Aroostook County farming in the 1800s

17 years ago

To the editor:
According to the Eighth U.S. Census of Agriculture, there were 2,938 farms in Aroostook County in 1860. Improved (cleared) land totaled 124,117 acres; unimproved acres totaled 326,699. A majority of farms were from 20 to 100 acres in size. Two farms topped 500 acres.
    The 1860 Census provides a good mental picture of Aroostook agriculture. The County produced 411,630 bushels of potatoes (six percent of the State total), 419,783 bushels of oats, 230,442 bushels of buckwheat, 26,714 bushels of rye, 24,763 bushels of wheat, 18,799 bushels of peas and beans (primarily for livestock feed), 16,471 bushels of barley, 3,265 bushels of Indian corn, and 957 bushels of clover seed.
The (June 1) livestock inventory included 18,043 sheep (yielding 61,312 pounds of wool), 6,541 “milch” cows (supplying 467,301 pounds of butter and 22,216 pounds of cheese), 4,521 hogs, 2,490 working oxen, 7,156 other cattle, 3,654 horses and 8 mules. Poultry were left uncounted. Value of farming implements and machinery was $178,182.
Other farm production included 39,267 tons of hay, 129,875 pounds of maple sugar (42 percent of the State’s total), 8,275 pound of honey, 32 pounds of beeswax, 795 pounds of flax, 38 pounds of hops, 80 pounds of tobacco, and only 2 gallons of wine. Orchard products were valued at $1,084.
In 1861, the President of the North Aroostook Agricultural Society was Joel Bean of the Reach Road in Maysville. He noted that “oats and rye (in 1860) were excellent. Potatoes a rather light crop, and so was buckwheat, or not over an average crop. The Show and Fair were well attended. The first premium on stallions was awarded to John Allen, for a Drew horse. Mr. J.W. Haines exhibited a pure blood South Down ram, to whom was awarded first premium.”
The 1861 U.S. Patent Office Report noted that farmers of New England “love the homes they have created, but only as part of the whole country, and when a disruption of that is threatened (by Civil War), their rough hands, that had never wielded anything more warlike than a ploughshare or a pruning hook, are the first to beat those peaceful implements into the sword and the spear, and with prompt alacrity to hold at bay the traitorous assailants of the capital, of liberty, and the Union.”
To some farmers, money was also important. When Union Army recruiters approached William H. Sutter of the Reach Road in Maysville, he asked them if the pay was enough to cover chewing tobacco. He was assured it would. William, age 19, enlisted in Co. C, 12th Infantry, on December 2, 1861. He left the farm in the hands of his younger brother.
Statistics published by the Maine Board of Agriculture show major growth in Aroostook County agriculture from 1860 to 1880. By 1880, there were 5,802 farms. Improved land totaled 270,442 acres.
The County produced 628,435 bushels of oats, 296,793 bushels of buckwheat, 10,894 bushels of rye, 138,236 bushels of wheat, 15,777 bushels of barley, 382 bushels of Indian corn, and 2,248,594 bushels of potatoes (28 percent of the State’s total). The boost in potato production was spurred by the area’s newly established starch manufacturing industry.
The livestock inventory in 1880 consisted of 39,615 sheep (producing 190,636 pounds of wool), 12,461 “milk” cows, 6,638 hogs, 2,252 working oxen, 14,031 other cattle, 9,054 horses and 21 mules.
Aroostook County farm production in 1880 also included 80,316 tons of hay and 4,520 pounds of hops. Value of orchard products was $7,227. Value of implements and machinery had risen to $348,179.
In November 1883, Walter Ballentine, Professor of Agriculture at State College, spoke on “Soil Exhaustion” to a large attendance of farmers at the Caribou Grange Hall. At one point, he said “a few years ago Aroostook County was believed by many to furnish a practically inexhaustible soil, but the bountiful crops of potatoes, oats, and wheat taken from those new lands have made such a draft on their native fertility, that many of her farmers are fain to supply deficiencies by the use of commercial fertilizers.”
In 1879, cost of fertilizers purchased in Aroostook County totaled $6,672, only 3 percent of the State total.

Steve Sutter
Presque Isle