Were the actions taken by the women of the Salisbury Bread Riot justified?
On April 12, 1861, the Civil War began when South Carolina seceded from the Union. Other Southern states followed. North Carolina chose to split from the Union on May 20, 1861, making it the next to last state to secede. Support for slavery and state independence motivated the war. North Carolina had over 300 plantations before the rise of the Civil War. But many cities, like Salisbury, did not have large plantations, but rather small farms.
At the beginning of the war, the Confederacy relied on young, unmarried men to fight. As the Civil War continued, it became necessary for all able men to join in the fight. This left the responsibilities at home to the women. In Salisbury, NC, most men had to leave their families behind. With the men gone, women had to feed their families and maintain their farms at a time when most women did not earn a living wage. The only income available to the women was through the government if their husband or son died during the war. This was in the form of a bounty, or sign-on bonus, and backpay that could add up to several hundred dollars, but women needed proof to collect the payments.
To assist, North Carolina governor Zebulon B. Vance appointed speculators to provide food staples as government-issued subsidies. Unfortunately, the speculators preyed on the situation and raised prices, price gouging everyday items. With limited income, the families left behind were close to starvation and were desperate for relief.
This crisis led to the Salisbury Bread Riot on March 18, 1863. About 50-75 local women demanded supplies at below-market value on the main street of Salisbury. They claimed the speculators were selling products for more than twice the price the government set. When shopkeepers resisted, the protestors met them with hatchets and axes, knocking down their doors. By the end of the day, the women had collected over 23 barrels of flour, 1 barrel of molasses, 2 sacks of salt, and 20 dollars. The women divided up the supplies the next day and were never arrested. In response to the riot, the county increased monthly amounts of money and salt per household and improved the process of distribution.
Seceded: left an alliance or association, such as a political union
Confederacy: group of Southern slaveholding states that left the rest of the states to form their own government during the American Civil War
Speculators: those who invest in stocks, property, or goods in the hope of making a profit
Subsidies: government aid in the form of money or goods
Price gouging: increasing the price of goods or services much higher than is considered fair
During the Civil War era, people wrote letters to their governor to discuss problems and solutions, such as the examples of the women in Salisbury and soldiers fighting in the war. Brainstorm some current difficult issues happening in North Carolina or your state, and write a letter to your governor discussing one of the problems and possible solutions.