From the recording Songs From Burke County
(Mark W. Winchester)
By the time the Civil War started, Sarah “Sally” Michaels was in her seventies. Life was particularly hard for people living in the South Mountains of Burke County during this time period, and they had to make use of any resources and skills they had. For Sally, her ace in the hole was pipe making.
The base of her pipes came from clay taken from the banks of Silver Creek. With great attention to detail, she used molds made from soapstone to form the clay before firing and finishing.
Many of her initial customers were local boys in the Confederate Army; however, as the Union occupation of Morganton ensued, Sally’s clientele continued to grow.
Many a Yankee soldier knocked upon her door in search of her famous pipes. Some purchased them for personal use, but just as many were sent back to their family members in the North.
In the true spirit of an entrepreneur, Sally made and sold as many pipes as she could, never worrying about if the young man upon her porch was wearing a coat of blue or gray.
Not long after the war ended, she passed along her pipe-making trade to one of her daughters-in-law. Sally Michaels died in 1879 at the age of 87.