Contentnea Cigarettes and Tobacco Cards


Contentnea Cigarettes- the taste of a muddy creek in every inhale. Image taken from Ebay.

Contentnea cigarettes were produced by the Erwin-Nadal Company in Wilson, North Carolina, a subsidiary of the American Tobacco Company from 1909-1910….maybe (the Erwin-Nadal Company is not listed in the 1908-1909 Wilson City Directory but the American Tobacco Company is, on the corner of Mercer and Jones Streets).  At least that is when they carried the T209 tobacco cards, a series that features players from the Carolinas and Virginia minor league teams.


T209 Series 1, Daniel McGeehan (outfielder) eventually played for the MLB St. Louis Cardinals after he fielded for the Wilson Tobacconists for 62 games and Scranton (New York State League) for 19 games. Image from Michael Peich & Tim Newcomb Old Cardboard (Issue #27, Spring 2012)


J.J. Lane (pitcher). Image from Michael Peich & Tim Newcomb Old Cardboard (Issue #27, Spring 2012)


The first series was thought to be issued in late 1909 and had color lithographs of the players. This  series of tobacco cards depicted players from the class D minor league Carolina Association (Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston Salem, Anderson, Greenville, and Spartanburg) and the Eastern Carolina League   (Fayetteville, Goldsboro, Raleigh, Rocky Mount, Wilmington, and Wilson).  The backs of the cards also listed that there would be players from the class C Virginia League, but it was not included in the set. These cards were pretty hastily put out in order to get in on a collecting craze. There were a few   mistakes, such as some players were in jerseys from a different team than indicated on the card and some players didn’t even appear to exist (according to records). There were 16 cards in the set and the Wilson Tobacconists had the most players represented at five. This was  probably because Wilson had won the 1909 Eastern Carolina League championship, had high attendance at their games and the Erwin-Nadal company was based there.


Local Tobacco farmer and Wilson’s greatest baseball fan, B.E. Thompson


The second series are black and white photographs with some depicting portraits and others, action poses. This series is much larger than the first and the number is not agreed upon, but it is around 224. Thirty of the players went on to the major leagues. One player that they missed was a Native American named Jim Thorpe, the greatest athlete of the age and he pitched for the Rocky Mount Railroaders in 1910, which is a really awesome fact to learn. There was also a uniquely strange card made of a super- fan from Wilson who dressed like Uncle Sam. He was named Benjamin Thompson and was a tobacco farmer, civil war veteran and local character.


You could turn this card in for a picture album of all the baseball players.


Michael Peich & Tim Newcomb
Old Cardboard (Issue #27, Spring 2012)

The Cardboard Connection

T209-Contentnea Cards 1909-1910

The Boykin Family of Wilson in 1935 and 1963


Uriah W. Boykin (1856-1936) is in the center and to the far right with the white hat is his son, Stephen Ransom Boykin (1895-1982).  Stephen owned Wimpy’s, a lunch counter and pool hall on Tarboro Street between Barnes and Keenan in Wilson, NC.  Uriah’s wife and Stephen’s mother, Smitha Jane Barnes Boykin, died in 1919.  Stephen’s wife, Nannie Davis Boykin  (1896-1970), is the third from the left.


Carol Arthur is the second man on the back row from the left. His wife, Janice Boykin Arthur, is to the right of him and is the daughter of Stephen and Nannie Boykin who are on the front right.


Today one of my patrons, Carol Arthur, brought two photos of the Boykin family.  There are a goodly amount of Boykins in this area so let’s just call this the Uriah Wesley/Smitha Barnes Boykin clan.

North Carolina’s Rich Dialect Diversity

talkin tarheel

My father used to tell me, “I swanny Will if you don’t stop scaring your sister with that Admiral Akbar mask, I am going to tear it half in two!”   Well the mask (I had won it in a Return of the Jedi coloring contest at the mall) was eventually torn half in two.  And according to the book I just finished reading , Talking Tarheel (2014) by Walt Wolfram and Jeffrey Reaser, the word swanny is a word found in the rural Piedmont dialect of North Carolina (it doesn’t say anything about half in two though).

The book concerns North Carolina’s regional dialects and I found it to be informative and engaging but also quite innovative in its addition of QR codes that allows you to access video and audio examples of dialects all over North Carolina (check out the audio-visual links here).  The authors, professors of English at NC State, separated the state into 6 major dialect areas: Appalachian, NC Piedmont, Coastal Plain, Tidewater and Outer Banks.  But there are also other dialects and languages within those areas, including: African American, Lumbee, Cherokee and Latino.

Their detailed research has revealed some new revelations in the mosaic of dialects that we are fortunate to have in our state.  One interesting finding is how varied African American Dialects are in NC, which are sometimes viewed as a monolith in “white” America.  But there are some surprising speechways from the rural to the urban and from the Outer Banks to the Appalachians, and many are far removed from the urban dialect portrayed in popular culture.

The authors also try to dispel the myth that the Appalachian and Outer Banks vernacular is some sort of Elizabethan English time bubble.  It turns out that their English is as living and mutable as any dialect, their isolation has just allowed a few words and grammatical structures to survive where in other, more connected, areas it has died out.  If you read my review of John McWhorter’s book  Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, you will have already read about some antediluvian grammar that still lives on in NC, ie. “Mary is a singing.”  Also, one of my favorite examples of how the Outer Banks vernacular has been evolving is their use of the word “dingbatters” for tourists.  They picked up that word from watching Archie Bunker on the TV sitcom All in the Family. However, I do have a beef, I have read a hantle (a lot) of literature about the Scots Irish dialect of the Carolinas (esp. From Ulster to America by Michael Montgomery, who is probably the leading expert in Scots Irish speech ways and Albion’s Seed by David Hackett Fisher),  and as an armchair linguist who took one undergraduate linguistics class, I don’t think the authors emphasized the impact Scots Irish had on the Piedmont and Appalachian dialect regions enough.  There are hundreds of words that came out of their distinct dialect that has examples in writings from Ulster (also lowland Scotland and the English border) and their diaspora in America. Examples of Scots Irish words that have occurred in Ulster and America:  jouk- dodge, fornest-next to,  lowp-jump,  hantle- a lot.  But in their defense the researchers for the most part adhered to the results of their own research.

But the part I found most interesting is the chapter on the legacy of American Indian Languages.  Unfortunately, the only language remaining out of the six American Indian Language families that were historically found in NC is Cherokee, and presently there are only 200 to 300 fluent speakers of the language left in North Carolina.  But there is another American Indian tribe living in NC that is the ninth largest tribe in the United States and is the largest non-reservation tribe in the US and they are the Lumbee tribe of Robeson County.  This enigmatic tribe lost their language (or languages) sometime in the 1700’s but they speak a dialect of English that is as singular as the one found in the Appalachians or the Outer Banks and I am going to cover them in depth in another blog post.

The authors end the book covering the great Latino migration into North Carolina and the cultural and language ways that they are adding to our mostly monolingual state.  Drawn to our manufacturing and agricultural job opportunities, North Carolina is now third in it the nation for numbers of rural Latinos and number one in monolingual Spanish speakers.  Also, ten percent of Mexican immigrants speak an indigenous language and some of them do not speak Spanish as their first language but Otomi, Mixtec, Nahuas, Purhepechas,  or Triques.  However,  only half of the Latinos in NC are from Mexico, the other half are from El Salvador, Panama, Guatemala or any other Central or even South American nation (my sister-in-law is Peruvian and lives in NC).  The term most commonly used for Spanish speakers by Anglos in NC is Hispanic which is also the most used term on the East coast, but in the West they use the term Latino.  Hispanic was found to be the most disliked phrase among Latinos because it was wholly created by the US Census and is considered a “white person’s” word.  Lastly, the researchers have found that many bilingual children of Latino immigrants speak with a rural southern accent but with a distinctly Latino rhythm adding a beautiful new dialect to the already diverse speechways of our state.

Wolfram and Reaser view North Carolina’s richly diverse language quilt as one our most important resources.  Although dialects change and die-out, the authors believe that there will not come a time when all Americans or North Carolinians speak alike.  They seek to document the language and history of North Carolinians from the ones who were here at the founding to the more recent arrivals.

Also investigate this article: What linguists say about Kevin Spacey’s bizarre Southern accent on House of Cards

In the show House of Cards, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is from Gaffney, SC, a town that has a very similar culture and accent to my hometown of Gastonia, NC by virtue of them both sitting on the I-85 textile corridor about 30 miles apart.  I can tell you that I never met anybody that dropped their “r’s” there like the Frank Underwood character does, if anything they added more “r’s”. Well that is not exactly true my best friend’s mother and father dropped their “r’s” but they were from the Lowcountry of South Carolina and they stood out.  One of our favorite pastimes was to imitate his mother, “Da-vid, don’t you duhty up my kitchin.”


Old Barns of Wilson NC


Barns not Barnes

We have a new book about the barns of Wilson County by Ann T. Baker.  It consists well made photographs of various barns from Wilson County with a vague description of where they are located.  If you are looking for an architectural, socio-economic and cultural treatise on barns in Wilson County you will be disappointed.  But for if you are just looking for skillfully taken photographs of Wilson County barns then this book is for you.

Racial Violence in North Carolina


Tomorrow at five in the assembly room I am hosting two JD candidates from Northeastern Law School in Boston, MA.  They are giving a presentation of their findings on the 1940’s era murders of 3 African American men in Wilson, NC.  Their work is a part of Northeastern Law School’s ongoing Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, a program that tries to shed light on Jim Crow era murders of African Americans in the South who were killed due to racial violence but no one was convicted of the crime.   They contacted me a couple of weeks ago to see if I could help them find family members of people in involved in the murder trial of Otis Newsome, a WWII vet and funeral director who was killed in cold blood in 1948 while trying to buy a bottle of brake fluid.  I was able to find and interview the son of the prosecutor who was able to give the law candidates access to his father’s files on the case.  It should be a very interesting presentation and I am honored to be a part of it.

Evil Air: Malaria in the American South


Image shows the range of Plasmodium Falciparum in North and South America.
From 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

Feb. 6, 1692: Taken ill a Seventh time:  with a Tertian Ague: about 3h p.m .it began & was of the same nature with my last which I had all January, but this was the worst.
Feb. 12, 1692: Before noon, a 4th fit. With which I shook about 3h p.m. & then went to bed: where I had a very violent Feaver; this being the worst fit of all: my breath very short; & delirious…
(Mann 2011, pg. 106)

Samuel Jeak, a merchantman in Southeast England, was suffering from an infection from a plasmodium.  The plasmodium is an insidious parasite that conducts a coordinated assault causing red blood cells to burst open with up to ten billion new parasites overwhelming the immune system and causing chills and fevers.  Although the immune system can eventually beat back the assault, the plasmodium will hide out in your liver for years waiting to attack again.  This is of course malaria, a disease that was endemic to the American Southeast at least until the 1940’s and had a strong hand in the formation of the South’s economy and culture.  Recently, well yesterday, I finished reading Charles C. Mann’s sequel to 1492, 1493: The New World that Columbus Created.  And although I had an extensive discussion of the entirety of 1492 in an earlier blog post I am going to focus on a chapter titled Evil Air.  The author, Charles Mann, does a superb job in drawing on resources to show how malaria impacted the Columbian exchange.

Malaria had impacts beyond the immediate sufferings of its victims. It was a historical force that deformed cultures, an insistent nudge that pushed societies to answer questions in ways that today seem cruel and reprehensible (pg. 116).

Could malaria be a reason that slavery became entrenched in the American South but died out north of the Mason Dixon line?  It’s an interesting question that Mann tackles expertly.

            The English word for malaria comes from the Italian word for evil air.  But the old Latin term for malaria is tertian fever which describes periods of fever and chills that occur in a forty-eight hour pattern. You are sick one day and then fine the next, fine the next day and then sick the following day.  The pattern continually repeats itself which is why it was it was given the Latin term for three days which follows the Roman pattern of counting time from the beginning of one period to the beginning of the next.

Malaria did not exist in the Americas before 1492.   Europeans brought the plasmodium vivax parasite to the Americas from southern England, where it thrived during the colonial period.  Europeans from areas where the plasmodium vivax historically lived acquired certain immunity to the disease if they suffered from it at some point in their life (and survived), which is called seasoning.  Therefore these Europeans did not suffer as severely as did the Native American population during the early years of colonization.  Even so the plasmodium vivax caused much suffering and death among European colonists who hadn’t been seasoned. However, a new type of malaria, brought over from Africa with the first African slaves, was devastatingly fatal to all Europeans as well as the Native Americans.  This was the plasmodium falciparum.

The original slave trade in the South was of Native American slaves.  The Mississippian Native American culture that dominated the Southeast was a culture that practiced slavery on a large scale.  They usually took slaves through ritualistic warfare.  Eventually  these slaves could become members of the tribe, or they could be killed in reciprocation for the killing of a tribe member.  The newcomer Europeans were quick to take advantage of this labor force made available through Native American slave catchers until its collapse in the early 1700’s as Native American populations imploded due to Old World diseases, which included malaria.   The possible replacements for Native American slaves were indentured servants from Scotland and Northern England and African slaves.

To the North, Colonial New England was a society that had slaves.  But slaves from Africa were expensive, much more expensive than indentured servants from Europe.  Adam Smith even stated that slaves were not economically viable.  This was true in New England where slavery eventually fell out of favor and the more economical indentured servants became the labor of choice.  However, indentured servants usually came from regions in Britain that did not have any malaria.  These newcomers that had never been exposed to any type of plasmodium died in staggering numbers soon after they arrived in the South, and with the introduction of falciparum, no European was safe.  In some parishes around Charleston three out of four children died by the age of twenty.  In the same period of these malarial fueled die-offs, there was a people that were increasing in number to the colonies that were almost completely immune (ninety-seven percent) to vivax and about fifty percent immune to falciparum.  These people were coming over as slaves from West and Central Africa.

The Southern plantation owners did not know that Africans had a strong resistance to malaria, nor did they know what malaria even was.  They just saw that Africans survived where Europeans and Native Americans died.  Still, Africans died in large numbers from brutality and other diseases that they were subjected to in the chattel slave society that existed in the South.  But when malaria and yellow fever (another deadly mosquito born disease that Africans have resistance to) outbreaks occurred the Africans were left standing while other populations withered away.  These outcomes gave the advantage to the large plantation owners with an African slave labor force over the small farmers with indentured servants.  Also, it just so happens that falciparum is very temperature sensitive and the dividing line where falciparum can live is below the Mason Dixon line.  Above the line is too cold for it to survive.  It is also no coincidence

General Wade Hampton III's plantation house ruins on top of Quinine Hill in Columbia, South Carolina.  The Hamptons went to their home in the North Carolina mountains during the fever season.

General Wade Hampton III’s plantation house ruins on top of Quinine Hill in Columbia, South Carolina. The Hamptons went to their home in the North Carolina mountains during the fever season.

that plantation homes with their high windows that let in a breeze (that kept away mosquitoes) were frequently on a hill with a manicured, treeless lawn that happened to keep away mosquitoes; nor that the plantation families usually went North to Rhode Island or to the mountains during the worst times of the year (fall) for malaria,  while the yeoman farmer and poor had to stay and suffer and die in the malarial zone, therefore creating a more stratified society.  African slavery was not caused by malaria but malaria offset the economic impediments as defined by Adam Smith. The author also documents a similar pattern occurring in the falciparum ravaged slave state of Brazil as compared to the falciparum free Argentina where indentured servants made up the labor force.

Mann also gives evidence for malaria helping to win the revolution by severely reducing the effectiveness of Cornwallis’ largely Scottish troops.  And may be a major reason that the Northern armies lost so many battles in the early years of the American Civil War marching into the falciparum zone where the tertian fever rate was calculated as high as 233% with soldiers suffering from fever 2 times or more.

To conclude, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created provides a extremely well researched overview and analysis of the mosaic of the changes that happened as a result of the Columbian Exchange.  As well as an intense examination of how the introduction of Old World diseases such as malaria to the Americas was a large factor in the destruction of the Native American cultures and peoples that had existed for millennia and the helped to bring about the brutal enslavement of the Central and Western Africans.