The Old Time Farmer

Written by Joseph S. Middleton of Crosswicks for the Allentown Messenger, November 30, 1911:

 

Our forefathers, who took up land in this section of the new world in the Seventeenth Century, did not, of course, find the beautiful clear land that we possess, for this was an unbroken wilderness, the soil fertile and watered by numerous streams, tributaries of the Delaware river, but needing the work of man to make it capable to of sustaining civilized beings.

 

The forests were full of wild game and the early settler had no difficulty in securing meat for his family; this being the main dependence at that time. His first work was to clear off enough land for a large garden or truck patch, which after a time grew, under the axe, to a field in which Indian corn was raised.

 

The clearing of the land involved much hard labor with axe and grubbing hoe, the small stuff being piled over the prostrate trees, and fire consumed the timber and undergrowth. Not all, however, of the timber was thus ruthlessly destroyed, as houses and barns with other outbuildings had to be erected for the family and stock, besides the necessary fences. The old-time farmers at first dwelt in log houses, while the outbuildings were of crude construction.

 

It is said that when Isaac Ivins’ son George married, and was given a portion of his father’s farm at Georgetown, N. J., although the father lived in a frame house in which he kept a country store at the crossroads, George built a brick house, much against his father’s wish, who thought it extravagant, and when done he suggested to the old man that as they had a store, blacksmith shop and two or three houses, that they should give the place a name. His father replied that he thought it would be well to call it Fools-town, under which name it went for many years, but was finally called Georgetown. The brick house, though neither convenient nor handsome, is yet doing duty in a good state of preservation.

 

Most of the old-time farm houses were located on or near streams of water. It was the first thought of the early settlers to secure an abundant supply of water for themselves and the live stock, and as springs were near the stream, it was easy to have a good supply of water for the house and spring-house for keeping the milk and butter. The roads were made through the woods from one farm house to the next and to the nearest country store or shops. To-day we build upon the higher ground, as more conducive to health, and open roads more direct from village to village, though many of these are yet somewhat crooked as of old.

 

Such were the conditions, in the Seventeenth Century, of the old-time farmers. In the Eighteenth Century farming was attended with much hard drudgery, due to imperfect tools for doing farm work. The plow of that period had a wooden moldboard, a rather poor tool to contend with stumps and roots, which, together with the ox team, made plowing anything but pleasure.

For gathering the crops, expecting the corn, there was only the sickle. The grain was then beaten out with the flail, making winter employment for the farmer and his help. The corn was for many years shelled by hand, or by means of a spade across the top of a tub. But little corn was shelled excepting what was taken to the mill to be ground into meal, for family use, as bread, mush, or samp, these being prominent articles of diet in olden times.

 

In those days dairying, as we know it, did not exist. A few cows only were kept, there seldom being more than enough milk, butter and cheese for the family, the churning being done in an up-and-down dash churn, before the advent of the crank churn now in use.

 

The family cheese press was often of crude construction – a stick of timber, one end under the sill of the house or shed, the cheese in a wooden hoop being placed beneath this timber as a fulcrum, while the outer end was weighted with stones to press the cheese.

 

In the early part of the Nineteenth Century more attention was given to dairying, owing to the increasing demands of towns and cities growing up around them. The marketing consisted of a few pounds of butter, a small number of eggs, with an occasional cheese of perhaps a dressed calf or sheep. To carry this load, saddle-bags of stout leather, shaped to the horse’s sides, were thrown across his back, and in the bags were wooden tubs in which the things were carried, a few groceries being brought home.

 

Part II

 

The market money was no great sum; the most rigid economy was practiced; the little received was used to the best advantage – so that our grandfathers managed to give to the sons a paid for farm when done with earthly things, while their less economical descendants are hustling to keep the sheriff away.

 

Butter brought about ten cents a pound, eggs twelve cents a score, and it was well if the good wife, who usually rode the horse to market, brought home more than five dollars in hard earned cash. Her homecoming was a happy occasion to the family, as she usually brought a pound of unroasted real coffee, parched rye being the usual table beverage. Nor was coffee used, except for company. Sometimes a little tea would be brought in, also tobacco, among the luxuries.

 

At this period the roads were very rough, hardly fit for light wagons; but later, smoother roads came the canvas-covered wagons without springs, which were thought a great improvement over the saddle-bags, being more comfortable and protecting the driver and load from rain and winter storms, as well as enabling them to carry larger loads.

 

The winter killing of the fatted cow was another happy occasion at the farm home, as then came the supply of fresh meat – salt meats and fish, with occasional fresh game being the summer diet of the family. It was at such times the good wife made her yearly supply of candles, the only light need in those days, the candle dipping being a great occasion.

 

In the old-time farmer’s home there were few indeed of the comforts and conveniences that the present-day farmer enjoys. The first floor usually contained three rooms, one being a large kitchen, the other two, quite small, being a parlor and bedroom. The parlor was seldom used; the bedroom was either a guest chamber or the old folks’ room. The kitchen served as sitting-room, dining-room and general work-room. Sometimes there was an outside shed, containing the bake over and furnace kettle. At one end of the kitchen was the great fireplace, which, with the immense chimney, was large and high enough for a respectable monument. A heavy iron crane hung in this fireplace and upon this the cook strung, on the trammels and hooks, her pots for cooking the dinner, boiling water, or making the pot of mush for supper. The roast meats were cooked on the spits in tin ovens in front of the blazing fire, the bread and pies being baked in the large brick oven usually at the side of the fireplace.

 

Generally a large wooden mantel extended over the length of the fireplace. Here were ranged the shining brass candlesticks, some wings of fowls used for dust brushes, with other homely but useful articles. At either end of the fireplace were benches, these being a favorite place of cold winter nights, as the room was always cold in winter if one got too far away from the blazing hearth, the doors and windows being far from air-tight, while the great open mouth of the chimney made more than enough ventilation.

 

 In winter, at the close of day, the boys or hired man would bring in a great back-log for the fireplace, with some smaller wood, and until bedtime the fire would roar like a furnace. In front of it, the bare table would be placed and the simple but substantial meal would be placed upon it, with the pewter plates and porringers, and eaten with zest. Supper disposed of and the table removed to one side, the settle would be drawn up in front of the fire with its high back to keep the draft from the door and windows off its occupants. Father would then put his spectacles and take up the newspaper, whose news was stale enough when printed – which was perhaps several weeks ago. No matter, it was the latest they had; or the almanac was consulted for its weather wisdom and remedies for colds, etc.

 

The women folks got out the spinning wheel or knitting or some kindred work, and so the time passed until bedtime, when father would take a look at the weather, listen toward the barn that all was right, bolt the door, cover the fire with ashes, and then turn in. Covering the fire was entrusted to no one else, for if the fire went out there were no matches which to relight it, the only way being to get some fire from the nearest neighbor, perhaps a mile distant. This was another disadvantage of being an old-time farmer. The pump, if they had one, usually stood in the yard, and a face and hand wash in the frosty morning was thought healthful if not pleasant.     

 

    

By the end of the Eighteenth Century the farmers were raising considerable grain and other produce, which made work for many teams hauling to distant markets, either Philadelphia or New York, bringing back merchandise for the country stores along the routes. This greatly enlarged demand for horses and horse feed, and made farming a more lucrative calling. But when, about 1835, canals and railroads began to be built, the farmers saw in prospect the destruction of their business, and said, “Who will buy our horses and horse feed, hay, etc.?” But they turned their attention to the raising of cattle, sheep and hogs for the city butchers. This was a profitable business with the farmers for many years after the advent of the first railroads. It was no uncommon sight to see large droves of cattle and sheep on the roads getting to the city markets, or being brought from other parts to be fed and fattened by the farmers here. This industry has also been crippled by the growing West and the extension of railroads throughout the States.

 

In the early part of the past century letters were mostly written upon foolscap paper, folded and sealed with a seal of wax, no envelopes being in use. It would often take days or weeks for a letter to reach its destination. The postage on a single sheet for 40 miles of less was eight cents, increasing as to distance so that over 500 miles a single sheet was 25 cents. No postage stamps were used until about 1847.

 

There were tanyards throughout the country in which hides were tanned for harness and shoe leather, but shoes were not much worn in the summer time, one pair being the usual allowance for a person each year. Travelling cobblers went from farmhouse to farmhouse making up the year’s supply and repairing the old ones. It was usual for mechanics to leave their shops and work amongst the farmers during the harvest season, reaping the grain with the sickle. Upon the advent of the grain cradle it was gathered so much faster that the mechanics gradually quit going out working among the farmers, and farmers took their work to the shops of the different tradesmen. This brought about the custom of the farmers paying for their work with a quarter of beef, a dressed pig or the winter’s supply of potatoes, a custom not much in vogue at this time.

 

In the early part of the Nineteenth Century wood stoves, both for heating and cooking, came into more general use, and the benches were superseded by the settees and chairs, with seats of either wood, leather or splints, while the parlor chair seats were made of rushes, some of which are yet in use. Tallow candles gave place to the lard oil lamp, which in time was replaced with burning fluid and kerosene.

 

It was in the Nineteenth Century that iron plows were first used. Although of rough make, these were a great improvement over the wooden ones, but of little value as compared with the bright steel plows of to-day. Much of the labor of tending to the crops of corn and potatoes was done with the hoe, involving hard hand labor, mostly done now with the horse and improved cultivators. During this century, the pewter and earthenware had been replaced by the crockery know generally in use.

Prior to 1800, no fertilizers were used the small amount of manure gathered about the barns. The fields being small, not much was required to produce the supplies for the family, no attention being given to market truck.

 

About 1830 lime was introduced, which upon new the new lands proved a valuable help in increasing the growth of corn and grass for many years, but this also has been largely superseded by the commercial fertilizers.

 

The first iron plows were made by the village blacksmith, the castings being made at some nearby foundry. Each plow had its local name, as the Deatz plow made above Trenton; between Trenton and Mount Holly was the peacock plow; about Medford was the Kirkbride, and in the vicinity of Camden and Gloucester the Kaighn plow.

 

Until about the middle of the Nineteenth Century it was the usual custom in gathering the corn crop to husk the corn as it grew in the field, the husker carrying a bushel basket in which the ears of corn were thrown until full, when it was emptied into heaps, putting about fifteen bushels in each pile. The stalks were then cut, often after supper, and placed in bunches, four rows of fodder being put in each row of bunches. These were then put stacks to be drawn to the barnyard as needed during the winter foddering of the cattle. Occasionally a whole field would be left until ready for stacking, when a stalk frolic would be gotten up, the neighbors bringing their teams and wagons on which two long poles, upon which stalks were loaded and carried to the barn and stacked near the cattle yard, thus being more convenient for winter use. These frolics were often festive occasions, usually ending with a supper and plenty of good cider.

 

It has been well said that the world came into the Nineteenth Century on a stage coach and passed out of it on an express train; was lighted at its opening with a tallow candle and at its close with an electric lamp. These steps of progress have been equally marked by progress in agriculture.

 

Peace to the ashes of the old-time farmer. His thrift and self-denial entitle him to our gratitude. He found a wilderness and founded an empire of agriculture. He toiled, early and late, saving, that we might enjoy a larger share of prosperity and comfort.

 

 

 The Old Time Farmer (Part II)

Written by Joseph S. Middleton of Crosswicks for the Allentown Messenger, November 30, 1911:

 

The market money was no great sum; the most rigid economy was practiced; the little received was used to the best advantage – so that our grandfathers managed to give to the sons a paid for farm when done with earthly things, while their less economical descendants are hustling to keep the sheriff away.

 

Butter brought about ten cents a pound, eggs twelve cents a score, and it was well if the good wife, who usually rode the horse to market, brought home more than five dollars in hard earned cash. Her homecoming was a happy occasion to the family, as she usually brought a pound of unroasted real coffee, parched rye being the usual table beverage. Nor was coffee used, except for company. Sometimes a little tea would be brought in, also tobacco, among the luxuries.

 

At this period the roads were very rough, hardly fit for light wagons; but later, with smoother roads came the canvas-covered wagons without springs, which were thought a great improvement over the saddle-bags, being more comfortable and protecting the driver and load from rain and winter storms, as well as enabling them to carry larger loads.

 

The winter killing of the fatted cow was another happy occasion at the farm home, as then came the supply of fresh meat – salt meats and fish, with occasional fresh game being the summer diet of the family. It was at such times the good wife made her yearly supply of candles, the only light need in those days, the candle dipping being a great occasion.

 

In the old-time farmer’s home there were few indeed of the comforts and conveniences that the present-day farmer enjoys. The first floor usually contained three rooms, one being a large kitchen, the other two, quite small, being a parlor and bedroom. The parlor was seldom used; the bedroom was either a guest chamber or the old folks’ room. The kitchen served as sitting-room, dining-room and general work-room. Sometimes there was an outside shed, containing the bake over and furnace kettle. At one end of the kitchen was the great fireplace, which, with the immense chimney, was large and high enough for a respectable monument. A heavy iron crane hung in this fireplace and upon this the cook strung, on the trammels and hooks, her pots for cooking the dinner, boiling water, or making the pot of mush for supper. The roast meats were cooked on the spits in tin ovens in front of the blazing fire, the bread and pies being baked in the large brick oven usually at the side of the fireplace.

 

Generally a large wooden mantel extended over the length of the fireplace. Here were ranged the shining brass candlesticks, some wings of fowls used for dust brushes, with other homely but useful articles. At either end of the fireplace were benches, these being a favorite place of cold winter nights, as the room was always cold in winter if one got too far away from the blazing hearth, the doors and windows being far from air-tight, while the great open mouth of the chimney made more than enough ventilation.

 

 In winter, at the close of day, the boys or hired man would bring in a great back-log for the fireplace, with some smaller wood, and until bedtime the fire would roar like a furnace. In front of it, the bare table would be placed and the simple but substantial meal would be placed upon it, with the pewter plates and porringers, and eaten with zest. Supper disposed of and the table removed to one side, the settle would be drawn up in front of the fire with its high back to keep the draft from the door and windows off its occupants. Father would then put his spectacles and take up the newspaper, whose news was stale enough when printed – which was perhaps several weeks ago. No matter, it was the latest they had; or the almanac was consulted for its weather wisdom and remedies for colds, etc.

 

The women folks got out the spinning wheel or knitting or some kindred work, and so the time passed until bedtime, when father would take a look at the weather, listen toward the barn that all was right, bolt the door, cover the fire with ashes, and then turn in. Covering the fire was entrusted to no one else, for if the fire went out there were no matches which to relight it, the only way being to get some fire from the nearest neighbor, perhaps a mile distant. This was another disadvantage of being an old-time farmer. The pump, if they had one, usually stood in the yard, and a face and hand wash in the frosty morning was thought healthful if not pleasant.    

 

The Old Time Farmer (Part III)

Written by Joseph S. Middleton of Crosswicks for the Allentown Messenger, November 30, 1911:

 

By the end of the Eighteenth Century the farmers were raising considerable grain and other produce, which made work for many teams hauling to distant markets, either Philadelphia or New York, bringing back merchandise for the country stores along the routes. This greatly enlarged demand for horses and horse feed, and made farming a more lucrative calling. But when, about 1835, canals and railroads began to be built, the farmers saw in prospect the destruction of their business, and said, “Who will buy our horses and horse feed, hay, etc.?” But they turned their attention to the raising of cattle, sheep and hogs for the city butchers. This was a profitable business with the farmers for many years after the advent of the first railroads. It was no uncommon sight to see large droves of cattle and sheep on the roads getting to the city markets, or being brought from other parts to be fed and fattened by the farmers here. This industry has also been crippled by the growing West and the extension of railroads throughout the States.

 

In the early part of the past century letters were mostly written upon foolscap paper, folded and sealed with a seal of wax, no envelopes being in use. It would often take days or weeks for a letter to reach its destination. The postage on a single sheet for 40 miles of less was eight cents, increasing as to distance so that over 500 miles a single sheet was 25 cents. No postage stamps were used until about 1847.

 

There were tanyards throughout the country in which hides were tanned for harness and shoe leather, but shoes were not much worn in the summer time, one pair being the usual allowance for a person each year. Travelling cobblers went from farmhouse to farmhouse making up the year’s supply and repairing the old ones. It was usual for mechanics to leave their shops and work amongst the farmers during the harvest season, reaping the grain with the sickle. Upon the advent of the grain cradle it was gathered so much faster that the mechanics gradually quit going out working among the farmers, and farmers took their work to the shops of the different tradesmen. This brought about the custom of the farmers paying for their work with a quarter of beef, a dressed pig or the winter’s supply of potatoes, a custom not much in vogue at this time.

 

In the early part of the Nineteenth Century wood stoves, both for heating and cooking, came into more general use, and the benches were superseded by the settees and chairs, with seats of either wood, leather or splints, while the parlor chair seats were made of rushes, some of which are yet in use. Tallow candles gave place to the lard oil lamp, which in time was replaced with burning fluid and kerosene.

 

It was in the Nineteenth Century that iron plows were first used. Although of rough make, these were a great improvement over the wooden ones, but of little value as compared with the bright steel plows of to-day. Much of the labor of tending to the crops of corn and potatoes was done with the hoe, involving hard hand labor, mostly done now with the horse and improved cultivators. During this century, the pewter and earthenware had been replaced by the crockery know generally in use.

Prior to 1800, no fertilizers were used the small amount of manure gathered about the barns. The fields being small, not much was required to produce the supplies for the family, no attention being given to market truck.

 

About 1830 lime was introduced, which upon new the new lands proved a valuable help in increasing the growth of corn and grass for many years, but this also has been largely superseded by the commercial fertilizers.

 

The first iron plows were made by the village blacksmith, the castings being made at some nearby foundry. Each plow had its local name, as the Deatz plow made above Trenton; between Trenton and Mount Holly was the peacock plow; about Medford was the Kirkbride, and in the vicinity of Camden and Gloucester the Kaighn plow.

 

Until about the middle of the Nineteenth Century it was the usual custom in gathering the corn crop to husk the corn as it grew in the field, the husker carrying a bushel basket in which the ears of corn were thrown until full, when it was emptied into heaps, putting about fifteen bushels in each pile. The stalks were then cut, often after supper, and placed in bunches, four rows of fodder being put in each row of bunches. These were then put stacks to be drawn to the barnyard as needed during the winter foddering of the cattle. Occasionally a whole field would be left until ready for stacking, when a stalk frolic would be gotten up, the neighbors bringing their teams and wagons on which two long poles, upon which stalks were loaded and carried to the barn and stacked near the cattle yard, thus being more convenient for winter use. These frolics were often festive occasions, usually ending with a supper and plenty of good cider.

 

It has been well said that the world came into the Nineteenth Century on a stage coach and passed out of it on an express train; was lighted at its opening with a tallow candle and at its close with an electric lamp. These steps of progress have been equally marked by progress in agriculture.

 

Peace to the ashes of the old-time farmer. His thrift and self-denial entitle him to our gratitude. He found a wilderness and founded an empire of agriculture. He toiled, early and late, saving, that we might enjoy a larger share of prosperity and comfort.