Rocks and a Hard Place


Submitted a year ago

Farming in New Hampshire has never been an easy proposition. Although the overwhelming number of boulders that fill the fields have been a great source of stone for house foundations and picturesque walls, they've also made clearing and planting particularly difficult. In addition, New Hampshire soil is acidic and thin, which makes growing anything a supremely challenging endeavor. It makes sense, then, that most traditional farms in New Hampshire in the 1800s were slowly abandoned by their owners, either for mill jobs in urban centers or for a new farming life in the west where rich soil abounded.

At Rauner, we have a wonderful broadside that is a perfect illustration of how farming in New Hampshire became a dead end for all but a few hearty (and perhaps foolhardy) souls. In March of 1847, the Dow family of Hanover, New Hampshire, had had enough of the struggle. With plans to head west for better climes, they commissioned a broadside advertising the auction of their farm, including several fruit and maple trees, "one valuable mare," farming implements, and even books.

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Our copy of this broadside has personal relevance for the Dow family beyond the sale of their property: on the back of the single sheet are numerous letters written to two of the Dow sisters who were currently working in the mills in Methuen, Massachusetts. Their sister Julia, mother Polly, father A. D. (Agrippa Dow) and brother Lewis all take some time and space to jot down messages to the girls, and their distinct personalities emerge from their words. Julia teases one of her sisters by asking if she wouldn't like to come home and help her with spinning now that she's been a "factory girl" for so long. Their mother says that she can't say much because it's washing day but frets that her daughters won't think much of the log cabin that the family will be living in after the move. The younger brother, Lewis, is happy that school is over. The patriarch of the family, Agrippa Dow, simply asks, "Will you go? Will you go?"

To see the Dow family's group letter and auction poster, come to Rauner and ask for MSS 847214.

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