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In the Classroom > Course Overview > Unit Overview > Lesson 8
Lesson 8
Deerfield Matures

During the American Revolution the demand for beef, grain, clothing, arms, and ammunition spurred the economics of many Massachusetts farm towns. Deerfield farmers experienced a dramatic and unprecedented period of prosperity during the war years. Soon after the war, they were producing a surplus, most of which went to local markets. As trade with neighboring towns prospered, more distant markets also opened up. To accommodate the increased commerce, New Englanders laid out many new roads. The second half of the 18th century marked the high point of the stall-feeding of cattle for the Boston and New York markets.

The dependable bounty of the "perpetually fertile" meadows fostered a confidence in the land. Because of the geography of the area -- the Pocumtuck Ridge and the Connecticut River to the east and the foothills of the Berkshires to the west -- there was little opportunity for expansion of arable land. This resulted in intensified farming of the existing productive land. More grain was raised on fewer acres, and when Deerfield farmers discovered that the hay cut in the north and south meadows served as well for cattle feed as did the cultivated grasses, they ceased growing grasses and harvested the native hay. This change meant that more land was devoted to corn, which had a higher yield.

The same tools used in the early 18th century were used in this period with the addition of the dung fork, which made it easier to spread the manure collected from the stall-fed oxen, leading to more intense cultivation of the land.

[By 1840, southern New England had reached its high point in agriculture, when 85 percent of the land was cleared for farming and livestock. The major crops were, according to an Agricultural Report conducted by Henry Colman of Massachusetts, grasses, corn, oats, rye, wheat, broom corn (introduced c.1815), hops, barley, buckwheat, teasle, peppermint, and potatoes. Mr. Colman noted that few people owned horses; sheep were owned more often in upland towns and, until refrigeration was introduced, few owned more than six cows. The oxen, fed in stalls, were usually sold in the spring when they were 3 to 5 years old. Most were turned over to drovers to walk them to the markets in Brighton (near Boston) for sale. The drovers pastured the animals on fields of grass, purchased as they made their journey to Boston, so that the weight loss of each animal was less than 100 pounds.]

During the formative period following the end of the American Revolution, the town of Deerfield did not take an active part in national politics affairs. According to historian George Sheldon, however, Deerfield "was in full accord with Washington and Adams and those favoring a close federation of the states and the constitution finally adopted." The division between Whig and Tory of the Revolution was fast dying out. The coming of Mr. John Taylor (1762-1840), ordained as Deerfield's minister in 1787, brought an era of union and peace to the village. Times were hard, but the people embraced the words of the 1783 Convention, "industry and frugality were the most hopeful means of relief."

By 1806, when the town was again looking for a minister, they contacted Samuel Porter Williams. After considering a move to Deerfield, Williams instead elected to head the church in Mansfield, Connecticut. He declared in his letter to the committee in Deerfield that their "church was well united, the town populous and wealthy" and able, therefore to attract any minister. He determined that the people of Mansfield needed him more.

Deerfield people were reveling in their new freedom from Great Britain, and their "minds as well as their bodies had become emancipated from the traditions of authority." Libraries and literary societies were in full operation; Deerfield Academy, founded in 1797 and opened two years later, was thriving. New roads had been laid out, bridges built, and some of the earliest canals in the country were in the planning stages.

In 1792, a bridge was built linking Deerfield and Greenfield, and in 1812 a toll bridge replaced the ferry between South Deerfield and Sunderland. These improvements in transportation meant that it was easier to bring goods produced in Deerfield to distant markets. This, in turn, brought increases in local wealth and enabled encounters with new ideas of economic growth in agriculture and industry.

Within Deerfield, an ongoing interest in education was evidenced by the two grammar schools and the new Academy (1799) for secondary education, as well as in the founding of libraries and literary societies. The first public library in town, called the Union Library, was established soon after the close of the Revolution. A Social Library (followed closely by the Second Social Library) was founded early in the 1800s. All were "prominent factors in keeping up the intellectual character of the town." The Literary Adelphi was organized in 1804, and the Young Ladies Literary Society in 1813. By 1814, there was also a military library as well as one devoted entirely to the subject of agriculture.

During the 18th century, a majority of Deerfield's residents were Congregationalists. In 1807, a division developed in their religious life with the presence of the Reverend Samuel Willard, the first outspoken Unitarian. The fracture was territorial as well as theological. Most of the opposition to Willard's views came from those in Bloody Brook (now known as South Deerfield). Before the end of the year, a large number of communicants living in this area withdrew from the church; some united with Sunderland and some with Whately. In 1824, the Unitarians built a new meetinghouse of brick just off the Deerfield Common, "not to exceed the size of the new meeting house in Springfield lately erected." It was designated "solely for worship." In the few years preceding the legal separation of town affairs from religious ones, many towns in New England followed this pattern, establishing religious use for the meeting house and designating a town house for civic affairs. Deerfield's Town House was built on Memorial Street in 1842.

The residents in Deerfield center were slower to react to the Unitarian teachings, but by 1838 a small group of Separatists had organized and dedicated a new house for worship. It was named the Orthodox Congregational Church of Deerfield.
When political parties became organized under the administration of John Adams, the second President of the United States, Deerfield became a "federal" town, voicing its opposition to the Democratic Republican party of Thomas Jefferson. The objection to the 1807 Embargo imposed by Jefferson was felt throughout New England, and in 1808, when Jefferson's former Secretary of State, James Madison, ran for President, Deerfield voted 203 to 16 against him. Party animosity raged fiercely during the War of 1812, when the interruption of trade damaged the economy of New England. During post-war peace the parties gradually dissolved and the two factions united in support of the United States Constitution. (Note: By the mid-nineteenth century, the Republican Party absorbed the Whigs.)

In general, capitalism was in good shape in the years after the Revolution. Many families earned income by raising beef to sell at the Boston markets. Some built new houses in the high Georgian style. George Washington, in his visit to the Connecticut River Valley in 1789, noted the presence of the two-story center chimney house, a form that continued to be built by local carpenters, with modifications, until the mid-19th century. Washington observed "great similitude in their buildings, the general fashion of which is a Chimney (always of stone or brick) and a door in the middle, with a staircase fronting the latter -- two flush stories with a very good show of sash and glass windows -- the size generally 30 to 50 feet in length and from 20 to 30 in width, exclusive of a back shed, which seems to be added as the family increases." Unlike residences in the Chesapeake, an area familiar to the President, by the 1770s the majority of New Englanders lived in two-story structures, with double-hung window sash across the front and gable ends, a sign of prosperity. Some families did build homes or renovate older ones using the new Federal style, replacing center chimneys with side ones and creating formidable center halls.

By the 1810s, few families could afford to settle all adult children on portions of their home lots. Many of the younger generation left town to seek employment elsewhere.

Those who remained would later become better connected to the outside world with the establishment of the Connecticut River Railroad, completed in 1846, which passed through Deerfield on the hill east of the village. The railroad made it easier to transport produce to market, but it also fostered competition from other agricultural regions. Many farmers were forced to diversify their crops in an effort to match production and demand.

By the 1830s, work was increasingly located in the backspaces of houses, in sheds, and kitchen ells, linked to but separated from the more formal and private quarters of public and family spaces. Domestic architecture became specialized, efficient, and convenient. As the houses changed, so did the barns. Agriculture was still a dominant form of life; Deerfield had the largest number of farmers (258) for a single town as late as the 1860 census. The traditional English barn was increasingly replaced by a New England type with the runway between the gable ends. These new barns more efficiently accommodated larger herds, which in turn generated the manure that fertilized the fields that grew the improved hay and grains that fed the herd. It was the landscape, the buildings on it, and the ways in which the people organized their resources, rather than modern mechanical inventions, that effected an improvement in the standard of living in the 50 years after the close of the American Revolution.


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