John Stuart Skinner, the founder of the American Farmer, was described in the memoirs of John Quincy Adams as "a man of mingled character of daring and pernicous principles, of restless and rash temper, and yet of useful and honorable enterprise. Ruffian, patriot, and philanthropist are so blended in him that I cannot appreciate him without a mingled sentiment of detestation and esteem." 1
Skinner was born on a Maryland farm in 1788. He was admitted to the bar in 1809, and appointed to several government posts, finally settling in the postal service. During the War of 1812 he participated in two dramatic events. When he learned that the British had landed in Maryland and were marching on Washington, he rode ninety miles through the night to warn the city's defenders of the enemy approach. Later, during the siege of Baltimore, he stood next to Francis Scott Key on a British warship, watching the bombardment of Fort McHenry. When they were freed, Skinner accompanied Key to a Baltimore hotel where the latter wrote the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner." After the war Skinner continued his work in the postal service while also involved in privateering in the sea lanes around South America. By 1819 he was ready to begin a new enterprise.
In early nineteenth-century America, agricultural subjects were discussed in many scientific and popular periodicals. The first periodical devoted exclusively to agriculture was the Agricultural Museum, which began publishing in 1810 and lasted for less than two years. Seven years later Skinner bought a weekly newspaper and transformed it into the American Farmer.
First published on 2 April 1819, the American Farmer began as a weekly quarto of eight pages. The annual subscription rate was four dollars. It proclaimed its subject matter as "rural economy, internal improvements, new prices cur-