The Beginning of American Agricultural Literature
Essay title: The Beginning of American Agricultural Literature
THE BEGINNING OF AMERICAN AGRICULTURAL LITERATURE
In colonial times almost every man was a farmer. Even the preachers and doctors were part-time farmers.
Jared Eliot, a minister and doctor of Killingsworth, Conn., was no exception. In his spare time he practiced farming and when he rode horseback calling upon his parishioners and the sick in his community, he noticed the way other farmers farmed.
He noticed that water running from a vegetated hillside was clear, but that water running from a bare hillside was muddy. He believed that the mud in the water was fertile soil from above. Most of New England was hilly, and every time muddy water ran off one of the fields the field got poorer. Eliot became so much interested in farming that he carried on many experiments, and studied the farming methods advocated by English authors.
At that time there were few books on agriculture and none that was suited to American agriculture. Practically nobody was interested in conserving the soil or in raising better crops or cultivating the land in such a way that it would not wash away.
Because land was so plentiful and capital was so scarce colonial agriculture was wasteful and inefficient. Eliot resolved to do what he could to improve the crops and to conserve the soil. After many years of experimentation and observation he incorporated his ideas into the first American book on agriculture, a series of essays, the first of which was published in 1748.
A large part of the book was devoted to a discussion of English practices. Between the time of the first English settlement in the New World and 1750 English agriculture made rapid strides, but in the colonies there was little improvement.
In England, “Turnip” Townsend was the outstanding advocate of root crops during the late eighteenth century and helped pave the way for scientific rotations. Eliot was familiar with Townsends work as well as with the writings of another Englishman. Jethro Tull, who believed that the cultivation of soil was the secret of fertility.
EROSION AND ITS RECOGNITION
Eliots ideas on agriculture were influenced greatly by the work of Tull and Townsend, but perhaps even more by John Bartram, the first native American naturalist (1699-1777). For many years Eliot and Bartram corresponded and their letters show a recognition of the erosion problem which was unusual for the period. In an undated letter to Eliot, John Bartram (3, pp. 203-204) numbers in parentheses refer to Literature Cited at end of book) wrote:
One cause is very obvious in rich low lands. by ye banks of rivers that are fresh. which are Anualy enriched by ye floods that brings down mud & trash deposited there where ye stream doth not run very strong or in eddy or back water or where there grows bushes weed or brambles to retain ye leaves or trash that is brought down: I have observed that in Pensilvania East Jersey & York government thair rich low lands before they was cleared: produced abundance of hasels. weeds & vines. which entangled ye trash which ye floods brought there: & in time rotting kept it very rich. but when cleared & plowed they had A contrary effect upon it & instead of bringing a rich supply & leaving it they often bore away some of ye best of ye soil which was a fine black sandy Loam: & if ye stream hath a fall & Consequently runs swift, it often leaves A coars sand which impoverisheth it: & moreover as ye higher ground & hills is trod & pastured. ye water in great rains washeth ye earth much more in gullies, bringing down more course sand or clay than formerly. as I have observed when I was in ye back parts of ye Country above 20 years past when ye woods was not pastured & full of high weeds & ye ground light then ye rain sunk much more into ye earth and did not wash & tear up Ye surface (as now). ye rivers & brooks in floods would be black with mud but now ye rain runs most of it off on ye surface is colected into ye hollows which it wears to ye sand & clay which it bears away with ye swift current down to brooks & rivers whose banks it overflows & where ye current runs swift it leaves ye sand behind but where ye stream is checked some of ye rich sedimen remains & enricheth it greatly.
Eliots ideas regarding sedimentation were substantially the same. He believed that the richness of the valleys was caused