ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Duke Homestead, North Carolina
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Duke Homestead, North Carolina
Duke Homestead State Historic Site
The farm that gave birth to the world's largest
tobacco company is now preserved as a state historic
site in Durham, North Carolina.
Duke Homestead
Washington Duke's little log
cigarette factory has been
reconstructed and stands
near the original house.
Carolina Tobacco
The Duke family was farming
tobacco at the homestead
before the Civil War, but it was
in 1866 that the business
took off.
Tobacco Barn
Among the structures at the
Duke Homestead is the barn,
where tobacco leaf was flue-
cured using heat.
Duke Homestead State Historic Site - Durham, North Carolina
North Carolina Tobacco History
Duke Homestead
The farm today is a "living
museum of tobacco history,"
allowing visitors to see all
aspects of life on a tobacco
farm in the years after the Civil
Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Duke Homestead State Historic Site in
Durham interprets the history of the Duke
family and the rise and eventual decline of
the North Carolina tobacco industry.

Washington Duke came to these lands in
1852. His first wife had passed away in
1847, but in 1852 he remarried and built the
quaint little white house on the homestead
as a wedding gift for his second wife, Artelia

The Duke Homestead was originally a cotton
farm and Washington Duke farmed the
staple - along with corn, sweet potatoes and
other crops - until 1859. It was a time of great
tragedy for the man. Artelia and one of the
children died in 1858 from typhoid fever. The
cotton crop failed. And, of course, the dark
clouds of the Civil War were looming on the

Tobacco had long been a cash crop in
America. The English settlers of Virginia and
North Carolina grew tobacco, packages of
which were used as actual currency before
the American Revolution. Hoping to find a
profitable crop for his farm, Washington Duke
first planted tobacco here in 1859.

The Duke Homestead was not a large
plantation, but rather was typical of the upper
tier of family farms that thrived across the
South. The family held one enslaved laborer,
although Duke did occasionally rent
farmhands from area plantations.

No sooner had Washington Duke produced
a couple of crops of tobacco than did the Civil
War sweep across the South. A Unionist in
sentiment, Duke nevertheless served in the
Confederate army after he was conscripted
(drafted) into the service.

While he was away, Sherman marched his
army into North Carolina finally accepting the
surrender of Joseph E. Johnston's Army of
Tennessee at nearby Bennett Place in April
of 1865.

For the Duke family, however, the failure of
the Southern Cause provided the spark that
would ignite the creation of one of the world's
largest commercial enterprises.

As Sherman's men moved through the
tobacco country of North Carolina, they
discovered bright tobacco and an instant
market was born.

Hoping to rebuild his farm from the ravages
of war, Washington Duke returned home in
1865 and built a small log building near his
house. Called the "first factory," it was here
that he started producing packaged
"smoking tobacco." It was a major innovation
as smokers were not used to buying "ready
to smoke" tobacco.

Taking the first products of his factory in a
wagon, Duke traveled the countryside and
found that he had struck gold.
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The packets of smoking tobacco sold quickly
and by 1866 he and his children produced
15,000 pounds of his "pro bono publico" ("for
the public good") smoking tobacco.

In those days, tobacco was generally thought
to be a healthy product. Many decades would
pass before the Surgeon General would
announce otherwise.

From those initial days of inspiration, the
tobacco industry exploded with the Duke
family's operation at the forefront. Durham
became a major manufacturing and shipping
center for leaf tobacco and the Duke family
pioneered the use of machines to make
cigarettes. The Dukes became millionaires.

While the tobacco industry would eventually
fall into decline, it provided an economic
boost to North Carolina and the South that
should never be underestimated. Duke
family money, in fact, helped found today's
Duke University, along with hospitals,
orphanages and other public facilities and
improved lives of millions of Southerners.

Duke Homestead State Historic site now
interprets the history of the tobacco industry
in North Carolina. The site features a
museum, the preserved Duke Homestead
and more.

The site is open Tuesday through Saturday
from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located at 2828
Duke Homestead Road in Durham, North
Carolina, and is free to visit.
Please click
here for more information.