Victorian American farm hand

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wolram

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Any insight as to how they lived, what they owned, ate, housing.
 

mgb_phys

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Assuming you can have a Victorian American - something like the Amish?
 

wolram

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Assuming you can have a Victorian American - something like the Amish?
Victorian was probably wrong, i was just looking to compare the English farm labourer c1850 with some equivalent in America.
 

mgb_phys

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I was just looking to compare the English farm labourer c1850 with some equivalent in America.
Before 1850 - not very different, most of the farmers would be in New England with small farms very similar to those in England. It was only much later with railroads and machinery that most farmers moved out to the midwest.

After 1850 when the corn laws were repealed, English agriculture got very business-like, a big boost in output a lot of mergers into bigger farms and the railways let them ship a lot of produce to the cities. I don't think the same boom occurred in America until much later.
 

turbo

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As for farm laborers, their situations could vary widely. If you did not own the farm, implements, etc, but had other skills, you might be housed and boarded on the farm, even in the off-season. If your skills included repairing horse-drawn equipment, you might have a some tools appropriate to that, including saws, draw-shaves, augers, chisels, sharpening equipment, etc. If you lived in an area with lots of farms, you might set up shop in a trade or two and work piecemeal for any farmer that needed you, but farm-hands were sometimes jacks of all trades that stayed with a larger successful farm year-round. In this climate, even in the off-season, hands were needed to cut firewood, tend cattle and horses, cut ice for summer storage of perishables, etc.

As a kid in the 60's, I idolized a crusty old carpenter who lived across the street from us. His one concession to electricity (apart from in the house) was a single light-fixture over his work-bench. He had NO power tools at all. If a farmer needed to have an old hay-wagon repaired (and some here still farmed in part with horses) he was the guy they called on. One day, a fellow showed up and said "Tim, I need a new sled" (he yarded out firewood and pulpwood with horses). Tim said ""got your irons?" and the guy reached into the bed of his truck and pulled out the metal fixtures from his old sled. Over the next week, I watched a new sled emerge. First stop was a hill-side wood-lot where Tim selected trees that had grown out of the hillside and arched upward, giving the grain near the stump a nice continuous curvature suited for the turned-up fronts of the sled runners. He cut and peeled those, and while those were drying, he build the body, attached the irons for the stake-pockets, made the runner frames and pivots, and finally shaped the runners and attached the irons to the runners fore and aft. For those who haven't seen an old time logging sled, the runner assemblies in the front and back both pivot and they are cross-connected by chains that run through heavy iron eyes under the center of the bed. When the front runners turn toward the left, the cross-chains make the rear runners turn right, and vice-versa, making these tough old sleds very maneuverable, even if they are built with long bodies (to haul saw-logs). You could have thrown that old fellow back in time 100 years and he would have fit right in.
 
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wolram

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Before 1850 - not very different, most of the farmers would be in New England with small farms very similar to those in England. It was only much later with railroads and machinery that most farmers moved out to the midwest.

After 1850 when the corn laws were repealed, English agriculture got very business-like, a big boost in output a lot of mergers into bigger farms and the railways let them ship a lot of produce to the cities. I don't think the same boom occurred in America until much later.
I have a book, the English rural labourer from Tudor to Victorian times printed in 1949, it paints a grim picture, the landed people were acquiring wealth but the labourer was not any better off, not much on its own but with the other books i have it seems to me that the poor farm labourer persisted until the 20th century.
 

wolram

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Nice one Turbo, do you know of any personal accounts surviving from the 1850s?

Thanks mgb.
 

mgb_phys

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I have a book, the English rural labourer from Tudor to Victorian times printed in 1949, it paints a grim picture,
Upto the tudors it was pretty medieval, crop rotation, common land shared fields and subsistence, then the enclosures created larger farms, landowner farmers and a lot more produce grown for sale in markets. This wasn't all bad, the total amount of food grown doubled.
Then with the end of the corn laws the same thing happened again.

But it was pretty bad - ever wondered why those people living in an idealic rural landscape were in such a hurry to move to the dark satanic mills!
 

turbo

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Nice one Turbo, do you know of any personal accounts surviving from the 1850s?
Not really. Thoreau's book "Walden" was an autobiographical account of simple living and self-sufficiency, and he went into painstaking detail on the cost of his tools and supplies, and the materials needed to build and improve his little cabin. I enjoyed that book greatly. It's right in the 1850 time-frame, so that part fits. Thoreau wasn't really running a farm, but in addition to other vegetables, he raised a couple of acres of beans for market. When you're tilling and hoeing by hand, 2+ acres is a lot of work. The good thing about beans is that if you let them dry on the vine, then strip the beans out of the pods, you have a good staple food that stores well, and would sell in markets all winter and spring, etc until the next harvest.
 

wolram

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Upto the tudors it was pretty medieval, crop rotation, common land shared fields and subsistence, then the enclosures created larger farms, landowner farmers and a lot more produce grown for sale in markets. This wasn't all bad, the total amount of food grown doubled.
Then with the end of the corn laws the same thing happened again.

But it was pretty bad - ever wondered why those people living in an idealic rural landscape were in such a hurry to move to the dark satanic mills!
For sure i do, but the opening of a cement quarry and the digging of a railway cutting blur the picture locally, it seems to me the ag lab generation just died rather than upsticked and moved, leaving industry to descendants.
 

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