The ox was still the farmer’s chief reliance and he had a kingly place of honor at the Cattle Shows. At Andover, in 1831, the farmers made up a mighty team of about 150 yoke, a novelty in the Essex shows, though frequently seen in other centers. The ploughing matches with double and single yoke were the thrilling episodes of the annual fairs. But the horse was coming into his own. In 1829, Rufus Slocum of Haverhill appeared in the lists with a team of three horses and ploughed “with skill and dispatch, to wit in 45 minutes, and as well as the average of ox-teams.” His time was noticeably shorter. In 1832 premiums for horses were given for the first time, and it was recognized with regret that insufficient attention was being given to breeding. New inventions were calling for the horse each year. In 1831 the report was made that a revolving horse rake had been introduced lately in Pennsylvania and that a man and a single horse with this machine could do the work of six men with hand rakes. It was affirmed in 1835 that a boy with his horse rake could draw the hay into windrows as fast as eight men could put it into cocks. There were obscure allusions to a mowing ma- chine in some sections of the country, drawn by a horse, which could mow ten acres in a day, and a threshing machine operated by a horse which equalled in one day the work of a man with his flail in ten. By the year 1834 the wooden plough had yielded to the superior efficiency of the iron. As early as 1820, Mr. Howard had taken out his patents and made the first iron ploughs, as he affirmed, in the Commonwealth. Many other patents had been granted, but Howard was recognized as the pioneer. The Committee on Agricultural Instruments rose to heights of enthusiasm in their Report in 1834. The plough, for which more than a hundred patents have been obtained since the promulgation of that glori- ous document, the Declaration of Independence, has by late improvements arrived to such perfection, that could our oxen like Balaam’s ass be endowed with the power of speech, they would shout “Howard forever,” or in the more quaint language of late political times, “Huzza for Howard, the man who has relieved our necks of half their burden and aided the Harrow in its duties.”
Speaking at Danvers, in September, 1835, Daniel P. King of Danvers extolled the Agricultural Societies as potent factors in securing new prosperity for the farmer, greater hay crops, finer results in the dairy, the rich fruit of better methods. But a year afterward, the orator of the day, Nathan W. Hazen, sounded a note of despond- ency and alarm. Beef and pork, packed in Ohio, he asserted were being freighted in teams through the Notch of the White Mountains to the fertile intervals in the Connecticut River. A few years before Worcester County was producing 2,000,000 pounds of pork a year, now it was buying the western product. Farms were never more difficult to sell. Both speakers may have taken extreme views, we may believe, but in one particular the Essex County men were suffering great disappointment in this decade, through the failure of their golden dreams of wealth from the new industry of silk culture. Silk Culture. In his Statement in the Transactions of the year 1838, Rev. Gardner B. Perry, of Bradford, an enthusiastic exponent of the new industry, stated that the pioneer in this experiment in Essex County was Enoch Boynton of Byfield, who planted some mulberry cuttings in 1822. His nursery was enlarged by trees raised from seed, grafting and cuttings, to more than 42,000 in 1832. He fed many worms upon the leaves and produced consider- able silk, for specimens of which he received several gratuities from the Essex County Agricultural Society. A committee of the Massachusetts Legislature on the culture of Silk reported in January, 1829, recommending an extension of the grant to Agricultural Societies, made in 1819, to encourage the culture of silk, expressing great confidence in the simplicity of the process and the certainty of success. The committee of the Essex Society reported in September, 1830, that nurseries of the white mulberry had been established by Mr. Boynton, Rev. Gardner B. Perry, of Bradford, Stephen Currier, Jr., Samuel Eaton and J. M. Grosvenor, and Dr. J. M. Grosvenor in Methuen. Premiums were paid to each of these. In the Transactions for 1831, Dr. Andrew Nichols, for the Committee on Silk Culture, presented an exhaustive report with minute directions for the cultivation of the leaves and the care of the silkworms, with a large engraved plate. “At present,” the report says, “nothing seems to promise better than the production of silk. . . . Like gold, it possesses an intrinsic value and will never cease to be in demand. . . . Farmers of Essex, can you longer hesitate?
White mulberry trees, seeds and eggs, together with the necessary directions for managing the whole business are now within your reach.’ It proceeded to urge that women, boys and infirm people, every family, indeed, might rear a few thousand worms easily. Encouraged by this, many persons in different parts of the County set out plantations, in size from a few hundred to as many thousand trees. Worms were raised in a great many families, from a few dozens by way of experiment, to many thousands for profit. Many of these efforts yielded a good profit. “Every circumstance,” Mr. Perry stated, “seemed to justify the expectation that the business, if followed with energy, would generally secure a competence and not infrequently lead to wealth.” Then came the disastrous winter of 1834, which utterly destroyed many orchards of tender fruit trees and did great injury to the young mulberries. Rust and scab and other diseases completed the work of ruin. The industry was checked at once. Many cut down their nurseries or allowed them to run to waste, and there was a general belief that the climate rendered the culture impossible.
But Mr. Perry and a few other enthusiasts still had faith. Temple Cutler of Hamilton made a detailed statement of his success with the Morus Multicaulis or Perotted Mulberry, a hardier variety than the Morus Alba or White Mulberry. His confidence knew no bounds. Should silk one day rival all our other staple commodities, it would not excite my surprise. . . . Is it to be credited that a people so renowned for enterprise and industry as those of New England would shrink back from even a trial of their skill to raise silk? . . . Should we make the trial and should we succeed in introducing an employment that would tend to keep our young men from wandering away, leaving the tombs of their fathers, often to find an early grave among the infected prairies of the West; and our young women from flying to the manufacturing towns to be immured in loathsome prisons, where all improvements in household concerns with them must cease, a great and philanthropic purpose will be accomplished. The industry made a brief recovery with the introduction of the new variety of mulberry. Mr. Cutler, reporting for the committee in 1843, remarked with much severity upon the multicaulis speculation, which had dealt the industry a well nigh fatal blow. Unprincipled agents had hawked the trees around and caught the unwary with dreams of extravagant profit. The tree itself was brought into disrepute and odium cast on silk culture, so that it became a subject of ridicule. Many abandoned it for this reason alone. Morus Multicaulis became a by-word and a jest, and silk culture took its place beside the Merino sheep mania in the limbo of exploded fancies. A few silk purses and several pairs of silk stockings seem to have been the only visible fruits of the experiment. The most remarkable story that has been preserved is the tale of the silk gown, which was exhibited in the Cattle Show of 1840. Mrs. Burbank of Bradford, then ninety-five years old, stated that she had made it twenty- three years before. She had obtained some eggs in 1815, which had been brought from India, and secured some mulberry leaves from trees planted on her land by a former tenant. In two years she raised the silk, carded it, spun it on a linen wheel, wove the fabric in a common loom and made the dress.