The history of agriculture in Georgia is comprised of many issues, which diverge but can be defined by one word:  soil—abundance, fertility, misuse, abuse, and ultimately, conservation and regeneration.

Before the arrival of Europeans in Georgia, the land was occupied by two Native American nations, the Creeks and the Cherokees.  Both were primarily agricultural peoples. The Cherokees lived in the northern mountains of Georgia, while the Creeks lived in the middle and southern areas and also on the coastal islands.  Both nations obtained food by farming corn, beans, melons, and fruits.    They also husbanded the nut-bearing pecan, walnut, and hickory trees, which grew wild, and hunted and fished in the abundant forests and rivers.

In 1732, an Englishman, General James Oglethorpe, obtained a charter for land between the Altamaha and Savannah rivers.  The next year he founded the city of Savannah and for ten years served as the governor of the colony of Georgia, named in honor of King George II.  Thus it can be said that in 1733, Georgia’s colonial agriculture started in a narrow 30-mile-wide strip of coastal land between Savannah and the Altamaha River.   By 1760 this strip stretched to the St. Mary’s River on the Florida/Georgia border.  The low tidewater area developed first with the sea islands producing crops of indigo, corn, potatoes, and other vegetables.  By the end of the colonial period the islands were producing extremely valuable cotton.

A salt marsh about five miles wide separated the islands from the mainland, and livestock spurned the grasses growing in the marshes.  However, the brackish marshes were an excellent refuge for birds and aquatic life. Navigable creeks used for inland transportation cut the marshes.  On the mainland behind the marshes the soil was of uneven quality, and the swamplands produced pines and cypress trees.  Interspersed in the swamps were ridges or “hammocks” which supported hardwoods such as hickory, walnut, and oaks. These trees were used for lumber, shingles, and barrel staves.  Once cleared of trees, the low ridges produced crops of corn, potatoes, and indigo.  Behind the salt marshes, some ten to twenty miles inland, rice was grown along the rivers.  This land was considered the most valuable in the colony.   The lands avoided for general cultivation were the inferior sandy soils where mainly pine trees grew.

The task of bringing cultivation to a wilderness was strenuous.  Because General Oglethorpe limited immigration to European Protestants, many of the settlers were from the British Isles or northern Europe.   Only a small portion of the early settlers had agricultural skills.   Because the climate proved enervating to the white settlers, many of them wanted to import workers from Africa, but this was prohibited in 1741.  The prohibition extended even to hired servants, thus depriving free Blacks from settling in the colony.  Despite the ban, slaves began to be used surreptitiously in Georgia.  By 1748 the ban was virtually ignored throughout the colony, and in 1750 the prohibition on Blacks in the colony was repealed.  With the supply of Black labor, profits from cotton and rice increased, eclipsing the experimental cultivation of mulberry trees for silkworms, olive trees, and other products.  Georgia became a producer and exporter of indigo, pork, and rice as well as lumber and naval stores from the forests.

During his years in Georgia, General Oglethorpe successfully defended the colony from Spaniards and Indians in Florida, secured trade with the Cherokees, and successfully laid the foundation for a stable society in Georgia.  He was, however, financially troubled due to his personal sponsorship of the military defenses of Georgia.  In 1752 he and his fellow trustees of Georgia relinquished their charter, and Georgia became a royal province.

As a Royal Province, Georgia flourished due to the continuing stream of immigrants willing to work the fertile soil and plant crops suited to the land.  Because Georgia’s royal governors had control of lands and the supply of Black labor, there was a swift increase in large plantations.  The population grew from 1,700 whites and 420 Blacks in 1751 to 33,000 people by 1776 with Blacks making up 45% of the population.

 The population was also moving inland from the coast.  Several treaties with Native Americans gained land cessions to the west.   Many of the new settlers came from North and South Carolina and even Virginia, crossing the Savannah River at Augusta and moving into the lands being acquired by treaty from the Indians.  By the end of the American Revolution the population of Georgia was estimated to be 50,000.  The size of the plantations grew, but land under cultivation continued to be small.

The period after the American Revolution saw a decline in the production of indigo and rice.  The loss of slaves to the British and the damage to plantations and equipment was instrumental in this decline.  The withdrawal of British subsidies to growers of these products as well as competition from the British East Indies further hastened the loss of their importance.  With the coastal area losing economic importance and with the population growing in the upland to the north, Augusta became a focal point.  As settlers moved into the area they noticed that the land improved rapidly in fertility.  The sandy-soiled pinelands changed into forests of oak and hickory.

After the Revolution new crops became important:  cotton, tobacco, and sugar cane.  Tobacco had been grown for decades in Georgia for home use, but after the Revolution exports to Europe increased to such an extent that attempts at commercial processing (powdered for snuff, cut for smoking, braided for chewing) were tried.   Tobacco became the principal money crop, grown on the majority of farms north and west of Augusta well into the 1800’s.

The rise of cotton was the dominant feature of Georgia agriculture in the 50 years after the Revolution.  The Trustees had experimented with growing cotton, but the hand cleaning of the boll was tedious and prevented cotton from gaining much commercial success in the colonial period.   By 1786 seed from a superior type of cottonseed was sent to Georgia from the Bahamas and production soon increased.  During the 1790’s increasing shipments of this cotton helped planters recover economically from the declining indigo prices. Called Sea Island cotton because it was grown initially on St. Simons and Cumberland islands, planting quickly spread to other islands along the coast.

Another type of cotton known as “green seed” was able to flourish in a wide variety of growing situations including Georgia upcountry conditions.  The problem with this variety, like that grown by the Trustees, was the difficulty of separating the seed from the fiber.  The economic importance of green seed cotton began to boom with the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney near Savannah in 1793.   One of these gins could clean fifty pounds of lint in one day as opposed to one pound of hand-cleaned lint.  By 1796 some 30 cotton gins were operating in Georgia.  This invention was a key to the prosperity of the cotton economy, which flourished in Georgia in the nineteenth century.

While agriculture was the backbone of Georgia’s economy, little was done to improve the land.  The abundance of land and its relatively low cost deterred any scientific progress in improvements.  Some few planters improved their own holdings, but the vast majority of Georgia farmers used the land, wore it out, bought more, moved there and wore that land out too.  The soil produced wealth in a short period of time, but after its fertility was used, the farmer moved on.  Instead of changing the system of cultivation, migration was the answer.

Illiteracy of the population was part of the problem.  Farmers had distrust for books, science, and knowledge in general.  Of the three main farming classes, small farmers owning less than one hundred acres were in the majority, and they were neither writers nor readers.  Interestingly, in spite of a 50% illiteracy rate, Georgia’s agricultural press was progressive and well respected in the South.  By 1860 there were five agricultural journals being published in Georgia.  The most prominent of these was the Southern Cultivator, established in 1843, and one of the outstanding agricultural journals in the country.

The middle class, farmers owning 100 to 500 acres and from one to thirty slaves, had a more leisurely life than did the small farm owners. They read such publications as the monthly Southern Cultivator (Augusta), the weekly Field and Fireside (Augusta) and the South Countryman (Marietta).   Occasionally they wrote letters to the farm journals describing their experiments, successes, and failures on their land.

By the middle of the 1800's the disaster of agricultural land abuse was becoming evident.  Due to clear-cutting the forests and the practice of plowing up and down hillsides instead of contouring, severe erosion left the land devoid of topsoil.  Barren hillsides, huge gullies, and rivers brown with soil from the denuded land became more and more common.

In 1854 William Terrell, a wealthy Hancock County planter who was intensely interested in agriculture and perhaps hoping to slow abuse of the land through education, gave $20,000 to the University of Georgia to set up an agriculture department.  He was interested in fostering agriculture as a science with emphasis on analysis of soil and on chemistry and geology as relating to agriculture.  Various societies were also established in Georgia to help agriculture. The Southern Cultivator was very important in promoting formation of active agricultural societies.  Authors such as William White of Athens, who published Gardening for the South or How to Grow Fruits and Vegetables in 1856, began to fill the need for scientific agricultural literature.    White’s work listed many food crops he had seen or tried himself.  The book was being read in new editions for fifty years after its publication.

The main source of plantation labor was slave labor with its attendant problems.  In 1855 David Christy of Cincinnati published a small book, Cotton is King.  Its major thesis was that cotton grown by slaves and greatly needed by the textile manufacturers in the slave-free states justified the institution of slavery.  Thus cotton was indeed King.  The title became a slogan espoused by large planters, manufacturers, and some politicians.  A third, enlarged edition containing more pro-slavery arguments was published in Augusta, Georgia.

Cotton was a peculiar king. It dominated the social and economic organization of Georgia, reinforcing slavery as the foundation of plantation life.   Yet cotton was only part of the agricultural production of the state, and most Georgians owned neither plantations nor slaves.     In 1860 there were 31,000 farms of less than 100 acres.  Farms between 100 and 500 acres made up the next largest category, numbering 19,000.  Large plantations of 500 acres or more numbered around 3,500, and there were only 900 plantations of 1,000 acres or more.    The population of Georgia in 1860 was 600,000 white people but only 41,000 of them owned slaves.

Some farsighted citizens began to realize the impending problems with Georgia’s (and the South’s) lack of self-sufficiency and the reliance on a cotton economy.  Isaac Newton, U.S. Superintendent of Agriculture, urged the South to diversify.  The Impending Crisis of the South published in New York in 1857 by Hinton Rowan Helper pointed out the lack of self-sufficiency in the South.   The Southern Cultivator urged mixed husbandry.  Most of the farmers and planters refused to heed these appeals.

In January 1861, Georgia was the fifth state to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy.   The belief was prevalent that the abolitionist movement would no longer threaten slavery, and Southern agriculture would flourish with the North relying on the South’s cotton, rice, tobacco and other agricultural products.  Any conflict arising from secession would be short with the South gaining its independence in a series of quick defeats for the North.

The South, however, with its agricultural roots was not equipped for war.  Europe didn’t intervene on behalf of the South as had been anticipated.  And not all Georgians were prepared to give up everything for independence.  In fact, 43% of Georgia’s electorate voted against secession.  A few people, such as Alexander H. Stephens, who later because vice-president of the Confederate States, saw a tremendous, futile, and disastrous war in the making.  Heroism and courage were not enough to win the conflict.  Georgia secessionists couldn’t foresee that in May 1864 a powerful army of 62,000 would enter the state from the northwest, sweep though the center of the land, destroying crops, homes, and stock in the process, before arriving at Savannah in December 1864.   The war ended four months later in April 1865.

Not only did the Civil War end slavery; it shattered agriculture in Georgia.  Farmers, planters, and the now free field hands were in poverty.  During the last third of the nineteenth century, Georgians had four major tasks:  develop a new system of labor; develop a more diverse land-use system not so heavily dependent on cotton; utilize science in agriculture; influence credit, marketing and prices via organized pressure groups.  Coupled with these tasks was the fact that following the war Georgia, like much of the South, plunged into a deep depression, which lasted until the end of the century.

During the long depression the State Department of Agriculture encouraged agricultural diversity.  Pamphlet literature began to appear in the form of manuals from the State Department of Agriculture.  The department published a Manual on the Hog (1877), Manual of Sheep Husbandry in Georgia (1875) and The Farmer’s Scientific Manual (1878). Tobacco appeared late in the diversification movement.  It had been grown for home consumption since colonial times, but the commercial market was small.  In 1886 J. T.  Henderson, Georgia’s Commissioner of Agriculture, published A Manual of Tobacco Culture for Beginners.  By 1892 tobacco had a strong commercial foothold.   The Southern Cultivator kept up its valiant editorial efforts encouraging livestock diversity, varieties of grasses and grains, and horticultural endeavors such as truck farming.

With the freeing of the slaves, labor to work the land was nearly nonexistent.  Several methods were tried in efforts to remedy the situation.  White Georgians went to work in their own fields, but there were too few of them to be effective.  In addition, many were untrained for manual labor.  The use of foreign immigrants was tried, but due to the southern climate, unfamiliarity with southern crops, and an “Uncle Tom” concept of the South, immigrants preferred to labor in the factories of the North or settle their own land under the Homestead Act of 1862.  Laborsaving machinery was attractive, but the poverty-stricken Georgians had no money, and owning the equipment was usually just a dream.  Eventually the solution, though not perfect, was devising a way to use the freedmen’s labor.  Contract labor, sharecropping, and tenant farming were all tried.  Because landowners could not legally supervise the work of tenant farmers, lack of supervision and poor management by tenants led to a decline in agricultural productivity.

By the turn of the twentieth century, Georgia was showing signs of moving out of economic depression.  The Spanish-American war of 1898 gave cotton prices a boost.  The Boer War in South Africa, the Boxer Rebellion in China, the Klondike gold discoveries, scientific farming methods, and the growth of the United States’ population at a rate surpassing increases in agricultural production all contributed to the gradual economic recovery.  Census reports verified that by 1920 Georgia’s farm production had increased from $104,000,000 in 1900 to $638,000,000 in 1919, a six-fold increase.

This was still mainly an all-cotton economy and its days were numbered.  In the decades following 1920 several things helped to dethrone King Cotton.  The boll weevil attacks in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s; the Great Depression of the 1930’s; the agricultural programs of President Roosevelt’s New Deal; and World War II led to a gradual diversification of agriculture in Georgia.

The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 and the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act of 1936 paid farmers per acre for growing soil-conserving crops instead of cotton and for practicing soil-building measures.   The majority of cotton growers in Georgia quickly adopted the new program, and cotton acreage continued to decline.  World War II further limited cotton production in Georgia.  Cotton exports dramatically decreased, field labor was hard to get, and the U.S. government needed food crops more than cotton.  Production dropped to the lowest rate since 1869, and by 1945 cotton accounted for only 20% of Georgia’s farm income.  After the war there was little inclination to return to the cotton glory days of the early part of the century, though cotton cultivation has not entirely disappeared, unlike indigo and rice.

Crop diversification in the state had its stops and starts.  A push to make Georgia the alfalfa state of the South failed.  Corn has been grown, but as a cash crop it has never been able to compete with corn production in the midwestern states.  Wheat, rye, sugar cane, and sorghum never gained much importance.  But two crops, tobacco and peanuts, succeeded, courtesy of the boll weevil's negative impact on cotton growing.  They were seen as alternatives to cotton, especially in southwest Georgia.  By 1927 tobacco was the second most important cash crop.  Peanuts had long been grown as hog feed, but the arrival of the boll weevil induced farmers to plant it for commercial purposes.  Peanuts had a spectacular rise, and by mid-century they had surpassed tobacco as Georgia’s second most important cash crop.

Georgia is the largest state in area east of the Mississippi River.   Although today only one-fourth of the land is used for agriculture, more than 70% of the industrial jobs in the state depend on agricultural and forestry products.  Major modern crops include cotton, peaches, peanuts, and pecans.  Poultry and egg production, dairying, and livestock farming (cattle and hogs) account for more than half the value of farm products in the state.


Illinois is a state rich in important agricultural history.  Native Americans were raising crops in Illinois as early as 500 B.C., with crops mainly being maize, beans, squash, and tobacco.  Settlement by Europeans was originally begun by the French in the late sixteen hundreds.  The earliest years saw settlements nearest rivers and the Great Lakes, as this was an important avenue of travel in those times.  Settlement of the land progressed inland from those waterways.  Increased levels of settlement by English speaking people began around the time of the Revolutionary War, and Illinois attained statehood in 1818.
The earliest settlement of Illinois by farmers was in southern Illinois, and progressed northward based on land acquisition treaties that were arranged with the many Native American tribes that occupied Illinois in those days.  Types of early farming were often controlled in part by access to the waterways.  Farms near waterways often raised crops and livestock, while farms distant from waterways focused mainly on range raising livestock.  Grain farming became popular in northern Illinois as land became available, due to the existence of the Great Lakes and Erie Canal waterway to the Atlantic Coast.  The land between northern and southern Illinois was open prairie, which proved to be the most difficult to settle due to distance from waterways and lack of timber.

Most of early Illinois was prairie wetlands, which were drained to make the rich black soil seen in Illinois today available for farming.  Drainage techniques were brought to Illinois, and the rest of America, as adaptations of European tile drainage systems.  Much of the earliest beneficial agricultural literature was based on European work, but a great need arose for a literature based on the unique needs of America.

Farmers in Illinois were quick to adopt methods of mechanization that lead to greater agricultural production.  The need for plows, reapers and other farm machinery in Illinois and surrounding frontier states was great.  Early innovators in farm machinery found homes for their factories in Illinois.  Cyrus Hall McCormick based his reaper factory in Chicago in 1847.    Blacksmith John Deere opened his steel plow factory, which was originally a home-based workshop, in Moline in 1847.  By 1860, Illinois was the leading state in the Union for producing agricultural machinery.  Illinois had also become the leading producer of corn and wheat in the Union by 1860, in large part due to mechanization of farming.

Mechanization also helped open Illinois farms as transportation methods were improved.  Canals were built to open the lands of Illinois to potential markets.  Railroads followed the canals, and these opened the Illinois prairie to settlement to an even greater degree.  As the lands were opened to travel, people flooded to Illinois to farm the rich land.  Early settlers came from a variety of ethnic groups from Europe.  Improved methods of transportation allowed the prairie farmers to ship their crops to the markets of the day.

As the home of Abraham Lincoln and Jonathan Baldwin Turner, many consider Illinois to be the birthplace of the Land Grant University system.  Most Americans are familiar with the influences of Abraham Lincoln on our society.  Jonathan Baldwin Turner was an early educator in Illinois.  He gained his education at Yale University.  Turner lobbied relentlessly for common education in Illinois as early as the 1830’s.  He was a great influence in establishing strong educational programs in the state.  Another lobbying project he undertook was to have the federal government establish “industrial universities”, which became the foundation of the present Land Grant University system.  Turner began his push to establish a national industrial university system in 1850 and continued to pursue this end until the Morrill Bill was signed in 1862.  Turner’s original plan for establishing these universities, his tireless efforts at promoting the idea, and his relationship with Abraham Lincoln helped greatly in establishing the present Land Grant University system.

There were many significant agricultural publications available for Illinois before 1870, but widespread acceptance by Illinois farmers was not gained in the early years of the state.  This hesitance to use the available literature was largely due to a general lack of education by most of the population during those early years of the state.  There were efforts to educate the masses regarding the importance of adopting scientific methods of farming, and these were largely undertaken by regional agricultural societies.  Agricultural societies in Illinois led a rather cyclic existence during the first half of the nineteenth century.  They would typically spring up with great enthusiasm for a few years, only to fall by the wayside after a short life.  Many of these societies were based at the county level, and few had regular publications in the early days.  Agricultural societies in Illinois received a great boost in the 1850’s when the state legislature made funds available for both a new state agricultural society and for a society in each county.  There were ninety-four agricultural societies in existence in Illinois in 1858.  The Illinois State Agricultural Society became the Illinois Department of Agriculture in 1871.

It was typical during the pre-1870 period for these societies to maintain small libraries of books from outside Illinois intended to improve the farming techniques employed by the local citizenry.  School libraries were also established across the state in the 1850’s.  These early collections focused on agricultural literature.  Periodicals, annuals, and almanacs devoted specifically to Illinois agriculture were commonly held in these libraries.  Important publications were generated by agricultural societies, and the discovery and preservation of the most important of these will be a priority to pursue.  An example of such a publication is the Transactions of the Illinois State Agricultural Society, which was first published beginning in 1853.  This society was first founded in 1817.  The Illinois State Horticultural Society was also an important source of early agricultural literature in Illinois.

Much of the pre-1870 agricultural publishing in Illinois occurred in newspapers and a few journals.  The Western Ploughboy is an agricultural journal that was first published in Illinois in 1831.  Illinois Farmer and Prairie Farmer were other early important agricultural magazines in Illinois.  Prairie Farmer began in 1841 and is still published today.  The importance of this journal to documenting the agricultural history of Illinois is great.  A number of monographs were issued by Prairie Farmer staff during its long history.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Land Grant University for Illinois, was first chartered in 1867.  A virtual explosion in the publishing of agricultural literature followed this date, much of it originating from the university and state government offices.  Many societies and state agencies flourished after this time as well, along with associated publishing efforts.  Due to the importance of agriculture to the Illinois economy, much research and publishing has been undertaken since the 1870’s.  The agricultural literature of Illinois is extensive and much is in need of preservation treatment.


Michigan is richly endowed with water, being nearly surrounded by the largest bodies of fresh water in the world, with a shoreline longer than that of any other state in the Union and thousands of inland lakes and streams.  The very name, “Michigan,” derived from two Algonquin words, michi (great) and gama (lake), is a fitting tribute to the profound impact that this resource has had on the economic and social development of the state.

The Great Lakes served as the route for early European exploration and settlement, separating Michigan's sprawling Upper Peninsula from its familiar mitten-shaped Lower Peninsula.  When French fur traders and missionaries arrived in the mid-17th century, they came upon Michigan's first farmers -- Algonquin women from the Chippewa, Ottawa, Menominee, and Potawatomi tribes -- dwelling within the borders of the Territory.  Armed with basic tools for clearing the land, these early agriculturists grew crops in clearings where sunshine penetrated the dense forests that once covered the state.  Beans, squash, pumpkins, and maize were planted in these “garden-beds,” supplementing their main diet of fish and game.

It was the abundant game that drew the French into the region, resulting in the establishment of trading posts at strategic points along the lakeshores and riverbanks.  The profitable fur trade was their main preoccupation, but the French made some effort at farming, cultivating crops for their own subsistence and/or the limited local market. Farms were allotted to French settlers under a feudal system and were laid out in narrow strips about a block wide, extending three miles back from the Detroit River.  The narrow plots promoted neighborliness and provided water access for everyone.  The land was not aggressively cleared for agricultural use, but the soil was rich and productive.  The interest of the French in horticulture was great; apples, peaches, pears, and cherries were grown in considerable quantities, with the juices being made into brandy and cider for trade with the Native Americans.  These French orchards marked the beginning of Michigan's great fruit industry.

With the overthrow of the French by the British in 1763, a few English farmers moved into Michigan; but, as title to the land had not yet been secured from the Native Americans by treaty, settlement was not encouraged.  The farming and trading community on the Detroit River stood fairly unchanged for fifty years.  The Territory remained isolated from other settled portions of the country, cut off by a vast stretch of forested land.  After the War of 1812 the United States opened up lands in the Northwest Territory as compensation for soldiers; but unfavorable early government surveys and geological reports prompted Congress to divert settlers from Michigan and to offer lands in neighboring states instead.  Today's “Water Wonderland” was regarded as an impenetrable swampland, with scarcely one acre out of one hundred deemed fit for cultivation, uninhabitable for white men, albeit a fit home for Native Americans, wild beasts, bullfrogs, muskrats, and malaria. A well-known poem of the day warned would-be immigrants not to go to Michigan, “that land of ills; the word means ague, fever and chills.”  It took a generation for Michigan to overcome its bad reputation.

Fortunately, Lewis Cass, the first governor of the Territory, paved the way for further settlement by negotiating treaties with the Native Americans, surveying and platting the land, lobbying Congress to appropriate money to build a road through northern Ohio, and publicizing the true character of the land.  The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 gave further impetus to settlement by placing Michigan in the direct line of travel.  The years 1836-1837 saw more government land sold in Michigan than in any other state.  From New England and New York the pioneers came by the thousands, taking up lands best suited to farming in areas with an abundant water supply and transportation access to markets.  They transformed the wilderness with their homesteads and carried Michigan into statehood in 1837.

The immigration excitement soon extended to Europe.  In 1848 a State publication, Der Auswanderer Wegweiser (The Emigrant's Guide to the State of Michigan), was distributed in Germany with the express purpose of convincing German emigrants to purchase land in Michigan. Extolling the virtues of lake and river transportation and the cheap price of land ($1.25 an acre), it succeeded in attracting a steady stream of industrious German settlers.  In subsequent years other groups came, drawn first by the Homestead Act of 1862, which offered free of cost 160 acres of government land to those who would live on it for five years; and later by the booming lumber, mining and automobile industries.  Irish, Dutch, Finns, Swedes, Poles, Italians, Canadians, Russians and a host of others established ethnic communities throughout the state, making Michigan one of the most culturally diverse states in the nation.

Many of these groups took to agriculture, introducing new crops and new methods of cultivation. As they spread across the state, the settlers soon discovered that Michigan's topography, soils, and climate varied greatly from place to place.  This variation results from the repeated glaciations of the region, the extension of the state across six degrees of latitude, and the influence of the surrounding lakes, which moderate winter and summer temperatures.  And, as farms were not laid out according to soil type but rather in a grid pattern still visible in many rural areas today, a single farm might embrace several soil types.  The great variation in soils and climate permitted the cultivation of a wide variety of agricultural products, and the pioneer farmer's relative isolation and the resulting need for self-sufficiency further encouraged this diversification.  Diversification remains the hallmark of Michigan agriculture even today -- only the state of California lays claim to a longer list of products.

Farmers learned to apply scientific principles and practices to crop selection and animal husbandry. Very early on, the territorial government had recognized the positive role that progressive agriculture could play in clearing the land of forest and stumps and draining swamps; and in utilizing soils, seeds, and climatic factors to best advantage.  During the 1840s the national interest in agricultural education and farm organizations found its expression in Michigan through the creation of the Michigan Farmer, the oldest farm press in the United States.  Dedicated to introducing improvements in the practice and science of agriculture, improving soil cultivation, and elevating the profession of farming, the Michigan Farmer (along with the Michigan State Agricultural Society) was highly instrumental in advancing Michigan agriculture.  It was an early advocate for the establishment of the Michigan Agricultural College (now called Michigan State University) in 1855 -- the first state agricultural college in the nation.

As the prototypical land-grant college, the Michigan Agricultural College considerably influenced the course of agricultural education nationwide, by serving as a model institution and by furnishing faculty and administrators from among the ranks of its graduates.  Within the state, the College's prominent researchers advanced scientific agriculture by pioneering improvements in livestock breeding, soil quality, crop production, farm machinery, and plant disease and pest control.  Their extension efforts, which began in 1875 with a series of winter farmers' institutes, brought valuable information directly to the farmer, gradually eroding the longstanding distrust of "book farming." By 1885 bulletins describing agricultural experiments were being distributed, and the College's extensive program of publication had begun.  Meanwhile, the State Board of Agriculture, established by the legislature in 1861, was also collecting and disseminating farm information as well as encouraging the formation of agricultural societies.  Associations for sugar cane growers (1862), horticulturalists (1870), and livestock breeders and feeders (1890), among others, gave early expression to the trend toward specialization; and, together with the Grange (1872), promoted agricultural interests and economic benefits.  Their activities on behalf of agriculture are well documented in publications such as The Grange Visitor and the Annual Report of the Michigan State Horticultural Society.

With the coming of science to the farm, a new era for Michigan farming began. Subsistence farming gave way to increased commercial production as more and more land was brought under cultivation, and increased productivity made larger surpluses possible.  The advancing agricultural frontier had encouraged the extension of the railway system; and the ensuing improvements in transportation widened the regional market for agricultural products.  At the same time, local markets were exploding -- westward expansion had created an insatiable demand for Michigan white pine, and the lumber camps and saw mill towns, which quickly sprang up, were filled with people who needed to be fed.  Copper and iron were discovered in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and a large influx of immigrants, mostly foreign, arrived to work in the mines.  From 1869 to 1890, Michigan led the nation in lumber production, and the timber from Michigan's seemingly inexhaustible forests built and rebuilt Chicago, as well as many other American cities. In roughly the same years, from 1847 to 1900, Michigan led the nation in copper and iron production.  The golden age of mining and lumbering left a lasting economic and social imprint on Michigan, creating fortunes, folklore, farms, railroads, harbors, and towns -- and ghost towns when the industries declined.  Catastrophic forest fires followed logging, drastically altering the soil in large areas of the state.  Cutover regions were sold as farmland, but the fertility of the soil often proved to be sub-marginal and many “farms” were later abandoned, reverting to the state for non-payment of taxes.  Such losses served to retard the economic and social development of northern Michigan, in particular.

By the close of the nineteenth century, the era of specialization had arrived and farmers were cultivating crops especially suited to local conditions and market demands.  While previously important products such as wheat and wool declined with the beef cattle and sheep industries, the growing urban areas created a profitable market for perishable products such as milk, eggs, fruits, and vegetables.  Many farmers turned to the raising of dairy cattle, swine, and poultry.  Swamplands were found to be ideally suited to the growing of mint, celery, and onions, and Michigan soon became a leader in production of these crops. The favorable climatic conditions along the lakeshore led to pre-eminence in the growing of apples, peaches, pears, plums, cherries, and berries.  Other notable specialties included navy beans, potatoes, sugar beets, chicory, lettuce, cucumbers, and bedding plants.

The changing agricultural and rural life of the state has been richly documented in a wide range of publications.  Invaluable reminiscences and historical articles are contained in the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections (1874-1929) and in the Michigan History Magazine (1917-present).  A comprehensive account of Michigan agriculture and rural life is found in Lew Allen Chase’s Rural Michigan (1922).  Other notable scholarly treatments are contained in George N. Fuller’s Michigan: A Centennial History of the State and Its People (1939) and in William James Beal’s History of the Michigan Agricultural College (1915).  The Michigan Farmer and The Grange Visitor are important agricultural press titles.

Although increasing urbanization in the twentieth century brought a reduction in the farm population, agriculture remained a major contributor to Michigan’s economy and spurred the growth of related industries such as canneries, creameries, sugar refineries, and Michigan’s world-famous breakfast cereal industry.


History celebrates the battlefields whereon we meet our death, but scorns to
speak of the plowed fields whereby we thrive. . . .This is the way of human folly.
-- J. H. Fabre

Battlefields and plowed fields define southern culture. When we look back to the nineteenth century South, we inevitably envision a plantation lifestyle brought to an abrupt halt by the American Civil War. Indeed, visions of the cotton plantation and the Civil War together characterized the entire region, both culturally and agriculturally, for generations of Americans.

Looking closer, though, we realize the agricultural South was not so monolithic. Parts of the Upper South looked to tobacco rather than cotton as their cash crop, while coastal regions in South Carolina and Georgia depended on rice and indigo. Yeoman farmers in the upland regions, growing crops for their families and the local market, did not share the same concerns as the planters closer to the coast who looked to the world market.

North Carolina occupies an interesting and unique place in southern agriculture. Although we typically think of the antebellum South as having a solid agricultural identity, the truth is far richer. The climate and soil led Virginia plantation owners to rely on tobacco. South Carolina had different soils and climate, leading wealthy planters there to plantations of rice and indigo. North Carolina's location between those two different growing zones prevented it from exploiting either group of

crops well, and most agriculture seems to have been of a relatively small scale. Furthermore, the state did not move into the plantation economy on the same scale as other southern states: in 1860, the South reported some three hundred owners of more than three hundred slaves; only three of those owners lived in North Carolina.

Other factors affected the way North Carolinians developed, both culturally and agriculturally. Like many southern states, North Carolina was sparsely populated. Not only did it not have many large cities, it also had few small towns. In 1820, the state had only seven towns with more than one thousand people, and the total urban population was slightly more than sixteen thousand. Most farm families lived comparatively isolated lives. Limited access between regions fragmented many inland areas, restricting opportunities to sell in broader markets and thereby discouraging the use of more advanced farming methods. Frequently, tobacco planters relied on the more established markets in neighboring states to serve as outlets for this cash crop. Ironically, many of the state's roads led to Virginia and South Carolina rather than east west, further hampering the state's ability to develop its agricultural economy.

The four major crops grown in North Carolina -- corn, wheat, cotton, and tobacco -- exhausted the soil. Agricultural traditions and an economy based on slave ownership led planters and many farmers to abandon the exhausted land rather than purchase the nutrients required to maintain their existing holdings. Between 1815 and 1850, approximately one third of its population left North Carolina, most heading west to unfarmed lands. That steady migration, both within the state and to new states, drained resources and limited participation in civic activities such as developing roads and public education -- and public education was crucial to those interested in reforming agricultural techniques.

By the Civil War, the state's geographic distinctiveness led to an economy strikingly different from those of its neighbors. Soil and climate discouraged the development of cash crops and large plantations, limiting the need for roads and towns. Isolation led to subsistence farming, and abundant land encouraged farmers and planters to exhaust the soil and move on, further discouraging civic development and thoughtful agricultural practices. North Carolina developed a reputation for being a state of lazy and unambitious farmers.

Despite what seems a bleak picture of backwardness, some North Carolina farmers began working in the mid nineteenth century to develop progressive agricultural techniques. The easy availability of land and a stubbornness about learning new techniques through “book farming” meant change came slowly. Nevertheless, agricultural reform, which began in England in the late eighteenth century, immediately found scattered adherents and a gradually broadening base of support across the state. Over the first half of the nineteenth century, North Carolinians wrote books and founded journals to publicize agricultural reform. George W. Jeffreys’ Essays on Agriculture (1819) brought the national concern for agricultural reform to a North Carolina audience.  Ebenezer Emmons’ five-volume geological survey, published under separate titles between 1852 and 1860, surveyed the state's soil chemistry with the conscious goal of helping North Carolina's farmers determine the best crops for their land.

Most journals, such as The Farmer's Advocate and Miscellaneous Reporter (Jamestown, NC), the North Carolina Planter (Raleigh), or the Edgecombe Farm Journal (Tarboro, NC) were short-lived, some ceasing publication when the Civil War began. Nevertheless, these journals present a significant view of the changes in North Carolina's agriculture: not only did the publishers believe in the importance of agricultural reform, they believed that a market for such information existed, significant enough to support such a publication. Additionally, agricultural societies sprang up to support the reform movement, and the trend continued until the advent of the Civil War.

The end of the Civil War pushed North Carolina's agricultural economy in new directions. Textiles, tobacco, and furniture developed as important industries for the state; North Carolinians founded nearly all the major companies in these areas. These industries drew on North Carolina's agricultural resources to develop products sold nationally and internationally. Many factors contributed to the growth of these industries, but important among them were the availability of labor from farm families. Mills were located in small towns rather than cities, so farm families did not have to abandon farming in order for family members to work in the mills. Furthermore, mills paid regular wages all year around. For others, such as the farmers near High Point, mills became an alternative source of income when brightleaf tobacco from the eastern part of the state supplanted the demand for the heavier, darker tobacco from the western regions.

For those who remained in farming, however, the period following the Civil War was a hard one. A tariff imposed at the end of the war crippled many farmers, as did business combinations and discriminatory freight rates. Furthermore, the transition from a slave economy to a free economy, with the variety of rental and ownership arrangements also experienced elsewhere in the South, sometimes proved treacherous. Land was no longer abundant, and farmers and large landowners were forced to consider reconsider traditional agricultural practices.

In North Carolina, agricultural reform began to move in several directions.  Leonidas LaFayette Polk, a relative of President Polk, perhaps exemplifies these directions best. Polk, noted for his work to help farmers navigate the ways of the new economy, was North Carolina's first commissioner of agriculture, serving for four years. Afterwards, he founded the Progressive Farmer, a magazine dedicated to teaching farmers better means of agriculture, which continues to be published today. His continuing interest in politics and the plight of farmers led him to work to unite the state's farmers to pressure the state legislature for reform. He joined the newly founded Farmers' Alliance when organizers visited the state, serving as the national vice president in 1887. Polk's interests took him to the Populist Party, presiding over their “industrial conference” at St. Louis in 1892. He was seen as the party's likely presidential candidate until his unexpected death that June, a month before the nominating convention.

The North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, now North Carolina State University, also grew from the goal of developing progressive agricultural practices. Leonidas Polk was a strong and vocal crusader for the establishment of the College, ensuring that it was founded as a land grant college rather than as an industrial school. The College took its mission seriously, with faculty writing to fill in gaps. Daniel Harvey Hill, Jr., then vice president of the College, co authored

Agriculture for Beginners in 1903. The North Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station, allied with both the College and the State Department of Agriculture, began publishing a wide variety of bulletins and technical reports to support improved agriculture. Thus through teaching at the College, publishing, and extension activities, the College sought to improve agriculture for all its citizens.

Throughout North Carolina, citizens answered the call to build a new South, one that exploited the region's natural resources but kept industry and its wages in the state. Although North Carolina has responded well to the challenge, becoming one of the most successfully industrialized states in the South, it has also continually sought ways to retain its agricultural heritage.

6.5. OHIO

The Iroquois Indians called it "O-he-yo", which means "the beautiful river."  But when the first explorers and traders, and later the first settlers, came to the Ohio territory they discovered more than the beautiful river that forms the southern boundary of Ohio.  They found a virgin forest covering the area and some of the richest soil in the young frontier.

The Ice Age had a profound impact on the agricultural viability of the State thousands of years later. Two great ice sheets coming down from Canada covered three-fourths of the State.  In the northeast, western and central regions, as the glaciers slowly moved over the land, they deposited rich soil to a significant depth; they rounded off the tops of the hills, making the terrain smooth and gently rolling; they filled the valleys, creating great level plains.  In the northwest area, known as the Lake Plains, the glaciers dammed the rivers making lakes. When the water receded, it left behind a flat lake bottom of richly fertile soil. This flat area was poorly drained and, consequently, was the last area of the State to be developed until "The Black Swamp" was drained in the mid-1800s.  The southeastern quarter of Ohio, the unglaciated area of the Allegheny Plateau, while not possessing the fertile soil of the glaciated region, nevertheless held many valuable mineral resources, especially coal and clay that would be important for the economic development of the State. The topography of the unglaciated area remained hilly and was less suited to typical crop farming, but supported fruit culture and the raising of cattle.

In addition to the richness of the soil, the climate helped ensure that Ohio would be an agricultural state.  The climatic conditions are relatively uniform throughout the State.  Adequate rainfall and a reasonably long growing season made it possible to grow most temperate crops.

One natural resource that could not be commercially exploited was the vast forest.  The Native American inhabitants had cleared small areas where they grew corn and other crops, but for the most part, the territory was covered with virgin timber.  Instead of being a marketable commodity, the forest was an obstacle to the pioneers: it covered the land they needed for crops, it was shelter for wild animals, and it hid hostile inhabitants who were threatened by the invasion of their lands. The first task of the earliest settlers was to clear the land in order to erect shelters and to plant their crops.  The preferred method was to girdle the trees and let them stand among the crops until after a few years the trees died and fell. The trees were also felled to provide the much-needed raw materials for constructing buildings, but once that need was met, there was no local market or a way to transport the wood to other markets; so much of the excess timber was burned.   In these ways, much of the primeval forest in Ohio was eliminated.

Unlike the colonists who first came to the New World in search of religious freedom, the pioneers who migrated to Ohio were enticed there by the desire for land. Ohio was part of the frontier known as the Northwest Territory, land to the west of Pennsylvania and north of the Ohio River that was originally claimed by the 13 eastern states and eventually ceded to the federal government for sale and settlement following the Revolution. The Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 laid out the plans for surveying the territory, selling the land, and setting up a territorial government. The latter ordinance prescribed the processes that would eventually lead to statehood for the new territories.  The surveys were significant in that they systemized the division of the lands into townships and sections and were useful in describing lands for the purpose of making claims and rendering titles.  Ohio was the first land in the territory to be so surveyed.  The Northwest Ordinance holds great significance in our country's history as it laid out many of the foundations of our government, barred slavery in the new territory and reserved land for the purpose of public education.

Prior to the organized settlement brought on by the Northwest Ordinance in 1787, Native Americans from several tribes occupied the Ohio land.  They maintained an agricultural system that was very similar to that employed by the white farmers who came later.   The Indians peacefully coexisted with the European traders and the missionaries, but were eventually displaced through war and encroachment by the white settlers.  The first organized settlement began when the Ohio Company, representing a group of land speculators, negotiated with the federal government for the sale of the first land in the Ohio territory and was actually responsible for prompting the Congress to act on the Ordinance of 1787.  In 1788, Marietta was the site of the first settlement located along the Ohio River and was soon followed by more settlements along the river.  The Treaty of Greenville in 1795 brought peace between the Native American tribes and the white settlers and made it possible for immigration to proceed rapidly. By 1800 the population was sufficient for the territory to apply for statehood and in 1803 Ohio became the 17th state to be admitted to the Union.

Agriculture in the young state often reflected the origins of the settlers and the lay of the land.  Corn and wheat were grown in the flat plains in the west and the central "Backbone" counties, along the glacial boundary, which had been populated by settlers from Pennsylvania and Virginia.  Dairying was common in the northeast area known as the Western Reserve, which had been settled by New Englanders who brought dairying and cheese making with them to the region.  The hilly area in the southeast was less amenable to crops and consequently became an area for raising livestock.

For the early Ohio farmers, transportation was a major issue.  Getting products to markets in the East or South was hindered by difficulties in reaching the Mississippi River and the route to New Orleans, or Lake Erie to reach the eastern markets. The need for access to these important waterways prompted the Ohio legislature in 1822 to begin building a number of canals that would eventually connect the interior of the state to the Ohio River and to the Erie Canal.  By 1850 there were 1,000 miles of canals crossing Ohio. At the same time, construction of the National Road from Cumberland Maryland to the west was underway and created an overland passage to the east.  By the time it reached the western edge of the state in 1834, Ohio had a way to drive cattle and hogs to the east by an overland route. Prior to the railroad, these two means of transportation opened up the rest of the country as a market for the agricultural goods and livestock from Ohio.

Fertile soil, a way to transport goods to market, and a population of farmers soon led Ohio to become the chief agricultural producer in the growing country.  Prior to the Civil War, Ohio led the country in the production of cereal grain, wool, pork, and dairy products.  These raw products created the basis for the industry in Ohio: milling of flour, meatpacking, and distilling.  However, this dominance in agriculture would begin to decline as the agricultural states to the west began to grow.  The National Road that took the produce to eastern markets also carried the frontier further west.  In 1840, 75% of Ohio's population was involved in agriculture, but by the Civil War this had dropped to 50% and by 1880 to 40%.  The population in Ohio was moving to the cities and agriculture was moving west to the plains states.

By 1846 the State Board of Agriculture was created by the legislature at the urging of county agricultural societies, which had been active as early as 1818.  The mission of the Board was to tend to the agricultural interests of the state, collect census data, and hold an annual state fair.  However, from its inception, the Board exerted an important influence on agricultural education in the state. The Board held farmers' institutes and distributed educational leaflets, but as early as 1848 urged the establishment of a university for the teaching of agriculture and experimental farms for research.  Over the years, the members of the Board included an ex-governor, the publisher and staff of leading agricultural publications, and educators, all of who were influential in advancing the cause of Ohio agriculture and especially the founding of the land-grant university.  The activities of the State Board of Agriculture are documented in the Ohio Agricultural Report (1846-1913), which also records the agricultural events at the county level.

The provisions of the Northwest Ordinance supported Ohio's early commitment to education and by the 1860s there were already a number of higher education institutions in the State.  The teaching of agriculture had been attempted at a couple institutions, but was not successful.  In 1862, the Morrill Act granted federal land to the states for the purpose of establishing a college " teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts...", but it wasn't until 1873 that the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College was opened in Columbus. However, during the early years the agricultural teaching mission was not supported with staff and resources by those who desired a broader, more classical educational institution, and in 1878 the name was changed to the Ohio State University, much to the displeasure of the State's farmers.

Though university land was set aside for agricultural research, little was accomplished by the lone agricultural professor until 1882, when an independent experiment station, patterned along the lines of the Rothamsted Station in England, was established.  Despite this difficult start, Ohio was the 5th state to have an experiment station for agricultural research, 5 years before Congress established one in each state as a result of the Hatch Act.

Ohio also led the way in establishing the third leg of the land grant mission.  Seeing a need to convey to Ohio farmers the agricultural knowledge emanating from the university, the organization of agriculture students began a series of informational programs that they took throughout the state.  To broaden this program, in 1905, A. B. Graham was named to be the Superintendent of Agricultural Extension at the university, the first such post in the United States.  Graham was an obvious choice to lead this department for he had already planted the seed that would become the 4-H organization when he started a Boys and Girls Club through which he hoped to teach the future farmers about such issues as testing for soil fertility.  The early Extension Bulletins (1905-) and Circulars (1915- ) were written by the faculty of the college and conveyed useful information aimed at children, farmers, and women.  The bulletins covered topics such as tillage and cultivation, home management and food preparation, centralized schools, and even poems and songs. Largely through the efforts of William Oxley Thompson, president of the Ohio State University, the Smith-Lever Act was passed in 1914 that established a plan for the Extension Service similar to that, which already existed in Ohio.

The Smith-Lever Act, followed by the Smith-Hughes Act (1917) and the Purnell Act (1926) also brought federal funding to support extension, teaching and research in the area of home economics.  The University had already begun programs to teach rural women about home management, the preparation of food, and the care of children through activities in conjunction with the Farmers' Institutes and through home demonstration agents. Hughina McKay and Mary Brown Patton, faculty members in the Department of Home Economics, received national recognition for their 1920s and 1930s research into the basal metabolism of young women and the food consumption of rural families.  The Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin (1888-1948) and Bimonthly Bulletin (1925-1946) published this early work.  Extension bulletins of the period covered subjects such as clothing construction and care, home gardening, recipes, and laborsaving devices for the farm and home made possible by electrification.  As a result of the Rural Electrification Administration, Ohio led the nation in the number of farms and rural customers receiving electricity.

Soil fertility has been a recurring theme throughout Ohio's agricultural history.  The soil that was turned and deposited by the glaciers was so productive and in such abundance that the Native Americans and the early farmers gave little thought to such issues as conservation or crop rotation.  The cost of soil improvement exceeded the price to purchase new acreage, so once the soil was exhausted and used up, they simply moved on to another fertile plot.  As W. A. Lloyd described the situation in The Agriculture of Ohio (1918), "The pioneer farmer was a conqueror--a fighter; and fighters and conquerors have never been noted as conservationists."  Charles E. Thorne, the first director of the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station, considered the scientific study of the maintenance of soil fertility to be one of the major lines of work to be conducted by the experiment station.  Through his research, Thorne became one of the leading authorities on soils and soil fertility and began one of only a few long-term studies on rotation and continuous culture in the U.S.  Thorne brought together his years of research into his work The Maintenance of Soil Fertility (1930) and much of his fundamental research is recorded in the Bulletins (1888-1948) and Monthly Bulletins (1916-1925) of the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station.  Later in the 20th century, novelist and farmer, Louis Bromfield, would also demonstrate and write about soil conservation methods on his Malabar Farm in central Ohio, in such works as Pleasant Valley (1945) and Malabar Farm (1948).

Thorne's second mission for the experiment station was to expand knowledge about orchard care to aid the fruit industry.  Many old apple orchards existed in hilly areas of southern Ohio and also along Lake Erie.  It is part of Ohio folklore that an itinerant named John Chapman, more popularly known as "Johnny Appleseed," traveled around the State, planting seeds and starting apple orchards.  However, Johnny Appleseed's varieties tended to be inferior and not of market quality.  Exceptional market varieties were developed from varieties brought by settlers from New England.  Ohio's ?Rome Beauty' became a leading apple for export along the Mississippi. Later the ?Melrose' and other varieties were developed in Ohio and became extremely popular commercial apples.

The Ohio River Valley was important in Ohio horticultural history, for it was here that Nicholas Longworth cultivated the Catawba grape used in making wine.  The area around Cincinnati seemed favorable for grape growing, and by 1860 Ohio became the largest producer of wine in the "West", largely from southern Ohio vineyards. Longworth's efforts earned him the appellation of "Father of American Winemaking."  After 1850, the Lake Erie shore also became an important site for Ohio grape growing, largely due to the more level land and more favorable climate.  Longworth was also responsible for widely sharing the pistillate and staminate nature of strawberries, having learned this "secret" from a gardener employed by a successful strawberry grower.  Longworth's "directions for the cultivation of the strawberry" were published as an appendix to Buchanan's The Culture of the Grape, and Wine making in 1852.

Animal industries were also important for Ohio agriculture.  Dairying was prominent in the Western Reserve area and contributed to a large cheese-making industry.  With the opening of the National Road, beef cattle and hogs were driven back to the east for market, which encouraged the growing of feed crops along the way. Hogs were commonly raised in the early settlements.  The swine industry flourished around Cincinnati, fostering a large pork-packing industry to the extent that Cincinnati became known as "Porkopolis".  However, the swine industry was not limited to southern Ohio and from 1850 to the mid-twentieth century, Ohio has ranked among the top producers of hogs.  Charles S. Plumb, professor of animal husbandry at The Ohio State University, was responsible for assembling a major collection of animal breed registries, which he described in Registry Books on Farm Animals: a Comparative Study (1930).
 From the settlement at Marietta, when the first wheat was planted, to the post-Civil War period, Ohio was unsurpassed as an agricultural state.  However, as the states to the west--Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, California--began their journey to become great agricultural producers, Ohio's preeminence waned, though the progress achieved through education, research and persistence would continue to assure Ohio a place among the leaders in agriculture.

Grant Proposal, PHASE IV
Back to homepage