Thomas Jefferson Papers

Questions on the Cow Pea, with Answers of Philip Tabb, [after 30 August 1796?]

Questions on the Cow Pea, with
Answers of Philip Tabb

[after 30 Aug. 1796?]

Questions relative to the
1. Does dry or moist Land, rich or poor, suit it best? 1 Dry Land of a middle quality.

2. is it best in drills or broad-cast. 2 hills better than either at least 4 feet distant

3. how much seed is sown to the acre in the broad-cast? 3 not known 2 or 3 plants enough to a hill.

4. what is the time of sowing, and particularly where it is to be followed by wheat? 4 from the 1st. to the 15 June, this Crop never followed by fall sowing here the growth being remarkably slow, till the latter end of Summer

5. what is the time of gathering? 5 from the middle of Sept. to the last of Novemr.

6. does it ripen generally together, or successively? 6 successively until stopt by the frost.

7. how is it gathered, by the hand, by the scythe or the sickle? 7 by hand or rather by Stock turned in to fatten.

8. what is it’s produce according to the land and season? 8 Not ascertained probably from 15 to 20 Bushels the acre if alone it is rarely planted without Corn here.

9. is the haulm good fodder? 9 every part is good food for stock

10. is the grain given whole or ground? 10 whole in this country

11. what kinds of stock does it suit? 11 Horses Hoggs horned Cattle and Sheep

12. is it eatable by man also? 12 it is eatable but inferior to most of its species for that purpose.

MS (DLC); the first column and heading of the second being in TJ’s hand, the remainder in Tabb’s; undated, but conjecturally assigned on the basis of Tabb’s letter quoted below.

TJ had apparently expressed interest in the cow pea when Dr. John Willis—a physician of Whitehall in Gloucester County, Virginia, who married Nelly Conway Madison, James Madison’s niece—visited him at Monticello (TJ to Francis Willis, 15 July 1796; Madison Papers, xv, 378n). Willis evidently then inquired about the cow pea on TJ’s behalf in a letter to Philip Tabb, a planter who resided at Toddsbury, the family estate in Gloucester County (WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly, 1892– description ends , 1st ser., xiii [1905], 170). Tabb’s reply to Willis, written on 30 Aug. 1796 from Toddsbury, eventually came to TJ’s hands: “I received your favor of the 6th. Inst. per post and begg leave to assure you that I shall have pleasure in giving every proof in my power of a disposition to comply with Mr. Jefferson’s request. I have for several years cultivated the pea you mention (the most general and perhaps proper name of which is the Cow Pea). I am induced to think the growth of this grain peculiarly calculated for the reduced Corn Lands of our lower Country, the soil of which has a great proportion of sand. It is planted among the corn at the distance of about 6 or 8 feet frequently in the same hill; and ’tho put in early as may or 1st. June grows but slowly until the Corn begins to decline then rapidly. I think some fields near me has been much improved by this pea, and it is of considerable value by fatting different kinds of Stock both before and after the Corn crop is gathered—for rain does not spoil it in the pod when ripe as other Indian peas generally. I doubt whether this pea would grow as kindly on Mr. Jeffersons Lands as it does here. I think his has a redish soil and free from Sand but should he be disposed to make the experiment, I will endeavour to send a Bushell of Seed to any person he may think proper to appoint at Richmond and will then give any farther information in my power that may be wanted” (RC in DLC; addressed: “Doctr. John Willis Charlottesvile”; stamped; endorsed by TJ: “Peas Cow. Philip Tabb’s lre”).

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