Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Naval Stores

If you are like many modern landlubbers, you probably think "naval stores" are commercial establishments that sell anchors, rope, dinghies, life jackets, bottom paint, and anything else associated with sailboats and motorboats.

In fact, naval stores are products derived from pine sap. That's right, "naval stores" means turpentine, paint, varnish, various soaps & lubricants...even shoe polish and linoleum.

The term "naval stores" originated because resin-based products were essential for the construction and maintenance of sailing ships. Naval stores were used to caulk between hull planks, to weatherproof  various items, and to help preserve lines and ropes. Sailors, of course, were often called "old tars" because they were so often begommed with the stuff.

And pine sap came from pine trees; and pine trees grew in abundance in North Carolina.  In the mid-nineteenth century North Carolina produced more than 95% of all the naval stores (turpentine, tar, pitch, and rosin) in the United States. Most of that came from twelve tidewater counties. Many of the schooners from Ocracoke carried naval stores up and down the coast, to the West Indies and to Nova Scotia.

Like so many other human endeavors, over-exploitation of North Carolina's pine forests (at one time longleaf pine forests covered 130 million acres, from Virginia to Texas) led to ecological disaster and financial collapse. By the late 1800s the North Carolina naval stores industry had moved to South Carolina and Georgia...and later to the deep south and Texas.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is a 1910 article about waterfowl hunting. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous6:52 AM

    You keep us linguistically on our toes, Philip. I learned from your post this morning not only about naval stores but also there's a difference between resin and rosin.

    As for "begommed," though, Merriam-Webster's provides no guidance. Should the word have been begUmmed, perhaps?

    In any case--and as always--appreciate you sharing your knowledge and insights.

    1. "Begommed" is an island word that means "smeared with." I didn't "translate" it because I thought the context would provide its meaning. Your comment reminds me of the old-time island prank called rosin-stringing. Sometime soon I will post a description.

  2. Bear MacDonald8:20 AM

    Begommed would accurately describe how I feel upon awakening each morning. I love that word.

  3. Anonymous12:55 PM

    There are landlubbers...
    And then there are savvy landlubbers.
    Those of us who read your blog definitely are part of the latter group.
    Once a teacher always a teacher :-)

  4. Anonymous4:25 PM

    I think your wonderful

  5. Julie S.11:00 PM

    Check this site for reference to begommed as a mountain phrase.