NAVAL STORES, a phrase applied to the resinous products of longleaf and other pines, such as tar, resin, pitch, and, to a lesser degree, turpentine, that were historically used in the shipping industry. Mariners used tar to preserve ropes from decay and applied the pitch of resin to seams in the planking to make them watertight, and shipbuilders used turpentine in connection with paint. Naval stores were important in England's colonial commercial policy, for England had normally purchased these goods from Sweden, which meant an unfavorable balance of trade to the mercantilists and the danger that an enemy might cut off the supply. The vast pine forests in the British colonies of New England and the Carolinas proved a bountiful new resource for naval stores. The British Board of Trade saw obtaining these stores from the colonies as an important move toward a self-sufficient empire and arranged for a bounty to be paid to colonial producers by the Royal Navy. This encouraged production, though members of the Royal Navy felt the American tar was not of as high a quality as European-produced tar. Although a group of German Palatines operated in upstate New York, the major center of naval store production shifted to the southeastern colonies through the eighteenth century.
The British continued to import naval stores from the colonies until the American Revolution, at which point they traded with the Dutch for Swedish products. The tar and pitch were obtained by burning chunks of pinewood in kilns. Turpentine was procured by a team of workers, called "chippers," who tapped a metal strip into a pine, allowed the tree to heal over it, then collected the rosin to be distilled into turpentine. Americans continued to produce naval stores, although eastern forests were being rapidly depleted as the growing population cleared lands and moved west. In the early nineteenth century the southern states, especially the Carolina "tarheels," began to dominate the industry. Naval store production continued in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and Florida. By 1900 the pine forests of Georgia and northern Florida produced the major stores of rosin and turpentine.
The original naval aspect of these products ended with the coming of steamships and the introduction of iron-and steel-hulled ships. Although one can still smell the tarred rope in shops serving yachtsmen, naval stores have otherwise lost their nautical aspect and have been absorbed among the numerous products of industrial chemistry. Today wood turpentine is used in exterior paints and varnishes. Tar is used in paints, stains, disinfectants, soaps, and shampoos. Pine tar is used in the cordage industry. Other naval stores are now used in the production of linoleum, shoe polish, lubricants, and roofing materials. There is still a substantial trade based in Georgia, about half of the product being exported.
Gamble, Thomas. Naval Stores: History, Production, Distribution, and Consumption. Savannah, Ga.: Review Publishing and Printing, 1921.
Knittle, Walter A. Early Eighteenth-Century Palatine Emigration. Philadelphia: Dorrance, 1936.
Malone, Joseph. Pine Trees and Politics: The Naval Stores and Forest Policy in Colonial New England. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1964.
Robert G.Albion/h. s.
Naval stores are products used in the construction and maintenance of wooden ships, such as timber, tar, pitch, and resin. These materials are derived from conifers (evergreens) which early American settlers found to be plentiful in the colonies. Pine timbers were also used for masts. The abundance of pine in the forests of New England and the Carolinas fostered a thriving colonial export business as well as a shipbuilding industry. Naval stores were a commodity of the triangular trade routes, since sea captains exchanged them for black slaves on the West African coast. Naval stores were also exported to England, a country that had exhausted much of its own forests and therefore relied on the colonial timber to maintain and sustain its fleets. Although England severely limited American imports after the American Revolution (1775–1783), naval stores remained among the few commodities that were exempt from the policy.
NAVAL STORES. The term "naval stores" refers to various items, materials, and substances that were essential to building, maintaining, and operating the wooden sailing ships that made up the navies and merchant fleets of the world from ancient times. Many products were derived from pine trees in the southern colonies, including resin, tar, pitch, and turpentine, and were valued for their ability to help ships withstand salt water. The term also included other items, like the masts and spars made from the tall white pines growing in the interior of New England and cordage made of hemp; it sometimes included certain types of insect-resistant timbers from which durable hulls could be constructed. At the turn of the twenty-first century, much of the world's supply of pine-based naval stores comes from the American Southeast, but before the establishment of Britain's North American colonies, western Europe's principal source for these substances, and for the tall, straight pine trees needed for a ship's masts, was the Baltic region. Naval stores were so important to Britain's naval and maritime strength that in 1704 they were designated enumerated commodities that the colonies could send only to the mother country.
SEE ALSO Enumerated Articles.
revised by Harold E. Selesky