Currently, I am working my way through Salt by Mark Kurlansky—a book I highly recommend. The question arose in my mind: did salt play any part in the history of Mecklenburg County?

The short answer is–not really. Yes, I was hoping for another answer as well. But while this mineral played little part in the county’s history, there are some notable events that concern salt and Mecklenburg County.

Generally, North Carolina salt was manufactured by boiling sea water or brine along coastal areas, both a time and an energy-intensive process. Because of this costly process, it was generally cheaper to import salt. Liverpool, England was a major salt port which provided the American colonies with cheap salt, though salt was also produced at Cape Cod, Massachusetts and in upstate New York at Onondaga County. English colonists also differed from their French counterparts in their relationship between salt and settlements; the French tended to settle where they could produce salt while the English would carry salt with them.[1]

Catawba Indians inhabited this area for its proximity to the river which now bears their name. European settlers, generally Scotch-Irish and German people, did not begin to arrive in Mecklenburg County until the mid-eighteenth century. Mecklenburg County was established in 1762, and Charlotte was founded to serve as the county seat in 1768. Salt was likely one of the commodities brought in for trade rather than produced locally.[2]

But this did not mean that salt production was not attempted in Mecklenburg County. Waightstill Avery (1743-1821) of Burke County, a signee on the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and the state’s first Attorney General, was appointed by the North Carolina Provisional Congress in April 1776 as chairman of a commission to erect a salt works in Mecklenburg County. Neither the location of these works, nor the method of salt manufacturing, is known.[3]

In North Carolina during the Civil War, the state salt works was located at Myrtle Grove Sound in New Hanover County southeast of Wilmington from 1862 to 1864. Previous salt works were established in Currituck County and Morehead City in 1861, but territorial loses to the Union Army resulted in their closure.[4] Historian Ella Lonn studied the importance of salt in the Confederate effort in Salt as a Factor in the Confederacy (New York: Walter Neale, 1933).[5]

Salt laborers were generally exempt from military service due to the necessity of their work in manufacturing salt. However, by 1863, the exemption for salt laborers was rescinded. On May 13, 1863, Lieutenant Jesse R. McLean, Chief Enrolling Officer of the 8th Congressional District of North Carolina, revoked the conscription exemption for employees of H.G. Springs and the Mecklenburg Salt Company and J.K. Harrison of Horry County, South Carolina and commanded all conscripts to report to Camp Holmes in Raleigh. Only salt workers employed by the State Salt Commissioner remained exempt from military service.[6]

Evening Bulletin, September 27, 1864

Mecklenburg Salt Company manufactured sea salt along the South Carolina coast during the Civil War. Washington Caruthers Kerr (1827-1885), a professor of chemistry, mineralogy, and geology at Davidson College and state geologist, served as chairman. James Walker Osborne (1811-1869) was a partner.[7] The offices of the Mecklenburg Salt Company were located at the corner of Trade and Tryon streets. The salt produced by the Mecklenburg Salt Company was sold at the store of W.M. Mathews.[8]

No sources mention salt manufacturing in Mecklenburg County following the Civil War. Any salt that was used was brought in from outside sources.

[1] Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2003); “Drama Begins History Career,” Wilmington Morning Star, April 5, 1980.
[2] Dan L. Morrill, Historic Charlotte: An Illustrated History of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (San Antonio, TX: Historical Publishing Network, 2001),
[3] John Brevard Alexander, The History of Mecklenburg County from 1740 to 1900 (Charlotte, NC: Observer Print House, 1902), 416; “Col. Waightstill Avery,” Find A Grave,
[4] “D-23, State Salt Works,” North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program,
[5] Bessie Martin, “Reviewed Work: Salt as a Factor in the Confederacy by Ella Lonn,” Journal of Southern History 1, No. 2 (May 1935), pp. 241-243,
[6] Charlotte Democrat, May 19, 1863.
[7] Stuart Noblin, “Washington Caruthers Kerr,” 1988, from Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, William S. Powell, ed. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1979-1996),; D.W. Adams, “James Walker Osborne,” 1991, from Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, William S. Powell, ed. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1979-1996),
[8] “Business Directory of the City of Charlotte, N.C.,” Evening Bulletin, May 13, 1863; Charlotte Democrat, April 14, 1863.