Chapter XXVI - Agricultural Affairs

History of Hampshire County West Virginia From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present
By Hu Maxwell and H. L. Swisher
Morgantown, West Virginia; A. Brown Boughner Printer; 1897

PART 2 County History
CHAPTER XXVI - AGRICULTURAL AFFAIRS
BY H. L. SWISHER
Pages 313-326

In the settlement of a new country one of the first things that occupies the attention of a people is agriculture. More especially is this the case in a county like our own in which the chief source of wealth is in the agricultural products. Dangers and hardships attended every step of the early settler's progress. After his cabin was built it became necessary for him to supplement the supplies of game and fish he could capture, by the food products of his truck patch and cornfield. His implements for clearing and cultivating the ground were rude and in the use of these he was often molested. When he went to the field he must carry with him his gun, as he labored he must keep constant watch lest some Indian in ambush shoot him at his work. Not infrequently was he compelled to throw down his hoe and seizing his gun cover his own retreat to the nearest fort.

Agriculture in the early settlements was not carried on extensively. A small patch of corn, and perhaps one of tobacco, together with a small garden or truck patch was the extent of each settler's farming. Very often the only implement used in the cultivation of these primitive crops was the hoe, as the keeping of a horse was difficult, owing to the thieving Indians. The first plows used were made entirely of wood and the addition of an iron plate to the lower end of his wooden implement gave rise to what was called the "shovel plow." Oxen and horses were both used by the early settlers in tilling their lands and if there was any favor shown it was to the ox, if we may call constant and persistent use showing favor. The early harrow was even ruder than the early plow and sometimes it consisted in nothing more than a thorn-bush slightly trimmed and weighted down by tying some chunks across it. The first manufactured harrows had wooden frames and wooden teeth. The scythe, when indeed that improved implement came into use, was not made of carefully tempered steel as it now is, but was wrought at the village smithy, and instead of being ground to sharpen it, it was beat thin on an anvil. Nor was it supplied with a sheathe crooked like the one now in use, but had only a straight stick which was usually cut from the nearby woods. In using this the mower was compelled to bend himself like the bow of promise. Forked saplings peeled and carefully dried served to handle the hay and grain. Wooden spades and shovels were the only kind then in use. It is safe to say that if the present generation could see the rude and clumsy tools with which, the early settlers had to raise and harvest their crops they would be filled with wonder and would look upon them as implements of torture if they were compelled to use the same in agricultural pursuits today. We must not think, however, that our forefathers in this then wilderness had no enjoyment for they spent many a happy hour and their fewer wants and these easily satisfied, made them on the average as well content as their descendants.

When clearing land there were frequent "log rollings" at which the neighbors would gather for miles around bringing with them their teams of oxen and horses to assist in putting the logs in heaps to burn them. Usually the "clearing" had been burned over previously to make way with the smaller brush and undergrowth. This left the remaining logs blackened and as the men worked among them they became sweaty and begrimed. The teams were no less so. All around rose the flames and smoke of the burning heaps while the sooty laborers toiled in the midst. It was such a scene as might easily be imagined, in the workshops of the mythical blacksmith Vulcan underneath Vesuvius. Another gathering in these early settlements was the "raising." When one man in a community wished to build a house or barn it was an expected courtesy upon the part of his neighbors to assist him until the heavier parts were in position. No pay was tendered nor expected for this help, but a like labor was, perhaps, afterwards asked of the one assisted. Another social and co-operative gathering of those times which has now been almost wholly abandoned is the corn husking. The ears of corn were "jerked" husk and all from the stalks and hauled together in huge ricks. Some night when the weather was favorable, usually a moonlight night, the neighbors were all invited to the husking. A general overseer of the work was appointed and the men were arranged along the rick of corn at regular intervals. Then the work began. It was considered especially lucky to find a "red ear" and as the husks were torn off each one was carefully scrutinized to see if it was of the desired color. While the men were enjoying themselves at the husking the women of the neighborhood were usually assembled at the farm house at a "quilting." After a few hours' work the "quilting" and "husking" alike broke up in a dance or as it was popularly called a "hoe down." Sometimes there was a too liberal use of "rock and rye" and a few fights lent interest to the gathering.

In those early times when it was necessary that almost everything used should be produced on the farm, or at least in the neighborhood, women added much to the comfort of the home by their skill and industry. Almost every household was supplied with a loom, a spinning wheel and all else that was necessary for changing the wool or flax from its original condition into clothing and blankets. Wool was sheared from sheep raised on the farm. It was carded, spun and woven or knit into clothing on the place. The flax was grown in the fields, it was allowed to weather in the patches where it was raised, it was broken on the flax brake and the woody portion combed out on the hackle, spun and woven into cloth without leaving the farm on which it was grown.

Evidently the tobacco crop in Hampshire was once a much more important affair than it is now. As stated in another chapter, it formed the medium of exchange, serving as money until after the Revolutionary war. In March, 1819, the general assembly passed an act providing that "Public warehouses for the receipt of tobacco be established at Romney warehouse and Cresap's warehouse, at the confluence of North and South branches of the Potomac in Hampshire county." Before tobacco could be stored in these warehouses it was necessary that it be inspected. There was an inspector appointed for Romney. His salary was sixty-two dollars and fifty cents a year. At Cresap's the inspector was paid at the rate of eighty-four cents a hogshead, of which seventeen cents were to be paid the proprietor of the warehouse for rent. There is no record to show how many hogsheads or pounds were stored in any year. Another important crop that began to be cultivated early in this county was wheat. In fact the soil here is so well adapted to the cultivation of this cereal that it has become the principal crop raised for shipment. In early years, however, it was cultivated on a much more limited scale. Numerous difficulties stood in the way of an extensive acreage. The sowing was a matter of no small labor. The seed had to be scattered by hand and then covered by harrowing or "shoveling" it in. This was not only laborious, but also very slow. Harvesting, too, was a tedious process, A sickle was then the most improved reaping implement. The reaper gathered a grip of grain in his left hand and cut it oil with the right. These handfuls were placed in bundles and bound into sheaves. When it came time to haul the crop in from the fields this was done on sleds, as wagons were then not in general use. Threshing the crop was next. This was accomplished by means of the flail, and it required an expert hand to flail out fifteen bushels a day. Another mode of threshing somewhat in advance of the flail and less laborious, was to place the grain on a barn floor and tramp it out with horses. There was a chance here to use the small boy, ever such a convenience about a farm. He could ride one horse and lead another around over the grain. When it was well tramped it was turned and gone over again until at length most of the grain was threshed out. The next step in advance was a threshing machine, known as a chaff-piler. This was probably introduced in this country as early as 1835. It was a small affair and very incomplete, not separating the chaff from the wheat. The first "separators" were horse-power machines and came into use about a half century ago. The last advance was the steam thresher, and now the greater part of the grain in the country is threshed by these machines. No such thing as a windmill was known here before the present century, and the early method of separating the chaff and grain was to toss the mass into the air and the chaff, being lighter, would be blown away, while the wheat would fall to the ground on a sheet or floor prepared to receive it.

After the crop was raised it had yet to be prepared for food. The matter of making meal and flour like the other mechanic arts, was in the pioneer days, rude and incomplete. Corn was the chief crop raised by the early settlers and the matter of its preparation for table use was of first importance. The hominy block was one of the earliest contrivances. A large block was hollowed out at one end by burning. The top of the opening in the block's end was large, but it narrowed at the bottom so as to form a funnel-shaped cavity. The corn was placed in this block, and by means of a wooden pestle it was pounded into a more or less fine condition, so that it served partly for johnny-cake and bread, while the coarser was cooked as hominy. While the corn was soft it was sometimes prepared for bread by means of a grater. This consisted of a piece of tin punched full of holes and bent into concave shape by nailing its sides to a piece of wood. The ears of corn were rubbed on the rough surface of the tin and a kind of meal was thus made. The sweep for pounding grain is thus described by Dr. Doddridge: "This was a pole of some springy, elastic wood thirty feet long or more, the butt end of which was placed under the side of a house or a large stump. This pole was supported by two forks placed about one-third of its length from its butt end, so as to elevate the small end about fifteen feet from the ground. To this was attached, by a large mortise, a piece of sapling about five or six inches in diameter and eight or ten feet long, the lower end of which was shaped so as to answer for a pestle, and a pin of wood was put through at the proper height, so that two people could work at the sweep at once." A little more improved was the handmill which came into use somewhat later. This was constructed of two circular stones, one running on to the other. The nether of these was called the bed stone and was stationary. The upper one was called the runner; around these was a wooden hoop with an opening for discharging the meal. In the upper surface of the runner there was a hole near the edge into which the end of a pole was fitted. The other end of this pole was put through a hole in a board fastened to the joist above. With one hand grasping the upright pole the operator turned the stone and with the other he put the grain into the central opening in the runner. The grinding of one bushel of grain was considered a day's work.

The first water mills were designated tub mills. In this the upper stone was stationary and the lower one turning against it ground the grain. A perpendicular shaft was fitted into the lower stone or runner. On the lower end of this shaft there was a water wheel about five feet in diameter. The wheel was sunk in the stream and the force of the running water caused it to revolve, turning the stone at the other end of the shaft. Following these came the grist mills, with a water wheel having a horizontal shaft. In these early mills bolting cloths were not used. Seives were used, but not the ordinary wire seive of today. At that time they were made by stretching deerskin tightly over a hoop and punching it full of holes with a hot wire. Ever since Hampshire became even sparsely settled it seems the inhabitants have had a surplus of wheat, and it has furnished them a means of obtaining ready money. In the early days after the revolution the matter of transportation was a serious hindrance to commerce. Goods had to be hauled from the cities in wagons, and the products of the farm had to be taken to market in a like manner, at least in most instances.

Hampshire had an important advantage in this particular. Through the most fertile and productive valley of the county ran the South branch river. By means of boats this river was made to perform an important service. Had a person chanced to pass up the South branch in those days, at the various eddies and places of easy access, as far up as Moorefield, he would have seen scores of barrels of flour sitting. When the river began to rise boatmen would come and build boats, load the flour upon them and float away with it to market. There were no particular depots or places for storing the flour, but it was placed on the river bank at such points as it could be easily loaded. Flour merchants would hire boatmen to build boats to take this flour to market. The boats used were usually mere flat structures, built temporarily for the purpose of transporting this flour and sold for lumber when their destination was reached. There were, however, keel boats of more expensive and graceful build, that were pushed back up the river by the boatmen when they had delivered their cargo. This traffic ceased about 1830. Two of the men who used to make these boating trips, James Larimore and Samuel Larimore, lived on Jersey mountain, near Three Churches. They, together with Captain Jake Earsom, another of their number, are well remembered by persons now living. Alexandria and Washington were the principal markets for this flour. Some fourteen miles above Washington the Potomac plunges over a precipice some sixty feet in height. To get around this a canal was built. It was about a half mile in length and deep enough to float heavily loaded boats. The walls of this historic canal, the first in America, are still standing and are frequently visited by those interested in the early industrial history of this country.

Much of the drudgery of farming has been removed by the introduction of farm machinery. It is no exaggeration to say that one man can with the improved machinery of today, accomplish as much as five men could with the implements in use at the beginning of this century. Improvements in farm machinery came slowly, but the progress already made is very great, and there is unquestionably still a large field for improved inventions in agricultural implements. One of the first improvements of importance was the grain drill, and while the first invention was a rude machine, it was an immense step forward from the shovel plow. The "old blue drill," as it was called, was in use in this county as early as 1850. Windmills came in somewhat earlier, perhaps as soon as 1810. Previous to their appearance grain had been cleaned by means of a sheet. One man taking hold of each end, the sheet was swung to and fro, creating a current of air by this motion. A third person tossed the wheat into the air or stood upon an elevated placed and poured in from a vessel. While this was a slow process it was more satisfactory than one would at first suppose. The first windmills had wooden cogwheels and were kept oiled by means of soft soap. The iron cog-wheels came in about 1840. Reaping machinery was introduced along the South branch valley several years before the civil war. The reapers were what were then known as "droppers." They did not bind the grain in sheaves, but threw it off in bunches, and it was afterwards tied by hand. About 1870 the binder came into use, and these machines, now highly improved, are in general use throughout the county. The mower and hayrake are two inventions that have added much to the ease of caring for the hay crop. These machines in their present improved form have not been in popular use more than a quarter of a century. The first rake for gathering hay by means of horse power was almost entirely of wood. It was without wheels and slid upon the ground much after the manner of a sled. Occasionally one of these old rakes is still used.

It was not long after land had been farmed and its best grain growing elements extracted until the need of fertilizers was felt. Among the earliest fertilizers used in this county were lime and ground gypsum or plaster. These enriched the soil to a certain degree, but there was a desire for something that would have a more immediate effect. Something that would have a direct effect on the crop on which it was sown. This led to the use of manufactured fertilizers. As early as 1852 Philip B. Streit and Rev. John M. Harris were using Peruvian guano on their farms on Jersey mountain. This guano was put up in Richmond, Virginia, and proved a very excellent stimulus to crops. The acid fertilizers so widely used on our fields today have not been generally used for more than twenty years. When first placed upon the market these fertilizers sold at from thirty to forty dollars a ton.

In the days of early settlements the matter of soil was of little importance. The pioneer cleared his field and farmed it until the growing qualities of the soil were exhausted. But all around him was wooded lands whose soil had never felt the plow, and for the clearing these became his fields. When the country became more thickly settled there was a limit to the acreage of each man. Then the preserving of soils and the reclaiming of those already barren, became a matter of interest. There is, perhaps, no more important matter confronts the farmer today than the proper care for his newer soils and the reclaiming of now barren tracts. The soil upon our hills and valleys is the accumulation of untold geological ages and its wasteful destruction should not be permitted. When once destroyed it can only be replaced, if at all, by years of careful agriculture and unmeasured work.

Hampshire county has for years been noted as a stock raising center and is even supposed to have been named after Hampshire in England because the two districts, very much alike in the production of fine hogs. As long ago as 1750 droves of hogs were driven from the South branch valley to Winchester to market. Cattle were raised and marketed within a few years after this date. Improved stock have been introduced from time to time and the county yet has many advantages as a stock raising district, though from being more thickly populated there is less range than in the early days of its settlement. Man's progress upwards has been largely due to his subjugation of other animals and of plants. The friends he has won have made their own bondage more complete by the added strength they have given their captor. So long as man was content with the meager supplies of flesh he could capture from the forest, and, so long as he depended upon the uncultivated hills and valley to furnish him grains and fruits, his advancement was slow. To his lack of ability to domesticate we may ascribe the backward condition of the American Indian when discovered by the whites. He had no domestic animals, as the horse, cow or hog; his domestication of plants had been limited to corn and tobacco, while of tame fowls he had none. The Aryan race are the great domesticators of the earth. The white man has his scores of friendly animals and plants to help him in the struggle for existence. He ranges his stock and tills his fields and plants his orchards. Probably the last phase of agriculture to receive attention in this county was the growing of fruits. Many can yet remember the puny orchards that surrounded the early settler's cabin, or the chance scrubby tree that stood in the commons like a ragged vagrant asking for sustenance. Apples were apparently the first fruit cultivated and there are standing today many trees a half century old. Peaches were next, but chiefly seedling varieties, until 1875, when budded fruit began to be planted as an experiment. There are at present some extensive peach farms in Hampshire. Those of Harry Miller, near Bethel church, on Little Capon, and then controlled by a stock company, near Romney, are the most extensive. Pears, plums, cherries and quinces have all been cultivated with varying degrees of success for the last half century, but no one has planted extensively of these fruits. The soils of the county seem well adapted to the growing of nearly all fruits that can be raised in the temperate zones. A considerable development of this line of agriculture may be looked for in the future.

The West Virginia Fish Commission. — An act was passed February 20, 1877, creating this commission for the purpose of encouraging* the culture of fish and the stocking the streams of the state. The first commissioners were, Major John W. Harris of Greenbrier, Hon. Henry B. Miller of Wheeling, and Captain C. S. White of Hampshire. These were appointed June 1, 1877, for a period of four years. The commission organized July 17, 1877, by electing Major Harris president, Captain White secretary, and H. B. Miller treasurer. In the summer of 1877 Captain White purchased of Charles Harmison the Maguire Springs near Romney, and erected and equipped a hatchery at a cost of seven hundred dollars. The commission also purchased the Maguire Springs, including one-fourth acre of land for five hundred and fifty dollars. In 1879 Major Harris resigned and N. M. Lowry was appointed m his stead. H. B. Miller was then elected president. In 1880 the grounds were greatly improved. New ponds were constructed and the grounds about the hatchery enclosed by a tight seven foot fence. A house for the manager of the hatchery to use as a dwelling was built in 1885. In June of 1885, Hon. L. J. Baxter of Braxton county, was appointed commissioner, succeeding Mr. Miller. C. S. White was made president. In June of the next year M. A. Manning of Summers county, was appointed commissioner, vice N. M. Lowry, removed from the state. Mr. Manning removed from the state the next year, and Hon. James H. Miller was appointed in his stead. This year the ponds were much enlarged. In 1889 N. C. Prickett, Esq., of Jackson county, was appointed in place of J. H. Miller. In the year 1891 a new hatching house was built and equipped, an addition was made to the dwelling. The ponds were also repaired and enlarged. The following persons have been managers at the hatchery. From June, 1878, to May. 1880, Z. N. Graham; from October, 1880, to January, 1881, R. G. Ferguson; from January, 1881, to August, 1881, W. H. Maloney; from July, 1883, to February, 1886, William Montgomery; from April, 1886, to April, 1895, F. P. Barnes. Before Z. N. Graham was appointed manager, and during other intervals, when there was no manager, Commissioner White served in that capacity.

In the year 1877 and for some years thereafter it was. confidently believed by United States Commissioner Baird and all leading fish culturists that the California salmon, a fish of fine quality, could be successfully introduced into our streams, and at his request the first and most expensive efforts of the West Virginia commission were made by hatching and depositing in adjacent streams large numbers of this fish. This hatching was successfully accomplished by Captain White in charcoal troughs of his own design and manufacture. The salmon did well in the South branch and Potomac and went to the sea. Numbers of them were caught all the way from Romney to Washington. High hopes were entertained that this experiment would prove a success, but to the surprise of all interested in fish culture, the salmon never returned to our streams to spawn nor to any other stream entering the Atlantic ocean, although they invariably return to streams entering the Pacific. It will be interesting to give some figures showing the work done by the commission. In the years 1877-78 about 675,000 salmon, 100,000 trout, 1,200 black bass, most of them large enough to spawn, were distributed. In the years 1879-80 there were distributed 360,000 salmon, 165,000 shad, 600 carp, 2,000 gray bass and 1,400 native fish (black bass, pike, perch, jack and blue catfish), together with large numbers of mill-pond roach, as food for the bass. In 1881 and 18S2 the commission put out 18,500 land-locked salmon, 7,000 trout, 2,000 carp, 600 black bass, 125 silver perch, 25 pike perch.

The appropriations since that time ($500 a year) have been so meagre that the work of the commission has been devoted almost entirely to the raising of carp and native fish, and food fish for the bass. The streams of the state are now pretty thoroughly stocked with these fish. New river, Gauley and Greenbrier rivers, with their tributaries, have been supplied with black bass until now they contain great numbers of these fish. Many depleted trout streams have been restocked and many streams have been supplied with small food fish for the bass. In 1893 the legislature failed to make any appropriation for the commission nor have succeeding legislatures done anything. All that is now done by the commission is to care for the state houses and ponds and furnish carp as they are called for.

Farmers' Alliance. — The only organization of agricultural people in this county that has met with success is the National Farmers' Alliance and Industrial Union. In the spring of 1889 W. B. Parham was commissioned by Colonel Barbee of Virginia, to come to Hampshire county and lecture at the same time, perfecting local organizations of the Alliance. Mr. Parham accordingly labored here in the spring and summer of 1889, meeting with considerable success and bringing into life many sub-divisions of the organization. In answer to a call these local sub-divisions of the Alliance sent delegates to Romney Tuesday, July 23, 1889, at which time the county Alliance was organized. There is a store at Romney which is under the control of the Alliance. Shares are issued to members of the organization only, and a board of directors have the management of the enterprise. The present officers of the Alliance in this county are, Dr. J. W. Shull, president; David Fox, vice-president; John Breinig, secretary; Geo. M. Haines, chaplain; L. H. L. Henderson, lecturer; Joseph H. Clem, assistant lecturer.


Residence and family of Ephraim Herriott.

Photograph - residence and family of Ephraim Herriott

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