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How Changes in English Farm Practices Influenced the Colonization of the Americas
Early English Farming Practices
Under the system of communal agriculture which was developed by Danish and Saxon tribes, full grown cows weighed between 80-100 pounds and it took eight of them to pull a single plow. These cows lived on acorns, grass, roots, straw and leaves. They roamed and bred at will and competed for the forage with the red and white hogs and the long haired Cotswold sheep. Old men chanted cants and mixed herbal medicine to thwart disease with the moon magic formulas handed down from Roman reeves and Druids.
The gentry laid out hereditary family strips that ran along the river bottoms or straight up across the hills and were cropped in three year successions and remained hallow on the fourth. Wheat production averaged 12 bushel to an acre on the fertile flat lands and from 4-8 on the upper fields.Peas did well if they produced 6 peas for ever pea planted.
In November the oldest animals were slaughtered and fall brought meat feasts of fresh sausage spareribs, knuckle bones and hocks. the remainder of the meat of the hog and sheep was salted and smoked over peat and birchwood fires. Beef of the sinewy oxen were hung in sheds until tenderized. This process was finished around the end of December when joints of beef and Yorkshire pudding graced the table at Christmas and New Year celebrations.
English Agriculture Under Norman Rule
The Norman lords invaded and ruled England and gave cuts of meat French names like beef, pork, mutton, and poultry, but allowed the animals themselves to retain the old Saxon names of hog, sheep, cow, horse, and chicken. The land belonged to the Normans and was passed from the fathers to the eldest son. The domain of a count became called a "county". The Norman name "ville" was used as a collective term for a county estate. The thatched stone cottages of land workers stacked eave to eave along two cart roads were called villages. Until 1400 the workers called themselves villeins". Land operated by a villageer on a direct lease from the manor lord was called a "farm". The word "farm" came from a French word meaning payment of a rental or fee." Among the landsmen of Saxon roots defied the Normals and called settlements by their Saxon name "tun" or "town" to identify a settlemetn and called land included in each church parish a "township".
A system of human rights evolved based on a pattern of democratic behavior know as Common Law. One of the eternal privileges of the villagers was the right to pasture their livestock in certain fields or commons set aside to share among the villagers.
The Development of the English Agriculture Enclosure System
In about 1300 markets began to open up in France for the long, ifne hair of the Cotswold sheep. The Norman landlords built hedges and brush fences wich gave way to stone fences to enclose the sheep. City traders began to develop a cloth industry and imported skilled weavers from France to handle the looms and small cottage factories began popping up around the country.
Under King Henry VIII, England withdrew from the Roman Catholic Church and redistributed church lands to court favorites. thousands of church acres were removed from commons and turned into pastures for the wool trade. Under Queen Elizabeth rule was given back to the villagers, the Spanish Armada was defeated, and the English empire cashed in on the piracy of Drake, Forbisher, Hawkins and others to scoop up Spain's plunder. Cotswold wool and English cloth dominated Germany, France, Dutch, and northern Italy's commercial fairs. This lead to more factories built in the cities. In 1603 the Laws of Tillage that Elizabeth had imposed were repealed so that the enclosures could be enlarged.
The cities swelled in the 1600s. new carts, new stores, new clerks pushed their homes together demanding that the supplies come through them. Farming began to become diversify. There were no more commons or strip crops. Production for cash of meat, grain, milk, and root vegetables were needed to feed the cities.
Animals began to be selectively bred for better production. Pastures were planted with improved grasses and clovers. Orchards were set out with apples, plums, peaches, pears, cherries and small fruits.Village gardens grew cabbage, turnips and other root crops. New vegetables were discovered in the New World like potato, maize, and squash.
The English countryside was turning into a wool empire. weaving factories began to be built around London, York, and the Midland towns. The enclosure system forced thousands of villagers from their homes. Beggars were rampant along the cart roads
America Became the Place for European Dissenters
The rise of Puritanism, the Quaker movement, the steadfast protection by the nobles of Roman Catholic worship added to the turmoil of England's change from an agricultural economy to an industrial one. The wool merchants, religious leaders, and the Crown all saw their answer in the west. In America, agricultural colonies would provide the food needed to keep the wool industry workers fed in Britain. They would in time become the consumers of manufactured products as well. In addition, the dessenters could be sent there and isolated and the excess manpower could be siphoned off.
During the first twenty-five years of the 17th century, the king granted charters ot Virginia, Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, Penn, and De la War to be models of democracy in the new land.Each charter granted a form of representative governmetn by freemen to which the roayl governors and agents of the company's directors must bow. In addition, indentured servants could work for a settler for five or six years and then for a small fee could claim fifty acres of land in his own name. All it took was surviving three months of seasickness, ship's fever, starvation, and Indian attack for six years and a man could own fifty acres. This beaconing of Yeomen to seek their fortunes as farmers in this new land, is the main reason that England would eventually dominate the Temperate Zone of the New World.
Though the Spanish and French arrived before the English, only England came ashore with the plow and hoe into the rich fields of the eight hundred mile stretch between Maine and Georgia. The northern half was brown forest podzolic soil rich in nitrogen and as. To the south half-bog soil blended into red and yellow podzolics.
It was to these regions that disinherited villagers, debtors, second-son victims of a system that gave all to the first born son, and free thinkers came in search of freedom. Most of them came from the English countryside, none more than a couple of generations removed from the thoughts, moods and practices of agriculture.
© 2013 Donna Brown