George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Arthur Young, 18 January 1792

From Arthur Young

Bradfield Hall [England] Jan. 18 1792


Within these few days I recieved the honour of the letter Your Excellency has had the goodness to write, wth the very important communications annexed.1 It is impossible for me fully to express the high idea I have of your goodness in condescending to take so much trouble, so unusual with persons that fill your splendid station; but while the interests of an empire and the welfare of a great people are in your hands it is plain that your mind can embrace the smallest as well as command the greatest objects: I could say much more & with equal truth but yours Sir is not a character to address that wch might bear the semblance tho’ not the reality of flattery.

The particulars you have favoured me with are very curious & as far as they go very satisfactory, but I have yet some doubts on points wch are not fully explained. Trusting in your goodness for my pardon I will presume to state the difficulties wch yet remain with me.

Labour is so slightly touched on that I know not how to estimate it.

A reaper 3/ to 3/9 a day & does ¾ of an acre; say 2/2 sterl. & board wch with us is cal[culate]d at £16. If a farmer boards his men with his bailiff he pays in that proportion this is 10½d. a day but the better fare of harvest will make it at least 1/6 or 3/8 for ¾ of an acre=4:10½ ⅌ acre. We have no part of England in which this is done so cheaply: It rises from 5/ to 20/ ⅌ acre: With you the same expence mows an acre vizt 3/8. This on the contrary is dearer than with us if for grass; & for corn a man mows 2 or 2½ acres a day.

The next minute is a wag [on] 4 horses and (I suppose a man) 15/ or 10/ sterl. this is the exact price with us all the year except very busy seasons when not to be had at all.

In Maryland wages £20 & all f[oun]d but cloaths. Sterl. £12 with us the head man £10 the rest £8.

On the Fluvanna & Rivanna a negro £9 & every thing found: and in one of your former letters all labour wth you by slaves. Hence quere is the labour noted in these minutes accidental and not to be commanded in any amount, or is it the standard employt of the State? Reckoning a negro at £50 sterl., & estimating his life how you will he must surely be cent per cent dearer than the labour of England. Governor Glen in his description of South Carolina (one of the best accounts of a country I have met with) says that a slave can manage 2 acres of indigo or 6 of Indian corn: this must be less than the half of what our labourers do who will set out, and clean effectively half an acre of turnips every day for the first hoeing; & fro. ¾ to 1 acre the second.2

Be so obliging Sir as to inform me what the rate of labour is that can be commanded (by paying for it) in quantity, both by free hands & by slaves. At present I see no reason to calculate it less than 100 per cent higher than in England, and the general information I have at various times had from other persons seems to confirm the idea: No wonder while every man by going over the Mountains can have land for himself.

The next difficulty I have is in respect of the purchase of land wch in the notes is every where per acre very properly (I suppose the Statute eng[lish] acre or it would have been mentioned to the contrary) but it is not mentioned what state the lands are in which are thus valued, whether additions to properties already built & improved, or the improvements themselves including the buildings fences &c. In the instances of Mountain land the expressions seem to indicate waste land unbuilt & uninclosed. The prices converted to sterling appear to be nearly as follow

Above 40/ below 40/
1: 1:0
10: 0: 0 0:15:0
4: 1: 0 0: 9:0
2: 8: 0 0:16:0
3: 0: 0 1:16:0
4:16: 0 0:15:6
2: 2: 0 1:11:0
3:15: 0 0:15:6
3: 2: 0 1: 2:0
2: 4: 0 1: 2:6
3: 0: 0 1:17:6
10 38: 8: 0 1:11:0
Aver 3:16: 9 1: 2:0
1: 2: 2 1: 2:6
2 4:18:11 1: 7:6
Gen. Av. 2: 9: 5 0:14:0
17 18:17:0
Aver. 1: 2:2

Which may be thus contrasted with Suffolk the rent of wch is on an average nearly that of England Rent 12/ an acre at 28 yrs purchase or £ 16:16:0.

It is impossible to compare the soils without seeing them, but fro. various circumstances touched on in the letters I am inclined to think ⟨your⟩ land as good as ours in Suffolk at least. The spontaneous growth of white clover is with us a sure criterion of good land we have none of it in Suffolk or at least very little; when our land is worn out by bad management & left, it runs to what is called water grass the agrostis stolonifera, one of the worst weeds any country can be plagued with. Your products it is true are shocking and mark a management which thank God we know nothing of. Such crops would not be found in any part of this Kingdom in a century. Your observation that in America farmers look to labour much more than to land is new to me, but it is a calculation which I cannot understand for, exactly in proportion to the dearness of labour is the necessity of having good crops: a bad one in every thing but threshing costs as much in labour as a good one. Good crops are not gained by operose systems so well or so surely as by reposing the soil under grass & supporting great stocks of cattle & sheep. Such products as you describe with dear labour, are absolutely inexplicable. A very severe mildew has been known to damage wheat so much in England that the crop being calculated at only 10 bush. an acre, has been mown & carted to the farm yd for the hogs to eat it & make dung. If so small a crop the quality is sure to be bad if the soil is naturally good.

I have stated the price of land in Suffolk at £16.16.0 but this price includes buildings & improvets for instance, suppose

300 acres in one farm— £  
House 600
Barn 500
Stable 200
Cow house 100
Sties &c. 50
Cartlodge 50
Gates & fences & road 370

This I beleive very moderate, however let us call it only £6 an acre or £1800. it reduces the price of land to £10:16:0 There are various improvets besides such as irrigation, marking, draining, but we will drop them at present.

The article of taxes I am not at all clear that I understand but it should seem that in Virginia you have those wch may be calculated in this manner, but I trust not done with accuracy.

7/6 on £100: suppose 50 acres
this is about 0:0:2
Negro tax maybe 0:0:1
Horse tax 6d. 0:0:0½
Parish & Co. levies 7/6 a head 20 wd be 7.10.0: perhaps per acre 0:0:6
Per acre sterl say   7
(Very doubtful all this)

The price of products I thus extract in sterl. & contrast with Suffolk

Average s. d. s. d.
 Wheat pr bush. 3. 0 5.0
 Rye 1. 9 3.0
 Barley 1.10 2.6
 Butter 0. 5½ 0.8½
 Beef 0. 2¼ 0.4½
 Mutton 0. 3¼ 0.5
7: 6 11:0

But here also occur some difficulties; at these prices, by means of the enormous demand of London, the three cattle products may be sold in any quantities; you may produce witht the least apprehension of wanting a market: and those of corn at these rates also. How is this point with y⟨o⟩? if 500 stone of beef on a farm at 2¼ is made 10,000 stone can you sell it readily? The West Indies considered this is probably the case; but I know not. Mutton is an article of infinitely greater importance & that not being barrelled probably could not be sold.

Here I shall introduce an observation wch may possibly merit attention.

You have the unaccountable circumstance I see as well as England of mutton being dearer than beef: Horses not oxen being almost universal with us makes it yet more strange: I know from experiments made with considerable care that if they were at the same price the farmer would have more profit by producing mutton than by producing beef; yet is mutton by many per cent higher priced! But sheep give you another profit in their wool, & a third in their fold The former with us is infamously depressed in price, but not with you, for your wool at 1/ the lb. is 33 per cent higher than it would sell for in England. Why then surely you shd raise those products that sell well? and wool sells better (of course in any quantity) than anything else you have: With mutton at 3d. ⅌ lb. and wool at 1/ there can be no comparison bet. sheep and any other application of land.

But there must be a market for mutton; and to effect that you should certainly get Bakewells’ breed wch fatten so readily that a common application of it is salting to use instead of bacon.3 The provincial Assemblies of France have employed smugglers to get (badly chosen) english sheep: Half the Kings in Europe have done the same to get Spanish Sheep; both very wisely; I hope your American Assemblies will be equally wise and take care that the food produced in the States is applied to the breeds that will pay best for it.

From the circumstances thus collected from your correspondents we may thus compare England and America; supposing 300 acres bought and farmed by the purchaser.

Produce of 300 acres 5 rents at 12/ or £3 900: 0:0
Land tax 3s/ in £ at a 4/up on £180 27: 0:0
Rates 4/6 40:10:0
Tythe 4/64 40:10:0
Roads 3:10:0
Assessed Taxes 3: 0:0 114:10:0
Deduct further
Labour 150: 0:0
Int. of 5040£ at 5 pr 252: 0:0 462: 0:0
Int. £1200 farm capl 60: 0:0
£5:3:0 ⅌ Nett cent 323:10:0

Repairs supposed the same with both & therefore omitted. But Quere Mr Jefferson’s Virginia p.258 where he says they are built so badly as to last only 50 years: ours last 150 yrs of wood: & much longer if of brick.5

Produce of 300 acres supposed the same as in England but the price as 7½ to 11 613: 0:0
Taxes 7d. per ac. 8.15.0
Labour at cent ⅌ cent higher than Engld 300: 0:0
Int. of £1051 at 5 per cent: the purch. of 300 ac. at 3.16.9 52:11:0
Int. of £900 farm capl at £3. ⅌ ac. or 20/ less than England 45: 0:0
406: 6:0
Nett 206:14:0

Quere if labour shd be reckoned so high as £300. But note that the actual labour in America in amount must not be regarded unless you take American products which are very much below ours: I have supposed your land as good and the produce as large as ours consequently I must suppose as much labour. The prices you send of oxen, cows sheep &c. justify the lowering the stock of yr farms 20/ an acre; but it will not justify it if yrs are not as well built and inclosed as ours, wch you will remark I suppose them to be estimating as I do the purchase of our land not at £10.16.0 but at £16.16. an acre. You will observe Sir, that I drew this out merely as the best mode of requesting explanations. Probably here is some error wch gives yr agriculture less superiority than it has in reality for good husbandry with us when the farmer is not the proprietor of his farm pays above 10½ percent. And tho I have supposed at 5 rents, very good husbandry in England, yet I give America equal advantage by allowing her the same.

The error if there is one I conjecture to be supposing the whole American farm what the Suffolk one must be, all cultivated at a good price per acre; whereas it is obvious to me that the great profit to be derived from agriculture in America is to have 1000, 1500, or 2000 acres of waste adjoining to such a farm as I have here supposed; which waste should be by very simple methods converted to sheepwalk, & so made the dunghill for the cultivated land. In such case the rent of that waste would be the interest of the money it would sell for: as the country peopled the rent so estimated would gradually rise till at last it would answer no longer to adhere to such a destination. The object is very important to convert woods to profit at small expence: I have grabbed several acres the expence £10 an acre, but the wood pays; with labour cent per cent higher and wood of no value, woodland thus acquired would be dearer by near £4 an acre than land improved cultivated & built in England.

In order the better to ascertain this part of the enquiry I wish to know what the quality of the lands is wch are above calculated at £1.2.2 per acre particularly respecting sheep How many per acre would they carry thro 9 months of the year? Are they improveable by merely folding on grass seeds; sowing the seeds in the evening before the sheep enter the fold; and applying as little of that dear commodity labour as possible? How far is it necessary to clear land and at what expence in order to make it support one sheep per acre; 2 per acre; 3 & so on? The return of a sheep in England weight alive 150 lb. may be estimated at 10/ besides keeping up or renovating the stock mutton at 5d. and wool at 9d. long or 1/3 short (9d. prodg more money than 1/3) In America mutton at 3¼ and wool at 1/ a sheep ought to yield 7/6 I suppose 1000 acres bought for £1000 & feeding 1000 sheep only, yielding 7/6 each or even but 5/ and here is a profit at once arising such as in England we know nothing of; but from all accounts this is not yr husbandry & therefore I suppose a market impracticable. I dare say you will have the goodness to clear up these difficulties.

Before I conclude this tedious epistle allow me to express the regret I feel that you shd so steadily adhere to the idea of being merely private in such a correspondence;6 and I reason thus; every man should do what good he can to Society; and the quantum in his power will always be in proportion to his celebrity; if you were merely Mr George Washington planter at Mount Vernon, whether you published; or whether you let it alone would be of mighty little consequence but for a man on whom the eyes of the universe are fixed it is some thing for the good of agriculture to have it known that he regards, practices and studies it. The time will come when the best & fairest plume in the wing of the Great Frederick will be his improvements if that does not support him in his flight to fame, I doubt, considering the new spirit that is fast spreading in the world, that his victories & his conquests will fail. The world will never be without princes that will improve, because the King of Prussia improved I wish the Western World to give another example, and send new votaries to the Plough because Washington has attended to it. Pardon my warmth, and beleive that honoured personally as I am with your correspondence any individual satisfaction is compleat it is on public motives Alone that I have ventured to touch a second time this string.7 I am Sr with every sentiment of respect yr Excellency’s Obliged & faithful Sert

Arth: Young

I send with this the Annals & some seeds of the Melilotus Silyrica for yr experiment Ground.8

You have inspired M. de la Fayette with the farming spirit, I had an application lately for a baliff for him.

ALS, DLC:GW; copy, DLC: Thomas Jefferson Papers; copy (letterpress copy), DLC: Jefferson Papers.

For the background to this letter, see Arthur Young to GW, 25 Jan., GW to Young, 15 Aug., 5 Dec., and Circular on the State of American Agriculture, 25 Aug. 1791. On 1 Nov. 1787 GW wrote Young that he would “very readily & chearfully give you any information relative to the state of Agriculture in this Country, that I am able,” and on 25 Jan. 1791 Young claimed he had reason to ask about the agricultural economy of the United States, as his son apparently wished to “try a plough in America.”

1Young apparently was referring to GW’s letter of 5 Dec. 1791, which covered Thomas Hartley to GW, 24 Sept. 1791, Thomas Johnson to GW, 10 Nov. 1791, and David Stuart to GW, 18 Nov. 1791, describing agricultural conditions in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and northern Virginia, respectively. GW also sent Young with his letters, either of 15 Aug. or 5 Dec. 1791 or with an unfound letter written between those dates, the following unsigned notes prepared by Thomas Jefferson on 3 Aug.: “The writer hereof is best acquainted with that tract of land which crosses Virginia from North East to South West by the names of the Bull-run mountains, South West mountains & Green mountains & is generally 6 or 8 miles wide, one half of which is the mountain itself & therefore steep; the residue lies at the foot on each side, in large waving hills, perfectly accessible to the plough. it is of a dark red colour. the richest of it is a pure mould or loam, without the least mixture of sand or grit, though often a good deal of broken stone. when first cleared of its timber, it lies loose for about a foot depth. that is to say as far down as the frosts have penetrated. but below that, for many feet, the earth is still the same, but hard, as having never yet been opened by the frost. when it is turned up by the plough & has been exposed to the frost a winter or two, it is nearly as rich as the original first soil. this land is excellent for wheat & rye, but yields poorly in oats. for Indian corn it is midling. the fruits which abound are apples, peaches, & cherries. the country perfectly healthy, & the climate more moderate in summer than that below, and in winter than that above. most of the parcels of land held by individuals have been so laid out as to contain about one third of the first quality as above described, one third of a midling quality, & one third of barrens well timbered. the husbandry is in general very slovenly. under such as it is, the lands of the first quality will produce 30 bushels of wheat to the acre when fresh, and being tended alternately in wheat & Indian corn (the latter of which is a great exhauster) without ever being rested or manured they fall at length down to 8. or 10. bushels the acre. the soil of midling quality will yield 12 or 15 bushels of wheat the acre when fresh, & fall down to about 8. the grasses which have been found to succeed best are red clover & orchard grass. green sward does well also. only one good cutting of these can be counted on unless the ground can be watered. A tract consisting of the three qualities before mentioned in equal quanties, in that part which lies near the Rivanna river say about Charlottesvil⟨le⟩ will sell for about 22/6 to 27/6 sterl. the acre on the average. it will be more or less in proportion as there is more or less of the best or worst qualities. produce is water-borne from hence to the tide-waters 70 miles distant. advancing North-Eastwardly along the same mountains these lands are dearer, tho’ their produce cannot be water-borne till they reach the Patowmac. going South Westwardly along the same mountains, lands become cheaper. where they cross the Fluvanna or James river they are about of the price before mentioned, and from that part their produce may be also waterborne to tide waters, 130 miles distant. ordinary prices about Charlottesville are as follows. a labouring negro man is hired by the year for 9.£ sterl. his clothes & fo⟨od.⟩ for a good plough horse costs £10. to 12£ sterl. a cow 30/ a sheep 6/ a sow 10/ a goose or turkey 2/ a dunghill fowl ⟨6d.⟩ a bushel of wheat 3/ of rye 22½d. of Indian-corn 1/6. beef in autumn & pork in the winter 16/ the 100 lb. bacon 6d. to 8d. the lb. hay 45/ the ton” (DLC:GW).

2See James Glen, A Description of South Carolina: Containing Many Curious and Interesting Particulars Relating to the Civil, Natural, and Commercial History of That Colony . . . to Which Is Added, a Very Particular Account of Their Rice-Trade for Twenty Years, with Their Exports of Raw Silk and Imports of British Silk Manufactures for Twenty-Five Years (London, 1761), 9.

3GW was unable to heed Young’s advice and concentrate on improving the quantity and quality of his mutton by acquiring Robert Bakewell’s improved breed of New Leicester sheep until after he retired from the presidency (see GW to Henry Dorsey Gough, 4 Feb. 1792, n.1; Carman et al., Special Report on the History of the Sheep Industry of the U.S., description begins Ezra A. Carman et al. Special Report on the History and Present Condition of the Sheep Industry of the United States. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Bureau of Animal Industry. Washington, D.C., 1892. description ends 57–58, 87).

4Young inserted a note along the right margin of the page: “On an average this would be too low—And if gathered it wd be Lgr.”

5“A country whose buildings are of wood, can never increase in its improvements to any considerable degree. Their duration is highly estimated at 50 years” (Notes on the State of Virginia Written by Thomas Jefferson [London, 1787], 258).

6In replying to Young’s first request, of 1 July 1788, GW modestly confided to Young on 4 Dec. 1788 his disinclination to have his letters published in the Annals of Agriculture, concluding: “I have such a reliance upon your prudence, as to leave it with you to do what you think, upon a full consideration of the matter shall be wisest & best.” On 18–21 June 1792 GW wrote Young more insistently against publication, and Young did not publish GW’s agricultural correspondence with him until after GW’s death (see also GW to Young, 5 Dec. 1791, n.6).

7GW replied to this letter on 18–21 June 1792.

8Young apparently sent two copies of the latest volumes of his Annals of Agriculture to GW, who forwarded one set to the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, as he had done with previous volumes according to Young’s request (see Young to GW, 7 Jan. 1786, n.2, 1 Feb. 1787, 1 July 1788, 25 Jan. 1791, n.2, GW to Samuel Powel, 30 June 1787, n.2, Powel to GW, 9 Dec. 1789, GW to Young, 1 Nov. 1787, 15 Aug. 1791, n.1, 18–21 June 1792). No evidence of GW’s forwarding the clover seeds to Mount Vernon has been found.

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