George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Edward Newenham, September 1796

September 1796

Indian Corn seems to engage so much of the attention of my Countrymen; and in good truth, has in itself so large a share of merit as a food for Man and Beast; that I have lent a partial mind to the search after a mode of culture, consistent with the welfare of the Land. We may fairly ascribe the wide waste of destruction in our fields to the growth of that Plant; pursued, as it has been in all time, under an itinerant sort of Husbandry: It would seem as if Mankind were content to resign Posterity, to the wretched alternative of Famine or Emigration. A Field has been with drawn from the Forest, and pushed to it’s last exertions; and another, and another still, has been again destroyed: And then abandoned to a common, insterillity’s most comfortless state; naked and bound up from Air’s benificent Influence.

Enquiries into the cause of this destruction, consequent to such husbandry, led to an investigation of the various concurrence in the business of Vegitation; and all the matter, engaged, seemed to be of a volatile nature, or fit to become so. To the untaught it may be a subject of wonder, that the matter of Earth should have such a quallity assigned to it; yet it is not more surprising than true: Inert as it may be in its native state, a communication with Aerial matter imparts to it a vivacity, as absolutely subject to exhalation as the matter of Air with which it is allied: And ponderous as it is in water, it acquires, by the union a perfect solubillity in fluids more dense than Air, and without interrupting their transparency.

The Heat of the Sun however useful to the Plant; and however necessary in a limited sense it may be to the Earth; is nevertheless injurious in the excess: Nor is this injurious charge to be waved, for its lessend force in the Winter season: It will be found, upon due enquiry, to impair the Land, even more, when in a frozen state, than in a State of Freedom.

If volatile matter be exposed to heat, an exhalation must be the consequence and the fruitful deposits from the Air having, by its union with the matter of Earth, rendered it as volatile as itself; it appears that there is a free Resignation of a part of the Lands own native Resources, consequent to injudicious tillage.

The more perpendicular the plane is, to the direction of the Rays of the sun, the more forcible will be the Heat; and that will be the more moderate, [in Proportion] as that direction deviates from the right angle: The more obliquely then, the land is placed to the Sun, the less degree of heat it will sustain.

When the Earth is free it maintains some stand against the [assault] of heat; and by its absorbent powers holds it’s fertillity from a moderate degree of it; but when it is locked up by frost, it looses that absorbent force, and yields its volatile contents freely to the solicitations of even the sustained rate of heat of that Season. As an example to illustrate this I request your attention to the moist, greasy, appearance on the surface of the hard frozen ground, which the Sun has just sent forth a gentle warmth, as yet insufficient to unbind the Earth: This appearance will be greater upon a levelled spot; and then the Treasure will exhale, before the frost bound soil can be released, to reassume its absorbent Powers.

The more surfaces are presented, by tillage, to the air, the more of that matter of Earth will be in contact with its contents; and the more fertillity is insured For it can no how constitute a part of vegetable Food but by being rendered soluble in Water %. The division may not be pursued too far; as instance with the Hoe [of] Harrow; For besides the dangerous excess, those tools lay the Ground too level; and both together afford too free an admission of Heat; and leads to the waste described in [   ]

Plowing, to be adapted to the foregoing postulate, should be directed in Ridges; for Example, two Furrows meeting upon a Baulk, highly pointed up; Ridge rang[e] by the side of Ridge, throughout the Field. The Baulks will mellow better than the Cast; so the Farmer may not cavil too hastily; but must recur to the meeting Furrow in the middle of each Fallow–land, that has been broken up in Fall or Winter.

Indian Corn, should be planted as early as possible, that the Crop may be brought to early perfection; for the sake, particularly of geting the Plowings over before the greatest heats. When it rises four or five inches high, a deep furrow should be taken from the Corn on both sides, so close as to leave it standing upon a narrow Ridge, with upright sides. Thus it should remain until about the middle of May; # during which time the little bank is receiving a rich impregnation from the Air, without a diminution from the sun; owing to its oblique position. It also is induced, by the depression of the Furrows, to strike deep roots.

When the time arrives, # a loose mould being cast into the furrows, solicits a new set of Roots; so that the supplies having been increased, and now the demands meet supplies, the Husbandman may count upon added proceeds. The future plows all directed to the Corn, serve to destroy the Grass, * with out the aid of the Hoe; and thereby preserve the obliquity so requisite.

All the Plowings after # should be by alternate Rows, to permit a close approach to the corn; * and the advantages of the alternate plowing, in dry weather, will occur to every Plowman.

The directions given for the management of the I. Corn Crop are best suited to the Fallow approoving Farmer, who has no occasion to throw away his grain and Labor, by sowing in a Field that has already brought an exhausting Crop, such as Indian Corn; yet it will be well for the other to follow them as near as he can. He may plow his Indian Corn Field at any stage with safety to the Crop, in the above described way; if the Proprietor is content to bare his soil to the virulence of Heat: But it will always be bad husbandry.

The Farmer will see in % page 2d his danger if he summer fallows; for those Tools offer themselves as essentially necessary: But suppose he turns it flat over for a green fallow, as it is emphatically called; he will discover, pages, a solubillity, that has the quallity of subsiding to the bottom, which is laid over to the hot Sun for free exhalation; the ballance of power being given to heat, over the absorbent hold, the Toiling laborer frustrates his own intent, and [satisfying it] the shadow will loose substance.

I think I have gone the length of a Letter; so will conclude with a wish [that] your valuable time may not be thrown away in the perusal: Be that as it may, I know your goodness will accept the will for the Deed.

Just as I had wished thus far, my Papers came to hand; wherein I [send] the departing Father’s valuable counciles to his Children—Such a compressive system of politics may probably stay the dreaded ills, awhile—The thanks of all are due, & I take this early oppty to offer mine, with filial gratitude.

Your arrival at Mt Vernon too is but now announced; or I might have ventured to extend my thoughts on Agriculture; counting upon your greater liesure: but have made an end for this time, & so let it be. Friend! Father! Adieu!

DLC: Papers of George Washington.

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