Historic Resource Study
Slateford Farm
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Early Pennsylvania was, in many respects, the prototype of North American development. Its style of life presaged the mainstream of nineteenth-century America; its conservative defense of liberal individualism, its population of mixed national and religious origins, its dispersed farms, county seats, and farm-service villages, and its mixed crop and livestock agriculture served as models for much of the rural Middle West. [1]

James T. Lemon's assessment of Pennsylvania agriculture's importance and influence can serve as the general context within which to place Slateford Farm's history. The farm's buildings and land existed as the central focus in several farming families' lives for nearly 200 years. The Piphers and Morrises and the various tenant farmers all possess individual histories connected to the farm, and these histories were explored in the second chapter of this text. The Slateford Farm's importance, however, also fits into the more general context of agricultural history. This chapter is a wider view of the farm. It is an examination of both German agricultural characteristics, since the Piphers may have been of German heritage and since German farming characteristics were so different from other ethnic groups, and the history of Pennsylvania agricultural development and change. (See illustration 13 for German distribution.) Not only does Slateford Farm possess historical importance in a strict personal, local and regional sense, but because of Lemon's assessment of Pennsylvania agriculture, the farm serves as a prototype for general American agricultural development.

German Farming Characteristics

The agricultural history of the state of Pennsylvania provides one of the finest examples of the significance of cultural considerations in farming enterprises. No other colony recieved so large a representation of different European ethnic groups as Pennsylvania. No other colony witnessed such unlike attacks upon the frontier or such unlike techniques of farming and making a living. While the various ethnic groups made rather drastic adjustments in their agricultural, social and economic life in becoming Americans cultural differences persisted and are discernable to this day. [2]

Walter M. Kollmorgen's assessment of Pennyslvania's ethnic and farming heritage can serve as a useful introduction to a general description of Germans and their farming techniques. The Germans and German-Swiss who came to Pennsylvania immigrated for the most part from the middle and upper Rhineland area of Europe, which was, by 1871, included within the national boundaries of Germany. They were almost all Protestant, predominantly Lutheran, with other sectarian groups included such as Amish, Dunkers, Mennonites, Moravians and Schwenkfelders. As these people arrived in America they brought their cultural attitudes and practices with them. Deeply held folkways were passed on from generation to generation, and even though these beliefs and practices were modified by life in America, they remained, especially in rural areas, as long as the ethnic group retained its integrity. When we look at Northampton County Germans, and the Piphers in particular, we need to consider not only the tools they used or the houses they built, but their "ideals, motives, and objectives" as well. [3]

Religion was a central focus in German lives. Active practice of religious belief aided in the formation of German character; "it would make for stability, sobriety, and industry." [4] Work was considered a part of a religious life. According to Leo A. Bressler, "A wise Creator had constructed the earth so that it would supply the wants of all men by their labor." [5]

Another consideration is that most of the German immigrants, one-third of Pennsylvania's population by 1775, had been peasant farmers and had practiced intensive farming and animal husbandry just to survive on their small holdings in the Old Country. Ancestors of the immigrants had worked the same soil for generations and "had acquired reputations as husbandmen second to none in Europe." [6] New World Germans thus possessed a farming heritage consisting of "hard labor for a bare existence," limited wants and simple tastes. [7]

Germans also tended to accumulate land which they handed down to the next generation. They settled permanently, viewed the farms as "legacies," and were thus prone to improve their property and conserve the soil. A comparison of German and Scotch-Irish farmers illustrates this characteristic. Pennsylvania's better limestone lands were first settled by the Scotch-Irish "frontier blazers" in the colonial period. The Scotch-Irish, however, moved from one area to another and gave up their lands to the Germans who entrenched themselves. The English-speaking inhabitants were almost completely displaced by the Germans, and this is especially true in Northampton County on the limestone lands, or "the barrens." The predominance of Germans on good land in Southeastern Pennsylvania is not because they got there first, but because they displaced the original settlers. Furthermore, the Scotch-Irish were noted for "indolence and unsystematic farming" while the Germans were characterized as possessing perseverance and industry. [8]

The farms of southeastern Pennsylvania were moderately large compared to those of northern farmers. According to Leo A. Bressler, German farm size ranged between l50 and 200 acres, about half of which was cleared. Most farmers cultivated plots smaller than 100 acres, but farms could be found of 300-600 acres. Walter M. Kollmorgen wrote that during the frontier and post-frontier period the farms averaged 100-300 acres. It was considered essential to have acreage in woodland and woodland pasture, and acreage in fallow. Kollmorgen asserted that German land holdings remained small and Bressler supported this generalization: "Lack of efficient tools, transportation difficulties, scarcity of markets, and the problem of securing labor placed a definite limit upon the number of acres that could be utilized." [9] Samuel Pipher's 391-1/4-acre farm in 1790, then, was larger than average in that time period.

The Pennsylvania Germans thus acquired reputations of industry and frugality which were discernable in their agricultural practices. At conservative attitude went hand-in-hand with traditional agriculture as can be seen in Eli Bowen's description of German farmers in 1852:

Farming is, in fact, throughout Pennsylvania, little less than systematic labor—well organized, it is true; but still only a monotonous routine of physical toil, too seldom relieved by mental exercise of enjoyment. This is unfortunate. It is the result of old established prejudices, deeply-rooted in our German population, who, resisting every modern innovation, hold fast to the time-honored principles, precepts and examples of their forefathers, and regard it as a moral and social duty to 'follow in their footsteps.' They, therefore, plough, plant, and reap, pretty much in the old way, without deviating to the right or left, but by industry, frugality, and close attention to their affairs, generally gather a competency, which is finally distributed amongst their children, who in turn travel over the same beaten track of agricultural life. [10]

It would be false to believe, however, that the Germans failed to adopt modern agricultural methods which developed. Henry Glassie believed "The conservatism of the Mid-Atlantic farmer was tempered by success. Only where it continued to be practical did his material remain traditional." [11] Frugality and hard work still characterize German farmers but they have embraced the changes brought by the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. "He [the Mid-Atlantic farmer] has retained those aspects of his folk culture which do not block his progress, so that until World War I the buildings he planned were still traditional and today he is apt to hold beliefs about planting and treat the weather proverbially, but his tools and buildings are now as modern as those of the northern farmer." [12]

When Pennsylvania was first settled by Europeans, more than 98 percent of its land was covered by forest. German farmers cleared "Penn's Woods" in a manner different from the British. They did not girdle or belt the trees and wait for their death, rather, the Germans cut the trees down and burned them. Then they cleared the underbrush and pulled the stumps; actions which prepared a field for use by the next year. [13]

The Germans were further distinguished from their neighbors by the care they provided their livestock. Barns and stables sheltered cows, horses, sheep and hogs. Animals were not allowed to roam freely or to forage. Large trees were sometimes retained in pastures to provide shade for animals and by the 1770s fields were being fenced to keep stock from wandering. Oxen were used as draft animals, sheep provided wool for home spinning, hogs supplied meat for both home and market consumption, and milk cows were the source of milk and cheese. Poultry, of course, supplied families with eggs. [14]

Manure was an added benefit of owning livestock because it was used to fertilize land. Because the Germans kept their animals penned they could collect the manure for spreading. Prior to the Revolution the only artificial fertilizer the German farmers used was lime, even though its use was not widespread until after 1800. Gypsum was used as early as the 1770s, but it was imported from Europe and was expensive. Its use was not extensive until after 1800. German farmers were not quick to use any fertilizers other than manure, but they were at least aware of fertilizers' benefits, and even more so than other farmers. [15]

An early remedy for worn-out soil was crop rotation. Pennsylvania German farmers used natural grasses and meadows to restore soil fertility before the Revolutionary War period and cultivated grasses and clovers thereafter. Lancaster County's German-Swiss Mennonites were particularly known for their grasses grown on irrigated meadows. Within a few years soil-building crops such as red clover and timothy were used in a rotation program. Various systems of rotating crops were used before clover was extensively grown, but the general plan involved three or four-year rotation programs. No uniform practice was common to all Germans, and they depended largely on fallowing, but they tended not to be guilty of growing the same crop yearly until the soil was worn out. The four-year rotation program, still popular in southeastern Pennsylvania, in the 1940s, has been used since 1800. It involves growing corn, oats, wheat and hay (clover and timothy mixed). Near Allentown, Pennsylvania, in Lehigh County, a four-year program consisted of wheat, oats or corn or buckwheat, clover, and clover and plowing to sow. The practice of rotating crops became generally adopted by 1820. [16]

Stevenson W. Fletcher aptly described the intricacies of crop rotation:

The farm practice which transformed Pennsylvania agriculture most of all was the adoption of soil-conserving rotations. This was made possible by the free use of gypsum and lime. These, in turn, made it possible to grow red clover on upland fields, in rotation with grains, instead of only in irrigated meadows. Finally, the production of more clover and grass made it possible for farmers to keep more livestock and have more manure to apply to the land. Thus was forged the golden chain of a permanent agriculture, the links of which are crop rotations, lime, clover and grass, livestock and manure with supplemental fertilizer. [17]

The Pennsylvania Germans not only rotated crops but raised a wide variety of them. They did not rely on a single crop but raised corn, rye, barley, oats, buckwheat and wheat, which became the main cash crops. Meadows were irrigated and orchards and gardens were carefully cultivated. Remnants of a lime kiln on Slateford Farm are evidence that the farmland was fertilized and cared for—most likely by the Piphers and later owners.

During the colonial period wheat was the most common and profitable crop. Pennsylvania wheat fed the armies of the Revolutionary War and the title "granary of the colonies" lasted until supplanted by states farther west. At this time wheat was produced by age-old methods: the grain was cut with sickles, hand bound into sheaves and cured in barns. Flails were used for threshing. Farmers and their families removed the chaff by throwing the grain into the air, but horses were used by the end of the Revolutionary War to trample out the grain. Despite this slow method of production flour was a principal export. Pennsylvania Germans commonly produced between 20 and 30 bushels to the acre. [18]

Practically every German farm had an orchard. Apple and peach orchards were most common, but cherries and pears were also grown. The number of trees ranged from 100-600 trees. The fruit was dried; cider, vinegar and distilled brandy produced; and surpluses marketed. Grapes were grown but attempts to make wine were not totally successful. Samuel Pipher's 1812 will mentions apple trees being on his farm property.

Gardens were also found on nearly every German farm. Vegetables fed not only farming families but also inhabitants of the nearby cities through truck farming. Quite a variety of produce was grown: beets, parsnips, onions, parsley, beans, red peppers, lettuce, pumpkins, squash, potatoes, turnips, cabbages, tomatoes, sweet corn, celery, egg plant, spinach, melons, radishes, peas, carrots, cucumbers, cauliflower and asparagus. Women usually tended the gardens.

Flax was widely grown as it was used in the home manufacturing of clothing. Farm women operated looms and spinning wheels to produce cloth for their family's use. The labor intensive processing of flax was later supplanted by the cheaper manufacturing of cotton cloth. Women also produced wool and linen textile materials in their homes. [19]

Farm animals were well cared for by German farmers. Unlike other colonists, the Germans built large, well-constructed barns to shelter their animals. Horses and cows were fed well to produce more labor and more milk than those animals not provided for as well. Oxen were used as draft animals, milk cows provided cheese and milk, and surplus animals were slaughtered on the farm for meat. German farmers also kept hogs, poultry and sheep.

Thrifty and hard-working are only two of the many adjectives used to describe the Pennsylvania Germans as they conducted their lives on their farms. All of the care shown animals and crops stemmed from their belief in "agriculture as a way of life as well as a way to make a living." German families worked together on the farms as closely knit economic units. Wives contributed in both the house and in the fields at harvest. Women also cared for the chickens and cows, and took charge of processing the milk products. Children were put to work so they would not become "lazy," which in the German tradition was sinful, and children were often not sent to school for fear of idleness. Any wages earned by children were turned over to parents and often saved or invested in land. [20]

It is apparent that despite the generally held view that colonial agriculture in the eighteenth century was poor, the Pennsylvania Germans proved to be exceptions. Their agricultural practices were superior to those of their neighbors in terms of animal care, crop-rotation, crop-diversity, and use of fertilizers and irrigation.

German farms were noted even in their own day as being more efficient and more productive than those tilled by other ethnic groups. The Piphers, throughout their 78 years of ownership of their farm, probably practiced some, if not all, of these progressive farming techniques. Even though noted for their conservatism, these farming families adopted farming practices which brought them prosperity. The Piphers were probably no exception.

Farm Building Characteristics

When Samuel Pipher bought 391-1/4 acres of farmland from the Morrises in 1790 he may have acquired a house, outhouses, a barn, a garden or an orchard. Because no further information is known concerning the said "Plantation and Tract of Land" in the deed, [21] including possible construction and location details, it is necessary to examine different farm building characteristics. Structures which may have existed on the property might have been built by either Amos Strettell or the Morrises or employees in their hire, and could have been of early English style as opposed to the vernacular Pipher-era farmhouse which does not display any strong ethnic influences in its construction. Knowing general characteristics of English farm structures will provide clues as to the appearance of the buildings which may have stood on the property when Samuel Pipher made his purchase. By inference, knowledge can be gained of other structures of possible German construction which may have been built during Pipher ownership and have subsequently disappeared, such as the barn and granary referred to in the 1868 deed of sale.

In a 1966 report on the study of the cultural backgrounds of Pennsylvanian homesteads, Robert C. Bucher identified basic elements of various cultures and distinguished different types of homesteads:

The Holland Dutch and English farms have bottom barns (i.e., those not built against banks), and the Welsh and English houses have stone chimneys. The better to distinguish between those houses originating in the British Isles and the Continental European houses the observer may note the location of the front doors. In the former type of house the door is in the center hall thereby denoting the style of the English manor-house. On the other hand, the door of the Central European house is always off-center, near one end of the house, and leads directly into the kitchen. This latter type of dwelling is of peasant origin and is associated with the typical three-room first floor plan notable of the more humble European houses; i.e., kitchen, living room and downstairs sleeping room (called in German the kiche, stube and kammer.) [22]

Bucher also stated that the "original European and the early Pennsylvania-Dutch houses had a central fireplace, built slightly off-center and facing into the kitchen." The English and Welsh houses were built with gable fireplaces with a chimney at each gable end. Some of the Continental European stone houses, however, were discovered to have gable fireplaces.

Common features of eastern Pennsylvania's colonial farmsteads included the site of the dwelling being located near a spring; a road separating the house from the barn; the garden being located at the front or rear doors; and the orchard, generally containing apple trees, being planted on a slope near the buildings. A pig sty was generally between the house and barn, a stone wall ran in front of the main house, and the house's living room was oriented toward the sun. Barns were located so that barnyard drainage would flow into, and fertilize, meadows. [23]

Walter M. Kollmorgen also stated that German houses were distinguishable from the English by the central chimney. Non-Germans usually built chimneys at each end of their home's roofs. Heating stoves were introduced into the colonies by the Germans. Stoves were more efficient than fireplaces, used less wood, and according to a contemporary observer, a German family could perform more work because their homes were more comfortably heated. [24]

Samuel Pipher might have built a barn on the property before his death in 1812. It is not known if the old barn, situated to the south of the main house is a Strettell-Morris structure or if it was built by the Piphers. Regardless, barns were very significant structures and were often built of brick and stone in the middle colonies. John K. Heyl asserted that the "functional simple barn structure dominated each farm compound and overshadowed all the other structures, including the homestead." [25] Eighteenth and nineteenth century barns were built in direct response to farmers needs. In Pennsylvania, "the combination of ledge or fieldstone, quarried, dressed and laid-up in lime mortar with wood framing of hardwood timber, felled, trimmed and joined produced the remarkable structure which was to become a keynote for two hundred years of the American farm community." [26] A barn not only provided storage for hay and straw, but was a granary and stable space for farm animals.

At the end of the eighteenth century log barns were more numerous than any other type of barn. They existed in every form

. . . from the level structure to those on two slightly different levels, to the 'Sweitzer' barn with its great forebay. The log barns show in their fabric also every type of worked log from the simple felled tree to the wall of logs dressed only on two sides, to the wall carefully joined and filled with stone and strawed lime-mortar, to the four-sided dressed timber, mortised into a vertical corner post with face of member against member, making a solid barrier. . . . Since these log barns were often the oldest farm structures in the compound, and since they were usually superseded by a larger stone barn, they tended to be relegated to secondary uses and neglected. The ultimately perishable nature of wood of which they are constructed also accounts for their progressive disappearance. Early log buildings often served at first for the housing of both man and beast—a practice still common in dairy-farm areas of Germany and the Netherlands. [27]

Unlike the Quakers or Welsh who built towns along Pennsylvania's surveyed roads, John K. Heyl stated the Germans followed and settled along Indian trails near neighboring Germans. The oldest forms of barns could be found along these trails on the limestone hills and ridges, and along the trails which entered the river gaps or "tats." These log barns were also usually built on an irregular site, were multi-level, and were numerous in areas where the Pennsylvania Germans predominated. [28]

The cantilever or overhanging forebay type of barns are related to medieval structures in the "uplands of the Rhenish Palatinate and the shoulder borderland of the Alpine heights of Europe." A heavy, expertly trimmed, fitted and pegged timber skeleton provided support and determined the barn's shape, whether it was made of timber and boarding or of quarried stone and mortar. These barns were of two types; "the 'Sweitzer' or Swiss barn with its extending, cantilevered vorbau or forebay and the barn with the flanking gable walls which greatly strengthen the outer corners of such an overhanging structure." [29] The 'Sweitzer' barn was widely distributed in the mid-eighteenth century and examples, at least in the mid-1950s, could still be found "from Northampton County against the Delaware River" to the Maryland border. [30] Eventually the 'Sweitzer' barns were adopted by English and Scotch-Irish settlers and became common features on Pennsylvania farms. [31]

Another important feature on Pennsylvania farms was the springhouse. Springs supplied cool water and in many instances determined the location of other farm buildings. The springhouse was often built over the spring or nearby. These structures served several purposes: milk, cream, butter, cheese and meat were stored in them as well as fruits and vegetables.

It was usually dark inside the springhouse as there were few or no windows. A wooden or stone shelf generally extended around several of a room's sides, and benches provided workspace. Early structures had roofs of red tiles but more common roofing materials included shingles and slate. Trees next to the springhouse provided shade. [32] Peter Pipher's springhouse fits this general description.

Just as important to farming families were fences, which served to keep livestock penned and prevented crop destruction. It is not known how much, if any, fencing existed on the farm property when Samuel Pipher purchased it from the Morrises, although his grandson Samuel stockpiled posts and split rails on the farm in 1868. First settlers devoted their time to clearing land producing food and constructing shelter. Building fences was not a priority task. By the time of the Revolution, however, German farmers were building them to protect both animals and crops. [33]

Brush fences served temporary purposes as did felled timber and stump fences. Other more permanent fences included log, stone pile and stone wall. The materials for the fences came from the land, which had to be cleared before it could be cultivated. The stone wall fences were set up without mortar, needed little or no maintenance and were durable. Stone pile fences, most likely built by the Piphers, still stand on Slateford Farm.

Another early fence was the stake and rider or zig-zag fence. Although not much time was needed to erect this type of fence, a lot of wood was required. A similar fence, but located closer to the ground and built with thinner wood, was the worm or snake fence. Variations of these types could be found in different regions of Pennsylvania. These fences were almost completely replaced in the nineteenth century by post and rail fences, which required more time and labor to build but used less space and timber. Holes had to be dug, the posts placed in line, and the rails fitted—all of which required hard labor. Fences made of chestnut, cedar and locust were the most durable. [34]

Fences which enclosed houses and gardens, as opposed to fields, were the pale, picket or clapboard fences. The pickets were usually sawn at a sawmill and were nailed to rails attached to posts. These whitewashed fences were usually an attractive addition to a farmstead. [35]

Fences, barns, springhouses and farmhouses are all structures once standing or still extant on the Slateford Farm property. It is not known how many fences, outbuildings or even houses were built on the farm, only to disappear during the land's nearly 200-year history of human inhabitation. Descriptions of general house, barn and fence types common to different ethnic groups in eighteenth and nineteenth century Pennsylvania are the only sources available at this point which provide information on the structures. Comparative data from Hubert G. Schmidt's agricultural history of Hunterdon, New Jersey, and James T. Lemon's study of the agricultural practices of national groups in eighteenth century southeastern Pennsylvania (primarily Lancaster and Chester counties) can also be used to gain an understanding of the general pattern of farming and styles of farm structures which may be applicable to Northampton County. [36] Until further knowledge is gained of Amos Strettell's and the Morrises' activities, and of the Piphers' early years on the farm, general data on farming techniques and farm structures styles will have to suffice. The Peter Pipher house is not characterized by any strong ethnic influences and is, therefore, of a general 1830s-1840s vernacular type common along the Delaware River. Thus, it is not known how much effect ethnicity of either the Morrises or the Piphers might have had on the appearance of the farm.

Agricultural Development—18th to 20th Centuries

Slateford Farm's history fits into a larger context of county, state, and by inference, national agricultural history. Tracing the development of agricultural change on these expanded levels reveals trends which may have affected the Morrises, Piphers and various tenant farmers working the Slateford Farm. The human activity which took place at the farm is important not only in itself, but in a broader social context involving agricultural and technological changes. An examination of these trends will reveal not only their impact on agriculture as an industry, but also their impact on the lives of the people living at Slateford Farm for almost 200 years.

Pennsylvania's reputation as a bountiful agricultural region dates to the colonial period. Under the guidance of William Penn an extensive agricultural industry was set up within 10 years after the founding of the colony. A foreign market absorbed surplus products as early as 1686. This phenomenon was accompanied by the growth of an extensive and diversified agriculture which was also bound for home markets. Penn favored self-sufficiency for his colony rather than profit from foreign trade and he supported the agricultural markets and fairs held in Philadelphia and other cities. The prosperous colony attracted many immigrants and by 1700 Philadelphia's population reached 5,000. [37]

Pennsylvania remained foremost in the production of food from the early-1700s to the mid-1800s because of the region's rich land and because of good farming practices by settlers. The practice of soil-conserving rotations transformed Pennsylvania agriculture. Not only did Pennsylvania grain feed the Revolutionary armies but the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars in Europe also created demands for food at high prices from 1790 to 1810. Pennsylvania's supremacy in grain production continued until the settlement of the Middle West. [38]

During the 1820s eastern Pennsylvania suffered low yields because of Hessian fly damage and soil depletion, but better soil management and the introduction of Mediterranean wheat improved crops. The southeast Pennsylvania limestone district was a prime wheat producing region and the state as a whole was the second largest wheat producer in 1829. By 1840 the leading wheat-growing region in the North was western New York, western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. In 1839 Ohio ranked first in bushels of wheat grown but Pennsylvania took first place in 1849. [39]

Agricultural history in Pennsylvania changed rapidly after the mid-1800s because of several national occurences and trends. "The Civil War, closely followed by the opening of vast farming areas in the West, and the development of rail transportation to eastern markets provided an acid test for the agriculture in this Commonwealth," wrote George Fiske Johnson. [40] Pennsylvania farmers had to adapt to changing markets, changing transportation systems and farming technology, and new competition from western lands.

Agriculture in the state was transformed from being a self-sufficient way of life to commercial and capitalistic industry. Before 1840 crops and animals were raised to feed farming families and the surplus was sold. With the exception of only a few products, farmers could raise or make everything their families needed. After 1840 this situation changed.

The exceptional increase in population was a major factor in the change because it spurred the development of town and city markets. Farmers began producing crops primarily to sell to these markets and they in turn became consumers. Power machinery further revolutionized farming as it eliminated much of the hard manual labor. Specialization accompanied the change to commercial farming. The general move to smaller, yet more efficient farms was also a trend. The substitution of mechanization for horse and human power and rural electrification helped transform American farmers into the producers of food for the world. Mechanization began after the turn of the twentieth century. [41]

One response of Pennsylvania farmers to western competition in grains was a change of emphasis toward dairying. The industry changed between the mid- to late-1800s from one carried on by women for home consumption to an organized commercial industry. Butter and cheese were the primary products sold in 1840 but 35 years later these products were manufactured in factories rather than on farms. After 1900 milk became the primary dairy product sold on the market. Several scientific discoveries enabled the dairy industry to develop, including the invention of the vacuum condenser in 1856, the advent of pasturization in 1860-1864, the use of silos starting about 1875, the invention of the milk separator in 1879, and the discovery of a cheap and efficient method of determining milk's butter-fat content in 1892. Additionally, after the mid-nineteenth century more research was devoted to the development of pure bred dairy stock. [42] Mechanical milkers came into general use after electric power was made available on farms. Such a technological advancement relieved farm women of much hard work and aided in the development of the dairy industry. Milkers were not the only innovation which changed Pennsylvania agriculture.

Very few improvements were made in farm implements until the end of the eighteenth century. Implements were usually handmade with the iron parts supplied by local blacksmiths. [43] Agricultural machinery improved after 1800 with the more effective design of plows and harrows. Improvements in plow design and the substitution of iron and then steel for wooden parts created less weight, less friction and easier handling. At first these new plows were opposed out of fear that iron poisoned soil and promoted weed growth. Another reason for the opposition was the cost of replacing the entire plow when the share was dulled or broken. Between 1814 and 1819 Jethro Wood of Scipio, New York, received patents for improvements to the moldboard which lessened its resistance. Wood's plow was cast in interlocking pieces which were fastened by lugs, instead of being in one piece. Increases in the amount of wear a share could endure and the invention of a plow with a reversible moldboard and share which could be thrown from side to side helped farmers change their minds about using the improved plows. Within a short time eastern farmers were using cast-iron plows, and after 1837 western farmers were using John Deere's steel plows. By 1860 Pennsylvania farmers had switched to the steel plows. The new machinery reduced the labor of both farmers and draft animals. [44]

Oxen and horse labor was essential for plowing, harrowing and hauling harvests. Arguments pro and con existed for the advantage of one animal over the other, but by 1870 horses and mules had virtually replaced oxen on Pennsylvania farms. During the last half of the nineteenth century many horsepower machines were improved or invented, including the "sulky plow, gang plow, spring tooth harrow, disk harrow, sulky cultivator, steel roller, pulverizer, cultipacker, potato planter, grain drill, twine binder, combine, cornhusker, mower, dump hay rake, side delivery hayrake, hayfork, hay tedder, hay loader, hay bailer, and thresher." [45] Even though tractors began appearing on farms after 1925, horses were still used as draft animals.

Aside from the chores performed by animals, all other work was done by the human hand. Harvesting, threshing and cleaning grain involved the use of sickles, scythes, flails and grain cradles. A human reaper or mower could harvest no more than half or three-quarters of an acre a day, depending on the crop. An entire day was needed to cradle two or two and a half acres of grain. Threshing was a task involving the use of a flail, but more generally, horses. [46] The following description is of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, and offers a good sense of the labor involved in threshing:

'They hauled their grain on sleds to the stacks, where a temporary threshing floor was erected.' On these floors the grain was thrashed out by horses, which were driven in a circle, and after the heads were deemed to have been well cleared of the seed the straw was thrown to one side with forks and the grain swept up, ready for another lot of bundles to be unbound and submitted to a like process. In the barns, however, the thrashing was usually done with the flail, and on a still day the sound of the heavy thump of the oaken breaker on the floor, which acted like a drum, could be heard a long way off. [47]

Methods of reaping and threshing improved with the invention of machines which supplanted the use of scythes and flails. Obed Hussey patented his reaper in 1833 and the machine was introduced in Pennsylvania in 1837. Cyrus McCormick's reaper was patented in 1834 and was first used in the state in 1840. By the Civil War high prices for grain and a shortage of labor ensured the use of reapers on most Pennsylvania farms with considerable acreage of grain. Both the Hussey and McCormick reapers cut the grain but it still had to be bound by hand. Not until after 1880 were effective twine binders introduced on farms. The use of two-wheeled mowers with flexible cutter-bars after the 1850s effectively ended hand cutting of hay with scythes. In Northampton County almost all haymowing was mechanized by 1855.

Early versions of threshing machines could be found in Pennsylvania in the late 1820s and early 1830s, but the first effective thresher appeared after 1843, invented by Illinois' Jerome Increase Case. Grain was run through the thresher, which was a large box with spiked cylinders inside. Horses on treadmills or attached to a sweep provided power for the threshers until after the Civil War when steam power was used. It became common for threshing teams to travel from farm to farm threshing for a price.

Combination harvester-threshers, or combines, came into use in Pennsylvania in the twentieth century. Pulled by teams of 18-24 horses or by steam tractors, combines were used in central California during the late 1800s. Smaller versions were used in the mid-western corn fields after 1910 and the first use of a combine by a Pennsylvanian was in 1920. Much of the time and labor of harvesting grain was eliminated by the use of combines. [48]

The transition in farm labor, from oxen to horses to mechanized tractors and combines had profound economic effects. Stevenson W. Fletcher summed up the changes:

The primary advantage of using improved machinery is economic—it saves time, lowers the cost of production, and does the work more efficiently. . . . In 1840 each farm worker produced only enough food for himself and three others; in 1940 he produced enough for himself and fifteen others. This has been brought about not only by advance in agricultural technology but also by the use of more efficient machinery. [49]

Mechanization had another economic effect, that of the cost of operating a farm. More capital was required to buy machinery than livestock, and capital had to be divided between investment and improvement in land, livestock and tools, or operational needs such as seed, feed, or wages for hired help. Clarence Danhof quoted an 1855 agricultural journal article which provided details for the capital required to operate a 100-acre farm. The estimate for livestock, implements and seed came to $2,000. (See appendix 18.) Stevenson W. Fletcher gave the example of the value of machinery on a Pennsylvania farm averaging $115 or 99¢ an acre in 1850 and $763 or $21.17 an acre in 1940. [50]

The growth of mechanized, commercial agriculture also resulted in a lessening of household industries. Farm families changed from being almost totally self-sufficient to being consumers of goods they had formerly supplied for themselves. As more surplus produce was raised and sold farm families had more cash income to spend. This single economic fact held considerable consequences. Horace Bushnell, a contemporary observer, saw what was happening in 1851: "This transition from mother, and daughter, power to water, and steam-power is a great one, greater by far than many have as yet begun to conceive—one that is to carry with it a complete revolution of domestic life and social manners." [51] Percy Wells Bidwell and John I. Falconer noted that Bushnell's observation was correct:

. . . As self-sufficient farming declined there went with it long-established habits and traditions, not only in the method of getting a living, but also in ways of thinking and of living. The mores of self-maintenance . . . were revolutionized, and there followed of necessity a change in the ideas and ideals of the rural folk, in family and in social relations.

The self-sufficient economy emphasized the virtues of self-reliance and independence, of frugality and thrift. . . . The introduction of the cash nexus, the selling of certain articles and buying of others, forced the farmers to confront a new set of problems, calling for the exercise of a new set of faculties. Shrewdness in buying and selling must now be added to the simpler qualities of hard work and saving. Farming became a more speculative business, for to the already existent risks of weather conditions was added the risk of price fluctuations. Thereafter success in getting a living no longer depended on the unremitting efforts of the farm family, aided by Providence, but to a large extent also upon the unpredictable wants and labors of millions of persons in the industrial villages and in the newer farms to the westward. [52]

During the years the Pipher family operated their farm many changes occurred in the field of agriculture in Pennsylvania. These changes had both economic and social ramifications. The first half of the eighteenth century was a time of cheaper transportation, western competition, and unstable markets. Eastern farmers had to adjust and make better use of the land through fertilization, care of livestock, alternation of crops, and the adoption of labor-saving machinery.

Further changes occurred during the years of the farm's absentee ownership and rental caretakers. Rural free delivery was available in Northampton County at the turn of the twentieth century. Self-propelled combines appeared in the county in the late 1930s, in time for the production needs incurred by World War II. By 1945 most farms in the county had telephone service and were supplied with electricity. Farms of more than 500 acres totaled 23.1 percent of all farmland in Northampton County in 1969. Twentieth century farmers in the county grow livestock and cash grain. Wheat is grown for market consumption while corn is grown for both livestock consumption and cash. [53] (See appendixes 13-16 for Northampton County statistics.) Farming is still a way of life for many county families, but it is a way of life which has been significantly altered over the past 200 years. Twentieth century tenants of Slateford Farm may have inherited the legacy of the land from the Morrises and the Piphers, but their lives were less isolated, less tedious and less provincial.

Thus, Slateford Farm reflected the changing scene in American agriculture. Diversification, mechanization and specialization epitomized this changed look. [54] Even though Slateford ceased to be an operating farm for several years, its overall history can still be viewed as fitting into the broader context of county, state and national trends in agriculture.

Labor—Black Slavery and White Servitude

Another aspect of Pennsylvania agricultural history to consider is labor. The ever-increasing need for labor not only in agriculture, but in all industry, influenced the importation of black slaves and white indentured labor into Pennsylvania. Whereas black slavery died out fairly quickly in the province, the significance and influence of white servitude in Pennsylvania has often been underestimated.

Black slavery was never a major factor in Pennsylvania agricultural history. The majority of slaves kept in the state were domestic servants, with less than 10 percent working on farms. From a high of 11,000 in 1751 the number of black slaves dropped to 6,000 when the state emancipation law was passed in 1780 and to 3,737 in 1790 when Samuel Pipher bought his farm. Twenty-three of these slaves were in Northampton County in 1790. This number dropped to eight in 1800 and after 1810 there was no slavery in the county. [55] The three generations of Pipher farmers did not use slave labor on their farm. This is possibly due to their large families, which supplied labor, or to their ethnic heritage.

Slavery did not become a major source of labor in Pennsylvania for both ethical and economic reasons. Germans and English Quakers disliked slavery and generally refused to hold slaves. Quakers, especially, were leaders in the national movement to abolish slavery. As early as 1688 the Friends were making public pronouncements against the institution. During the Revolutionary War all Friends were ordered to free their slaves or face social stigma by their peers. Abolition societies flourished and the Pennsylvania Colonial Assembly often debated passing a prohibitive duty as a means of excluding slave importation. [56]

From an economic standpoint the slavery system did not stand much of a chance either. Frontier conditions precluded slavery's introduction. As the colony grew slaves were imported, but never to a substantial degree because the plantation system, which most favored slavery, never appeared. Pennsylvania's tendencies toward small farming, manufacturing and commerce did not encourage slavery as a labor system. Few German farmers owned slaves because it was cheaper to perform the labor themselves. Large families became sources of labor and children worked in the fields at early ages. German farm women not only worked in the home but in the fields as well. Slaves were expensive and small farms could not support them. [57]

Climate also worked against slavery in Pennsylvania. Slaves imported from Africa usually had to undergo a period of "seasoning" in the West Indies before they were brought to the colonies. Slaves imported directly to Pennsylvania either suffered early deaths or contracted disease. Owners who manumitted their slaves in Pennsylvania were legally responsible for their future support, and this fact helped deter slavery. Additionally, an owner's investment was lost if the slave died. [58]

When black slaves were first brought into the American colonies their status did not significantly differ from that of white indentured servants. As decades passed, attitudes changed, restrictive laws were adopted, and the status of blacks dropped. Nevertheless, the sentiment against slavery intensified and resulted in the 1780 abolition law's being passed with the help of the Friends and Revolutionary War fervor. [59]

Even though black slavery was not widely practiced in Pennsylvania another form of servitude was—that of white indentured servitude. Because of the prevailing sentiment against slavery a substitute form of labor had to be found. White servitude was there waiting to take the place of slavery. Author Cheesman A. Herrick wondered how Pennsylvanians would have stood on the question of slavery had indentured laborers not existed. Herrick insisted "not hard to see that these laborers made possible both a response to the Quaker and German sentiment against slavery and the preservation of unusual economic prosperity." [60] Indentured labor was only temporary whereas slavery not only lasted a lifetime but extended to ones children. The opposition to slavery manifested itself in the demand for indentured servants to fill the labor void. [61] Karl Frederick Geiser even asserted:

White labor was preferred to negro labor generally, and the chief reason that slavery became the prevailing system in some of the colonies, was, because the service was for life instead of for a limited term of years. Had the term of service been equal, slavery would never have been of so great a consequence, and probably would never have gained a firm footing on American soil." [62]

Two types of indentured labor existed in Pennsylvania—voluntary redemptioners and apprentices and the involuntary service of felonious criminals and debtors. The earliest documents in Pennsylvania history mention indentured servants because the first settlers brought servants with them. Estimates are that at least one-third of Pennsylvania's immigrants were servants. Fortunately the colony did not become a "dumping ground" for criminals and terms of servitude seemed more practicable than keeping able-bodied labor in jails which no one really wanted to pay for. Debtors served until their debts were paid. Imprisonment and servitude for debt was not abolished until 1842. [63]

The "indenture," or contract, spelled out the reciprocal rights and obligations of both master and servant. Ordinarily the indentured immigrant bound him or herself for a defined period to the person who paid the immigrant's passage to America. The servant promised to serve the master "honestly and obediently" while the master was to provide the servant with food, clothing, lodging and "freedom dues," which varied in the contracts, but which usually included new clothing. Not all indentures were made for passage money; some were entered into by residents seeking a sum of money or other privileges. The time served usually depended upon the age and health of the servants. [64]

Being indentured did not necessarily mean a person suffered lower status. There were advantages in the long term service for both the servants and master. Performing ordinary work guaranteed the servant years of having his other daily needs provided. Indentured immigrants had years within which to become accustomed to the new country's language, ways and customs. The owners benefitted by having a supply of manual labor available—at a time when labor was in high demand.

The system was not without its horrors, however, for the trans-Atlantic trade in immigrant indentured labor has been compared to that of the African slave trade in terms of living conditions on the ships. Thousands lost their lives because of insufficient food and water, and terrible overcrowding below deck. The trade continued until 1820—well after the American Revolution. [65]


Farm tenancy can be defined as a system of land operation wherein the owner turns the day-to-day farm activities over to another person. The farms are leased for either annual cash amounts or a share of the products. Owners are relieved of responsibility to varying degrees while the tenants keep all income after the rent is paid. Tenancy provided training for young farmers hoping to eventually own property of their own. Tenancy also commonly served as a way for sons and daughters to gradually take over farm operations from their elderly parents. [66]

Previous to 1880 the Bureau of the Census kept no tenancy statistics but the practice has a long history in the United States. By 1900 tenancy in Pennsylvania reached a high of 26 percent. (See appendix 17 for number of tenant-operated farms.) Tenancy was more prevalent in the state where real estate was purchased for speculative purposes or where agricultural opportunities were good. Northampton County's rate of tenancy was not high. In the early to mid-1930s Upper Mount Bethel Township only had 30 farms, or 10-19 percent of the farm land operated by tenants, Slateford Farm being one. Different types of leases were used in Pennsylvania ranging from cash leases to equal sharing in the livestock and equipment investments by both tenant and landlord to profit sharing leases to cropshare leases. [67]

Lifestyle of Farming Families

Farming as a way of life is not within the experience of most Slateford Farm visitors, or of most Americans. Interpretation at a historical farm, involving "plants, animals, tools, implements, and methods," show visitors the main elements of farm life. [68] Even though Slateford Farm is not a "living historical farm" where actual farming methods are utilized, the farm structures and land can be used as resources in the interpretation of farming lifestyles over a span of 200 years.

The multitude of changes in farm life over the decades can be exemplified most easily by examining only one farm task—the processing of farm products. John T. Schlebecker reminds us that most of this processing took place on the farm itself. "Farmers husked and shelled corn by hand, threshed and winnowed their wheat, churned butter, pressed cheese, slaughtered hogs, and smoked their own ham and bacon. Farmers usually performed these tasks fairly promptly, albeit sometimes infrequently, as the opportunity arose." [69]

This major change in farming was accompanied by many others, including the growing switch from self-reliance to dependence on the market for needs, the increase in variety of goods, the raising of a surplus being as important as raising products for the farming family's own consumption, and the increased specialization of farming activities. The farmstead surrendered many of the functions which provided for its own subsistence and became more and more dependent within the market economy. [70] An examination of the changes in farming lifestyles generally, will aid in understanding changes which occurred on the Slateford Farm in particular.

During the colonial period farmsteads were on sites most accessible to water, transportation facilities and the highest grade of soil. Pennsylvania farm families usually relied on springs or streams for their water supply. In some instances cabins were built directly over springs. First settlers sometimes lived in caves, especially along the Delaware River, or lean-tos and then graduated into log cabins. One-room cabins, considered poverty-level existence in Europe, did not imply that status in America. Log cabins were generally replaced with larger log houses, usually one-and-a-half or two stories. These log houses were the most common type of farm home in central and western Pennsylvania until after 1840. Second and third generations on the property eventually replaced the log houses with more substantial frame, stone or brick homes. [71] This was certainly the experience on the Pipher property with Samuel and Christina's son Peter building the 1833 frame house to replace the cabin.

Before the Revolutionary War most of the furniture in Pennsylvania farm homes was homemade. Chairs, benches, tables, beds and closets were made by either the farmers or by local carpenters in a nearby rural village. Importation of furniture from Great Britain suffered by 1812 when congressionally imposed tariffs were set, and American commercial manufacture of furniture grew. As rural families could afford more goods, dirt and puncheon floors were replaced with boards, carpets replaced rag-rugs, walls were papered after 1800, and clocks appeared after 1840. Friction matches were not used until after 1850. Pine knot torches, grease lamps, tallow-dip candles and open fireplaces provided the only indoor light until after 1860 when kerosene oil lamps were used. [72]

Few farmers failed to increase their consumption of urban-originated goods. Values of self-sufficiency and frugality remained, but farmers started raising their consumption level. Clarence Danhof, a chronicler of agricultural change, provided this account of the process between 1820 and 1870:

To a small extent, a rise in the standard of living was accomplished within the subsistence framework, as in a shift to wheat bread from rye and corn, or to butter from lard, and in an increase in the consumption of meat, particularly beef, and of vegetables and fruits. The increased use of salt, condiments, molasses and sugar, however, was supplied by the market. More important were the efforts to obtain a wider variety of nonfood items, objects that the household manufacturer could not supply economically if at all. Over the half-century, a desirable level of living came to include an increasing variety and volume of products that were obtainable more economically and sometimes exclusively by money purchase. Of great significance was the displacement of homespun linens and woolens by factory-woven cottons and woolens. Factory-made shoes and hats displaced those of local fabrication. Log cabins and rough plank homes were abandoned for buildings constructed of brick, stone, or mill-sawn lumber, requiring the purchase of millwork, nails, and similar materials as well as the services of skilled craftsmen. Iron stoves and ranges supplemented or displaced the open fireplace. Rough, homemade furniture was supplemented and displaced by the work of urban cabinet makers. Urban industries added rugs and carpets, curtains, household linens, musical instruments, books, newspapers, and magazines, as well as clocks and watches. Wooden trenchers were displaced by a variety of china, earthen, glass, and metal table and kitchenware, as the cast iron kettle was supplemented by tinware. Factory-made candles and oil burning lamps displaced homemade products. The productive equipment of farming came increasingly from specialized urban sources. The rough wagon formerly made by the local wheelwright, with only the axles purchased, became a factory product, as did carriages and horse harnesses, churns and corn shellers. [73]

The Piphers' daily lives were probably also affected by the lack of household conveniences. Frontier conditions did not provide indoor plumbing or running water, electric lights or central heating. In the cabin the large, open fireplace provided the only warmth and means for cooking. Bathing was rare because of attitudes and because of the back-breaking labor of hauling and heating water. Tin or wooden bathtubs were in general use after 1840. Unscreened windows and doors usually meant continual swarms of flies, mosquitos and gnats. [74]

Technological advances raised the quality of farm life on into the twentieth century. Probably the most significant factor was the development of goods and services which chipped away at rural isolation—telephones, radios, mail order catalogs, mail delivery, automobiles and railroads. [75] Tenants living at Slateford Farm had more access to the goods and services offered in near and far towns and cities, and to education and public contact on a much wider scale than the Piphers did.

The drudgery of many farm chores was eliminated with the introduction of running water in the kitchen, the installation of kitchen sinks after 1860, and indoor plumbing after 1900. Stoves replaced fireplaces. Rural electrification after 1930 made the use of water pumps, electric lights, washing machines and wringers, and other labor-saving devices available. [76]

By 1955 Stevenson Whitcomb Fletcher was observing that "Farmers are no longer a class apart; they are cosmopolitan." He described farmers as "rapidly losing the characteristics that once sharply distinguished them from city people and are acquiring the characteristics of urban residents in intellectual interests, social customs, dress, and home life." [77]

He was writing about Hunterdon County in New Jersey, but Hubert G. Schmidt's comments in 1972 on agricultural change can apply to Northampton County as well: "If a farmer of the Colonial period or one of a century ago were permitted to return to this earth, he would be amazed at the material progress since his day and would find it hard to adjust himself to the machinery and gadgets and to the hustling and bustling which accompanies all activity today." [78]

Farming practices at Slateford Farm were representative of Pennsylvania agricultural history as a whole. Throughout the years several types of crops were raised, fertilization was utilized and a barn sheltered animals. Pipher wills and estate inventories reveal that a variety of agricultural implements were used. Tax records show that the Piphers farmed their land themselves without the help of purchased labor. Tenant farming also occurred on the property. Twentieth century owners and renters of the farm made significant changes as they introduced electricity and other technological advances. If Samuel and Christina Pipher returned to their working farm a century and a half later their reactions would probably support Hubert Schmidt's observation.

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Last Updated: 31-Dec-2009