Monday, February 26, 2007

War-time bread riots

There was an article today in the Salisbury Post about the Bread Riot there in 1863. There was at least one other female led riot in North Carolina during the war, this one in Burnsville in April 1864. I wonder if the idea behind the Salisbury riot led to the one in Yancey County?

Shortage of food items resulted in Bread Riot of 1863

A bread riot in Salisbury? Oh, come on, now. Who would ever consider a riot over bread, for heavens sake? I mean, we've already had to throw away the peanut butter and now the bread?
But don't worry. Throw away the peanut butter if you want to, but there's no reason right now to get rid of your bread.

Possibly the peanut butter problem prompted Post reader Tammy Ramey to bring Salisbury's Bread Riot to our attention. Not that she was planning a bread riot of her own, but she apparently thought it was interesting enough to share with other readers.

Salisbury's Bread Riot, probably its first and only, happened March 18, 1863, when the streets of Salisbury were invaded by a group of about 50 determined local women, identified only as wives and mothers of Confederate soldiers. And the Carolina Watchman, Salisbury's newspaper of that day, was quick to let citizens know about "A Female Raid."

"Between 40 and 50 soldiers' wives, followed by a numerous train of curious female observers," the Watchman reported, "made an attack on several of our business men last Wednesday, whom they regarded as speculators in the necessaries of life."

The women believed that local merchants had been profiteering by raising the prices of necessary foods and demanded that the merchants sell these goods at government prices.
But the merchants refused, prompting the women to break down one shop door with hatchets and threaten other storekeepers.

As stated earlier, the newspaper described the event as a "Female Raid" and added that it netted the women 23 barrels of flour as well as quantities of molasses, salt and even $20 in cash.
But Salisbury wasn't the only place that had a "bread riot."

A food riot in Richmond, Va., also in 1863, was more widely known, and both are dramatic evidence of the stresses on local life brought on by the Civil War, according to the University of North Carolina's "This Month in North Carolina History Archives."

"Volunteers for the Confederate army from Salisbury and surrounding Rowan County at the beginning of the war were by and large young, unmarried men," the UNC article read.
But by 1862 the demand for fresh troops brought about the increasing enlistment of older men with wives and families.

Rowan had a large number of small farms, and when a husband or father left to fight the war, those farms suffered a serious economic loss.

"The failure of the county's attempt to provide for soldiers' families also contributed to the hardship."

But the women who participated in the incident were never prosecuted, which indicated their neighbors understood and sympathized.

And the Carolina Watchman criticized the county commissioners who failed to provide adequate help for the soldiers' families, not the women. They should, the article said, "go, all blushing with shame for the scene enacted in our streets on Wednesday last."

By then the scene was over.

But not its memory.

In fact, members of a group of like-minded people have recently organized a co-op named — how's this for a long memory? — the Bread Riot Co-op.

Nobody's planning a bread riot, but there's nothing like a good story, and a true one focused on buying locally and eating organic foods to make sure people remember and support the new co-op.

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