Here's an interesting description of Swepsonville, NC in the 19th century. It came from The light of four candles by Cardenio Flournoy King (1908). Mr. King's mother was defrauded of her late husbands estate . . .
Sixty miles to the eastward was the little town of Swepsonville, in Alamance County—a Southern cotton-mill town. Mother was forced to go there, that the older children might work. She helped keep the family purse filled by taking boarders. We all worked as soon as we were able. I was a bobbin boy at ten.
There were four hundred hands in the mill, which was a three-story frame structure, and it ran night and day with two shifts. Its machinery was idle only from midnight Saturday night to midnight Sunday night. I was in the night shift. As I remember it, it did not seem to be especially unpleasant. I recall but one painful incident—being knocked across the room by a cruel overseer who found me asleep one night when I should have been at work.
We had religious services every Sunday in the saw-mill, Sunday school and occasional sermons from a Baptist preacher who came from the next town and preached for what he could raise in the collection box. We had singing lessons weekly. This was about the limit of our diversions.
They were good people in that town. Everybody was kind and generous. Everybody was hard-working. I think everybody was religious. The favorite tune sung or whistled was "In the Sweet Bye-and-Bye." I have sometimes wondered, since I grew up, if that was because they had very little to look forward to in this life.
Then came Swepsonville's calamity. The entire population, aroused by the loud clang of the bell on the hill, went up one night and stood in horror, watching the mill burn to the ground.
George W. Swepson, of Raleigh, the owner of the mill, was in town. I knew him quite well, for he boarded at our house when he was in Swepsonville, and I want to depart from the thread of my story just long enough to pay his memory a warm personal tribute. He was a good man, a strong man, a Southern gentleman. He appreciated the humanity of his employees and was interested in them personally. There was none of the soulless magnate about him. The people in his town admired him, respected him and loved him.
I worked my way through the crowd, at eleven or twelve o'clock that night, and stood beside George W. Swepson. Then and there I received my first lesson in bearing up under adversity, in turning defeat into victory. Standing there in the glare of the burning mill, which meant a terrible loss to him, Mr. Swepson made a drawing for the new mill which should be erected upon its ashes, and while the sparks were still shooting heavenward he gave orders to his general superintendent, Monroe Cooke, to order the materials from which the next structure, to be of brick, should be constructed.
This was on Thursday or Friday, and on Monday morning the brick yard was started. Left without a position by the destruction of the mill, I applied for work at the kilns and was given a place as brick bearer, at twenty-five cents a day.
For some weeks I bore brick from the molders to the sun-drying places. I earned a dollar and a half a week and turned it over to my mother. Then there came a day when she realized that the family was not earning enough to support itself. Some of us must go away from home, out into the world where wages were higher and opportunities greater. I was one of those to go and with four dollars in my pocket and my shoes in my carpet-bag I crossed the high bridge and struck out for the railroad and that fortune I never doubted I should some day have.