Cazenove 1794 Travel Journal – Part 2

Robert Wood


As detailed last week, Theophile Cazenove, a wealthy European who was working for prosperous Dutch bankers, was employed to travel through Pennsylvania with an eye toward investments in land. He kept notes on his findings which were eventually published as his “journal.” It is his observations on the Pennsylvania Germans of nearby Berks and Lancaster Counties that are our principle interest here.

Page 21 of manuscript and following pages: “Maxatawny Township. Plowing is done with horses, but the custom of plowing with oxen is gaining more and more. They generally sow wheat. The Hessian fly [wheat parasite] is very detrimental to them. For fertilizer manure is used. Plaster of Paris is very good for clover the first 2 years, but they find out that it uses up the land. A good 300 acre farm is offered for sale near here, fair house, very good barn, near the river, 60 acres meadow, 230 tillable, 10 woods—excellent   land for 4000 pounds [presumably Pennsylvania] cash.”

“October, 1794, wheat 10s. [shillings] per bushel, barley 61/2 s., buckwheat 2s./6 [pence] to 3s. For flour you buy your wheat and bring it to the mill, where it is ground for one tenth of it.”

 “The German farmers also manufacture coarse woolen materials for coats, skirts, etc. and all their shirt-linens; they buy only their best clothes, for Sunday, and not many of these, as they are thrifty to the point of avarice; to keep seems to be their great passion; they live on potatoes, and buckwheat cakes instead of bread. They deny themselves everything costly; but when there is snow, they haunt the taverns. They are remarkably obstinate and ignorant.”

“On every farm they cultivate enough flax and hemp and also raise what sheep they need for making their linen and cloth. They have a few gardens, at least for cabbage and carrots, and they all have bee hives. You always feel like settling in the country when you see the excellent ground and the charm of the country, and also the advantage of farming, but you lose courage when you realize the total lack of education of the farmers, and that is absolutely necessary to live to yourself, if you have any education, knowledge, and feeling.”

“All these farmers talk politics, and because they read the papers, they think they know a great deal about the government; they think the government offices are too many and overpaid…”

What is notable, I think, is the phrase “they read the papers,” indicating that literacy was common. Indeed, in those days German newspapers from Reading and Allentown  printed thousands every week and each newspaper was no doubt seen by several readers or passed around the local tavern until it was in tatters.

Most travelers held similar views about the German farmers. They praised their husbandry, thrift, prosperous looking barns and well tended fields, but had  little good to report about their companionship or, as we would say, “lifestyle.”

“In France (Cazenove was French) everywhere I saw the farmers had four times as much furniture as the farmers in America generally have; above all there is no comparison between the keeping of the inside and outside of the farms, under the same conditions….”

“In France you see the farmers having first, several large wardrobes, filled with clothes and linen, more or less, silver spoons, knives and forks, large silver drinking cups for each member of the family, father, mother, older children; much linen underwear and table linen, good wines and brandy in the cellar; each farm has a well kept garden with plenty of vegetables, cabbage, lettuce, turnips.”

“I visited several farms in the famous Lancaster County—belonging  to farmers known to be worth from 10 to 15 thousand pounds. I found them having for dinner potatoes, bacon, and buckwheat cakes; tin goblets; a dirty little napkin instead of a table cloth, on a large table—for downstairs rooms, a kitchen and a large room with the farmer’s bed and the cradle, and where the whole family stay all the time; apples and pears drying on the stove, a bad little mirror, a walnut bureau—a table—sometimes a clock….”

“No care is taken to keep the entrance to the house free of stones and mud—not one tree—not one flower. In the vegetable garden, weeds intermingled with cabbages and a few turnips and plants.”

The above description, while hardly flattering, may well describe the typical local 18th century farm. The farm family’s energy was likely consumed in the mere struggle for survival.  Perhaps our picture of Pennsylvania Dutch farms, tidy, picturesque, and white-washed, comes from the Victorian era of the late 19th century. However, it can’t be overstated that he Pennsylvania Dutchmen were first and foremost farmers and associated tradesmen. They did not come to America for plunder or to gain wealth or to develop gentleman’s estates.

Cazenove grudgingly acknowledges that “They have all become rich through the high prices of grains since the French Revolution. They accumulate cash and keep it idle, by distrust—or they buy land, next to their own, which they do not cultivate and their savings remain idle. However, it is only fair to say that German farmers give farms to their sons as soon as they are of age, for their marriage, and even if they have 10 sons, they all become farmers…”

Being Pennsylvania Dutch and of that farming culture myself (in everything but name), I can vouch that the Dutchman’s attitudes Cazenove described lingered down the years to the twentieth century; but  of the future…that’s anyone’s guess.

Also of interest: Bob Wood’s “History Talks” at Studio B, Boyertown, every Thursday from 1:00 to 2:00. Topic for June 4—Local 18th and 19th century log houses.