Among all of the pioneers who traveled The Great Wagon Road to Carolina, 90% of these settlers were farmers on their new lands. Once the family was established and the lands were cleared from trees and rocks, the planning began for the cash crop. Wheat was the number one crop in the piedmont area of North Carolina. Farmers also grew corn, oats, flax and hemp. Tobacco was not widely grown at this time because of the lower prices before and after the American Revolutionary War. The oxen that brought many settlers to their new homes, now bring manure to the fields and pull the plows through the soil. Each day began at sunrise regardless how large the farm was or how small. Majority of farms were at least 100 acres and out of this 100, the farmer utilized as much acreage as possible for crops, livestock and gardening.
A fiber crop would consist of flax, hemp and cotton. These crops were not grown as a cash crop; however, many farmers did indeed profit from these. Fiber crops were woven and spun into coarse cloth for domestic use. Oats were widely grown and greatly exported to other colonies. Oats were also grown for horse feed. Rye and barley were grown and sold for local brewing which was very common among the early settlers.
Flax Field in North Carolina
Apples, peaches, pears and plums were also grown on farms. Apples were used abundantly as well as peaches for cider and brandy. All of these orchard crops would be dried as well for later use. Corn fields would also produce peas and beans. Farmers would plant these crops in between the corn plants to take advantage of land space. During the year of 1772, black-eyed peas were greatly sought and over 20,000 bushels were exported from Virginia to England and the West Indies.
The garden would consist of sweet and Irish potatoes, pumpkins, melons and cabbage. The garden space would differ from farm to farm depending on seedling availability and taste. Farming was hard work, but farmers learned to plant crops that required less maintenance and yielded more profit.
Some farmers would sow wheat in between corn hills or in other words, in between the rows. This would be called a winter wheat and would continue to grow until winter when it became dormant. The following spring, it would resume it’s growth and was ready for harvest by June. Wheat was harvested near the ground with a sickle. It was then stacked upright until fall or winter. Threshing the wheat took place by beating the harvest to separate the wheat berries from the hull or by leading a horse to walk over the hulls to allow them to separate. Manually threshing the wheat yielded approx. 5 bushels a day, while using a horse to thresh the wheat yielded three times the amount in one day.
18th Century Hand Sickle
After the threshing, the wheat was cleaned by removing the straw and dust. The wheat was then stored until it was taken to a local mill. Wheat was an excellent cash crop during the 18th century. Wheat held twice the market value versus corn and many of the first settlers prospered due to the income that wheat provided.
Farmers would not plant the same crops in the same fields year after year. Instead, they would alternate their fields in order to obtain the best yields. Years of planting would damage the soil and one way to provide nutrients back into the soil was planting turnips. Turnips were widely known to enrich the soil for the coming year’s crop. All farmers used this method and the turnips were used for eating and livestock feed.
Livestock and poultry were just as important with farming as were the crops. All farmers owned chickens. Eggs were vital with their diet and chickens were also used as a food source for the family. Many farmers owned ducks and turkeys as well. Chickens were allowed to roam and roast where they pleased. It wasn’t until much later when chicken coops became popular. Feathers were used for bedding and quills were used for writing purposes.
Wheat Field in Piedmont Area of North Carolina
Pigs or swine were brought with many of the pioneers when they arrived in Carolina. Pigs multiplied quickly and required little care for their well-being. They also supplied a great source of meat for the family. Most pigs provided the family with 100 to 150 pounds of meat. The pigs would eat chestnuts, acorns, orchard fruit and roots. Butchering a pig would usually occur during the late fall to early winter months in order to supply the family with a food source during the cold winter. Pigs also protected the family farm by challenging wolves, bears and killing poisonous snakes. Because of this, pigs were allowed to roam freely on the land and farmers would mark their pigs by placing notches in an ear.
Soil conditions would vary from farm to farm, depending on the location. Many farmers endured large rocks while others endured sloping and hilly land. The early farmers of North Carolina managed to make their land work for their needs. They quickly learned the weather patterns and planted by the signs of the moon. They felt these practices were so important that the methods were passed down from one generation to the next. A farmer’s life was hard, but the new freedom that filled the air after the American Revolutionary War, inspired the pioneer family to rise with the sun, complete their chores and celebrate their achievements. A majority of the farms located in Carolina were small to medium size and the entire family worked the farm. Each member of the family was equally important to the survival of the family unit.
Fence along Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina
The one advantage the early settlers had in North Carolina was the rich soil upon their lands. Many of the northern colonies suffered from poor soil which yielded small crops. Here in North Carolina, the soils were untouched by farming and yielded huge quantities of crops. This is one of the main reasons why the settlers traveled to the piedmont area.
- Wheat-bushel- .58
- Corn-bushel- .33
- Oats-bushel- .25
- Rye-bushel- .50
- Tobacco-100 pounds-$2.50
- Beef-100 pounds-$2.50
There were many jobs on the early farms. Everyday, a task would present itself. Hand tools were mainly used and hard labor accompanied sweat that was needed for prosperity. The changing seasons only changed the chores of the farmer, the work would carry on. The trails these farmers left behind are cherished as we look back upon their lives and share once again their triumphs.