Family Stories

The Early Tobacco Industry in Muhlenberg County

Even though two of my sisters live on farms and at one time raised tobacco, I have never experienced planting, raising, chopping, hoeing, cutting or stripping tobacco.  Both my parents’ families raised tobacco.  In our very early days this product made Virginia, and later, the South, rich from manufacturing and selling this product.

In addition to newspaper articles, this information on the Martin family from Muhlenberg County, is taken from A History of Muhlenberg County, by Otto A. Rothert, published in 1913, was an eye-opener for me.  William and Hutson Martin came to Muhlenberg County in 1805 with their widowed mother, Susannah.  Their father, Thomas Martin, was a Revolutionary soldier.  Three sisters also came to the county, Betsy, Mary and Nancy, but soon married and moved away with their husbands.

The Owensboro Messenger, Daviess County, Kentucky

Sunday, April 13, 1930

It was in 1835, in the Old Liberty neighborhood, that William Martin first manufactured plug tobacco.  The tobacco raised in those days was about the same kind of Yellow Prior and shoestring still grown in some part of the county.  His son Dabney A. Martin later went to Virginia and equally well adapted to the soil in this section of the dark-tobacco district.  William Martin selected the best leaf for his plug, using not only his own crop but also purchasing the crops of his neighbors.  Most of the tobacco he handled was manufactured into plug each year during the course of a few months.  His trash, lugs and inferior leaf he prized into hogsheads and shipped to New Orleans via Kincheloe’s Bluff.  R. T. Martin, speaking of the poor transportation facilities the shippers of tobacco had during the early days, says: ‘They packed and prized the tobacco into hogsheads around a long pole which passed through the center.  To the ends of the protruding pole they fastened two poles, to which horses were hitched, and in that way pulled and rolled the hogsheads to the Bluff.  This “carrying” was done when the roads were dry; nevertheless, mud holes were sometimes encountered, and the tobacco would become more or less damaged.’

William Martin had no wooden screws or any other contrivances that in any way approached modern appliances.  He simply stemmed and re-dried the leaf and then packed it into crude forms or molds, to which he applied pressure by pulling down on one end of a twenty-foot beam, the other end of which was tenoned in a mortise cut for that purpose in one of the heavy timbers of his barn.  After the beam or lever had been pulled down by all the available human muscle it was held in position by means of a sword-like hickory peg stuck into one of a series of auger-holes in the wall.  These pugs of ‘flat chewing’ usually weighed about eight ounces and were packed into boxes holding from one hundred to one hundred and fifty pounds.  William Martin followed only a few years the manufacturing business he had started.  However, before he quit, one of his sons, William Campbell Martin, took up the same work and continued in it until about 1840.

In 1840, Dabney A. and Ellington W. Martin, two of the younger sons of William Martin, established a plant on North Main Street in Greenville, and there began the making of the brand known as ‘Greenville Tobacco’.  This famous brand was manufactured in Greenville for more than half a century.  From a good trade in the South it gradually spread to many other parts of the Union.  Dabney A. and Ellington W. were the first local men to use screws, and also the first to introduce flavoring and sweetening in their plug tobacco.  They loaded their manufactured product on six-mule wagons, each holding about four thousand pounds, and started them on long trips through the South.  These large wagons were usually accompanied by one or two smaller ones, for the purpose of making side-trips from the main road and the moving source of supply.  They delivered their goods on consignment; that is, to be paid for when sold, or to be returned when called for by the manufacturer.  The quality of and the demand for their “Greenville Tobacco” was such that they seldom were obliged to relieve any one of unsold stock.  There was no internal revenue tax on manufactured tobacco in those days, and their plug tobacco usually sold for ‘two bits,’ or twenty-five cents, a pound.

Hopkinsville Kentuckian, Christian County, Kentucky

Tuesday, May 12, 1903

Dabney A. and Ellington W. Martin were the first men in Muhlenberg County to export strips or stemmed tobacco.  As early as 1845 they added a stemmery to their factory.  The plug and the strip business were both successful and resulted in the accumulation of a large fortune.  In 1869 they sold their plant to Hugh N. Martin.  In 1899 he removed to Louisville and there continued the leaf-and-strip business.

Charles Y. Martin made plug and twist from 1880 to 1895; among his brands was the famous “XL Greenville.’

The Owensboro Messenger, Daviess County, Kentucky

Tuesday, July 26, 1887

In memory of William Martin who was born December 13, 1776, and departed this life November 5, 1851.  Old Liberty Cemetery, Muhlenberg County, Kentucky.

William Martin was born in Virginia, December 23, 1776, and died in Muhlenberg County November 5, 1851.

In memory of Jane, wife of William Martin, who was born October 22, 1776, and departed this life September 9, 1851.

His wife, Jane (Campbell) Martin, was born in Virginia October 22, 1776, and died near Old Liberty in August 1851.  Mr. and Mrs. Martin were the parents of eight children:  1.  Thomas Lawrence, among whose eight children is Richard T. Martin; 2.  William Campbell, who married America Niblack, their two sons being Hugh Niblack and Thomas Hutson Martin; 3.  Mrs. Eliza Ann (Reverend Samuel M.) Willkins; 4.  Mrs. Susannah W. (James) Hancock; 5.  Dabney A., who married Lizzie Britt, their only child, Jennie, marrying Hanson Browder, of Clinton, Kentucky; 6.  Charles C. who married Nancy Y. Reynolds; 7.  David; 8.  Ellington Walker, who married Emily Elliott, daughter of Richard Elliott.

Hutson Martin born January 10, 1778, died July 7, 1838.

Hutson Martin was born in Virginia and died in Muhlenberg, July 7, 1838.

In memory of Anna Martin, born March 16, 1788, died June 29, 1869, aged 81 years, 3 months and 13 days.

His wife, Anna Lockridge Martin, treated many of the sick in the neighborhood with her herbs, and up to the time of her death, which occurred in her eighty-second year, was known as ‘Mother Martin’.  She died January 29, 1869, aged eighty-one years.  Mr. and Mrs. Hutson Martin were the parents of twelve children:  1.  Andrew L., who married Fannie Rice; 2.  Mrs. Mary (George) Ingram; 3.  Mrs. Jane (Jackson) Rice; 4.  Lucrecia; 5.  William W., who married Mary Ann Lovelace; 6.  Mrs. Susan (James) Rice; 7.  John; 8.  Mrs. Ellen (John) Grigsby; 9.  James, who married Elizabeth Bell; 10.  Felix J., who married Caroline Eaves; 11.  Mrs. Laura Ann (James W.) Allison, who is the mother of Mrs. Anna Allison Holmes and Professor B. Frank Allison and who, after the death of her first husband, married Azel M. Terry; 12.  Miss Luro Martin.

3 replies »

  1. Thank you so much for the very interesting article on tobacco. My mothers family came from Muhlenberg County and moved to Indiana. My great grandfather and grandfather continued to grow small amounts of tobacco for personal use for many years. My grandpa even had a small tobacco drying barn on the back of his property.

  2. Very good article. Thank you for posting this. William 1776-1851 is my 4th great grandfather. I descend from Charles Campbell Martin. Many of the things in your blog I did not know. Thank you again…..

    Best regards

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