Cornshucking History

Video courtesy of Sharon Robinson


From the settlement of the colonial frontier to the middle of the twentieth century, “cornshuckings” or “huskings,” were held annually throughout North Carolina’s northwest piedmont region. Cornshuckings, along with other “frolics” such as quiltings, barn raisings, and hog killings, accomplished a given task and provided an opportunity for rural families to socialize. As shucks and ears of corn were separated, folks shared gossip, began courtships, ate plates of chicken and dumplings and other good food, and listened to tall tales and fiddle tunes. Once considered a highlight of the traditional farm year, cornshuckings were eventually eliminated due to changes in corn harvesting technology during the first half of the twentieth century.


Unlike barn raisings and other work oriented parties which were part of the cultural heritage of early European immigrants, the cornshucking originated in North America. Long before the first European settlers arrived, Native Americans celebrated the end of the harvest with communal corn shucking, a feast, dances, and games. Upon their arrival, Europeans adopted Native American methods of cultivating corn, as well as the cornshucking festivities. The use of the husking peg and a reward for finding a red ear of corn both originated with Native Americans.

The Red Ear

One of the most common traditions associated with cornshuckings was the significance of finding a red ear of corn. Usually the discovery of a red ear entitled the finder to kiss the person of his or her choice. Sometimes, when only the men were participating in the shucking, finding a red ear was rewarded with a drink of whiskey or cider.

A Lively Husking

Early cornshuckings were usually lively affairs. The Moravians who settled in what is now Forsyth County were opposed to cornshuckings because they felt the frolics were morally harmful to their young people. One local cornshucking, held in 1877, was more lively than most due to an unexpected guest. The following account appeared in the January 18, 1877 issue of The Peoples Press, published in Salem:

There was a husking bee down near Mt. Pleasant the other night. One of the young ladies present rammed her hands in the husks and hauled out a snake as long as a whip lash and too cold to take much interest in the festivities. She fell over on her back and screamed and shrieked until she was black in the face but everybody thought she had only found a red ear, and they laughed at her while the snake got inside her ruffle and crawled painfully and rheumatically down her back. She was understood at last, and the snake was dragged out and killed, but she says if she was to live a thousand years she couldn't scream as much as she wants to.

Cornshuckings in the Northwest Piedmont

During a 1986 interview, Lola Hauser, one of Thomas and Charlotte Hauser’s granddaughters, recalled the cornshuckings which took place on the Hauser family farm in the early twentieth century.

"They would go to the field and pull the corn off by hand and put it in the wagon. And then they would pile it up in a pile. And all the neighbors would come in and shuck corn, and then when the other neighbors had a cornshucking, you had to go and help them.  It was the men that worked in the corn, shucking the corn. And the ladies came in and would help with the cooking. They’d most always have chicken and dumplings. They’d kill an old hen and have chicken and dumplings and pumpkin pies. That was almost a must at a cornshucking. And most of the time, they would have turnip greens too. They would cook the things that they had.  They’d have a quilting when they’d have a cornshucking. You see, the women would come and do the quilting and the men would shuck corn."

Sarah Jane Dobbins of Yadkin County remembered, “After they had a cornshucking, at night they usually had music. Some of ‘em could dance...they didn’t do dancing like they do now. Some of those old women could just really step it off! They’d get that shirt to one side, and they could go!

For Ghita Tuttle of Stokes County, work wasn’t complete until the corn was in the crib. “We’d just have great big piles of corn out in front of our granary and crib, and it usually took all afternoon to shuck it. And the next day, it had to be put in the crib. That was when I had to help.”