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When salt was a precious commodity
Liberty lore
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We are so used to many modern conveniences today that we perhaps never think of how things used to be.
We pick up the salt shaker and use it freely, never realizing what a precious commodity it was 150 years ago.
In the pioneer days and before the days of refrigeration, salt was a precious commodity and most essential as a preservative, especially for meat. People had to make long hard trips to the coast and separate it from the seawater. A large pot or kettle over a furnace and a drain trough or gutter were necessary equipment. “Wells” were dug in the marsh, and seawater was dipped out and put into the large pot. When water was boiled to a brine and was ladled into the trough, sloping from the pot to the container below, salt stuck to the sides of the trough and the drip, or “bittern,” was saved for medicine.
During and after the Civil War, this method had to be resorted to. The job was done mostly by the elderly, children or the handicapped, who were the only ones who could be spared from the serious business of war or farm work. It took a week or more of long, tedious work to make a bushel of salt. The firing of the furnace and boiling of the brine often went on for days within pot-shot range of the Yankee forces in Liberty County. As the salt makers journeyed home again with their precious salt, handfuls may have been traded along the way for other products or simply given to many who begged for just a little dab of salt.
A certain old 60-gallon syrup boiler was used for such a purpose. Years ago, it was the property of Jesse DeLoach and then his son, Henry T. DeLoach. When his estate was settled, the boiler sold for $1 because it had been damaged by a cannonball. The hole had been closed by a bolt and tap.
So when you buy that cheap box of salt today, think about how hard it was for our ancestors to obtain salt. I have heard stories of people during the Civil War boiling the dirt from the smokehouse to get a little salt that had dripped from the pork hanging from the rafters.
Before 1820, only a few wealthy plantation owners had carriages, or “riding chairs” as they were called in Liberty County. There were a few light two-wheeled racing carts, or “gigs,” but the most commonly used vehicle for every purpose was the two-wheeled dump cart, which had a box-like wooden body about 2 1/2 feet deep, about 6 feet long and 5 feet wide and was pulled by horse, mule or ox. On long trips to Savannah or the Darien markets, the loaded cart was the camper’s roof in rainy weather if he had to camp out along the way.
Cross-country travel, slow and difficult long ago, was more easily done on horseback. Stage routes were over rough roads and sometimes streams had to be forded at great risk to the passengers. Several days were required for lawmakers to make the trip from our area to the state Capitol in Milledgeville. There was ready hospitality in homes along the way for strangers to stay as they brought news from the outside world to the home and broke the monotony of the homeowners’ isolated lives.
The rates at the inns and taverns along the way were set by the law of Georgia. Inferior Court records show that in August 1810, tavern rates were as follows: a half-pint of Holland’s brandy or one quart of cider, 25 cents; supper and breakfast, 25 cents; one quart of corn or one bundle of fodder, 6 ¼ cents, 24-hour pasturage for horse, 12 ½ cents; and overnight lodging, 6 ¼ cents.
Wagoners were men who traveled weekly in wagons to the big city of Savannah. They usually traveled in groups, carried local produce and eggs to the city and brought back many things to stock the little stores along the way. A wagoner’s inn, Heigt’s Yard, on West Broad Street in Savannah was maintained so the wagoners could drive under a shelter.
Robbers and thieves were constant menaces while the wagoners were in Savannah and after they left. I heard a story about two men who had their wagons loaded and ready to leave early in the morning. They went to sleep on the platforms near their wagons. Late at night, they were awakened to find three thieves had cut off their pockets and taken all their money. They chased the thieves, but the thieves got away and one lost his hat. It was taken to the police the next morning, and the police gave the hat to a little boy to wear up and down the street. One of the thieves saw his hat and snatched it from the boy. He was caught by the police, arrested, tried and was found guilty. But we do not know if the wagoners got their money back.
An exciting sport in this area more than 100 years ago was ganderpulling. This was a contest in which a poor goose lost his head. Most of the time, it was used as a great incentive for drawing a large crowd at country stores, business openings, for entertainment on special days or as crowd boosters at home-property sales. A rope had to be stretched between two posts or trees about 50 feet apart. A fat gander’s head and neck were plucked clean of feathers and oiled. The gander’s feet were tied to the taut rope just high enough for the average rider on horseback to be able to reach the bird. A large jackpot prize was about $50 or $100 depending on the number of contestants. Each had to pay a fee to enter the contest.
The mounted contestants were lined up 50 or 60 feet away. The starting signal was given, and one by one the contestants galloped under the gander and had a try at snatching its head. The poor old gander always lost his head and body to the winner who also carried off the jackpot. The last contest remembered was held a few years after the Civil War.
Some of the information above came from “A History of Our Locale Mainly Evans County Georgia” by Lucile Hodges, published in 1965. She was an avid historian and kept newspaper articles from all the local newspapers. She included many articles that had been printed in the Hinesville Gazette as far back as 1885.

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