Showing posts with label Metcalf John Edward. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Metcalf John Edward. Show all posts

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Spring With Forty Acres and a Plow

imageI am always thrilled when I see the first crocus poke its head through the soil …..it brings with it anticipation and excitement for spring and warmer weather.  As I recently drove  to the nursery to select plants and seeds for my garden, I wondered what spring meant to my ancestors. Many of my ancestors were Georgia farmers and so I suspect that for them spring meant work, hope and anticipation for a bountiful harvest.

Here we plant most of our garden after Mother’s Day, so I was surprised to learn that in many areas of Georgia they plant some crops as early FEBRUARY!  So while I am still watching the snow drifts pile up, they are preparing soil and sowing seeds . When I am looking through the starts at our local nursery, in many parts of Georgia, they are beginning to harvest crops such as sweet corn, peaches and squash.

According to the 1880 Agricultural Census 1 John Monroe Ganus was the owner of his farm, which included 18 acres of Indian corn,  2 acres of oats, 2 acres of wheat, and 18 acres of cotton.  He also had 5 barnyard poultry, 8 swine and one milch cow in addition to one other cow.
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While this was not a big farm, by any standards, as I recently surveyed my cluster of simple raised garden boxes and thought of the time required to care for them,  I could not help but wonder what farming was like for John and how he managed to care for all that he had.  Farming is demanding for the farmers of today, but I can not imagine how grueling it must have been for the farmers of the late 19th century, void of the benefits of modern day equipment.

In 1880, John and Olivia had sons living at home who may have been a source of help.  At that time, their two oldest sons, William Franklin and John Thackason, were both married, had families and were farming nearby. The three sons still at home, were Roderick Monroe who was 17, Newton Lafayette who was 13 and Robert Lee who was 10.  I also know that for a period of time in 1882, John had help from an Mormon missionary serving in the area at that time.  I am so thankful for the insight that the John Metcalf’s journal2  provides into John’s life as a farmer.

According to his journal, when Elder Metcalf visited John ‘s home on May 19, 1882, he learned that a frost had killed some of John’s cotton and corn.  Farmers have always been vulnerable to the unpredictability of the weather, but that wouldn't have softened the disappointment of such loss.  From what I know about John, he was never particularly well off, but had to work hard for most of his life in order to provide for his family, so I am sure that losing crop came as a blow.  The next next morning, John got up and did the only thing that he could do and that was to get to work.  Elder Metcalf recorded that the next day he helped John to plow, indicating that they plowed half a day and were so busy, he ended up staying the night with John and Olivia.  A few days later, John had wheat to bind and Elder Metcalf returned to help.  On July 28, Elder Metcalf helped John “plow cotton”  and the men once again worked long and late into the evening.
 
As  crops were harvested, the farmer was not yet “done," as the fields then had to be cleared and cleaned.  Elder Metcalf found John in the field doing exactly that on September 9, and once again, stepped in to help him.  The following day, September 10,  it rained all day and  Elder Metcalf recorded that consequently they just “waited it out”.  I can almost picture the men, anxious to complete the task, periodically peering out the window for any indication of a break in the storm.  The following day, the rain stopped and they were able to return to the field to continue their work.  In my mind, I can see the steam rising from the field as the  hot Georgia sun warmed the drenched soil.  I also can imagine John and Elder Metcalf returning to John’s house at the end of the day, sunburned, tired and muddy from a full day’s work.  For three back breaking days, John and Elder Metcalf worked to clear the field. 

September 14, Elder Metcalf helped John pull fodder. After harvesting corn, farmers use to “pull fodder”, which involves pulling the blades off of the cornstalks and gathering them into bunches to dry in the sun. The fodder was then stored to be fed to the cows later. It was difficult work and the sharp edges of the corn blades often sliced their hands in the process.
 
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Sugar Cane
According to the  journal, John raised sugar cane that year and Elder Metcalf was there to help John cut the cane on September 28th, 29th and 30th  and again on October 2nd, and 3rd.  Cutting sugar cane was also difficult work, in which each stalk was cut individually from the ground and then at the top, after stripping off the foliage along the sides.3    

As they came to the end of the growing season, John Metcalf returned to John’s farm one final time on October 31 and helped John "pull and haul corn."

While Elder Metcalf continued to visit John’s home, no further mention was made that year of helping him on the farm and so for a few months at least, John continued to feed and care for his handful of livestock until the following spring, when he would once again begin the process of plowing, planting and harvesting.


1. Selected U.S. Federal Census Non-Population Schedules, 1850-1880 database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 May 2013, entry for John M. Ganus, District 1143 Haralson, Georgia; Archive Collection Number:  T1137; Page: 08; Line 10

2 Journal of John Edward Metcalf, Mission to the Southern States.  No longer available on the internet. (bulk of material for this post was taken from entries in this journal).

3   Cultivation of Sugar Cane;  William Carter Stubbs; Daniel Gugel Purse, Savannah, Morning News Print, 1900, page 144, found on www.books.google.com

Pictures from Wikipedia Commons, all in Public Domain.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2013
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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas is Coming, the Squirrel is Getting Fat?


Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat
Please to put a penny in the old man’s hat!

I remember singing that song as a child and thinking that it was a strange song. Why were we singing about a fat goose and putting pennies in an old man’s hat and just how did that relate to Christmas?

Christmas was magical as a child.  Things were a bit simpler then, but even so, I couldn’t have loved Christmas more. 

As simple as Christmas was for me as a child, I know that in earlier times, it was even simpler.  I do confess however, that thanks Christmas by the fireto old movies, I tend to romanticize it a bit, envisioning a family gathered around a roaring fire in a large rustic fireplace, real stockings hanging from the mantle and a freshly cut pine decorated with a few simple homemade ornaments standing beside it.  In my mind, their meal was composed of some type of bird and a few tasty yet simple fixings.  One thing is for certain, I’ve never pictured them gathering for a dinner of squirrel or including sardines!

So as I browsed through a few journals that I have copies of, I was surprised to read what they did in the days leading up to Christmas, as well as Christmas Day itself. 

From the biography of Henry Newton Cochran of Campbell County, Georgia:
December 24 1918
Tuesday “Christmas Eve”, It was very rainy last night, but has ceased this morning, but still cloudy. . . . The boys are preparing to go with a Lackie crowd serenading tonight. they went.
December 25, 1918
Wednesday-Christmas. We are all fine this morning, but I don’t know where or how we will be next Christmas Day.
That’s it?  No mention of exchanging gifts or a festive meal? The next two entries come from the journals of men serving as missionaries in the Haralson County area of Georgia in the 1880’s.

From the Journal of John Edward Metcalf:
December 25 1881
Sunday & Christmas day did not hold meetings ate some squirrel for breakfast, commenced to rain it rained without secession for twenty-four hours a very dismal Christmas read talked sung hymns 
And from the Journal of John Joseph Pledger Murphy I read the following:
December Friday 24, 1886
Christmas eve and uncle John is very buisy all day Selling candy Sardines Soda water & cigars to those that are having Christmass  I was also very buisey all day cooking & Eating.  uncle John & I continue to talk on the Principals of the gospell.  We hold Prares & go to bed & have a good Rest & Feel Refreshed.
Again, no mention at all about gifts!  No mention of decorations or big parties. I was struck by the simplicity of the day and although I did not include any entries for the days leading up to Christmas, I assure you that their entries were uneventful and full of typical daily activities.  There was no mention of a frantic effort to create the perfect holiday season or days full of shopping and spending. While I recognize that these entries may not fully reflect society as a whole during that era,  I do think it reflects a difference in how many people viewed the day.

I can’t help but think back to my own growing up years and see the contrast between then and now.  While we certainly celebrated Christmas and had fun activities with family and friends, the thing that stands out in my mind are the simple things.  We had many quiet evenings at home together as a family, enjoying games or an occasional special on TV.  I remember the peace of the program at church and that Christ was at the center of the holiday.  While I anxiously anticipated Christmas morning and a visit from Santa Claus, the expectations pale compared to what most want and receive today. The season didn’t seem to include the noise, the frantic determined search for the perfect gift, or the expectations for elaborate ornate holiday gatherings.   How did things evolve to where they are today? 

It has given me something to think about.  While I have definitely tweaked things the past few years to return the season’s focus to what Christmas is truly all about, I think I still have more changes to make.  One thing is for certain however, whatever else I choose to change, my family can rest assured that simplifying will not  include shopping for sardines on Christmas eve or serving squirrel for Christmas Day breakfast! 

Merry Christmas!

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012