Duke Homestead is a State Historic site and home to the North Carolina Tobacco Museum. Duke Homestead was home to Washington Duke and his family from 1852 until 1874 as well as home to their farm and first factory buildings for what would grow into a tobacco empire. Following his return from the Civil War however, Washington Duke would change his entire operation, making the transition from farming to manufacturing. In doing so, W. Duke & Son's was born. In only a few short years the Duke Family would be manufacturing approximately 125,000 pounds of tobacco annually. The demand for their product grew so much the family would eventually move from the property in 1874, moving to downtown Durham where their legacy would continue to grow and influence the economy, industry, and history of North Carolina for decades.
Washington Duke was born in 1820 to Taylor and Dicey Jones
Duke in Orange County, North Carolina. He would live at home until his twenty
first birthday when he would leave to become a tenant farmer. A year after
leaving home he would marry his wife, Mary Caroline Clinton, on August 9th,
1842. The couple would have two children, Sidney Taylor and Brodie Leonidas.
Unfortunately for Duke, Mary Caroline would pass away in 1847. Washington Duke
would continue to raise his children while tending to his corn, wheat, oat, and
sweet potatoes. With a lot of hard work and some luck, Washington would acquire
land from the estate of his father in law and buy additional property, bringing
his land total to be approximately 300 acres.
1852, Washington Duke married second wife, Artelia Rooney. He
built the main house on the property for her as a wedding gift where they would
live until they left the property in 1870. The couple would later have three kids
together: Mary Caroline, Benjamin, and James Buchannon. Again, tragedy would
strike the Duke family, as Artelia passed away after attempting to nurse
Sidney back to health after a battle with Typhoid Fever, catching it in the
process. The same year the cotton crop failed and the nation began to
fall into the darkness of what became the Civil War. After the death of
Artelia, Washington Duke continued to work harder than ever on his farm
with primarily family. He had one registered slave, known as Caroline,
who was hired as a housekeeper. Washington was known to have Union sympathies
but would borrow slaves from nearby farms when extra help was needed.
1863 Washington and his son Brodie were drafted into the war due to the new
conscription laws that required all men age 18 to 45 to enlist. Prior to being
enlisted, Washington decided to sell all his farming equipment and
focused on tobacco. Still unclear to many if Duke sold or rented out his
property, he received payment in the form of tobacco leaves that was
stored on the property. Eventually the Confederates surrendered and
Washington Duke was set free from the prison in which he had been held
captive until the end of the war. Following his release he walked the 135
miles from New Bern, North Carolina to his homestead. Although the Confederacy
had lost, the Duke family was about to take full advantage of it. Following the
end of the war in 1865, Duke built a small cabin near his home (the first
factory) and began packaging “smoking tobacco”. Washington Duke then began to travel with his new product across state lines, selling it to anyone
who would be interested. By the end of the first year, Duke and his sons had
made approximately 15,000 pounds of product. For the next several years,
Washington Duke and his sons continued to develop their company and become
partners. W. Duke and Sons was born and so was the beginning of dominant
1870, the Duke family had moved away from the homestead and into downtown
Durham. Moving to downtown Durham allowed them to be closer to the railways,
increasing shipping means, and allowed them to build a warehouse to totally
expand their operations. Their once small time family operation had developed
into a large scale tobacco company that would eventually establish itself, and
North Carolina, as a tobacco powerhouse. Over the years the company would
partner with others, becoming W. Duke, Sons and Company, eventually selling
cigarettes and coming the largest producer of cigarettes in the country. By
1890, the Dukes’ biggest rivals would want to form a partnership with them to
become the American Tobacco Company.
the age of 60, Washington Duke was fortunate enough to retire and leave the
business dealings to his sons in order to become more involved with his family,
the community, and the church. He would took part into convincing Trinity
College to move to the area and continuously made large donations to the
institute. At one point, Duke offered a $100,000 endowment to allow women to
become residential students. Such an action resulted in Duke being offered the
vice president position of the National Suffrage Association, which he
respectfully declined. Following his death in 1905, his family continued
to make donations until 1924 when Trinity College officially changed its name
to Duke University in his honor.
visitors to Duke Homestead can experience a “living museum of tobacco history”
with may activities demonstrating tobacco farming techniques of the period.
Additionally, a tour of Duke Homestead can be taken that allows visitors to
gain knowledge regarding the Duke family and their contributions to local
history and industry. The Duke family established North Carolina in the tobacco industry, a product that still contributes to our economy and has enriched the history of the state. Additional information about the Duke family, the American Tobacco Company, and W. Duke, Sons & Company can be found in the links below.