A day in the life of an 1800s farmer


“Took (sister) Kate down to Eckley school on horseback. Came home and rigged up a team and went to work on the roads. Tonight I am at Mr. Boyd’s. Sam Lucas is in the parlor strumming over the melodeon. It is a peaceful instrument.”

— June 8, 1868, diary of Alexander Smalley

Many days in the summertime, Alexander helps his mother with the gardening, prompting one to wonder the size a family garden might have been.

He writes of assisting a neighbor, Mr. Gregg, “to tear down his wagon shed” and makes note of “quite a frost this morning, something that is certainly very remarkable for this time of year,” on June 10. He adds, “This evening, Fletch and I rode over to the feast, an immense crowd present.”

On June 12, “Today Father and I went all the way to Wooster, a very long ride for nothing. The sun shone out most excessively warm during the forepart of the day. Business poor. No trade, no money, no nothing, but a barrel of salt.”

June 17 was “a day long to be remembered by me for we had all our sheep clipped from eight o’clock to sundown. Mr. Frank Gardner of Rowsburg clipped 72; Rees Wallace, lame, 45; Daniel Porter in afternoon, 20; William Brown, afternoon, 17. Tonight Gledhill and I went to a party at Culbertson’s. A gay time we had.”

By November, farm work had turned to harvesting. “Took in two loads of corn, lacking about two bushels. Finished up the corn on stock and tomorrow if nothing prevents will make a raid on the shocks,” he notes on Nov. 6.

The next day, Smalley’s notation paints a picture of such a different time. “A friendly Irish peddler came by and took dinner with us.” His journal entry carried thoughts on all those who were new to “this United States” and the importance of welcoming those who found within themselves “the courage to travel to this new foreign land.”

On Nov. 11, “Woke up this morning and found it freezing cold. Hauled in load of corn and very nearly froze at it. Drove up to the back place, threw down the old strawstack. Then loaded up the cabbage and brought it home. Rode my Sherm to town. Buried the cabbage later.”

Friday, Nov. 13, Smalley’s words remind us that some things have long been an issue for farmers. “Expected hands but none came. How little some folks regard their word. Took in one load of corn and gathered the turnips. Took in a half load of corn. Took six bushels of buckwheat to Jeromesville for trade but nary a trade to be found.”

Nov. 16, “Up at a quarter past four, hitched up the wagon and drove over to Adam Zimmerman’s. Bought six bundles of straw. Altogether we took in four loads, making 20 in all.”

“Hildebrant and son put in a full day. I had to keep my eye on that son, as he is an odd creature, that one,” which leaves one to wonder just exactly what Smalley was concerned about.

Next week — a fire and a new friend.


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  1. Hello! I read your column with interest and my interest was increased when I saw the names of Boyd, Culbertson and Porter in the article. My Boyd family were residents of Ashland county (Eckley twp, Vermilion twp, other townships, plus areas of Hayesville and Jeromesville for years). Some of the Boyds are still in this area. The Mr Boyd in your article is probably one of my cousins (closer kin to my great grandmother who was a Boyd, born Jeromesville). Boyd family originally coming out of Washington Co PA. Culbertson is another name in my family. As is Porter, but I can’t (yet) tie in Daniel Porter mentioned in your column, but I am doign some digging!
    I look forward to additional diary entries in your column. Don’t let my German surname fool you–my people from all over Ashland and Richland County. :) 12/10/2023


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