Started reading Dr. Craven’s Soil Exhaustion.

Background: Book was originally published in 1929 (I’m reading the reprint of 1965) and is still considered a watershed work in terms of understanding how soil exhaustion from the tobacco trade effected migration and trade in the lower Maryland and Piedmont Virginia areas during the colonial and early post-Revolutionary periods. This Piedmont area is where the subjects of the Colvin Study lived and so this book helps me understand factors which effected their migration patterns. At the time he published, Dr. Craven was already an associate professor of American History at the University of Illinois, but I suspect this was his PhD thesis. According to his Preface, he could find virtually no data in the literature which addressed his topic as it pertained to the U.S., but did find some studies addressing the same issue in Europe. This explains why his work was so significant, it really was pioneering.

I’d like to go into deatil but sufice to say, he identifies several factors which resulted in soil exhaustion:

* ignorance of the planters who could care less about soil conservation methods, even though it was practiced routinely in Europe. No animal manure, for example, was recycled into the soil, which shocked European visitors, who noted too that, cattle were not penned but tended to be scrawny and roamed the forested areas of a planter’s estate unchecked.

* It was cheaper to move onto to new lands than to try to re-cultivate old, worn out ones.

* The technology of the period negated soil conservation efforts. The best plows and earth cultivators of the period could dig no deeper than 6 inches, never reaching below the top soil. Washington, who purchased some of the best equipment from Europe for his plantation, complained of this.

* The European tobacco market demand combined with county administrative forces encouraged backward farming techniques, hindering interest in other farming methods.

These are just some of the insights. His citations are excellent!


About Alex Colvin

Senior, History, minoring in Anthropology, University of Houston. Charter President, Walter Prescott Webb Historical Society, (Webb UH Main 2014-2015) University of Houston. Additional credentials can be found in the CV / Services tab.
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