Montgomery County farmers have prided themselves in the raising and selling of Dark Fired Tobacco for generations. In 1890 this county ranked the 6th largest tobacco raising county in the country, selling over 9 million lbs of tobacco.
Our county along with Robertson County and parts of adjoining counties in Kentucky were once part of The Eastern Dark Fired Tobacco region, or also known as the Black Patch.
The tobacco crop raised here was highly desired by the European Market, The Imperial Tobacco Company of Great Britain and the Regi Companies. (1.Beach)The American Tobacco Company (ATC) was formed here and took part in determining the prices of this tobacco as well as its distribution.
When the ATC began fixing prices on purchased dark fired tobacco, farmers in south-central Kentucky counties and adjoining middle Tennessee counties were no longer able to turn a profit from their tobacco. So on September 24th, 1904 just about harvesting time, these farmers formed an alliance called Dark Tobacco District Planters’ Protective Association of Kentucky and Tennessee.
A small subgroup then came out of The Association. They were called the Night Riders. These hooded men would visit area farmers who had not joined with them and have “talks” with them until they changed their minds. These talks would sometimes include whipping, bullying, burning barns, raking crops and sometimes even death.
There were many large tobacco warehouses in Clarksville. However, the rivers protected this town from any large attacks. A vigilante by the name of Ben Sory, an ATC member and warehouse owner, formed a militia to protect the roads leading into Clarksville from the Night Rider raids. On January 21st,1908 the Hayes-Sory factory located on Main St. housed Regi tobacco and was the target of a plan to dynamite the warehouse. (1.Beach)
A few months later on March 9th a group of 27 Night Riders rallied in Port Royal. While there they entered the telephone operating building (now the park office of Port Royal State Park) cut the phone lines and “whipped” the man operating the board. Lines between Port Royal and Stroudsville and between Port Royal and Clarksville were cut. The line that was missed was the connecting line from Sango to Clarksville.
Word spread that Night Riders might be heading into Clarksville and Ben Sory went with a group of men to Sango. Two of these men were John Gardner and Walter Hunt. They waited at Port Royal and Trough Springs crossroads for the hooded men to pass by.
Around 2am seven of the men were returning home with no intention of raiding Clarksville. As they passed Gardner and Hunt they were fired upon. Five escaped with no injuries. Two brothers, Earl aged 17, and Voyn Bennet aged 21 were both wounded. Earl walked home with buckshot lodged in his head,right shoulder and arm. When he arrived there it is said he went straight to bed without telling anyone of the matter until daybreak. He left behind his brother Voyn with fourteen buckshot holes in his head, neck and arm. He was found unconscious and died several hours later. He was buried in the Sango Cemetery.
Gardner and Hunt skipped town for two weeks before returning and facing their trial. Ben Sory was publicly attacked for being part of an action that should have been handled by Clarksville’s sheriff or chief of police.
The Association stepped forward and stated that he had acted out of order and without authority in going into the country with no more information than he had. The Association then boycotted all Clarksville businesses. The boycott lasted for a month and was lifted only after the city agreed to maintain its guards in accordance with proper regulations. The City of Clarksville suffered more as a whole from the boycott than it would have from a single raid.(2. Nall)
You can learn more about the Tobacco Wars and Montgomery County’s part in the event by attending one of the upcoming lecture series by Dr. Rick Gregory.
Dr. Gregory has a masters and PHd From Vanderbilt University in History. His doctoral dissertation “Desperate Farmers: The Dark tobacco District Planters’ Protective Association Of Kentucky and Tennessee, 1904-1914” was published in the Tennessee Historical Quarterly in 1980. He also has published “Robertson County and the Black Patch War”, as well as two articles in the Encyclopedia of Tenn. History. He was born in Robertson County and has spent the last decade at his home on the Red River.
This lecture series will begin May 16th and continue through the last two Saturdays of the month, at the Guthrie Senior Center at 4:00pm. Your purchased ticket will include the informative lecture along with a home-style meal. Please call ahead so they can be expecting you. You can also attend a lecture at the Adams BBQ station prior to the Thursday and Friday performances. (Tickets to SMOKE are separate)
The lecture series is conjunction with the opening of SMOKE: A Ballad of the Night Riders written by David Alford. The musical opens this Thursday May 12th and runs through-14th, 19th-21st, and 26th-28th at 7:00pm with the special Sunday Matinée on May 29th at 2:00pm. The performance will once again be performed outside on the grounds of the historic Bell School in Adams, Tennessee. Tickets are $20.00 for adults and $10.00 for students. All seats are general admission.
For information on the lecture series and tickets please call:615-696-1300
For more information about SMOKE or purchasing the musical soundtrack visit their website at www.smokenightriders.com or call 615-696-1300
- “Along the Warioto or A History of Montgomery County, Tennessee” by Ursula Smith Beach Copyright 1964, pgs. 307,312,313/ Picture of The Grange: Tobacco Warehouse ,inset
- “The Tobacco Night Riders of Kentucky and Tennessee” by: James O. Nall copyright;1939 pgs 94, 95