Wednesday, March 24, 2010

With the Grain

Script No, 543, January 19, 2008

© 2008 David Minor / Eagles Byte

In 1643 Jesuit priest Father Isaac Jogues traveled around Dutch New York, stopping off at New Amsterdam to pay his respects to colonial director-general Willem Kieft. During his visit several Indian raids took place, in which the Natives, “burnt many houses and barns full of wheat.” The good Father, by the way, would be martyred by the Iroquois three years later, near the Mohawk River.

Jessie Ravage, writing in the Encyclopedia of New York State, describes how, by the mid-1700s, farmlands along the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers and Scoharie Creek had become the ‘breadbasket’ of New York State. Much of the British Revolutionary War action along the latter was due to the fact that the region was a major supplier of wheat flour to the Continental army. In the years immediately following, landlords often levied their rents in the form of wheat. Gradually the northward spread of grain diseases pushed the growing areas further and further ahead, encouraging the settlement of lands to the west.

As mentioned last time, by late August of 1830, as John Fowler made his way across New York, that ‘breadbasket’ had moved into central and western New York. The construction of the Erie Canal had greatly facilitated the thrust and one of the greatest benefactors had been the canal-side village on the Genesee River. Jogues had mentioned one important use for the grain, right from the earliest Dutch settlement, which was the making of beer. That would continue on through Rochester’s development, as wheat and beer followed the plow, moving on through Buffalo and Milwaukee, until that ‘breadbasket’ would end up into the midwestern U. S.

As a student of agriculture, John Fowler showed particular interest in the wheat/flour business of Rochester, noting that the, “millers are making every effort to get their flour to New York, &c., ere the frosts commence. . . . At this, as at most of the villages I have passed along I have observed advertisements at the stores, in the public papers, and the bars of inns, offering the utmost cash price for any quantity of wheat”. He mentions the city’s eleven ‘flouring mills’ turning a total of 12,000 barrels of wheat into 2,500 bushels of flour. Every day! He goes on to mention, “various other mills and manufactories, distilleries, breweries, &c. &c., everything bespeaking the rising wealth and importance of the place.” But, as the morning moves along, he begins thinking of hitting the road again, telling his readers that frequent stages are leaving the village every day. He seems to have contracted a benevolent form of Genesee Fever – an earlier name for malaria – and has decided to check out more of the valley, planning to catch a stage upriver to visit Geneseo.

As he gathers his baggage we’ll take a moment to take a look at a wheat-related story appearing this year in the Rochester Republican. “Boring for Wheat – This is certainly an age of wonders. We have frequently heard of boring for water; but never till recently of boring for wheat. — Two persons (father and son,) lately succeeded in obtaining two barrels of wheat by boring with a common auger through the floor of Mr. Hill’s granary, [in] Parma, — it being elevated a little above the earth. They are now reaping the reward of their ingenuity in the county jail at Rochester.”

1 comment:

VassarGirl said...

Boring for wheat? Wonder about boring for natural gas...somethings never change, do they?