Ploughs and Politicks: Charles Read of New Jersey and His Notes on Agriculture, 1715-1774

By Carl Raymond Woodward | Go to book overview

One: The Husbandry of the Soil

THE careless, wasteful farm practices which prevailed in the American Colonies were the subject of critical comment by European travelers. Peter Kalm, the Swedish botanist, traveling through the Middle Colonies in 1748 and 1749, remarked upon the slovenly appearance of the farms, the luxuriant growth of weeds, and the exhaustion of the soil. Finding a rich and fine soil, the Europeans on coming to America, said Kalm, soon learned they could grow abundant crops without manuring and with little effort. "This easy method of getting a rich crop has spoiled the English and other European inhabitants," he wrote, "In a word, the cornfields, the meadows, the forests, the cattle, etc., are treated with great carelessness."1 A quarter century later the author of American Husbandry noted that, in spite of a substantial degree of wellbeing, the same faults of husbandry were present. "The American planters and farmers," he wrote, "are in general the greatest slovens in christendom."2 After commenting on the weedy acres in New York, and the carelessly kept cornfields in New Jersey, he wrote, "There is nothing can give a man, that only travels through a country, so bad an opinion of the husbandry of it, as to see two circumstances; first, the fences in bad order; and, secondly, the corn full of weeds."3 He pointed out the need for the larger use of manure, for crop rotation, and for growing of root crops and legumes as means of restoring fertility to the "butchered soil."

A wasteful husbandry was but natural, if not inevitable, in the American Colonies, where land was plentiful and cheap, and labor scarce. The observations of Kalm and other Europeans present a picture that probably was substantially correct.

____________________
1
Peter Kalm, Travels into North America . . . (Translation by John R. Forster, and ed., London, 1771), II, 47, 48.
2
Op. cit., I, 145.
3
Op. cit., I, 168.

-235-

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