Tar was made by heating long leaf pine logs in a clay lined pit. Wood was stacked in the pit then covered with pine boughs and soil. Holes were punched through this covering to provide oxygen to the pile so it would burn. Controlling the rate of burn was crucial to generate just enough heat to liquefy the pine tar, but not hot enough to burn it.
The pine tar, liquefied by the heat, would flow out of the wood pile into a barrel placed just outside the pit. Pitch was made by boiling the collected tar with a little turpentine added. Three barrels of tar made two barrels of pitch which was used to waterproof wooden sailing ships.
North Carolina became the largest producer of pine tar in the 1700’s and those who stepped in the tar became “Tar Heels.”