Agri Leader

Founders also were farmers

On July 4, 1776, 56 signers representing 13 states signed the Declaration of Independence declaring independence from Great Britain. The Declaration was signed 442 days after the first shots of the American Revolutionary War were fired in Massachusetts. The opposition originally began 1765, with Great Britain's incorporation of the Stamp Act, a tax that was created to provide revenue in order to maintain a standing British army in America. The proclaiming of independence from Great Britain also was a time when agriculture was a major industry, and many farmed or ranched for profit.
While wealthier farmers shipped their goods overseas, a good amount of crops were produced for domestic consumption on small farms. The exporting of crops to the West Indies and Europe was commonplace. "Rice, sugar, tobacco and wheat were the big agricultural commodities produced for export," said Jon Sensbach, University of Florida's professor of history, who explained that rice and tobacco were exported to European markets, whereas wheat was exported to the West Indies. "In the West Indies, they were too busy producing sugar to grow their own food, so they depended on wheat from North America," said Sensbach. In turn, the sugar harvested in the West Indies was made into molasses and rum, which were both shipped to North America and Europe. v v While we are all familiar with Massachusetts' John Hancock's signature on the Declaration of Independence, Hancock served most of his time in public office. However, many of other signers spent a good degree of their time working as farmers and ranchers, as well as other capacities, including Thomas Jefferson (Virginia), Lyman Hall (Georgia), George Wythe (Virginia), and John Adams (Massachusetts). "Thomas Jefferson considered himself foremost a farmer," said Sensbach. On Jefferson's plantations in Monticello and Poplar Forest, Va., 200 slaves raised a variety of crops, mostly tobacco, wheat and corn, as well as vegetables, herbs, and even grapes for wine. Jefferson also was known for experimenting with different crops and agricultural techniques that focused on increasing efficiency and productivity and was said to be a hands-on farmer. "Jefferson was perhaps the most fervent spokesman for agrarian, or agricultural interests, in the age of the Revolution," said Sensbach, who added that Jefferson believed that the future of the country lay in agriculture, particularly, in the ability of ordinary people, what we might call yeoman farmers, to own and cultivate land for themselves. Like many others of his day, Lyman Hall also performed more than one duty and had his hands in both agriculture and medicine. He was first a medical doctor in Georgia, and by 1760, through the success of his medical practice, Hall was able to invest in a successful rice plantation in Burke County, called Hall's Knoll. His plantation was later destroyed when the British invaded Georgia. However, by 1782, as the American Revolutionary War ended, Hall was able to rebuild. Later in his life, Hall purchased the Shell Bluff rice plantation, also located in Burke County. George Wythe was born into a wealthy agricultural family and studied law. He then became a law professor and later served in public office. Also a farmer, rancher and grower, Wythe held 1,050 acres of land in Virginia. On his property, Chesterville, he grew tobacco, corn, wheat, barley, and raised cattle. He also maintained apple and pear orchards. John Adams, a lawyer and the second president of the United States, came from a farming family. He divided his interests between law and farming. Adams resided in Massachusetts with his wife, Abigail, in an impressive home, Peacefield, which sat on 40 acres of farmland and orchards. Throughout his life, and in a good part due to his overseas appointments and travels, Adams developed an interest in ornamental gardening and composting. "The country remained overwhelmingly agricultural through the early 19th century, because the most abundant asset it had was land, so farming or agricultural production of some kind was still the mainstay of the economy," said Sensbach. Ninety-five percent of the population was engaged in some kind of agriculture or related endeavors, he added.