Ohio History Journal

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ennsylvania Agriculture and Country Life, 1640-1840. By Stevenson Whit-

comb Fletcher. (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Com-

mission, 1950. xiv+605p. Paper, $2.50; cloth, $3.00.)

For two centuries prior to 1840 agriculture dominated the economic life

f Pennsylvania, and during much of that period "the breadbasket of

America" was replenished from the abundant harvests of her fields. In

?e years that followed 1840 the raising of wheat ceased to be the farmers'

?ainstay and "the dairy cow, not the wheat shock, became the cornerstone

?f Pennsylvania agriculture."

Dean Emeritus Stevenson W. Fletcher of the school of agriculture of

he Pennsylvania State College has chosen the two centuries, 1640-1840, as

?is special field, and he has tilled it with extraordinary thoroughness. The

grain has been garnered and winnowed and the percentage of chaff is

gratifyingly small. A volume such as he has written could be produced

only on the basis of years of reading and careful note-taking. The notes

?aving been filed under twenty-two headings, the writing proceeds in

orderly fashion, each topic being chronologically treated in essays of about

hirty pages.

Anyone who writes an extended historical study faces the dilemma of

choosing between the topical and chronological approaches. Some writers

achieve a compromise by means of "flash-backs" headed with the historian's

cliche, "in the meanwhile." Dean Fletcher's approach is uncompromisingly

topical. This approach has merit, in a work such as this; in fact it is

difficult to conceive how any other pattern could have been followed more

successfully. The two centuries could not have been broken down into

"periods" except by choosing dates of superficial importance.

It is remarkable that the period of two hundred years could have had

such homogeneity. During those years the wilderness was brought under

cultivation, and improved means of transportation made possible the

transition from subsistence to commercial farming in favored areas, but

one receives the impression that nothing took place in that long period

which might be described as a revolutionary change in farming methods.

Is one to conclude that progress in Pennsylvania agriculture to 1840

was merely arithmetic, a simple story of more and more farmers doing

the same thing in the same way? Broadly speaking this seems to have

been true. It is certainly safe to say that more significant changes have