Farming At A Premium

The following newspaper article was written by William Albert Peckham (1870-1942). It was published in 1906. The text of the article was contributed by Barry Peckham. Barry added notes in brackets [ ].

Albert Peckham in Arnold’s Vital Record of Rhode Island, Volume 3

The past season we were very short of help but took fairly good care of the crops and the results were quite satisfactory. Father [Albert Peckham (1840-1906)] died in January at the age of 66 years. He had done a good share of hard work, especially in his early life. He was the son of a farmer [Gideon Barker Peckham (1817-1854)] and the oldest of 12 children. When he bought this place, about 40 years ago, the walls were all down, the buildings very poor and the land was all run out, so much so that a horse, two cows and a flock of geese ate all that grew.

The farm contained 110 acres and I think the price was $8000. He [Albert Peckham] had to give a mortgage for the most of it. This was soon after the war when land was high and people thought that war prices were going to last. He built a horse barn and crib and in 1873 built the house, the old one [former residence of Richard “Pirate Dick” Grinnell] being unfit to live in longer. This cost him about $4500, but he had to go into debt for a good part of that. At the same time he was building up the land and bringing up a family of six children, four boys [Gideon, Rufus, William, and Walter] and two girls [Laura and Lidora, who both married Sissons]. All this, as one can imagine, must have been uphill work, so much so that even after 20 years had he sold out everything, he could not have more than paid his debts.

In 1884, after a very discouraging year, he made up his mind there was no more money to be made in old-fashioned farming, so he put up his first hothouse for grapes, intending also to start early vegetable plants, putting me in charge. I was then a lazy boy of 14, but I had a love for books and plants, and I soon became interested in my work and from the start was quite successful. This was the beginning of better times. I don’t know whether it was due to the hot house or because the boys were getting old enough to work. We kept adding to our plant till now we have 7000 feet of glass in houses and 2000 feet in frames [i.e., “cold frames” for starting plants in spring with some protection from late frosts].

William Peckham.

In 1885, my father was struck by a tree in the woods which nearly broke his back. It was about four months before he was able to be out of bed and a year or more before he got around much. He never was able to do much hard work after that, but looked after the business end and did considerable buying and selling. That year we four boys, age 11, 15, 17 & 19, with the help of one hired man, put up nearly 100 tons of hay and grew considerable produce. My oldest brother [Gideon Barker Peckham (1866-1949)] did the marketing, which he has continued to do ever since. [note: Peckham Street in Fall River is named for him]

In 1892, father took us in partnership with him, giving three of us one half the profits, my youngest brother [Walter Everett Peckham (1874-1943)] working on a salary. The results have been a good example of the boys staying on the farm, each taking the part for which he is best suited and all working together. My oldest brother [Gideon] moved to the city and did the selling.

The other brother [Rufus Franklin “Frank” Peckham (1868-1917)] took care of the cattle and horses and tended to the grain business, also helped run the farm. I had the care of the hot houses and the growing of crops outside. My youngest brother [Walter] soon after moved to the city and took charge of the milk route, which was then about 35 or 40 cans a day. He now sells 350 cans (8 1/2 quarts) a day. [note: Walter would eventually run the Peckham-Davis dairy delivery business located at the corner of Peckham and Barrett streets.]

We have bought land at different times so that now our farm contains 235 acres with only about 10 acres that cannot be mowed with the machine. We are cutting 125 to 150 tons of hay a year which, before building the new barn, was all put up in stack from 6 to 10 tons each. Last year we put 75 tons in the barn. We grew about 20 acres corn last season, which was a little more than usual. The corn is mostly all ground into eating meal, from which the famous Rhode Island “johnnycake” is made.

Rufus Peckham with children on a horse.

Last year we planted 11 acres of potatoes, which is considerable less than usual. Some years we have planted as high as 22 acres. We grew considerable for the early market, putting up some sets and a lot of sprouted seed.

We put in 12 to 15 acres of cabbage, about two thirds of this for winter and the remainder for early summer. We start to sell our earliest June 10 to June 20, and intend to have a supply until the first of March or a little later. What we can’t sell, and the leaves, make excellent fodder for the cattle.

We seed down 15 or 20 acres with oats or barley, threshing the grain and feeding most of the straw. This, with four or 5 acres of small stuff, such as squash, carrots, beets, parsnips, etc., make up what we raise. The rotation is corn on solid ground, next year cabbage and next potatoes for one or two years, then seed, keeping in grass as long as we can get a good crop.

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