What would a diary entry, a Bible verse, and a food preservation book have in common? All of these have one thing in common; they relate to the compound we know as salt. Salt is a substance which is composed of sodium chloride, and is known as halite or rock salt in its natural form. It is drawn out of underground beds either by mining or by solution mining using water. The salt reaches the surface as brine in solution mining, and is then turned into salt crystals by evaporation. Salt is an important method of food preservation, and one of the oldest of food seasonings.
In the book, Putting Food By, authored by Hertzberg, Vaughn, and Greene, much information is given relating to the salting of foods, and how to accomplish this. And even though our ancestors did not have the luxury of refrigeration as we know it today, they did have the availability of salt for saving or “putting food by.” This term “putting food by” means to save something for a later time when it will be needed. That would apply to the harsh winter months the early settlers had to endure, when it was almost impossible to find any fresh food or game. They could rely on the food they had preserved earlier in order to feed their families during the time when food was scarce.
In the 1800’s, salt was not only used for the curing of meats, and preserving of other foods, but was necessary for human and animal nutrition; also, it was used in the tanning of leather, affixing dyes in uniforms, and the manufacturing of shoes. In early history, salt was used in trading, as currency, and included among funeral offerings. Today, salt is also used in the water conditioning processes, de-icing highways, in agriculture, in the production of aluminum, in manufacturing of soaps and glycerin, as an emulsifier in the manufacturing of synthetic rubber, and in the firing of pottery.
The Bible refers to salt in a number of verses; perhaps the most widely recognized one is from Matthew 5:13, where Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” Jesus was teaching his disciples about their value, and the fact that they were called to preserve the world around them from moral decay.
A diary entry written on Monday, September 15, 1862 by James Adams Darwin, stated the following: “Weather a little cloudy, went to town to a called county court for the purpose of appointing some person to go to Saltville to buy salt for the county, Phillip Rawlings appointed.” Salt was very important during the War Between the States, not only being used in food preservation, but also was used in the saving of animal hides before they were tanned. Apparently, Rhea County had to send someone all the way to Saltville, Virginia to buy salt for the county, and return with the supply intact. Saltville is a town in Smyth and Washington counties in Virginia, which is part of the “Tri-Cities” region of Johnson City, Kingsport, and Bristol area of upper East Tennessee and Virginia. The name “Saltville” came from the salt marshes in the area; during the War Between the States, the town was one of the Confederacy’s main salt works. During the war, salt became vital, because it was used in preserving meat for the soldiers and civilians. Salt was also important for the diet of horses and cattle; it was used the fertilization process, and by women to set the color when dying clothes.
Therefore, salt has a relationship among a diary entry, a book about food preservation, and a verse from the Bible. Next week, I will give more information about James Adams Darwin, Saltville, and the Preston family that owned the saltworks at Saltville. Remember, it is necessary to study our past in order to live in the present and prepare for the future.