Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Timothy Pickering, 13 October 1791

From Timothy Pickering

Philadelphia Octr. 13. 1791.

Dear Sir,

When I received your letter of the 13th of August,1 I did not consider it with the attention which would have been necessary if at that time I had attempted to answer the questions you propose. Now it appears to me impossible to do it, with any degree of precision. It then struck me that certain communications to the Society of Agriculture of this city2 would have furnished the principal documents required, on the subject at large: but upon a review of them (after a lapse of several years,) I find I was mistaken.

In my late absence from the city, I meant to have made enquiries, in the counties thro’ which I travelled in this state; but here also I was disappointed; not meeting with any farmers sufficiently informed.

From the farms in my neighbourhood3 (from which you naturally expected me to collect accurate information) no conclusions can be drawn. Their peculiar situation in respect to title & their quality rendering them exceptions to most of the farms in the United States. Their title being in suspense between the claimants under Connecticut & Pennsylvania, prevents their due cultivation & improvement; and the parts under cultivation are almost exclusively the bottom (or intervale) lands adjacent to the river susquehannah and its branches. The residue of the country is without inclosures, where the cattle range at large, and where, till within four years past, the people cut wood for timber & fuel at discretion, without regarding their own lines of property. This singular state of the Wyoming farms precludes the idea of fixing their value. Their contents, generally are 300 acres, of which, upon an average, not 30 acres are reclaimed from a state of nature. The average produce of their cultivated grounds I estimate as follows—

Wheat 15 bushels per acre } Without
Rye 12
Oats 25
Buckwheat 15
Indian Corn 25
Hay  1½ ton

Mr. Bordley of Maryland (in a pamphlet published in 1784)4 remarks, That Mr. Young,5 the English Travelling farmer, has ascertained, that 289 acres are the average size of farms in England; of which 140 are in grass; & the remaining 149 are called arable; altho’ only 112 give crops; the residue, 37 acres, contains the buildings, orchard &c. Mr. Bordley estimates the average size of Maryland farms at 240 or 250 acres exclusive of woods; and their average produce at 6 bushels of wheat & 12 of Indian Corn per acre. An intelligent Jersey farmer (in a communication to the Agricultural Society here) rated the average produce of wheat in that state to be under 6 bushels. Doctor Tilton6 thus states the produce of land in the Delaware state “an acre of ground will produce of Timothy from one to two tons of dry forage; of red clover, from 2 to 3 tons; of Indian corn, from 15 to 50 bushels; of wheat from 6 to 20 bushels; of barley and rye, from 10 to 35 bushels; of oats and buckwheat from 15 to 30 bushels; of Irish potatoes, from 100 to 300 bushels.” If the doctor meant that the mean quantities should be considered as the average produce, the land in the Delaware state must be more fertile or better cultivated than the land of any of the old states in the union.

I have made a few enquiries relative to the sizes of farms and their divisions into meadows, pastures, arable & wood land, in this state & Connecticut: but the answers were not satisfactory; and as your application to me respected only land in “my quarter” it may be useless to state them.

As it is thus in my power to give you only such very imperfect information relative to the subject of your investigation, I hope you may have taken measures to obtain from others what will answer your design. I think, however, it will be impossible to ascertain the requisite facts with precision: for I doubt whither one American farmer in a thousand has determined by actual admeasurement, the sizes of his fields and their produce.

I am & c.

A. Hamilton Esqr.
Secy of the Treasury

ADf, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.

2The Philadelphia Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, which had been founded in 1785.

3Pickering’s farm was in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. This was in the Wyoming Valley, which was claimed by both Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

4John Beale Bordley, A Summary View of the Courses of Crops, in the Husbandry of England & Maryland; with a Comparison of their Products; and a System of Improved Courses, Proposed for Farms in America (Philadelphia, 1784).

5Arthur Young was at this time editing the Annals of Agriculture, which continued publication until 1809.

6Dr. James Tilton served as a physician with the Continental Army throughout the American Revolution. After the war he practiced medicine in Dover, Delaware, served in the Continental Congress in 1783 and 1784, and was commissioner of loans for Delaware from 1785 to 1801. He eventually gave up the practice of medicine to devote his time to farming. He wrote several essays on agriculture.

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