Handsome Heifers and Copious Carrots

Harvest time is Fair time, and in our region that means the Topsfield Fair, which advertises itself as the country’s oldest and dates its origins to a cattle show sponsored by the newly-formed Essex Agricultural Society in 1820. I found an interesting pamphlet (An Address Delivered Before the Essex Agricultural Society: at the Agricultural Exhibition in Danvers [and]  The Trustees’ Account of the Agricultural Exhibition at Danvers, October 16 and 17, 1821) about the fair’s second occasion that lists its award-winning cultivators, crafters, and exhibitors and was surprised to see quite a few Salem names among them. Then as now, Salem was pretty urban in comparison to the surrounding communities, but its northern and southern jurisdictions were still “fields”, so I suppose there was still sufficient acreage to compete with farmers from the more rural communities of Essex County.  Here are the big Salem prizewinners of 1821:


Breeding Sows: Mr. Elias Putnam of Danvers won best ($8) but Mr. Jonathan Osborne of Salem won second best ($5).

Bulls: Mr. Ezekiel Hersey Derby, Esq. awarded first prize ($15) for his “deep red bull of two years old”. Noted also are his “very handsome” heifers.

Cows: Mr. John Barr, Esq. awarded first prize ($15) for his seven-year-old “bright red cow”; Mr. Aaron Waitt, Esq. awarded third prize ($5) for his six-year-old “light red cow”.

Domestic Manufactures: (Salem residents dominated in this category, I must say, although it seems to have been an exhibition rather than a competition).

Imitation Beaver Hats: from Major Samuel Mansfield’s Factory, Salem: water-proof, highly recommended for beauty and economy:  “they exhibit an admirable imitation, formed by the skillful use of cheap materials–the nap of muskrat is laid upon lambswool bodies, which are stiffened with gum shellac”.

Imitation Merino Shawls: by Mrs. Thompson of Salem. Cotton and wool carded together, rich colors, exhibiting “great taste and skill”.

Imitation Leghorn Bonnets: from Miss Mary Raymond of Salem “the happiest imitation in point of color”.

Beautiful specimens of Vitriol and Alum” : from the Salem Laboratory (must research this).

Carpeting: “a well-executed piece of Venitian carpeting” from Mrs. Dwinnel of Salem and “Gobelin-worked Crickets” by the young Misses Page of Danvers are praised–what are Gobelin-worked Crickets????????????

The Ploughing Competition: this seems to have been the highlight of the exhibition, but the root vegetables (see below) received much commentary as well. Benjamin Savory of Newbury won, but Mr. Ezekiel Hersey Derby came in second, with his team of oxen driven by Henry Barrich, ploughman, who ploughed 36 furrows, 6 inches deep, in 70 minutes, “very handsomely”.

Crops: here the Salem farmers seem to be disadvantaged, but John Barr won the barley competition, and Salem dominated the exciting carrot competition:

First Prize ($15) to Mr. John Dwinnel of Salem: 360 bushels raised on a half-acre. Mr. Dwinnel also received second prize for his potatoes.

Second Prize ($10) to Mr. James S. Cate of Salem: 276 bushels raised on a half-acre.

Fourth Prize ($5) to Mr. Ezekiel H. Derby, Esq. of Salem: 256 bushels raised on a half-acre.

There seems to have been intense interest in root and fodder crops at this time, so there were also “claims” or documented harvests of certain crops including rutabaga and “mangel wurtzel”, a kind of beet. Mr. Derby submitted a claim for the latter: reaping 287 bushels of the crop from a half-acre of land, “twice-ploughed and received a slight dressing of manure”, along with Russian radishes and Swedish turnips. The seed was sown on May 23, 1821, and the crop harvested between October 27 and November 3rd. The Salem surveyor came out to verify the claim.

Such information in this report! It makes me want to abandon my ongoing exploration of cultural and social history and become an old-fashioned agricultural historian! It’s no surprise to any Salem historian to see Ezekiel Hersey Derby so oft-mentioned in this account, however, as there is an amazing painting of his family farm in South Salem by the Salem émigré artist Michele Felice Corné dated from about 20 years earlier in the collection of Historic New England. I walk by the former site of this farm (basically Lafayette and Ocean Streets) on my way to work, and generally I think about what it looked like before the Great Salem Fire of 1914, but now I have an entirely new pastoral perspective.

Corne Derby Farm 1800

Cornè, Michele Felice (1752-1845) Ezekiel Hersey Derby Farm, c. 1800, Cogswell’s Grant, Historic New England. This painting is also notable as it represents the artist and his friend, Salem’s famed architect and woodcarver Samuel McIntire, in the lower left-hand corner adjacent to the fence.

10 responses to “Handsome Heifers and Copious Carrots

  • Fran Wilson

    I truly love how much I have learned about Salem from your blog. Thank you very much for the “history trip” as well as the “history lesson”.

    • daseger

      Thank you, Fran. I appreciate your comments and believe me, I learn a lot too! I really like it to be a trip of mutual discovery except for the times I get on my high horse about Witch City.

  • Peg

    I’m apprehensive to bring up anything Halloween related but the large livestock fodder, mangel wurtzel was the favorite of the Irish for making the original jack-o-lanterns, the tradition of which they brought to America. The pic is a carved mangel wurtzel from the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life in Mayo.

  • Tracy

    I wonder if the Gobelin crickets refer to a needlepoint stitch called Gobelin? There are several varieties: http://needlepoint.about.com/od/stitchdiagrams/tp/StitchJournalAvails.04.htm.

    Moved to Salem about 18 months ago and so happy to have just found your blog. Maybe because I’m such a newbie I still love Halloween in this burg (though living out of downtown on Lafayette means I don’t have to deal with the thick of it unless I choose to). I love the spirit of this town so much! And though I’m perplexed by the constsnt juxstaposition of the reality of the witch trials and the commercialization of the stereotype of the witch, sometimes but not always by the witches themselves, I find most of them, and every person I’ve met since I moved here, really lovely. I’m so happy not to live in “the big city” anymore but in this cozy little town of culture, super nice people, silliness, beauty, and paradox!

    Really fun blog. Love to be learning so much about my new home!

    • daseger

      Hi Tracy–so glad you’re happy in Salem: it really is a GREAT place to live–I just get a bit agitated around this time of year! I think you’re right about Gobelins, but I’ve never seem that reference to “Crickets”?

      • Peg

        The Gobelins were a family of dyers who, in the middle of the 15th century, established themselves in the Faubourg Saint-Marce district in Paris, on the banks of the Bièvre. They were masters at their work, so much so that King Henry IV in 1601 created the National Manufacture des Gobelins which is still present today. They produced tapestries and rugs for the king’s palaces and royal gifts and you’ll find references to colors such as Gobelin Blue or Gobelin Red. The tapestries woven at the Gobelins were the finest of any produced in Europe in the 1600s and 1700s. Their work is revered and very collectable even today. Some are considered priceless. I’m thinking Miss Page of Danvers was showing off her French Gobelin rug.

  • Brian Bixby

    I take a VERY mild amount of pride in noting that my great-grandfather was a judge of livestock, sometimes swine, sometimes cattle, at the Groton (Mass.) Farmers and Mechanics Fair for several years, at last as early as 1861. Alas, the fair died after it was taken over by the KKK in the 1920s.

    • daseger

      Taken over by the KKK? You’re leaving us with this? I want more.

      • Brian Bixby

        I don’t know many of the details, I’m afraid. The Klan came to town in the 1920s, selling itself as a purity movement. In the North, they liked to target the other fraternal orders and mainline Protestant churches for support. They managed to recruit at least one minister and some police, and are said to have fired a cross on Gibbet Hill, along with taking over the fair.

        My own family kept out of this because of its history. While my grandfather and his brothers were raised Congregationalist, they had actually been baptized as Catholics, thanks to their Irish-born mother. Hence, they were ineligible for the Klan.

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