Late in life he decided that his land was not congenial to corn, in which he was undoubtedly right, for the average yield was only about fifteen bushels per acre. In the corn country farmers now often produce a hundred. He continued to raise corn only because it was essential for his negroes and hogs. In 1798 he contracted with William A. Washington to supply him with five hundred barrels annually to eke out his own crop. Even this quantity did not prove sufficient, for we find him next year trying to engage one hundred barrels more.
Before this time his main concern had come to be to conserve his soil and he had turned his attention largely to grass and live stock. Of these matters more hereafter.
THE STUDENT OF AGRICULTURE
Washington took great pains to inform himself concerning any subject in which he was interested and hardly was he settled down to serious farming before he was ordering from England “the best System now extant of Agriculture,” Shortly afterward he expressed a desire for a book “lately published, done by various hands, but chiefly collected from the papers of Mr. Hale. If this is known to be the best, pray send it, but not if any other is in high esteem.” Another time he inquires for a small piece in octavo, “a new system of Agriculture, or a speedy way to grow rich.”
Among his papers are preserved long and detailed notes laboriously taken from such works as Tull’s Horse-Hoeing Husbandry, Duhamel’s A Practical Treatise of Husbandry, The Farmer’s Compleat Guide, Home’s The Gentleman Farmer, and volumes of Young’s Annals of Agriculture.
The abstracts from the Annals were taken after the Revolution and probably before he became President, for the first volume did not appear until 1784. From the handwriting it is evident that the digests of Tull’s and Duhamel’s books were made before the Revolution and probably about 1760. In the midst of the notes on chapter eight of the Compleat Guide there are evidences of a long hiatus in time—Mr. Fitzpatrick of the manuscript division of the Library of Congress thinks perhaps as much as eight or ten years. A vivid imagination can readily conceive Washington’s laying aside the task for the more important one of vindicating the liberties of his countrymen and taking it up again only when he had sheathed the sword. But all we can say is that for some reason he dropped the work for a considerable time, the evidence being that the later handwriting differs perceptibly from that which precedes it.
As most of Washington’s agricultural ideas were drawn from these books, it is worth while for us to examine them. I have not been able to put my hands on Washington’s own copies, but in the library of the Department of Agriculture I have examined the works of Tull, Duhamel and Young.