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the Connecticut Valley before 1655,^1 and also that salted meat and horses were
exported from New England throughout the rest of the seventeenth and all of
the eighteenth centuries,^2 ^^g pasture crop received no particular attention dur-
ing early colonial days except from a few individual farmers fattening beef in
the Connecticut Valley and a few others operating dairies close to some of the
larger coastal towns.

The period 1700 to 1760*^ was a period of expansion in which grain crops were
the principal object of culture, and it was largely to obtain new land for grain
production that frontiers were pushed back and new settlements established.
About 1748 Jared Eliot observed that "Our Lands being thus worn out, I suppose
to be one Reason why so many are inclined to Remove to new Places that they
may raise Wheat. "^^

The pasture crop was largely incidental and no special effort was made to
cultivate it. Land too poor to grow grain and meadows too badly "run out" to
grow good ha\ were given over to pastures. Kalm about 1748 wrote:

After the inhabitants have converted a tract of land into fields which
had been a forest for many centuries together, and which consequently
had a very fine soil, they use it as such, as long as it will bear corn; and
when it ceases to bear any, they turn it into pasture for the cattle and take
new corn-fields in another place where a fine soil can be met with, and where
it has never been made use of for this purpose.^^

The general lack of good meadow both for pasture and hay had a serious effect
on the quality and health of the livestock. In 1747 Jared Eliot stated that "It is
evident that the increasing stock of the Country hath out-grown the meadows,
so that there is not hay for such a stock as the present increased number of people
really need."*^ C. L. Flint records that "the death of their cattle from starvation
and exposure was a very common occurrence"^^; and an earlier author in 1775
observed that "the stunted diminutive size of all the cattle in North America
to the northward, as well as in the southern colonies, shows plainly the great

^''Mass. State Bd. Agric. 13th Annual Report (1865), Pt. I, p. 256.

^Ijudd, Hadley, p. 369.

^^Bidwel! and Falconer, History of Agriculture, p. 44.

''^P. W. Bidwell, Connecticut .Academy of Arts and Sciences, Transactions, XX (1920-21),

**Field Husbandry, p. 30
^^American Husbandry, p. 106.
^^Field Husbandry, p. 44.
^''Grasses and Forage Plants (Boston, 1867 ed.), p. 184.


want of pastures: cattle will live and multiply in their woods, but they will never
be cattle of any value and yielding a profit as unconsiderable as their worth. "*8

About the middle of the eighteenth century the potentialities of grass as a
crop were generally seized upon, with the result that a period of rapid expansion
took place between the years 1750 and 1790. Large areas of rough, rocky land
generally unsuited for tillage were cleared, seeded to grass, and made to yield a
most profitable crop. It was during this period that the "hill" towns, or "grazing"
towns, as they were frequently called, in central and western Massachusetts were
cleared and settled. Some indication of the rapidity with which this movement
proceeded is found in the writings of a French traveler describing what he saw
in western Connecticut in 1780: "I have never traveled three miles without
meeting with a new settlement, either beginning to take form or already in culti-
vation"; whereas, he continues, "four years ago, one might have traveled ten
miles in the woods I traversed without seeing a single habitation. "^^ By 1800
Timothy Dwight had enthusiastically written, "Grass is undoubtedly the most
valuable object of culture in New England. Grass grows spontaneously even
on the driest grounds and luxuriantly on others."™ Concerning the County of
Worcester, he wrote, "Excellent neat cattle abound . . . and beef is perhaps
nowheres better fattened upon grass. Swine also abound here. . . . Sheep are
not very numerous. . . . Horses abound in every part of New England. "51
Speaking of the soils in western Massachusetts, he wrote that they "are generally
fertile; and, particularly, are excellent grazing grounds. "52

This period of pasture expansion is important because it was at this time
that most of the permanent pasture area now found in Massachusetts was laid
down. Some new lands were cleared after 1790 and the total area in pasture
did not reach its maximum until 1875, but most of the land added to the total
pasture acreage after 1790 was made up of hayland and cropland which was
converted into pasture.

The various means by which much of this huge area (over a million acres)
was cleared and seeded to grass can best be described by quoting direct from a
current historian of the time. Jeremy Belknap, in his "History of New Hamp-
shire" in 1792, gives clear and detailed description of how this was accomplished.

Several ways of raising a crop on new land have been practiced. The
easiest and cheapest method was originally learned of the Indians, who
never looked very far forward in their improvements. The method is
that of girdling the trees; which is done by making circular incision through
the bark, and leaving them to die standing. This operation is performed
in the summer, and the ground is sowed in August, with winter rye inter-
mixed with grass. The next year, the trees do not put forth leaves, and
the land having yield a crop, becomes fit for pasture. This method helps
poor settlers a little the first year; but the inconvenience of it is, that if the
trees are left standing, they are continually breaking and falling with the
wind, which endangers the lives of cattle. . . . The more able sort of
husbandmen, therefore, choose the method of clearing the land at first,
by cutting down all the trees without exception. The most eligible time
for the operation, is the month of June, when the sap is flowing, and the
leaves are formed on the trees. These leaves will not drop from the fallen
trees, but remain till the next year, when, being dry, they help to spread
the fire, which is then set to the trees. This is done in the first dry weather
of the succeeding spring, and generally in May; but if the ground be too
dry, the fire will burn deep, and greatly injure the soil. There is therefore
need of judgment to determine when the wood is dry enough to burn, and

^^American Husbandry, p. 250.

^^Bidwell and Falconer, History of Agriculture, p. 77.

SOTravels. I, 48.

Sllbid.. p. 376.

52lbid.. II, 267.


the soil wet enough to resist the action of the fire; ... if the land be
intended for pasture only, the trees are cut down, and after the fire has
destroyed the limbs, grass is sown, and the trunk of the trees are left to
rot, which in turn, turns to good manure and the pasture is durable. . . .
When the trees are burnt later in the summer, wheat or rye is sown,
mixed with the seeds of grass, on the new land. The seed is scattered on
the surface and raked in with a wooden or iron tooth rake, or a hoe. . . .
Sometimes a crop of Indian Corn is raised the first year, and another of
rye or wheat, the second year, and the land is sown with grass, which will
turn it into pasture or mowing the third year. ... It is not an uncommon
thing for people, who are used to this kind of husbandry, to bring a tract
of wilderness into grass for the first two crops; . . . Many husbandmen,
in the old towns, buy lots of new land, and get them cleared and brought
into grass, in this way, and pasture great numbers of cattle: the feed is
excellent and the cattle are soon fattened for market. ^^

It is significant that over much of the area laid down to grass, the grass seeding
was usually made directly after the forest cover was removed. In this way there
was little opportunity for the store of native fertility to be dissipated either
through crop removal or by soil erosion before the grass was established. The
existence of a large area of permanent pasture in the State today is probably
directly traceable to this practice, because it was observed years later that pastures
which were established on cultivated land deteriorated much more rapidly than
those which were laid down immediately after the removal of the forest trees.^*
Many of these original pasture areas produced many successive crops of grass
without the aid of soil amendments before exhibiting any signs of exhaustion.

Importance of the Grass Crop to Nineteenth Century Agriculture

During most of the nineteenth century the grass crop, including both hay and
pasturage, supported, either directly or indirectly, practically' all types of agri-
culture in Massachusetts. Directly, grass supplied most of the feed for the beef,
dairy, and sheep livestock industries, which flourished to a greater or less extent
over the course of the century; indirectly, grass supported other types of agri-
cultural enterprises in that it was the manure and by-products of the meat-
processing industries which supplied most of the fertility for the successful pro-
duction of tilled crops. The extensive raising of grain, the growing of different
market-garden crops near large cities, and the development of such special crops
as broomcorn, tobacco, and onions in the Connecticut Valley were made possible
only because manure and various other by-products of animal origin were used
as fertilizers in liberal quantities. Cattle were fed in the Connecticut Valley
many years even after the cattle-feeding enterprise itself was unprofitable, for the
sole purpose of producing manure for the culture of tilled crops.^^

A clear recognition of the important role played by the grass crop in the agri-
culture of Massachusetts is contained in a report made by the pasture committee
of the State Board of Agriculture in 1859. It read:

The importance of the grass crop will be justly appreciated when it is
remembered that no other crop equals it in value, not even the cotton
crop of the South. It bears a similar relation to the other products of the
farm that agriculture bears to the other interests and occupations of
civilized communities. It is the basis of the farmer's success; it is his
first, his continued and last dependence. His milk, butter, cheese, bread,
meats, fruits, vegetables, the labor of his teams and his own labors, im-
mediately or remotely, are derived from and sustained by his crops of

5^The History of New Hampshire, III, 97.

5''Mass. State Bd. Agric. 12th Annual Report (1864), Pt. I. p. 84.

SSlbid., 9th Annual Report (1861), Pt. I, p. 93; 13th Annual Report (1865). Pt. I, p. 300.

'^Ibid., 7th Annual Report (1859), Pt. I, p. 24.


Of course other fertilizer materials were used to supplement manure, such as
muck, wood ashes, gypsum, guano, bone meal, poudrettes (night soil), wool
wastes, and other materials of greater or less fertilizing value; but it was not until
commercial fertilizers as we now know them were introduced and made available
in large quantities during the last quarter of the nineteenth century that grass
ceased to be the major source of fertility for most forms of agriculture in Massa-

The relationship of the grass crop to other crops and the serious situation which
resulted when the grass crop began to fail is described by Goessmann in 1887,
as follows:

A serious falling off in the yield of the grass crop under the described
circumstances necessitated a reduction in the farm live-stock, which in
turn caused a decrease in the production of manure. Adding to this result
the current practice of using the manure obtained from the feeding of the
crops secured from the grasslands for the improvement of the ploughed
lands, with scarcely any material assistance from outside sources of ma-
nurial substances, it is but natural that the productiveness of the former
became in the course of time seriously impaired. A scanty supply of
suitable manurial matter for the production of the crops raised is to-day
universally considered the most fatal circumstance in any system of farm-
ing for profit. 5''

The fact that the grass crop was able to support the agriculture of Massa-
chusetts for almost three quarters of a century is striking testimony to the effi-
ciency of this crop as a conserver of soil fertility. With the use of only small
quantities of supplemental fertilizers, this crop was able to extend the reserve
supply of native or natural fertility over a long period of years. This is in sharp
contrast to tilled crops, which, as already shown in the experience of the early
colonists, exhausted the reserve of natural soil fertility in a relatively short
period of years.

Pasture Deterioration and Exhaustion

In 1786 General Warren wrote that "Pastures are never manured and mowing
lands seldom. "58 Since essentially the same situation continued on through the
nineteenth century, it is not surprising to find that indications of pasture deteriora-
tion and exhaustion multiplied as the century progressed. Grass was an extremely
efficient user of the reserve of natural fertility, but it could not go on producing
indefinitely, for, as has already been explained, the reserve of natural fertility in
most Massachusetts soils was not large. It is not surprising either to find that
evidence of pasture deterioration is first found in the early settled portions of the
State. Not only had the land been cultivated longer, but in many instances the
soils in these sections were lighter and more quickly exhausted of their fertility,
and in addition the early practice of making land into pastures only after cul-
tivated crops were abandoned greatly shortened the life of the pastures.

The course of pasture deterioration may be followed by noting both the nature
and the frequency of the comments which were made over the course of the
nineteenth century. The following selected references, arranged chronologically,
are an attempt to demonstrate this course:

Middlesex County, 1795.

It is a prevailing errour to overstock both barns and pastures; in con-
sequence of which, much of our grass land produces less than two, and some
that has been wholly devoted to feed, less than one third of what it did
30 or 40 years ago . . . ^9

S'^Mass. State Bd. Agric. 35th Annual Report (1887), p. 164.
S^Bidwell and Falconer, History of Agriculture, p. 185.
S^Mass. Historical Society Collections, 1st Series, IV (1795), 49.


State as a whole, 1841.

... in general nothing is more disreputable to the large majority of
farmers throughout the State, than the conditions of their pastures. ^^

State as a whole, 1840-1850.

The pasture lands were increased more than 100,000 A., with scarcely
any increase of neat cattle, and a reduction of 160,000 sheep and 17,000

Middlesex County, 1853.

A large proportion of land, formerly improved as pasturage or tillage
land, is now under a promising growth of young wood.^2

Essex County, 1853.

Pasture lands for the past twenty years have been on the decrease.
Except where they are ploughed and manured, they become mossy, run
over to bushes, and are rapidly getting into wood.^^

In many of our pastures it is now literally a struggle for life or death
between the cow and the grass, from spring to autumn, and often neither
has vitality enough to exult in a victory. ^^

State as a whole, 1853.

... in nearly one-half of the whole State there is a gradual and constant

decrease, much of the land formerly tilled being given up to pasturage. In

• very many towns the number of acres in pasturage, also, is decreasing,

many old pastures having become so poor as to be abandoned to bushes,

or converted into woodland. ^5

State as a whole, 1859.

. . . the grazing lands of the State are greatly exhausted — feeding from
one-sixth to three-sixths less stock than the same fed twenty-five to forty
years ago.^^

Worcester County, 1863.

It seems to be an established fact that the pastures in this vicinity are
not as good as they were once. In them bushes and briars more easily
take the places of some of the best grasses; they need ploughing oftener
and require larger applications of manure to make them hold good, and it
is said they need almost constant care and labor to keep them from running

State as a whole, 1867.

Many of our old pastures have been stocked hard, time out of mind, and
the grasses in them have been literally starved out, and grow thin of
necessity, while, as the finer and nutritious grasses disappear, nature very
kindly covers up the nakedness of the soil with moss, as an evidence of the
effect, and not the cause of poverty. . . . Many of them are grown over
with bushes and briers, and other equally worthless pests, till they carry
but an animal to four or five acres, and often require twice that amount to
keep an animal on foot, to say nothing of fattening*

State as a whole, 1872.

The Board of Agriculture have agreed to this: that there has been a great
deterioration in the producing power of our pastures during the last fiftj'
or one hundred years; that the time was when the hillsides of Massachu-
setts, those fields that are now our pasture-lands yielded large quantities
of sweet nutritious grasses, — grasses which made butter, which made
milk, which made cheese, — grasses which made beef of splendid quality. . . .

^•'Agriculture of Massachusetts, 4th Report (1841), p. 398.

filDavid A. Wells, The Year Book of .Agriculture (1855-1856), p. 215.

^^Mass. State Bd. Agric. 1st Annual Report (1853), Pt. I. p. 70.

63lbid.. p. 69.

^''Mass. Agricultural Societies Transactions (1853), p. 74.

^^Mass. State Bd. Agric. 1st Annual Report (1853), Pt. I, p. 69.

•'^Ibid., 7th .■Annual Report (1859), Pt. I, p. 24.

"Ibid.. 11th Annual Report (1863), Pt. II, p. 209.

^^Flint, Grasses and Forage Plants, p. 355.


but they have gradually deteriorated. . . . They will not carry the stock
of former years; the quality of the grasses is not so good, and they will not
produce so good cattle, or butter, or milk.^^

Hampshire County, 1877.

It seems to be a very important question here in New England, how
shall we best improve our pasture-lands. . . . They were formerly cropped
with wheat, rye, and corn, until reduced too low to make it pay. Then
they were given up to pasture; and the constant drain upon them since,
in the form of beef, butter, cheese, mutton and wool, has reduced them,
so that they hardly pay for fencing and bushing, to say nothing of taxes,
and interest on capital. There are hundreds of acres in my vicinity, on
which I have seen good crops of grain growing, that are now abandoned
to brush and wood; . . . ™

State as a whole, 1884.

. . . besides this, many farmers have been in the habit of cultivating
their smoother land as long as it would bear a remunerating crop, applying
as little manure as would possibly serve, and then laying it down to grass,
under rye, oats, or barley, so as to get the last ounce of nutriment from the
soil. This having been pretty well accomplished, a crop or two of hay
is taken from it, and the land is then abandoned in an exhausted condition
for a number of years to pasture, and from land thus treated cattle are
expected to derive their support for four or five months; they go on it in
lean condition in May, and come from it in November as poor as they went
out. How to increase the productiveness of these pastures so that they
shall not only hold their own, but carry more stock is the question. ''i

Pastures have continued to deteriorate since 1884 even up to the present, but
since that date fewer references to their condition are available. One reason for
this may be the much greater dependence since that time on commercial fertilizers
as a source of fertility for tilled crops rather than on barnyard manure which came
indirectly from the grass crop. Another reason is probably the increasing ten-
dency during recent years to rely on periodically reseeded pastures and annual
pastures for the main supply of pasturage rather than on permanent pastures.
Still a third explanation may be the limited use in some sections of top-dressed
fertilizers on permanent pastures, which in certain instances has greatly improved
their condition.

Pasture Exhaustion and Land Abandonment

Permanent pasture was in the past and for that matter still is the last use to
which land is put before it reverts to timber. That much of this land was badly
depleted before being given over to pastures and that land abandonment quickly
followed, is reported from Franklin County in 1865. Speaking of general practices
in "hill towns", this report stated:

The main feature in these towns is expressively termed 'skinning,'
cutting of? wood and timber, selling hay, and sometimes what little grain
they raise, to the river farmers, 'running' their mowing lands and then
turning them into pasturage. In short, taking all they can from the land
and returning nothing. ... In many of the hill towns population is
diminishing. Many houses are unoccupied, and going to decay, and there
is a general lack of thrift and enterprise among the farmers.''^

By 1872, according to another writer, "The border settler in New England
twenty years ago is close to the forest now. Half-made clearings are again growing
up, and log-cabins are tenantless. Hills once covered with sheep are moss-

*9Ma8S. State Bd. Agric. 20th Annual Report (1872), Pt. I. p. 202.
'^Ibid., 25th Annual Report (1877), Pt. I, p. 299.
'Ubid., 32d Annual Report (1884). p. 83.
■'^Ibid.. 13th Annual Report (1865). Pt. I, p. 307.


grown. . . . "^2 Some years later, in 1888, a western hill-town farmer com-
plained that the chief difficulty in sheep raising "is not so much on account of
dogs as on account of the difficulty in keeping sheep in your own pasture. The
abandonment of so many farms in our mountain town has left a large tract of
land open [and] there is no place to confine the sheep. . . . "^'*

This reversion of permanent pasture land to timber land is still proceeding at a
fairly rapid rate, though not as fast as during the latter part of the nineteenth

The Causes of Pasture Deterioration

The causes of pasture deterioration were obvious and quickly recognized by
many agricultural leaders. In 1859 the pasture committee for the State Board
of Agriculture reported:

It is known to all who have investigated this subject, that all pastures
which have been constantly and closely cropped for many years, without
receiving suitable returns, must of necessity be greatly exhausted of those
substances which, in the economy of nature, are appropriated to the growth
and support of bone and muscle, and to the production of milk; and that
thorough renovation can be effected only by restoring those substances
to the soil. ^5

Some years later, in 1872, Levi Stockbridge, in a stirring address before a
meeting of the State Board of Agriculture, declared :

We have all agreed on saying that the cause of this deterioration is
perfectly clear and apparent; that it is because we have been building up
animal structures, or manufacturing cattle products which have been
taken away from the fields that produced them, never to return; that
where all the products have not been transported to the market, we have
taken the milk for the manufacture of butter and cheese, and the manurial
qualities that were contained in the milk left at home have been given to
other fields instead of being carried back to the pastures that produced
them; and that we have been sending away tens of hundreds of tons
annually from these New England pastures in the form of phosphates, and
sulphates in the bones of animals, and nitrogen in their muscles and tissues;
it has gone in one sweeping current down to our great cities; and then,
owing to the most abominable and wasteful system of sewerage which
has been adopted, it has been carried to the sea and been lost. We have
agreed that this is the cause of the deterioration of our pastures.'^

C. L. Flint, secretary of the State Board of Agriculture, summed up the sit-
uation in 1877 by declaring that:

The great besetting sin of New England farming has been, that we have
robbed our grass-land to feed our hoed crops and our arable lands. We
have done it persistently almost from the first settlement of the country.''^

It was also observed that milk cattle exhausted pasture more rapidly than
either beef cattle or sheep. This was noted as early as 1859 by the pasture com-

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