross oversimplification of the process to make brown sugar on the farm is as follows; extract juice from raw sugar cane, pour the juice into a large syrup kettle, start cooking down and skimming the cane juice, replace what has been skimmed off with more cane juice. This is a long process but eventually after skimming, refilling and continual cooking a very thick heavy mass remains in the kettle. This is allowed to cool but then is reheated to allow removal from the kettle into a modified barrel. Once in the barrel, made specifically for this process, a dripping and crystalizing stage takes place. When fully cooled and “dripped out” what remains in the barrel is raw “chunks” of brown sugar. These chunks are removed and run through a grinder or mill for sizing. After sizing the sugar is packed into other barrels for storing.
The writer apologizes to those who have taken part or still take part in the above described process. The writer has described the process based on reading about it rather than having been an active participant. He will however accept an invitation to be there when someone is doing the real thing.
Mr. Hightower’s family/ancestors purchased their first land in Lowndes County, Georgia in 1827. He grew up just outside Valdosta, attended Lowndes High School and holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Valdosta State University. After leaving VSU he went to work for a European firm based out of Hamburg, Germany. He then traveled for 33 years, at times based inside and outside the United States, with a variety of International companies. Genealogy and history have always been two of his favorite areas of interest. Since retiring and moving back to Valdosta he has published one book pertaining to the historical records of Lowndes County, Georgia and currently has another on similar subject matter pending publication. He has formerly served on the Board of Directors of the Huxford Genealogical Society and currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the Lowndes County Historical Society.
Please note: These articles are based on research conducted by the writer/author utilizing a variety of reliable source material. Those wishing to learn more regarding source material utilized or those who may have any other questions, should contact the writer/author via South Georgia Today. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without express written permission from the author.