CHESTER TWP. —
CHESTER – The life of a farmer in the early days of settlement in Meigs County was extremely difficult. Settlers encountered dense forests that needed to be cleared to raise crops, and Alan Holter told the story of what it was like to be a farmer in Chester Township around 1800.
Holter began his story by saying,” I’ve been a farmer all my life, so I decided to give an example of the things a farmer had to do to raise crops around 1800.”
“So, I got my 50 acres, now I need a place to live, and a barn or a lean-to to put my stuff in. All I have is an ax, no cross-cut saws at the time, and I need to scratch out some land to make a living”.
He asked if anyone ever tried to go out in their back yard and grub out a little bit using only an ax?
“It’s intense and out of this world hard work, so what did it take to grub out 10 acres with only an ax? I can’t imagine what those guys went through, to grub out 10 acres and all this area, all of Ohio was like that, all covered by fir trees and timber.”
“Using only an ax, they gnarled it out and then there was so much left even after they built a house and barn that they slashed and burned until they got enough property cleared to plant wheat or barley or rye. In the winter they would work at clearing more land to plant a potato or turnips patch, they just kept adding to their farm.”
“As time went on, they would think, well, now that I’ve got a few acres, I’ll start my plowing using a turning plow that had a wooden moldboard. To make it work right I will need a young kid to go beside it with a stick to keep the dirt knocked off, so the plow will continue to make furrows.”
“After that I planted wheat, rye, oats, and corn, all my seeds were broad cast (scattered) by hand and covered with a hoe. I harvested the grains with a cycle, then bound it into sheath. I cut my oats with a scythe, thrashed my grains by hand.”
“It was said that it was a winters job for one man to thrash out and clean the crop of a 10-acre field, so you know what I did all winter!”
“Barns and stables were built low and small, stock ran outdoors winter and summer. Most cows had bells, so they could be found for milking. Pigs ears were notched with marks of the owner, and pigs running loose was a common practice. They ate acorns and chestnuts and kept the brush down, also killed the venomous snakes.”
Fences were often built to keep the pigs out rather than in as they are destructive animals.
Holter said many small distilleries were distributed throughout the township. Farmers used the crops they grew to make whiskey, and since there were no internal revenue laws or taxes it was very cheap.
“They also made peach and apple brandy which sold for 25 cents a gallon, so cheers!”
Many farmers grew their own tobacco and smoked it in corn cob pipes
Without the canning process we know today, fruit was dried for winter consumption, and some fruits and vegetables were kept in caves. Root vegetables and cabbages were buried in the garden and covered with a heavy coating of straw to prevent freezing
“If you didn’t have enough put aside for winter you would starve. You had six months to get enough food put away for the next six months, that’s all you had until it was time to harvest the next crops. Some (farmers) did and some didn’t.”
And with that Holter’s ended his Tale of early farm life in Chester Township.
1812 — Mail route established from Marietta to Chester
1819 — Meigs County was formed with Chester being named as the county seat
1823 — Chester Courthouse completed
1824 — Chester Township was organized from parts of Sutton, Salisbury, and Orange Townships
1834 — Cholera Epidemic in Chester, population at that time was around 200
1841 — County seat was moved to Pomeroy
Early life of a Farmer as told by Alan Holter at the Chester Shade Historical Association Banquet. Written by Lorna Hart. If you would like to tell your Meigs County Township Tale or Tidbit, please email Lorna Hart at L.Faudree.Hart@gmail.com.