Dutch Barn Preservation Society

Dedicated to the Study and Preservation
of New World Dutch Barns


NEWSLETTER SPRING 2001, Vol. 14, Issue 1, part two

New York State in 1680
(Continuing the series on the history of the American Dutch Barn)
by Robert J. Andersen

... In the beginning there were trails and Indian fields. After 54 years of settlement (1626-1680) the population of New York State reached 9,830, and it extended from Manhattan to Schenectady, for 164 miles, and from Manhattan to Gardiners Island, for 105 miles. The farms were located close to the Hudson River and Long Island Sound. These waters provided the only means of transportation through the state.

The cropland consisted of the Indian fields that could be bought, the flood plains that could be readily cleared, and the glacial deposits of Long Island. They included, upstate, the flats of the Mohawk River at Schenectady, ten miles of Hudson River bottomland at Albany, and the flood plains of the Catskill, Esopus, Roundout, and Wallkill Valleys. Down state were the vast Hempstead plains and the rest of Long Island and the islands of Staten and Manhattan. It would take another 90 years to extend the frontier 60 miles up the Mohawk and Schoharie Valleys.

The colonist found conditions as described by C.O. Sauer in The Yearbook of Agriculture 1941, Pg. 159.

"This was indeed a lustier land to which the settlers had come, a land of hotter summers and colder winters, of hotter sun and more tempestuous rain, a land suited to and provided with a greater variety of vegetation than the homelands of Europe. In one important respect only was it strikingly inferior to northwest Europe - the quality of the grasses. There was grass aplenty, both in wet, low meadows and parklike openings or glades in the upland woods, but mostly it furnished rather poor feed. Some like the broomsedge or broomstraw, became harsh as it grew. Almost none of the native grasses withstood trampling and grazing. The annual grasses died off if heavily pastured, because they did not get a chance to seed; the perennials had delicate crowns that ill stood the abuse of heavy grazing. In clovers and other herbaceous legumes, a similar inferiority may be noted for the eastern American flora as compared to the European."

The above dissertation explains the dilemma facing the colonial farmer of New York in his search for a product to barter and sell. The Hollander accustomed to the alluvial Rhine River delta, for most of Netherlands was that, found those soils scarce in New York, and the arid climate would not support the lush pastures that Holland was known for. As late as 1960 found 60% of Holland's farmland still in Pasture while New York had only 20%. In England the figure was 79% pasture.

Netherlands in 1960, with 2/3 the land, had amazing production compared to New York. Table 1 shows 4 times the small grain, more potatoes, about 2 times the cattle, and 14 times the swine. The density of people is also surprising, 10 times the people per square mile.

Table 1, Table 2, and Table 3

The weather, which the colonists found in the new world, as compared to home, had some intriguing aspects. New York was wetter (Table 2 and 3) but had twice the evaporation. (Table 3) In aggregate New York came up short in residual moisture and was a good deal short in the growing season. Northern Europe on the other hand, was in a perpetual fog. Moisture was abundantly available for plants and the temperature did not reach extremes. New York was fully 10 degrees warmer and 10 degrees colder. On arrival the New York colonists, no doubt experienced their first dry summers. This was beneficial for drying grain and hay but was devastating for pasture. At one time, during a drought, the author saw a farmer in Rensselaerville, New York felling saplings, so that his cows could eat the leaves when the pasture was gone.

The Colonists had to forego extensive dairying. They soon found that the wheat that they abundantly grew, for their own bread, was indeed a marketable product. The records show that for the first hundred years, wheat was by far the largest export for the State and was second only to tobacco for the Nation.

In 1680 there were 8 jurisdictions in New York with structured Government and law enforcement. The character of these neighborhoods can be assumed from the scale of this sample Levy imposed on all the Counties in 1681.

(Juray, Cornell "Historic Chronicles of New Amsterdam, Colonial New York and Early Long Island. II Vol. III p.447)

Table 4, part one

Using the percentages above, an estimate of the distribution of the population, is made in Table 4. (The total population is from US Colonial Statistics.)

The colonial farmer paid taxes much as we do today. The big difference was the method used to calculate the tax. In the late 1600's assessments were based on Poll, land and animals while today they are based on land and buildings.

Table 4, part two

1680 The Towns of New York State 1680

Table 5

*The Dutch Towns included-Flatbush, Brueckelen, Bushwyck, New Utrect, and Flatlands. The English Towns included Gravesend, Newtown, Flushing, Huntington, Brookhaven, Southhold, Smithtown, Jamaica, Hampsted, and Easthampton. (Gravesend is included with the English on the one hand and with Kings County on the other)

SUMMARY: The DUTCH farms were twice the size of the ENGLISH farms. The DUTCH farms were much older and this may explain the difference. The ENGLISH had less horse but more oxen by a considerable margin. Virtually every farm had cows, ENGLISH and DUTCH. The ENGLISH had a strong leaning toward sheep. The interval between assessments show the DUTCH increasing the number of farms by 7 while the ENGLISH soared by 145. The ENGLISH had the biggest and the most in every category except one.

FARM POPULATION (From Table 4, levy of 1681 at 95%)
*Interpolation for 1681.

Broad Axe Demonstration

Recreation Day at the Wemp Barn,

Summer 1991.

Photo by Amelia Andersen


Our vote for the most picturesque Dutch barn site.

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