I discovered that http://www.familysearch.org has the 1850 – 1880 agriculture census’ for Illinois. Too excited to see what all my farmer ancestors actually did, I have wasted a lot of time sitting here over the past week. When one thinks of farming, one tends to think more of crops. In my case anyway. But alas there is so much more to traditional farming centuries ago. One didn’t specialize like they do today. They did the gamut. I actually believe more of my people tended to be subsistence farmers as opposed to being out to see how rich they could get.
It was rather amazing to see all that these families did have their hands in. My 4 great grandfather, John Cummins, (son of Daniel Cummins of the Cummins Historical Note entry) was farming in Jasper County, Illinois in 1850 and here is what it says about his farm. The dollar numbers were current value. The bushels and pounds are what was raised in 1849.
50 acres improved
110 acres unimproved
$800 cash value of farm
$50 value of farming implements and machinery
3 milch cows
2 other cattle
$235 value of livestock
600 bushels of indian corn
100 bushels of oats
5 bushel of Irish potatoes
75 lbs. of butter
$15 value of homemade manufacture
$25 value of animals slaughtered for personal use or sale
So can you guess which of those lines attracts me the most? Yes, it is the 18 sheep. I was amazed at how many had sheep. It seems most did in the 1850, 1860, and 1870 census but few in the 1880. I really would love to know what was happening to influence this. Were they taking care of personal needs if only enough wool to knit socks, mittens, and hats? Did they know going west that they would need to supply more clothing needs for themselves? Were they actually selling the wool off? Most seem so little to make it worth to sell. I did find a reference once (and can I shoot myself for not keeping a record of it) that there was a carding mill in Greenup during the 19th century. Next county north but most of my people lived on the north side of Jasper County.
So the gears have been churning and I have a theory on part of it but need a way to test it now. In the 1850s, Illinois was still fairly frontier and we are talking about a part of it that isn’t near major cities. It is just off the National Road though so there would be traffic passing by just a few miles north. I can see the need to have more to supply for yourself. More self-sufficiency needed at this time. But by 1860 we are more settled but still quite a few sheep around. Then 1870 still quite a few. Now theory. During the Civil War cloth becomes precious on both sides of the war. In the South, as the blockade didn’t allow any in except by blockade runners and there were very very few mills in the South. So cloth became incredibly precious. On the flip side though this also hurt the North. With the blockade, the Northern mills weren’t getting any cotton from the South and many were closed before the war was over. So there was a cloth shortage in the North as well. Not as drastic as the South but still. Could they be helping themselves out in this time of more need and less for sale?
Side notes besides the sheep. Almost everyone had an enormous amount of butter they made. I hope these women had a good book to read while churning away. Or maybe it was a good chance to sit and relax though the arms would get tired. Also it would seem to me that they would sell the large amounts of corn and oats but everyone’s potatoes seem so little that I would think that they kept them for themselves. Interesting how Irish potatoes become larger in quantity over time and sweet potatoes fewer. I would think these sweet potatoes were the white ones I’ve just learned about and actually like. Not the yams that so many call sweet potatoes today and I really don’t like. The idea of potatoes being that sweet is just wrong.