Turpentine is an ingredient found in numerous household products, including paints, cleaners, and medicines. It was also widely used to seal wooden ships, hence the compound’s nickname “naval stores.” For many years, the most efficient method for obtaining turpentine was to distill it from the sap of pine trees. By the early 20th century, turpentine production had become a major industry across the southeastern United States, including North Florida. Large companies bought up timberland or the right to use it, and brought in large teams of workers to scrape the faces of the pine trees and channel the sap into cups for collection. The process was labor-intensive, but the companies often paid very little. Most turpentine workers were African-Americans or convicts hired out from local jails. As an increasing number of cases of abuse and mistreatment of workers came to light, the Florida Legislature moved to ban the use of convict labor in private turpentine camps. The industry began to decline, especially after synthetic methods were developed for producing turpentine.
Blog Post: Spirits of Turpentine
Learning Unit: Turpentine essay by Zora Neale Hurston