The United States of America has many rural areas, but only 46.2 million Americans (roughly 15% of the population in the country) actually live within these rural counties. And while many people are aware of the rural counties and agriculture, the one thing many people forget is the history of agriculture within the United States of America. That is why the first three posts of this blog will be on the agricultural history of the United States of America.
Colonial Farming is a very interesting subject for agricultural historians. For example, many people do not realise that the first time of real agricultural farming began as plantation agriculture. Mainly using slaves, this was developed in Virginia and Maryland to grow tobacco, and South Carolina, to grow rive. After roughly 180+ years, cotton became a major crop for plantations around the “Black Belt” (which was originally named after the colour of the soil within the areas, but then became referred to as the black belt based on the amount of African Americans working within the area). There were farms located in other areas of the United States that people are less aware of however. For example, people are unaware that in the Plymouth Colony, barley and peas were grown from England to feed the families or trade with other colonies. But they also had a focus on growing Maize, which they were taught how to do by Native Americans (specifically the Squanto). More interestingly, they fertilized this crop using small fish.
Although the main ethnicity which comes to mind when considering colonial agriculture is African Americans, people are unaware of the different ethnic farming styles that became practice during those times. Although the English and Scots had already begun practicing their types of agricultural farming techniques to the new world, the German Americans had also brought their own practices that was very different to the English and Scots methods. They had adapted their techniques to a much more abundant supply of land in the new world, and ensured to have a long-term tendency to keep farm within the land as opposed to moving around to other locations and farms. Different ethnic groups focused on different types of farming altogether. While the Germans focused on oxen to pull their plows, the Scots Irish built an entire economy focused on mostly herding with a small focus on farming, and in other cases mixed farming in order to feed both humans and the hogs and other livestock’s that they had. After a while, farmers began using the other techniques and methods as a way to improve their own productivity, in the 1750’s, agricultural innovators replaced their older tools such as hand sickles and scythes with cradle scythes. These little innovations alone had ended up tripling the amount of work completed by farmers in one day. It changed the agricultural game, and those who were even wealthier such as George Washington began using dung and lime to fertilize their fields and even rotate the crops to ensure the soil stayed fertile.
At first, specifically before 1720, most in the mid-Atlantic region worked with small-scale farming, using imported manufactures that they paid for by supplying the West Indies with things such as corn and flour. Even in New York, trade became an extremely wealthy option. The fur-pelt exports to Europe began to flourish and added additional wealth. However, after 1720 there was a huge demand for wheat in Europe due to the population explosion. Not only did the demand for wheat rise, the price of wheat also exploded. It ended up costing twice as much for a grain of wheat in 1770 as it did in 1720. This meant that specifically in the mid-Atlantic area, the production of wheat expanded, as well as the production of Flaxseed and corn since it also rose in demand from the West Indies and the Irish. Farming became extremely lucrative in America within the colonial stages of America.