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Inventors A History of American Agriculture 1776-1990
Farmers and the Land
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17th century
Small land grants commonly made to individual settlers; large tracts often granted to well-connected colonists
First African slaves brought to Virginia; by 1700, slaves were displacing southern indentured servants
18th century
English farmers settled in New England villages; Dutch, German, Swedish, Scotch-Irish, and English farmers settled on isolated Middle Colony farmsteads; English and some French farmers settled on plantations in tidewater and on isolated Southern Colony farmsteads in Piedmont; Spanish immigrants, mostly lower middle-class and indentured servants, settled the Southwest and California.
1776-99 1776
Continental Congress offered land grants for service in the Continental Army
1785, 1787
Ordinances of 1785 and 1787 provided for survey, sale, and government of northwestern lands 
Total population: 3,929,214
Farmers made up about 90% of labor force 
The U.S. area settled extended westward an average of 255 miles; parts of the frontier crossed the Appalachians
Sparse immigration into the United States, mostly from the British Isles
Public Land Act of 1796 authorized Federal land sales to the public in minimum 640-acre plots at $2 per acre of credit
1800 1800
Total population: 5,308,483
Louisiana Purchase
Total population: 7,239,881
Florida and other land acquired through treaty with Spain
Total population: 9,638,453
Land Law of 1820 allowed purchasers to buy as little as 80 acres of public land for a minimum price of $1.25 an acre; credit system abolished
1830 1830
Total population: 12,866,020
The Mississippi River formed the approximate frontier boundary
Land speculation boom
Anti-rent war in New York, a protest against the continued collection of quitrents
1840 1840
Total population: 17,069,453
Farm population: 9,012,000 (estimated)
Farmers made up 69% of labor force
Preemption Act gave squatters first rights to buy land
The potato famine in Ireland and the German Revolution of 1848 greatly increased immigration
Texas, Oregon, the Mexican cession, and the Gadsden Purchase were added to the Union
Gold Rush
1850 1850
Total population: 23,191,786
Farm population: 11,680,000 (estimated) 
Farmers made up 64% of labor force
Number of farms: 1,449,000
Average acres: 203
Successful farming on the prairies began
With the California gold rush, the frontier bypassed the Great Plains and the Rockies and moved to the Pacific coast
Free land was a vital rural issue
Graduation Act reduced price of unsold public lands
The miners' frontier moved eastward from California toward the westward-moving farmers' and ranchers frontier
1860 1860
Total population: 31,443,321
Farm population: 15,141,000 (estimated) 
Farmers made up 58% of labor force
Number of farms: 2,044,000
Average acres: 199
Homestead Act granted 160 acres to settlers who had worked the land 5 years
The sharecropping system in the South replaced the old slave plantation system
Influx of Scandinavian immigrants
Cattle boom accelerated settlement of Great Plains; range wars developed between farmers and ranchers
1870 1870
Total population: 38,558,371
Farm population: 18,373,000 (estimated) 
Farmers made up 53% of labor force
Number of farms: 2,660,000
Average acres: 153
1880 1880
Total population: 50,155,783
Farm population: 22,981,000 (estimated) 
Farmers made up 49% of labor force
Number of farms: 4,009,000
Average acres: 134
Heavy agricultural settlement on the Great Plains began
Most humid land already settled
Most immigrants were from southeastern Europe
Drought reduced settlement on the Great Plains
1890 1890
Total population: 62,941,714
Farm population: 29,414,000 (estimated) 
Farmers made up 43% of labor force
Number of farms: 4,565,000
Average acres: 136
Increases in land under cultivation and number of immigrants becoming farmers caused great rise in agricultural output
Census showed that the frontier settlement era was over
1900 1900
Total population: 75,994,266
Farm population: 29,414,000 (estimated) 
Farmers made up 38% of labor force
Number of farms: 5,740,000
Average acres: 147
Continued agricultural settlement on the Great Plains
Reclamation Act
Policy of reserving timberlands inaugurated on a large scale
1910 1910
Total population: 91,972,266
Farm population: 32,077,00 (estimated) 
Farmers made up 31% of labor force
Number of farms: 6,366,000
Average acres: 138
Dryland farming boom on the Great Plains
Immigration of agricultural workers from Mexico
Stock Raising Homestead Act
1920 1920
Total population: 105,710,620
Farm population: 31,614,269 (estimated)
Farmers made up 27% of labor force
Number of farms: 6,454,000
Average acres: 148
Immigration Act greatly reduced number of new immigrants
1930 1930
Total population: 122,775,046
Farm population: 30,455,350 (estimated)
Farmers made up 21% of labor force
Number of farms: 6,295,000
Average acres: 157
Irrigated acres: 14,633,252
Drought and dust-bowl conditions developed
Executive orders withdrew public lands from settlement, location, sale, or entry
Taylor Grazing Act
1940 1940
Total population: 131,820.000 
Farm population: 30,840,000 (estimated) 
Farmers made up 18% of labor force
Number of farms: 6,102,000
Average acres: 175
Irrigated acres: 17,942,968
Many former southern sharecroppers migrated to war-related jobs in cities
1950 1950
Total population: 151,132,000 
Farm population: 25,058,000 (estimated) 
Farmers made up 12.2% of labor force
Number of farms: 5,388,000
Average acres: 216 
Irrigated acres: 25,634,869
Legislation passed providing for Great Plains Conservation Program
1960 1960
Total population: 180,007,000 
Farm population: 15,635,000 (estimated) 
Farmers made up 8.3% of labor force
Number of farms: 3,711,000
Average acres: 303
Irrigated acres: 33,829,000
State legislation increased to keep land in farming
Wilderness Act
Farmers made up 6.4% of labor force
1970 1970
Total population: 204,335,000
Farm population: 9,712,000 (estimated) 
Farmers made up 4.6% of labor force
Number of farms: 2,780,000
Average acres: 390
1980-90 1980, 1990
Total population: 227,020,000 and 246,081,000 
Farm population: 6,051,00 and 4,591,000 
Farmers made up 3.4% and 2.6% of labor force
Number of farms: 2,439,510 and 2,143,150
Average acres: 426 and 461
Irrigated acres: 50,350,000 (1978) and 46,386,000 (1987)
For the first time since the 19th century, foreigners (Europeans and Japanese primarily) began to purchase significant acreages of farmland and ranchland
The Southeast's worst summer drought on record took a severe toll on many farmers
Farmland values bottomed out after a 6-year decline, signalling both a turnaround in the farm economy and increased competition with other countries' exports
Scientists warned that the possibility of global warming may affect the future viability of American farming
One of the worst droughts in the Nation's history hit midwestern farmers
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From Mary Bellis,
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