On February 16, 1818, the first meeting about creating the Essex Agricultural Society to promote agricultural interest consisted of about 20 practical farmers at the Cyrus Cummings Tavern in Topsfield. The goal of the fledgling society was to promote and improve the agricultural interests of farmers and others in Essex County. This meeting was the beginning of what would become the Essex Agricultural Society and, later, developed the famous Topsfield Fair. The meeting attracted Essex County’s most prominent and well-respected citizens, including attorneys, wealthy merchants, and politicians. Among them was the honorable Timothy Pickering who was a senator, congressman, a hero of the American Revolution and later served as Postmaster General, Secretary of War, and Secretary of State. Within weeks, these farmers had formed the society as an offshoot of the Massachusetts Society for the Promotion of Agriculture and elected Pickering as their first president.
In May 1818, just a few months after the inaugural meeting at Cyrus Cummings Tavern, Timothy Pickering delivered the first address before the fledgling society. In it, he called the importance of agriculture “universally acknowledged” and discussed, in deep detail, his own observations about the best ways to sow carrot seeds, distribute manure, and carry out experiments as a farmer.
His address included these comments:
“How, indeed, are we fed, clothed, and warmed? By the productions of the earth. How shall these be rendered abundant? And most abundant? To subsist greater numbers than now depend on them? By improvements in Agriculture, taking this word in its largest sense, and comprehending every object meriting the attention of the husbandman.”
Pickering was essentially the Essex Agricultural Society Ambassador, promoting and teaching agricultural findings our farmers had learned and sharing it with the community.
1818 was a fitting time for the establishment of the Essex Agricultural Society. It was an era of bewilderment and dis-couragement. The Indian corn crop had suffered great damage from frost in the autumn of 1812 and almost total destruction in the fall of 1816. Confidence in the reliability of the great staple was shaken, and there was an idea more or less current that it was injurious to the soil.