1880 Agricultural Schedule brings ancient farm to life.

© 2010, Alex Colvin

William Colvin 1880 Agricultural schedule Fauquier County, VA

  The remnants of William’s 300-acre family farm, where Union soldiers once squatted for weeks, pillaging his crops, livestock, and barns of all they could slaughter or carry during the Civil War, have  long since been sold off, piece by piece. However, to get a glimpse of what the working farm did, after the troops were gone, and some recovery was begun, we turn to the 1880 U.S. Federal non-population Census schedule, where William Colvin is listed among his Cedar Run, Fauquier County neighbors.

            The enumerator was concerned not with who was on the farm, their ages or relation to one another, but what the place did: what it produced, how, and in what quantity – during the preceding year. In this case, during the year: 1879. A careful reading of his tally, as told to him by William, gives us a glimpse into what happened there.

            As of 1880, William’s farm consisted of some 300 acres: 100 of them were considered old, and were no longer being used; 80 were under cultivation; and of the 120 remaining, 60 were forested and the rest meadows. The land was valued at some $3,000.000 with his livestock valued at some $600.00. He had also spent around $50.00 repairing fences.

            In terms of his grasslands, 15 acres of it had been “mowd” but not with a lawnmower. More likely by his heard of sheep, of which he had 30, all of whom apparently had dropped lambs. Had they given birth in a shed or on the 40 acres of un-mowed grasslands? As livestock went, there were more sheep than cows – William owned 8 “milch” cows – that is to say, cows raised strictly for producing milk, and 65 “other” animals. Goats?  Whatever they were, they may have help produce the 150 lbs of butter William’s farm produced in 1879. Two calves were born in 1879 – weather they were dairy calves or something other, is hard to say. Moreover, three calves managed to expire by either straying off or some other reason.

             William produced several other things on the farm – the most voluminous of which was hay. In 1879, he harvested 15 tons of the stuff. No doubt, some of his nine horses helped in that effort; he owned no oxen so his horses likely were put to plow.

             As for those sheep, 24 were sold in ’79 and 3 were killed by dogs and another three died of disease. Yet, William managed to sheer 30 of them to produce 95 lbs of fleece. William also had swine; 17 in all. There is not much data about the pigs.

             He also had 90 barnyard chickens, hens, etc, which managed to produce 100 dozen eggs. Try putting 100 dozen eggs in your refrigerator. Maybe not.  It’s probably fair to say some of them ended up in recipies  and in frying pans.

            Perhaps William liked scrambled eggs. He certainly had enough of them to have plenty for breakfast; he also had plenty of other edible things to enjoy. On 40 of those acres under cultivation, he had produced 500 bushels of Indian corn; on another 25 acres, he had produced 140 bushels of wheat; and on another ½ acre he’s grown 25 bushels of Irish potatoes and on another ½ acre 20 bushels of sweet potatoes. Like many Virginia farmers, he also had a thing for apple and peach trees. On 2 acres, he had raised 170 apple trees, which produced 170 bushels of apples.

           Pop quiz: how many trees does it take to produce a bushel?

         He also raises on 4 acres 700 peach trees, which produced an equal number of bushels of fruit.  Maybe he was planning to enjoy the fruits of his labor topped with honey. In 1879, his bees had produced 100 lbs of the stuff.

             It is interesting to consider also, his labor costs not to mention the sorts of items he could produce using a combination of items being produced. William paid some $100.00 dollars over the course of 30 weeks in order to produce some $502.00 worth of consumables.  However, in 1880, 4 of his 11 sons were still living at home, and so it is fair to say they were helping to offset labor costs, (not to mention contributing to the consumption rate of the items being produced.) No doubt, peach and apple pies were enjoyed. However, yarn from fleece could also be woven into any number of things. In addition, leather from cowhide was usable as was lumber from trees. The Union soldiers certainly made keen use of the resources available when they almost de-forested William’s farm and used lumber from the felled trees to rebuild the Cedar Run Bridge. The list goes on.

Source: William Colvin hh, 1880 U.S. Federal Agricultural Schedule, line 2. Ancestry.com


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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