Agriculture in the Middle Colonies

SOURCE: American Husbandry (London, 1775), 1, 98-103; reprinted in Ernest Ludlow Bogart and Charles Manfred Thompson (eds.), Readings in the Economic History of the United States (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1927), 32-4.

Wheat in many parts of the province [New York] yields a larger produce than is common in England: upon good lands about Albany, where the climate is the coldest in the country, they sow two bushels and better upon one acre, and reap from 20 to 40: the latter quantity, however, is not often had; but from 20 to 30 bushels are common, and this with such bad husbandry as would not yield the like in England, and much less in Scotland. This is owing to the richness and freshness of the soil. In other parts of the province, particularly adjoining to New Jersey and Pensylvania, the culture is better and the country more generally settled. Though there are large tracts of waste land within twenty miles of the city of New York.

Rye is a common crop upon the inferior lands, and the sort they produce is pretty good, though not equal to the rye of England. The crops of it are not so great in produce as those of wheat on the better lands.

Maize is sown generally throughout the province, and they get vast crops of it. . . . It is also of great advantage in affording a vast produce of food for cattle in the winter, which in this country is a matter of great consequence, where they are obliged to keep all their cattle housed from November till the end of March, with exception indeed of unprovident farmers, who trust some out the chief of the winter, to their great hazard.

Barley is much sown in all the southern parts of the province; and the crops they sometimes get of it are very great, but the grain is not of a quality equal to that of Europe. They make much malt and brew large quantities of beer from it at New York, which serves the home consumption, and affords some also for exportation. Pease are a common article of culture here, and thougb uncertain in their produce, yet are they reckoned very profitable; and the straw is valued as winter food. Thirty bushels per acre they consider as a large crop, but some times they get scarcely a third of that. Oats they sow in common, and the products are generally large; sixty bushels an acre have been known on land of but moderate fertility. Buckwheat is everywhere sown, and a few crops are supposed to pay the farmer better, at the same time that they find it does very little prejudice to the ground, in which it resembles pease.

Potatoes are not common in New England, but in New York many are planted; and upon the black, loose, fresh woodland they get very great crops, nor does any pay them better if so well, for at the city of New York there is a constant and ready market for them; I have been assured that from five to eight hundred bushels have been often gained on an acre.

There are many very rich meadows and pastures in all parts of the province; and upon the brooks and rivers, the watered ones (for they are well acquainted with that branch of husbandry) are mown twice and yield large crops of hay. In their marshes they get large crops also, but it is a coarse bad sort; not however to a degree, as to make cattle refuse it, on the contrary, the farmers find it of great use in the winter support of their lean cattle, young stock, and cows. . . . The fruits in this province are much superior to thosein New England; and they have some, as peaches and nectarines, which will not thrive there. Immense quantities of melons, and water melons are cultivated in the fields near New York, where they come to as great perfection as in Spain and Italy; nor can it well be conceived how much of these fruits and peaches, &c. all ranks of people eat here, and without receiving any ill consequence from the practice. This is an agreeableness far superior to any thing we have in England; andindeed, the same superiority runs through all their fruits, and several articles of the kitchen garden, which are here raised without trouble, and in profusion. Every planter and even the smallest farmers have all an orchard near their house of some acres, by means of which they command a great quantity of cyder, and export apples by ship loads to the West Indies. Nor is this an improper place to observe that the rivers in this province and the sea upon the coast are richly furnished with excellent fish; oysters and lobsters are no where in greater plenty than in New York. I am of opinion they are more plentiful than at any other place on the globe; for very many poor families have no other subsistence than oysters and bread. Nor is this the only instance of the natural plenty that distinguishes this country: the woods are full of game, and wild turkies are very plentiful; in these particulars New York much exceeds New England.