In the winter of 1911-1912 the Smithfield Marl, Clay and Transportation Company, located about 2 miles outside of Smithfield, Va., filed for bankruptcy in Norfolk and promptly closed its doors leaving its workers without pay. Among the workers were 89 Italian laborers brought over to this country to work for the company. Stranded without money, they threatened to riot and blow up the building if they did not get paid. As each day passed, food became scarcer in the camps, and the workers resorted to raiding local farms for food. After several days, a movement to help raise money for food began. Although a U.S. Marshal and his deputies were on the ground, it was feared that the governor would have to send in state troops.
Two Norfolk lawyers, J. Lindsay Heard and John T. Reid, were appointed as United States Receivers by the bankruptcy judge. The lawyers were charged with coming to town to assess the business and deal with the workers. While staying at a Smithfield hotel, the lawyers were constantly watched and threatened by the workers, who were only soothed through an interpreter when they were told that they would eventually be paid. When the men attempted to board a steamer back to Norfolk, the workers surrounded them and forced them back to the hotel.
The situation was finally resolved when the money was transferred from a Norfolk bank to a Smithfield bank on Jan. 4, 1912. The Italian laborers were paid 90% of their pay under the condition that they leave town the next day. They were to go to Norfolk - some would work in Princess Ann County and others were taken to Philadelphia and New York to find employment. The 30 American workers were not paid until some time later.