Original Document
Original Document
Contemporary Description of Pennsylvania, By A Pennsylvanian, 1788

"The first settler in the woods is generally a man who has outlived his credit or fortune in the cultivated parts of the State. His time for migrating is in the month of April. His first object is to build a small cabbin of rough logs for himself and family. The floor of this cabbin is of earth, the roof is of split logs - the light is received through the door, and, in some instances, thro" a small window made of greased paper. A coarser building adjoining this cabbin affords a shelter to a cow, and pair of poor horses. The labor of erecting these buildings is succeeded by killing the trees on a few acres of ground near his cabbin; this is done by cutting a circle round the trees, two or three feet from the ground. The ground around these trees is then ploughed and Indian-corn planted in it. The season for planting this grain is about the 20th of May. . . It grows generally on new ground with but little cultivation, and yields in the month of October following, from, 40 to 50 bushels per acre. After the first of September it affords a good deal of nourishment to his family, in its green or unripe state, in the form of what is called roasting ears. His family is fed during the summer by a small quantity of grain which he carries with him, and by fish and game. His cows and horses feed upon wild grass, or the succulent twigs of the woods. For the first year he endures a great deal of distress from hunger-cold-and a variety of accidental causes, but he seldom complains or sinks under them. As he lives in the neighbourhood of Indians, he soon acquires a strong tincture of their manners. His exertions, while they continue, are violent; but they are succeeded by long intervals of rest. His pleasures consist chiefly in fishing and hunting. He loves spirituous liquors, and he eats, drinks, sleeps in dirt and rags in his little cabbin. In his intercourse with the world, he manifests all the arts which characterize the Indians of our country. In this situation he passes two or three years. In proportion as population increases around him, he becomes uneasy and dissatisfied. Formerly his cattle ranged at large, but now his neighbours call upon him to confine them within fences, to prevent their trespassing upon their fields of grain. Formerly he fed his family with wild animals, but these, which fly from the face of man, now cease to afford him an easy subsistence, and he is compelled to raise domestic animals for the support, of his family. Above all, he revolts against the operation of laws. He cannot bear to surrender up a single natural right for all the benefits of government, and therefore he abandons his little settlement, and seeks a retreat in the woods, where he again submits to all the toils which have been mentioned. There are instances of many men who have broken ground on bare creation, not less than four different times in this way, in different and more advanced parts of the State. It has been remarked, that the flight of this class of people is always increased by the preaching of the gospel. This will not surprise us when we consider how opposite its precepts are to their licentious manner of living. If our first settler was the owner of the spot of land which he began to cultivate, he sells it of considerable profit to his successor; but if (as is oftener the case) he was a tenant to some rich landholder, he abandons it in debt; however, the small improvements he leaves behind him, generally make it an object of immediate demand to a second species settler.

"This species of settler is generally a man of some property, he pays one-third or one-fourth part in cash for his plantation which consists of three or four hundred acres, and the rest in gales or instalments, as it is called here; that is, a certain sum yearly, without interest, 'till the whole is paid. The first object of this settler is to build an addition to his cabbin; this is done with hewed logs; and as saw-mills generally follow settlements, floors are made of boards; his roof is made of what are called clapboards, which are a kind of coarse shingles, split out of short oak logs. This house is divided by two floors, on each of which are two rooms: under the whole is a cellar walled with stone. The cabbin serves as a kitchen to this house. His next object is to clear a little meadow ground, and plant an orchard of two or three hundred apple-trees. His stable is likewise enlarged; and, in the course of a year or two, he builds a large log barn, the roof of which is commonly thatched with rye straw: he moreover encreases the quantity of his arable land; and, instead of cultivating Indian corn alone, he raises a quantity of wheat and rye: the latter is cultivated chiefly for the purpose of being distilled into whiskey. This species of settler by no means extracts all from the earth which it is able and willing to give. His fields yield but a scanty encrease, owing to the ground not being sufficiently ploughed. The hopes of the year are often blasted by his cattle ore through his half made fences, and destroying his grain. His horses perform but half the labor that might be expected from them, if they were better fed; and his cattle often die in the spring from the want of provision, and the delay of grass. His house, as well as his farm, bear many marks of a weak tone of mind. His windows are unglazed, or, if they have had glass in them, the ruins of it are supplied with old hats or pillows. This species of settler is seldom a good member of civil or religious society: with a large portion of a hereditary mechanical kind of religion, he neglects to contribute sufficiently towards building a church, or maintaining a regular administration of the ordinances of the gospel: he is equally indisposed to support civil government: with high ideas of liberty, he refuses to bear his proportion of the debt contracted by its establishment in our country: he delights chiefly in company-sometimes drinks spirituous liquors to excess - will spend a day or two in every week, in attending political meetings; and, thus, he contracts debts, which (if they do not give him a place in the sheriff's docket) compel him to sell his plantation, generally in the course of a few years, to the third and last species of settler.

"This species of settler is commonly a man of property and good character - sometimes he is the son of a wealthy farmer in one of the interior and ancient counties of the state. His first object is to convert every spot of ground, over which he is able to draw water, into meadow: Where this cannot be done, he selects the most fertile spot on the farm, and devotes it by manure to that purpose. His next object is to build a barn, which he prefers of stone. This building is, in some instances, 100 feet in front, and 40 in depth: it is made very compact, so as to shut out the cold in winter; for our farmers find that their horses and cattle, when kept warm, do not require near as much food, as when they are exposed to the cold. He uses economy, likewise, in the consumption of his wood. Hence he keeps himself warm in winter, by means of stoves, which save an immense deal of labour to himself and his horses, in cutting and hauling wood in cold and wet weather. His fences are every where repaired, so as to secure his grain from his own and his neighbour's cattle. But further, he encreases the number of the articles of his cultivation, and, instead of raising corn, wheat, and rye alone, he raises oats, buckwheat, (tire fagopyrum of Linnaeus) and spelts. Near his house, he allots an acre or two of ground for a garden, in which he raises a large quantity of cabbage and potatoes. His newly cleared fields afford him every year a large encrease of turnips. Over the spring which supplies him with water, he builds a milk-house: he likewise adds to the number, and improves the quality of his fruit-trees: His sons work by his side all the year, and his wife and daughters forsake the dairy and the spinning wheel to share with him in the toils of harvest. The last object of his industry is to build a dwelling house. This business is sometimes effected in the course of his life, but is oftener bequeathed to his son, or the inheritor of his plantation: and hence we have a common saying among our best farmers, "that a son should always begin where his father left off" and that is, he should begin his improvements by building a commodious dwelling-house, suited to the improvements and value of the plantation. This dwelling-house is generally built of stone - it is large, convenient and filled with useful and substantial furniture - It sometimes adjoins the house of the second settler, but is frequently placed at a little distance from it. The horses and cattle of this species of settler, bear marks in their strength, fat and fruitfulness-of their being plentifully fed and carefully kept. His table abounds with a variety of the best provisions - his kitchen flows with milk and honey-beer, cyder, and wine are usual drinks of his family: the greatest part of the cloathing of family is manufactured by his wife and daughters: In proportion as he encreases in wealth, he values the protection of laws: Hence he punctually pays his taxes towards the support of government.

Schools and churches likewise as the means of promotion and happiness in society, derive a due support from him: benevolence and public spirit, as to these objects, are the natural offspring of affluence and independence. Of this class or set are two-thirds of the farmers of Pennsylvania: These are the men to whom Pennsylvania owes her ancient fame and consequence. If they possess less refinement than their southern neighbors, who cultivate their lands with slaves, they possess more republican virtue. It was from the farms cultivated by these men, that American and French armies were fed chiefly with bread during the late revolution: and it was from the produce of these farms, that those millions of dollars were obtained from the Havanna after the year 1780, which laid the foundation of the bank of North America, and which fed and cloathed the American army, 'till the glorious peace of Paris. . . . This is a short account of the happiness of a Pennsylvania farmer. . . . To this happiness our state invites men of every religion and country. We do not pretend to offer emigrants the pleasures of Arcadia. . . . It is enough if affluence, independence, and happiness are ensured to patience, industry, and labour. The moderate price of land, the credit which arises from prudence, and the safety from our courts of law, of every species of property, render the blessings which I have described, objects within the reach of every man.

"From a review of the three different species of settlers, it appears, that there are certain regular stages which mark the progress from the savage to civilized life. The first settler is nearly related to an Indian in his manners. . . . In the second, the Indian manners are more diluted: It is in the third species of settlers only, that we behold civilization completed. . . It is to the third species of settlers only, that it is proper to apply the term of farmers. While we record the vices of the first and second settlers, it is but just to mention their virtues likewise. . . . Their mutual wants produce mutual dependence: hence they are kind and friendly to each other-their solitary situation makes visiters agreeable them; -hence they are hospitable to strangers: their want of money, (for they raise but little more than is necessary to support their families) has made it necessary for them to associate for the purposes of building houses, cutting their grain, and the like;…This they do in turns for each other, without any other pay than the pleasures which usually attend a country frolic. . . . Perhaps, what I have called virtues, are rather qualities, arising from necessity, and the peculiar state of society in which those people live. . . . Virtue should, in all cases, be the offspring of principle. . . .

"I have only to add upon this subject, that the migrants from Pennsylvania always travel to the southward. The soil and climate of the western parts of Virginia, North and South-Carolina, and Georgia, afford a more easy support to lazy farmers, than stubborn but durable soil of Pennsylvania. . . . Here our ground requires deep and repeated ploughing to render it fruitful - there scratching the ground once or twice affords tolerable crops. In Pennsylvania, the length and coldness of the winter make it necessary for the farmers to bestow a large share of their labor in providing for, and feeding their cattle; but in the southern states, cattle find pasture during the greatest part of the winter, in the fields or woods. For these reasons, the greatest part of the western counties of the States that have been mentioned are settled by original inhabitants of Pennsylvania. During the late war, the militia of Orange County, in North-Carolina, were enrolled, and their number amounted to 3500, every man of whom had migrated from Pennsylvania. From this you will see, that our State is the great outport of the United States for Europeans; and that, after performing the office of a sieve, by detaining all those people who possess the stamina of industry and virtue, it allows a passage to the rest, to those States which are accommodated to their habits of indolence and vice…

"With great respect, "I have the honor to be, Sir
"Your most obedient "HUMBLE SERVANT."

Credit: The Columbian Magazine (Philadelphia, November, 1786), I, 117-122.
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