Thursday, September 10, 2009

Country Matters

© 2007 David Minor / Eagles Byte

I’m not sure about the amount of boisterous excitement aroused by education conferences these days. Back in 1830 it was apparently low down on the scale. According to an Ithaca newspaper account of the October 28th Utica meeting - “It does not appear to have been as generally attended as its important objects would render desirable. Some desultory discussions took place, on the subject of education; which resulted in the adoption of . . . resolutions.” Whooo-eee ! ! !

We’ve seen, of course, some of the difficulties John Fowler has been encountering in upstate New York travel during these times. It couldn’t have been terribly easy for many interested parties to attend. Still, organizers were not about to give up. Another Utica convention was announced for January 12th of the following year.

“ . . . the friends of education and teachers of schools in the different counties of this state, are requested to send delegates.” It had also been resolved that each county in the state send delegates equal to the number of county representatives in the state legislature. The Ithaca writer therefore requested that all county “friends of education” meet in mid-December to select a slate of delegates to attend a January meeting.

And with that Utica update we’ll move on to the west. John Fowler, you may remember, has been visiting friends, former English countrymen, at New Hartford, four miles to the south having traveled there on August 15th by coach. “I was happily at the end of my journey ere I had time to becomes sensitive to injuries, grievous enough by repetition.” One of the main items on his agenda for this side trip is to survey the state of agriculture in the area. We’ll take a brief look at some of his findings.

The Utica area, for instance, has some of the best soil around and its various transportation facilities make it an important market hub for farm produce. Most of the land, some of it woodlots, usually owned outright, currently fetches from 25 to 50 dollars an acre. The primary crops (Fowler gives average yields, both in bushels and dollars; we’ll skip those) are wheat, barley, corn (being English he refers to it as Indian corn), and hay. Hops, turnips and apples produce iffy financial returns. Livestock are well-adopted to the countyside. Unlike Fowler’s English home, no heavy cart horses are found, only smaller breeds, which he calls stagers. “ . . . the cows are small, but good milkers; the oxen grow large, weighing sometimes 1500 lbs. It is quite customary to sell fat stock by its weight when alive.” Tilling is performed about equally by horses and oxen. Most hired manual labor is performed by year-round help, who earn from 5 to 12 dollars a month.

When he compares agriculture here with his own country’s he notes one deficiency. “Manure, in this part of the State, is not made a sufficient object of; oftentimes altogether neglected; but the farmers ere long will learn its value, if I mistake not.” He concludes, “I might add further, but these observations, very loosely thrown together, will probably suffice the generality of readers.” Probably so.

On Monday, August 23rd, he climbs aboard a Telegraph Stage and bounces off for Cayuga County.

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