Important Message about LEARN NC

LEARN NC is evaluating its role in the current online education environment as it relates directly to the mission of UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education (UNC-CH SOE). We plan to look at our ability to facilitate the transmission of the best research coming out of UNC-CH SOE and other campus partners to support classroom teachers across North Carolina. We will begin by evaluating our existing faculty and student involvement with various NC public schools to determine what might be useful to share with you.

Don’t worry! The lesson plans, articles, and textbooks you use and love aren’t going away. They are simply being moved into the new LEARN NC Digital Archive. While we are moving away from a focus on publishing, we know it’s important that educators have access to these kinds of resources. These resources will be preserved on our website for the foreseeable future. That said, we’re directing our resources into our newest efforts, so we won’t be adding to the archive or updating its contents. This means that as the North Carolina Standard Course of Study changes in the future, we won’t be re-aligning resources. Our full-text and tag searches should make it possible for you to find exactly what you need, regardless of standards alignment.

In 1839, a twist of fate led to one of the most important breakthroughs in North Carolina agriculture history. Tobacco had always been a major crop for the region, but not until the accidental development of the “bright leaf” variety did the market for the product really start booming.

Bright leaf tobacco growing in a field.

Bright leaf tobacco grows in red soil on a farm in North Carolina’s Piedmont. Image source. About the photograph

Stephen was a slave on the farm of planter Abisha Slade near the Virginia border in Caswell County. He worked as a blacksmith on the Slade farm. Another of his jobs was overseeing the curing process of the tobacco crop. On one occasion, due to the warmth created by the fire, Stephen fell asleep during the process. A few hours later, he woke up to find the fire almost completely out. To try to keep the heat going, he rushed to his charcoal pit (part of his blacksmithing operation) and threw hot coals on the fire which created a sudden, immense heat. The heat from the charred logs cured the tobacco quickly, leaving it with a vivid yellow color.

The trade press in the late nineteenth century investigated the discovery of the process, interviewing those still living with firsthand knowledge of the events. The account is one which has fascinated North Carolinians for generations.

The flue-cured tobacco became known as bright leaf tobacco and the variety became popular with smokers. Other farmers learned of and used the new process as well. Although the discovery took place on a piedmont plantation, farmers in the coastal plains soon adopted the process and constructed curing barns by the hundreds. By 1857, Abisha Slade was harvesting 20,000 pounds annually and making some of the highest profits ever. Bright leaf tobacco led North Carolina to a dominant position in the tobacco industry.