Kinsearching November 25, 2007




Marleta Childs
P. O. Box 6825
LUBBOCK, TX 79493-6825

     Throughout this Thanksgiving season, many Americans may think about the Pilgrims and the part they played in our country's history. During the holidays, however, the main focus for most people is on food. Although we may have read stories about what the Indians and Pilgrims ate for their first Thanksgiving feast, we may not ponder about what our subsequent ancestors had for meals, either regular or holiday. What foods were available in later centuries? How much did it cost to produce or purchase them? When were different foods introduced and how did they spread over the various states? What types of transit were used in various parts of the country and why? What events or circumstances influenced changes in eating habits and markets?

     Some answers to these questions concerning mid-nineteenth century Americans can be found in a publication by the U. S. Congress, {House of Representatives} REPORT OF THE COMMISSIONER OF PATENTS FOR THE YEAR 1853: AGRICULTURE (Washington: A. O. P. Nicholson, Printer, 1854). According to the "Preliminary Remarks," the gathering of correspondence for this volume was meant to promote..."the paramount interests of the farmers and planters of the United States in the improvement of their crops and live stock; the introduction of new and valuable products; the amelioration of the exhausted and unimproved soils..." and so forth in order to produce bigger quantities and better qualities of "our chief staples" for both domestic use and export. To meet this objective, the Bureau sent out circulars to "proper individuals...for the purpose of disseminating and eliciting agricultural information, and for the procurement and distribution of cuttings and seeds."

     Individuals in the U. S. sent in reports, which are categorized in the volume under such topics as domestic animals, fertilizers, improvement of land, bread crops, textile and forage crops, miscellaneous crops, and fruits and wine. Although correspondence may have been condensed, their "statements" provide their place of residence and give some insight into their lifestyle (for example, what kind of livestock or crops they raised), and the times in which they lived (for instance, how cattle or foodstuffs were transported). A few people furnish additional facts such as their birthplace. The following are examples of the types of data they submitted to the government.

     Page 6 - Statement of J. E. MCCLUNG of Bloomington, McLean Co., IL - "Cattle raising is the great business of Illinois. The Durham is preferred to any other breed. The cost of raising a three-year-old steer is from $12 to $15, and brings from $18 to $25. A good dairy cow in the spring is worth $25, and the same animal in the succeeding fall from $15 to $18."

     Page 7 - Statement of S. B. WARD of Auburn, DeKalb Co., IN - "Our county has been settled but for a few years, and there has been but little pains taken as yet in raising stock. Cows are worth from $12 to $20 per head; oxen, from $50 to $80 a yoke; two-year-old steers, from $10 to $15 a head; three-year-olds, from $15 to $25 a head."

     Page 8 - Statement of S. H. STARKS of Benton, Marshall Co., KY - "The cost of raising cattle here until three years old, is about $7 each. Market value, from $8 to $10; milch cows, from $10 to $20 each."

     Page 9 - Statement of Samuel JOHNSON of Jackson, Waldo Co., ME - "The raising of neat cattle pays no better than that of horses. Steers, in their third or fourth years, may be made to earn something by labor; otherwise they would not pay the cost of raising. The average price of a yoke of oxen, four years old, is about $80. I prefer a cross of the Hereford and Durham."

     Page 10 - Statement of C. F. MALLORY of Romeo, Macomb Co., MI - "The short-horned or Durham breed takes the lead with us, though some prefer the Devons for work on account of their color. Crosses between the Durhams and our common stock make the best milkers."

     In the coming weeks we will list the names of other persons who sent in agricultural reports to the government. From some of the statements, we will also extract interesting data, such as the appearance of new crops, that help us better understand how they lived.

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