The Transition of Farming in the Hudson River Region

In the early part of the century, prior to 1830, 80 percent of Hudson Valley residents were farmers and engaged in agriculture. These farmers were a mix of English, Dutch, Irish and Italian immigrants.
The immigrants who arrived in the mid 19th Century found a landscape on the cusp of change. In 1827, the Erie Canal was completed. The New York –Albany Rail Road opened in 1831, and commercial products were easily and quickly transported the mid-western portions of the county. The advancements in the movement of goods precipitated the needs of mass produced agricultural products.s as well as the first generation of Americans. Post Revolutionary War immigrations and the industrial age had not yet begun, and quite manor farms were located within the River Valley. These farmers actively worked self-sustaining farms and maintained a bargaining or exchange market system.

By mid-century the number of residents employed by mills or warehouses along the river, or working for the canals or other transport systems, was substantial (Wermuth, 2001). Neither Wermuth (2001) nor Daniels (1990), give figures on how many persons this significant number would include, but undoubtedly the half million people newly arrived in the country were either employed or seeking work. The immigrant labor fed the industrial market and helped bring about a change in the agricultural market systems. The power of industry and the mass populations made the Empire State the leading supplier of finished goods and labor (Wermuth, 2001).

Due to the high demand for labor and workers the mid 19th Century, immigrants tended to monopolize certain labor fields, essentially creating ethnic communal groups within the Hudson River Valley. There was great importance of an individual’s membership in specific cultural groups, and the tendency of generations and ethnic groups to specialize in specific occupations. Towards the middle of the century and into the latter years (1860-1890) there were significant changes in the immigration patterns, “with the influx of ethnic groups primarily from the northwestern portions of Europe” (Daniels 1990 p. 121). This changed the dynamic of the Hudson Valley region and restructured the market system of the Hudson River Valley.

Despite the influx of immigrants, the change in market systems and the blossoming of the industrial age, the Hudson Valley region continued agriculturally. In the years beyond 1850 “most residents of the Hudson Valley earned their livelihoods from agriculture” (Wermuth, 2001 p. 136). However, these farmers and their extended families altered their crops and livestock holdings to meet the market demand. In addition to this change in farm production, many families began to produce market goods on the farm. Hudson Valley farmers altered their production and consumption patterns in response to the transportation and industrial developments of the 19th century (Wermuth, 2001). These economizing farmers were sustained by demands from the Midwest not only for agricultural products but also for farm-produced goods, such as homespun fabrics, tools, shoes and homemade linens such as quilts.

In addition to cultivating their farm to meet market needs, farmers also networked as laborers to neighboring farms or industries, this is especially true for large families who could spare working hands on their own farms (Wermuth, 2001). New families to the region, as well as young family farms, would need the additional help during harvests and planting seasons. Other farms increased their tilled acreage to increase crop production and sell a greater amount at market (Wermuth, 1998). With additional help, farms could specialize to an even greater level, and by doing so control the market on “products such as stave manufacturing and dairying” (Wermuth, 2001 p. 138).

By the late 1840’s, as well as in the generations there after, economic control was no longer in the hands of Hudson Valley farmers, or even the residents. Stockholders, shareholder and owners of the transportation industries, such as the New York Hudson Rail Road and the Delaware and Hudson Canal managed the transportation of goods both entering and exiting the Hudson River region (Wermuth, 2001). They dictated the carrying costs, regulated wages and managed the flow of traffic along the canals and rails (Wermuth, 2001). Generally speaking these stockholders were not residents of the Hudson River region, but resided in New York City or in the western region of the United States; some stockholders as far away as California.

Daniels, Roger. (1990). Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life. New York. Harper Collins.

Wermuth, Thomas (2001). Rip Van Winkle’s Neighbors: The Transformation of Rural Society in the Hudson River Valley, 1720-1850.  State University of New York Press. Albany.

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