Consider Salt for a Sesquicentennial Program

“We can wear old clothes and live off the plantation for years without suffering if we can only get salt, but what is to become of those who have no such resource?” From the Diary of Catherine Ann Devereux Edmonston (May 23, 1862)

CarolinaSaltWorksCapeFearMuseumSaltExhibitThe Wilmington Salt Works began operations in 1861 in response to severe salt shortages. Early in the Civil War the Union Army destroyed salt works in Currituck County and later near Morehead City. The Wilmington works was the only operation able to continue salt-making until Union forces destroyed it in April 1864. The Cape Fear Museum interprets salt-making as part of a section on the Wilmington Salt Works in its Civil War exhibit (shown above right).

Throughout the war regional newspapers printed advice on salt scavenging as a home-front activity. One offered directions for evaporating salt water,  another suggested gathering salt from smokehouse floor dirt, and another recommended mixing hickory ash with a little salt for meat preservation. A North Carolina diarist wrote in 1863 that “salt [is] considered cheap at $25 per bu[shel].” The same year women reported stealing 2 bags of salt, among other provisions, during the Salisbury Bread Riot. According to one scholar, “Ella Lonn’s 1933 study Salt as a Factor in the Confederacy is starting to look fresh again.”

A simple public program with salt can be a great way to introduce the Confederate supply crisis of 150 years ago. A new company, Carolina Salt Works, is now operating in Shallotte, only about 35 miles southwest of Wilmington near the South Carolina border. According to the verso of the product package (the cotton sack shown above) Carolina Salt Works gathers seawater during the full moon and produces the salt as a residue of natural evaporation. This process is much like the salt-making on the North Carolina coast during the Civil War.

Wouldn’t kids and adults alike be interested in taste testing while learning about the local and historical antecedents of this product? Harris Teeter (another NC company) sells the salt in its North Carolina product section. Remember, authorities on historical interpretation recommend using as many senses as possible for the most engaging audience experiences. (For example, see #3 on a list Max van Balgooy recently posted and the 3rd point on another by Linda Norris.)

But is salt safe to use in programs near artifacts? There are preservation reasons to keep a salt taste-testing activity away from artifact collections. The science behind salt as an agent of deterioration is complex and involves increased condensation from ambient RH and surface crystallization. But with proper precautions, salt can help museum program participants make a flavorful and memorable connection to the past.


About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on June 25, 2013, in collections care, public programs and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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