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Friday, September 12, 2014

To the Farmers' Register- 1834

I find the 4th and 5th paragraphs, with the correspondent's candid observations about slavery, to be most interesting. 1834 was three years after Nat Turner's Rebellion and some two years after the great slavery debate in the General Assembly of 1831-32.

The Farmers' Register was the publication of Edmund Ruffin.

      To the Editor or the Farmers' Register.
New Kent December 14TH, 1833.

A few days ago the "Farmer's Register," Vol. 1st; No 7th, fell into my hands, being the first No. I had ever seen: although the publication itself is highly spoken of by the best practical farmers in this and the adjoining counties, yet, the Register is not so widely diffused as (I believe,) it ought to be. It should be in every man's house, there to be read and studied, and such improvements as are therein recommended, should be put in immediate practice.
I very much regret, that when you were James City county, at Mr. Archer Hankins', did not come into New Kent, before you returned home. New Kent abounds in what is generally termed marl and your very presence on that score alone, would have roused numbers of us from that supine, lethargic state, into which we have unhappily fallen in regard to the improvement of farms. Man is an imitative animal; and because father and grandfather never raised manure any sort- never used any other plough except trowel-hoe passing through a pole like a cart tongue- the son, nor the son's son will not do otherwise. It is recorded, that a certain race of men formerly made their beasts of burden draw by their tails; and it required the force of the bayonet to make them alter their mode of gearing, &c. so strong is education.
The different marls beds that I have examined are mostly exceedingly rich. The one owned by Mr. A.W. Hockaday, is imbedded in a red sand, with some red clay between that and the marl. The shells are all entire, and of one kind only, the clamshell: the very same species of animal that may be now taken in a abundance at York Town. The bed owned by Mr. A. Mitchell is, in my opinion, by far the richer of the two, and is composed of shell, chiefly of cockle shells, with here and there an oyster shell. In this bank about four feet from the surface, I discovered a rib-bone, petrified, that must have belonged to some enormous animal; the kind can now no where be seen. It must have belonged to the mammoth, if the Indians are right in their notions of the existence of such an animal formerly. This rib was six feet long, nearly three inches broad, and two thick, and this appeared to be but a part of what it was originally. Mr. Mitchell's marl is surrounded, (except at the bottom) by a red, dark, soapy clay: in the centre of the marl may be seen a stratum of marl so calcined, or so pulverized, as to resemble cheese in the cutting; and at what I term the bottom of the marl, is a stratum greatly resembling ready made mortar for plastering, except that it is not so wet. Under this is a stratum of marl petrified, from one to four inches in thickness, rough and uneven. This last we throw aside as useless; although if burnt, I believe it would make good rock lime. The best marl I have ever seen is owned by Mr. Archer Williams of this county; and I speak advisedly, when I say that he owns a sufficient quantity to cover every foot of level cleared land in New Kent, one half inch in depth. If analyzed, I believe there would be found ninety parts of pure lime to the one hundred, with perhaps some magnesia To the credit of Mr. W., I speak it, that: he freely gives to all persons what they may choose to haul away.
One insuperable barrier, there is, however to improvement in Virginia; one that I fear, will remain till "tongues shall cease, and knowledge shall vanish away"- to be plain, I mean slavery. It has tainted our morals, manners and language- corrupted us in a thousand ways, and yet we cling to the accursed thing, and hold it dearer than life itself! Slaves are not intrinsically worth more than half what they were some twenty years ago. They are by far less governable, tractable and obedient- will do only what they choose, and when they choose. They are daily more insolent, thievish and lazy, and if punished they may abscond, and be protected in Philadelphia or New York- or possibly remain to do worse.
I verily believe, not one farmer in ten, clears one per cent on the cost and charges of his slaves. The owners barely can breathe, and not unfrequently are compelled to sell one or more every year to square their accounts. But like the Jew of Bristol, who lost seven teeth by order of the King of England, and was to lose one per day, till he paid or advanced the needy king 10,000 marks, these same men had much rather sell their teeth, than their slaves. Unhappy inglorious state of things.
I pray you, sir, recommend in strong terms, that an agricultural society be formed in every county of the state. New York is seventy-five years a head of us in agriculture. The Flemings one hundred and fifty years. The British one hundred. New York has an agricultural society in every county, and the great benefits arising therefrom are seen and felt to an astonishing degree.     
Our lands for the most part are sandy, and any information in regard to the improvement of this kind of soil, will be of great benefit to most persons from the head of tide water to the Atlantic?
Query.- If we were to sow oats, and roll them when ripe, and marl on them, would it not be a more speedy and cheaper way of improving than hauling leaves, &c. from the woods?
Query.- Is there no grass that we could profitably sow, to take the place of hog weeds and carrot weeds, with which our fields that lie fallow, abound?
Query.- How is wire grass to be destroyed?
Query.- If every citizen were compelled by law to keep his own stock on his own farm, and not permit them to roam at pleasure on every man's land, for a scanty subsistence, would it not be better for one and all? Would it not be a saving of limber for ship building, house building, &c. a great saving of labor and time,(it requires three years in every ten,) in making dead fences?
If these desultory remarks are worthy of your attention it is well- otherwise it is well. If they appear in the Register for January, perhaps some of your correspondents may furnish some information to satisfy the querist.

                Yours with respect,  W.X.Z.

- The Farmers' Register, February, 1834
Vol. I, No. 9

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