Black Patch War
During the first part of the 1900s, problems over the price of tobacco turned to violence in the northern part of Tennessee. Since this region was known for growing dark-fired tobacco, it was called the “black patch war.”
Prices for tobacco had been down since the late 1890s. In 1904, tobacco farmers formed the Planter’s Protective Association (PPA) to try and raise prices.
They did this by holding their crops from the market until the tobacco companies offered higher prices. Without tobacco the companies would go out of business, so the farmers were trying to force them to pay higher prices.
Tobacco companies formed an organization to keep tobacco prices low. One way for the companies to get tobacco was to convince some growers not to participate in the PPA, but rather sell directly to the companies. Some tobacco farmers, anxious to sell their crops, decided to deal directly with the tobacco company and not withhold their crops.
When tobacco prices did not go up in 1905, some of the PPA farmers turned to other methods. In Robertson County, a group of farmers, calling themselves the “Possum Hunters,” met and agreed to visit farmers that were not members of the PPA and persuade them to join. Other Black Patch counties formed similar groups. The visits soon turned to violence.
The violent groups were called night riders since they went out at night. They would pour salt on tobacco beds to kill the plants, destroy tobacco fields, burn barns filled with tobacco, or even physically beat tobacco buyers. Most of the night riders in Tennessee were located in Robertson and Montgomery counties.
While the PPA said they didn’t have anything to do with the night riders, the violent tactics worked for the tobacco farmers. Prices rose between 1905 and 1914. While the night rider groups intimidated both black and white farmers, they ultimately attempted to damage merchants.
As prices rose, more and more people spoke out against the violence. The disapproval of the community and the outbreak of World War I ended this period of violence.
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- Photograph entitled, “night riders at work – whipping men.” This photo was created in 1908. It shows a hooded man whose hands seem to be tied surrounded by six other men. Written on the back of the photograph is, “Dict. Of Amer. Hist. (Scribner’s) armed bands who made war ag.(against) Monopolistic tob. (tobacco) cos. (companies) In Ky. & Tenn. & attacked the to. (tobacco) farmers who refused to coop. (cooperate) in the org. (organized) effort to break thru the abusive control of the trust. Sportadic (sporadic) beginnings ca. 1903; activ. (activity) peaked during Black Patch War of 1906-1909, in sw Ky. And n. Tenn.” Library of Congress.
- Photograph showing the Black Patch Tobacco Association parade. This photograph was taken on September 24, 1904 in Guthrie, Kentucky. People are holding banners and surrounding a parade float. Tennessee State Library and Archives.
- Photograph showing a Black Patch Tobacco Association parade wagon. The photo was taken on September 24, 1904 in Guthrie, Kentucky. On the back of the wagon is a cylinder that has the message, “I came from the Adams Ware House,” painted on it. Tennessee State Library and Archives.
- Photograph showing a Black Patch Tobacco Association procession. This photo was probably taken in Springfield, Tennessee sometime between 1904 and 1905. It shows ten horse drawn wagons that are loaded with crates riding in a line. Tennessee State Library and Archives.
- Photograph showing a group of men sitting and twisting tobacco in front of a barn. This photo was taken in 1911 in Jackson County, Tennessee. The barn is located on Flynn’s Lick Road in Antioch, Tennessee. Tennessee State Library and Archives.
- Photograph entitled, “Dark Fire Tobacco Graded.” This photo was taken in 1920 in Clarksville, Tennessee. It shows several men standing around piles of sorted tobacco in a warehouse. Men and women workers can also be seen in the background. Austin Peay State University.
- Photograph entitled, “Montgomery County Tobacco Farmer Holding Tobacco Leaves.” This photo was taken in Montgomery County, Tennessee, probably near the late 1800s or early 1900s. Customs House Museum and Cultural Center.
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