Less Hell and more corn: Agriculture in Jefferson County, New York, 1850-1910

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




William Stinchcombe


rural community

Subject Categories

Agricultural and Resource Economics


The transformation of a preindustrial rural community into part of modern industrialized society is an important subject for research since the United States was overwhelmingly rural until 1920. While urban areas have long been a focus of historians both in the United States and Europe, the experience of stable rural populations has had less attention. Agriculture remains an important economic sector in this country, but it has changed dramatically over the last century. Market demands and opportunities encouraged developments in agriculture that affected the particular relationship between farm families and their work. An analysis of the impact of these changes in one region's farm communities can shed some light on the experience of the broader change in United States society.

This is a study of a rural community in northern New York. It examines farms as places where families adapted to the demands of a changing economic and social environment in uniquely rural ways. Land was the most important family asset, but the labor of family members was only slightly less important to the family's survival. The use of these resources are scrutinized in this analysis of the way they were used to meet the demands of a changing agricultural economy.

Two levels of change in a rural setting are studied: that revealed by aggregate data for the area, and that which is revealed by looking at data derived from a longitudinal study of farmsteads in Jefferson County, New York. The time period covers the early nineteenth century through the time of prosperity in the 1870's and 1880's, and beyond to the beginning of the twentieth century when the region's agriculture began its decline.

The experience of Jefferson County farmers mirrors the broad changes that swept across the United States. The dramatic growth of the urban industrial areas during the second half of the nineteenth century overwhelmed rural society. The importance of farm families dwindled as the urban areas grew, and the existence of a distinctive rural society was eroded.


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