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Feeding Body and Soul — Haudenosaunee Agriculture in the 19th Century
Excerpt from: A Yorker Curriculum Publication No. 6
Created by: Janet Williammee, Grade 4 Teacher, Cherry Valley—Springfield Central School and Dave Rickard, Native American Specialist 2002 The Farmers' Museum, Cooperstown, New York

Prior to the mid-Eighteenth Century the people of the Six Nations lived in clustered communities of bark lodges. Large communal fields stretched for miles and surrounded the longhouse villages. The typical farming practice of the Haudenosaunee was to create mounds about three feet round, in which were planted the Three Sisters: corn, beans and squash. The fields and the work done within them were the domains of the women. Mary Jemison, an English woman who was adopted by the Seneca, recalled in her captivity narrative from the 1750s, "The fieldwork is done by the women, it is not heavy labor. For the soil is loose and sandy and enriched with humus accumulated from years of rotting vegetation. Each year the women plant, cultivate and harvest the crops, we work in gangs and make a social affair of it, much in the spirit of a quilting party."

The men were responsible for the preparation of the fields, the clearing, burning of bush and stumps, and were called at harvest time to help carry the braided corn back to the village. The men would also guard the fields and the young boys kept watch to keep out birds and other small creatures that could destroy the crop.

European travelers recorded that some of the Seneca cornfields extended more than five miles. This was an incredible feat for a people who didn't use plows or horses.

By 1779 communal planting and harvesting was greatly reduced. The fields were small and only sustained a family, not a whole village.

According to tradition, the Three Sisters sprang from the dead body of Sky Woman's daughter. From her breast came the corn, from her head the squash, and from her belly the beans. The corn, beans and squash, together with other plant foods, vegetables, grains, and berries were referred to as Dio'he'ko, translated as "our supporters" or "these sustain our lives." For hundreds of years the Haudenosaunee people relied on these plants for their substance. They were viewed as sacred foods given to them by the creator to help nourish the people. To the Haudenosaunee every day was a holiday and every meal a feast. Meals were ended with the term "Yah'wah" meaning 'Thank You'. It was a thank you to the person who prepared the meal, for the food they ate, for the earth from which the food came, and the Creator who made all of this possible.

European travelers often visited Iroquois villages and were invited to partake of the meals and feasts. Food was always available, day and night for whoever was hungry. Although, usually only one meal was prepared per day, it was prepared in large enough quantities to last from morning until evening. The following quotes give us some idea of what was being eaten and how it was being prepared.

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Explore excerpts from Marshall Fairbanks Diary, 1878

Marshall Fairbanks Overview

The Fairbanks family moved to Evans, New York (Erie County) in 1832. Marshall Fairbanks was born to John and Mary Fairbanks in August of 1835. They lived in a frame house on 100 acres of land. They were growing wheat, oats, barley, buckwheat, corn, potatoes, bran, and apples, as well as making maple molasses, wine, butter, and cheese on their farm. They raised cows, swine, and sheep and used their goods at home.

Sometime between 1861 and 1869, Marshall married Jennie and they lived on his father's farm. During the years 1870 to 1875, Marshall's mother died and his father retired, leaving Marshall the farm and making him head of the house in his late 30's. By 1880, John Fairbanks had also died and Marshall's nephew, Frank, worked on the farm with him. Marshall and Jennie never had any children.

From the years 1878 until 1888, if not longer, Marshall kept a daily account of life on the farm, including his accounts of the weather, money coming in and out, and any other events of interest. He wrote about driving into Buffalo to sell crops and about laborers that came to the farm to work for a few months at a time. According to the census in 1875, Marshall's farm had expanded to 126 acres. He harvested wheat, oats, Indian corn, potatoes, peas, beans, apples and grapes. On the farm they also raised a small number of cattle, swine, and poultry, made butter, and sold eggs.

Image of: Residence of Marshall A. Fairbanks. Evans Center. Erie County, NY

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Discover the Wilder Family records in the census information from 1860, 1870, 1875

Wilder Family Overview

Almanzo James Wilder, lead character in Farmer Boy and husband of author Laura Ingalls Wilder was born February 13, 1857, near Malone New York. He was the fifth child of James and Angeline Wilder. His family left the farm in Malone 1875 to seek better farmland in Minnesota. The 1875 New York Census indicates that Almanzo's oldest brother Royal remained on the farm in Burke. The following are excerpts from the US Census for Malone NY from 1860, 1870 and the New York State Census 1875 refer to the Wilder farm.

The United States constitution directs that every 10 years, since 1790, the US Government has to count the population.

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Map a family farm which has been in operation for over 200 years: Cochran Family Century Farm, Chautauqua County, Ripley, NY

Cochran Family Overview

In 1804, Alexander Cochran, an emigrant from Ireland purchased the first track of land from the Holland Land Company in Ripley, New York located in Chautauqua County on Lake Erie. His brothers, Robert and Hugh, arrived in Chautauqua County a few years later. The three brothers farmed for a living and their families continued to farm the same land in Ripley for the next 200 years.

Alexander and his wife Nancy had 13 children. Four of their sons farmed the land at one time or another. Alexander's great grandson, James Jr, owned the land when the Cochran farm received a Century Farm Award in 1967. A. James Cochran still owns some of the original family land in Ripley.

Robert and his wife Mary Jane had 10 children and three of their sons farmed in Ripley at least for a time. The Robert Cochran family did not continue farming past the first generation born in New York.

The youngest of the three Cochran brothers, Hugh was married to Sarah and had 8 children. Their son, William, continued to farm the land in Ripley. Of William's three sons, two of them, Alexander and David, also became farmers and lived in Ripley.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Cochrans were raising a variety of crops, but seem to have focused primarily on sheep. This continued until 1875, when cattle, milking, and butter production became much more prominent. In 1982, the Cochrans were producing dairy products and keeping fields for hay. Today the Cochrans are raising Holstein Cows and have vineyards on their farm.

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Get a woman's perspective on farming from an excerpt from Ann Scutt's Diary

Ann Scutt Overview

The Scutt family lived in Livingstonville, in the town of Broome, located in Schoharie County, New York. Ann was married to Eli Scutt and they had three children: a son named Aaron, born in 1843, a daughter named Harriet Adelaide, born in 1845, and a daughter named Mariette Frances, born in 1847. In her diary, Ann refers to her daughters by both their first and middle names.

Ann kept a diary in which she recorded the daily events on their farm, activities of her family and friends, and the various people who boarded with them. Ann and Eli sometimes had hired help living with them. According to the 1860 United States census, James Riphenburg and Polly Saddlinger were living with the family as servants. Ann mentions both James and Polly in her diary entries from 1860.

Between 1855 and 1875 the New York Census Agricultural Statistics indicate that the Scutts were harvesting oats, rye, corn, potatoes, beans, and a small amount of buckwheat, peas, maple molasses, and grasses. It appears that they were primarily sheep and dairy farmers. They produced 135 pounds of wool in 1855, 385 pounds in 1864 and 260 pounds in 1865. They produced 500 pounds of butter in 1855 and 250 pounds in 1864.

In 1866 the Scutts neighbors were George Borthwick, Seymore Scutt, Ambrose Scutt, William Scutt, and Lana Willams. Ann mentions these neighbors in her diary.

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See a family at work in photos from the Lainhart Family Century Farm, Albany County, Guilderland, NY

Lainhart Family Overview

Image of: Lainhart family at their farm

Michael Leonhardt immigrated to New York from Germany in 1765, settling first in Dutchess County. In 1768 he moved with his wife and four children to the Rensselaerwyck Manor in Albany County. The Lainhart's (originally Leonhardt) continued to pay rent to the Manor until 1851 when they received the deed to the land.

Michael had eleven children, two of his sons, Simeon and Hendrick inherited the farm. Simeon's son Henry went on to farm the original family land in the third generation. Henry's son Stephen continued to farm the family's land and then turned it over to his son Charles. Charles' son Reid and his wife Sue continue to live on the family land today, although it is no longer being farmed.

From the 1850's to the 1870's the Lainhart's produced timothy hay, oats, rye, wheat, buckwheat, clover hay, and broom corn. They also raised sheep and pigs, which became the farm's main product through the following three decades.

The Lainhart's were awarded a Century Farm Award in 1939.

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