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18th Century Threshing

Updated on March 8, 2015

Threshing by Hand

Threshing with a Flail
Threshing with a Flail | Source

Threshing with a Flail

Garner Rix had built a house by 1798 and probably had been girding trees and clearing land for several years before that time. Once enough land was cleared, Garner Rix, like his neighbors, gathered the wheat and oats into shocks to dry. He was busy all year and wintertime was no exception. Wintertime was threshing time.

on Flickr, Creative Commons.This lens is a continuation of the Garner Rix Unit Study Garner Rix and the Royalton Raid. After returning to Royalton, Garner was given a section of land that had been confiscated from Tories who had lost the war.

The only tool for threshing was the flail. Machines for threshing would not be invented until nearly the middle of the 19th century. Garner Rix probably made his own flail and until the children were old enough to help, Betsy probably helped him.

As we travel back in time to learn more about the early 1800's, imagine yourself as a member of Garner Rix's family. Imagine helping to pick the saplings to be made into flails. Imagine the comradery of going out to the barn on a cold winter day to thresh the wheat. Sing a worksong as you keep a steady rhythm and learn where the flour to make your bread comes from.

Come into the barn, pick up a flail and thresh out the skills of an 18th century farmer...

Farm Tools Through the Ages - Farm Tools Through the Ages was written by Michael Partridge

Threshing with a Flail
Threshing with a Flail | Source

Photo Credit: Farmer Using a Flail

from The Probert Encyclopaedia of General Information.

A flail is a manual threshing device consisting of a long wooden handle or staff and a shorter, free-swinging stick attached to its end. Garner Rix probably made his own flail to thresh the first small crops grown on his land. Betsey probably helped in this process until they had children old enough to help.

The Threshing Process - How to Thresh

Threshing Corn, Illustration from a School Textbook "Enseignement Par Les Yeux"
Threshing Corn, Illustration from a School Textbook "Enseignement Par Les Yeux" | Source

Threshing Wheat

  • Lay the shock of wheat on a smooth floor and begin to hit the stem part of the wheat.
  • The stem is called the straw.
  • This knocks the seeds off the straw.
  • 1-2 hours of flailing should yield about a quart of wheat seed which still needs to be winnowed and ground into flour.

How to Thresh Grain with a Flail - Hand Threshing

What is a Threshing Barn? - Learn about Threshing in the 18th Century

This video explains the special characteristics that make an English Barn ideal for threshing. About 2/3 of the way through there is a demonstration of how to thresh by hand using a flail. This is the way grains were threshed until at least the late 1800's before threshing machines had been invented and became prevalent.

English Barn Threshing

Hand Threshing in Tuscany - A Celcbration of Threshing in Italy

Listen to the way the rhythm of the music provides a beat for the man in the background who is threshing wheat. People who performed repetitive tasks like threshing often made up songs pass the time. These became known as worksongs.

Hand Threshing

Threshing with Flails - Listen to Two Men Thresh with Flails

Ambient Sounds has published a sound recording of two men from Poland who are threshing grain. Listen to them talk as they thresh. Notice that they are beating with the flails in a rhythm that allows both of them to flail at the same time. What do you think that they are talking about?

Glorifying the Days of Threshing by Hand - Daily Threshing

My children delight in listening to stories. When carefully chosen, stories and fictional tales can add depth to a unit study. In this case, reading the story of threshing by hand can take us to a time and place where threshing was a daily task. What would people talk about while they were threshing? Which family members would normally thresh?

Flail Threshing Wheat! - Listen to the sound of the Flail Threshing Wheat!

Listen to the sounds of a flail threshing wheat. Notice that the wheat had been stacked in shocks and is placed on the threshing floor with the grains all headed in one direction making it easier for the flail to separate the grain from the straw. Listen to the chickens in the background as well as a man singing a worksong about threshing wheat. Notice that the rhythm of the song follows the rhythm of flailing.

Flailing Wheat

Everyday life in the 18th Century! - Learn more about Living in the 18th Century!

Threshing is one aspect of 18th century agriculture we explore when learning about Garner Rix and the Royalton Raid. Threshing was a very important part of life during the 18th century before machines had been developed to produce flour. Come learn more about life on Garner Rix's farm...

Thanks for Leaving your Thoughts on Threshing...

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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Great time watching and reading this lens! Very informative. Thank you Lord for Andrew Meikle a man who should be nominated for sainthood.

    • deldobuss profile image


      7 years ago

      I loved the video and the song! I have some pictures of my ancestors with the big huge grain threshers that were pulled by horses. Can you imagine having to do it all by hand?

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Wonderful lens. I've only read about threshing but it was a daily occupation to my ancestors (I'm Bulgarian and Bulgarians have lived mainly through cultivating the land and growing all types of cultures). My grandma loves to tell me stories about plowing while she was a 4 year old ... I believe they should have done the threshing too afterwards though not with hands.

    • oztoo lm profile image

      oztoo lm 

      8 years ago

      Oh wow, don't we have it easy today. It really is fascinating to learn about these old techniques. Thanks for another enlightening lens.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      8 years ago from Central Florida

      I find these old farm techniques interesting.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      @mysticmama lm: People had to work for a living then, I mean work! Where did I put my remote?

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      We have come along way in just a few years. There was no overweight people then. You had to work for the bread! I was thinking how to build a simple machine to do that work as I watched the film. Some farmer did build a machine.

    • momto4 lm profile image

      momto4 lm 

      9 years ago

      Great lens! I've learned something new today! Love your pictures!

    • mysticmama lm profile image

      Bambi Watson 

      9 years ago

      Wow, great topic!

    • seashell2 profile image


      9 years ago

      Great job, Evelyn!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 

      9 years ago from United States

      Great Lens! I like the pictures you used.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Super lens!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Excellent Evelyn! Just marvelous!

    • evelynsaenz1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Evelyn Saenz 

      9 years ago from Royalton

      [in reply to Heather426] Thank you Heather.

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 

      9 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      Love it! another great lens from you!


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