At Sabine Hall still 24th December 1796
I am now to give you some account of an Arrangement which I rather wish to adopt, than one I have in real practice. The untowardness, so often complained of as a fatallity, may always be traced to some error in the Man himself, immediate or remote: Howsoever this may be, an untowardness has unceasingly marked my Life. My Plan requires appropriate Farm Houses, Utensils, and inclosures; and I am baffled in all my attempts to fit them out. Every effort I have made, during Life, to have Tradesmen formed of my Slaves, has had for a result, to be untaught as to the object, but well instructed Rogues, and Vagabonds; and every Carpenter I meet with is too full of Work to be able to do mine: Nay the division by Survey is clogged with delay, and remains incomplete, though a whole year began. I hope you will not imagine I have been uttering the vexations of disappointment; but will rather admit it to be an apology, for recommending to you what I do not as yet, pursue with just precision on my own Estate.
Long have the Planters, and Farmers, in Virginia, been willing to admit the superior effectiveness of small divisions of their Laborers; but few have put it into practice. The reasons for this superiority are obvious, and have often been repeated; but among those to be alledged, I may here speak of such as I have never heard advanced. It would always have been well to conciliate the mind to Labor, not relying on Fear for the impulse: It now becomes the more essential, since the Minds even of the Slaves grow more enlightened. The division of the Laborers is creative of some degree of Rank; it presents to their Minds an object within their comprehension to take in; they see the begining and the end of their years Toil; and thereby may take it hold by the right end to pursue a clue along.
The wide extent of the I. Corn field, in the usual collective way, not only wastes the fertile store laid up with in the Land but it also serves to consume a deal of Labor by a misapplication of it. A Farm works to the best advantage, when it consists of only four Hands, allowing each an horse: These Hands should have no interruption from the pursuit of their Crop. All the fencing, cleaning up &c., should be brought in as a charge to be debited against the Profits; and the steady pursuit, with singleness of object, will well a[f]fray that charge. An extra Gang may be appointed, on every Estate to do this as a sole employment; and their Labors will be better [di]rected, than if they had to pass from one to the other, as is the case where all is blended: There is cheerfulness in Labor, when it is distinct. To every four laboring hands there should be one sedate Female to keep the house, cook, take care of the Children, the Poul[try] concern, and cultivate the little Garden: Often in the lesser ailme[nts] this Person may take place of the absentee in the Field. Besides the four Horses, I would allow the Farm four [Oxen] and two Tumbrils: [&] these the Manure may be carried out to the I. Corn field, during the Period when the Horses are doubled in the Plough, to break the Land and thereby two of the Hands are spared to drive the Tumbrils.
A Farm, to be wrought by the above appointed Labor, should consist of seven forty acre Fields; to raise I. Corn upon one—manured in the Hill; I. Pease in two; Fall grain in two; and Clove[r] or other grass in the remaining two. These different Crops will follow each other as expressed in the following Scheme.
In this Scheme you will observe, in one of the Fall grain field[s] in every year, [cl.] placed above; which is meant to denote the seeding of the Clover either with the Fall Grain sown upon the Tilth, [or] the Spring under a harrowing of the Grain, & rolled in, just as [a] Farmer chuses. Some Persons assure me, that sort of spring cultu[re] does mend the crop of Wheat; but I have never made the Tryal—perhaps you have, and if so will oblige me with your Remarks: My objection to the harrow is in a measure removed, in this instance, by the ready succession of shade in the advance of the Wheat; and must yield to that necessity there is at seeding to have unevenesses removed.
I think I may well say that this Sceme presents a Culture fa[v]orable to the Earth, and profitable to the Owner. Many People will have a better opinion of it for the two years appointed for Grass; but [it] was not with that View I have admitted a sixth and seventh Di[ve]rsion; for I think that is not probably a state of best improovement [to] the Soil. If the Clover be the chosen Grass, and that be suffered to advance [to] a fitness for the Scythe, to soil the Beast, it then will mend the Land: [if] the Clover be pastured, kept low, and hoof trodden; or if the Grass be of the spreading root kind; I must think the Earth will, at best, be in equilibria. The motive I had for the introduction of the two grass fields, was to make the Farm complete, by taking its share of Stock, for [t]he purpose of dividing that as well as the Laborers; upon a supposition of their thriving better: The Farms [too] by possessing Stock, acquire [a] succession of Manure for the I. Corn field: Add to these motives, the [Fi]eld has a longer recess from the I. Corn Crop.
The annal Crop for four hands, will be forty acres of I. Corn; [e]ighty acres of Fall Grain; and eighty acres of I. Pease. This will be thought by some Persons to be too great an allotment—but you will take a View of the principle accomodation; which is the simplifying the Labor, by throwing away the hoe, and performing all with the Plough: you will take a comparative view of the Labor required to cultivate I. Corn, and that which the Pease demand; and that twenty Acres of the former has, in all time, been found within the compass of one Plow-horse, As to the Fall Grain, the Farmer may call in Hirelings, if his plowing is throng, as they do in all countries, to assist in the Harvest; and he will find that his other engagements will well afford the expence. The general appointment, for the common I. Corn husbandry, is, in a gang of fourteen hands, about eight Ploughs and Six hoes: Suppose the Crop to consist of twenty acres for each plough, it will be one hundred and sixty acres. In my arrangement, allowing the fourteen hands an horse each, the crop at the rate of twenty acres as before for every Plow will be Two hundred and eighty Acres. Now admitting that the Ho[e is] useful to advance the I. Corn, an apt question may be asked if that advance will make 160. produce as much as 280. Acres will do wi[th]out the aid of the Hoe.
One happy discovery, if pechance it can be made, w[ould] enable us to stretch the pease, and consequent Fall Grain Fields, a greater extent than this Sceme appoints; I mean an instruem[ent] to facillitate the Pease Harvest: Pulling them up by hand mak[es] 80 Acres full tedious for four hands.
I will here conclude this Letter, and if I shall have omitted any material matter on the subject, you will please to point it out, and I will be more explicit. In the mean time I shall cease, for a while, from intruding on your valuable time, till your high Office is laid down, unless you find liesure to call my Pen again into use before that Period. I have the honor to be with every sentiment of most true regard Dear Sir Your very respectfull and Obedient humble servant
DLC: Papers of George Washington.