|Federal Period Landscape References in the Alexandria Gazette|
by Debbie Robison |
|Rural Farms and Gardens|
|Town Lots and Gardens|
|Influences on Garden Plant Selection and Design|
Research on federal period landscapes for this manuscript was conducted by surveying microfilm reels of the Alexandria Gazette for the period of 1784 – 1825. Due to the volume of editions, the search for references to landscape features was typically limited to four newspapers per year, one in each quarter. A slight randomness was achieved by selecting the first newspaper in each quarter at which the advancing film stopped. Several references were often culled from one newspaper edition.The Alexandria Gazette was published by several different owners and under several name variations, in Alexandria, Virginia. Alexandria herein refers to this place. Generally, advertisements for farms in the
For ease of reading, italics are used to identify direct quotes from primary source documents. Within these quotes, the letter “s” is substituted for the old English letter “ƒ.”
During the federal period of the
By the time of the Revolution, the land had already, for the most part, been granted to wealthy Tidewater planters. Often their sons settled in the piedmont and managed cultivated plantations, leased divided tracts to poorer tenant farmers, and engaged in industry and commerce. The landscape was thus carved into large rural plantations, smaller tenant farms, and urban town lots. As is often the case, economic considerations drove decisions that produced change in these landscapes.
In the general course of conducting certain financial transactions, at least amongst the affluent, advertisements were placed in the newspaper promoting sales of property and products. These advertisements tell a story. Printed on the pages of the Alexandria Gazette were sales pitches touting attributes perceived to be of value. Reviewing the advertisements yielded insight into the landscape features that the affluent populace deemed noteworthy.
|RURAL FARMS AND GARDENS|
Proving that some precepts of real estate never change, the location of farmland was paramount, and was consequently often described toward the beginning of sales advertisements. The relative location of the property in relationship to towns, particularly port towns, was often indicated as a distance in miles. Major roadways were mentioned, perhaps to reveal an improved transportation route with which farm produce could be brought to local and foreign markets. Turnpikes and waterways eased travel. The close proximity to merchant mills was also advantageous.
The subscriber wishing to remove to the western country, will sell the FARM on which he resides in Fairfax county, 11 miles from Alexandria, 9 from George Town ferry, and about the same from the Potomac bridge crossing to the city of Washington…
The topographical elevation of properties is frequently touted for expansive views. Additionally, it was believed that the air at higher elevations was healthier.
…from its high elevated situation the benefit of the most salubrious air.
Health considerations were often mentioned as an advantage for rural properties.
It lies adjoining the seat of Doctor Henry Rose, and would make a comfortable retreat for a town family in the sickly season.
The quality of soil and availability of water were two additional selling points frequently praised. Never failing stream was a popular phrase. Farms located on major waterways had the advantage of providing fish, crabs, wild fowl, and oysters.
Piedmont farmers were diversifying their crops.
Tobacco, corn, wheat, rye, oats, and timothy were being grown on
farms. At this time, merchants accepted most crops, especially
tobacco, in lieu of cash. After 1791, tobacco was rarely mentioned in
any advertisement for Virginia Piedmont Region farms in the
In the earliest advertisements, timothy was a type of hay that was frequently mentioned. By 1789, clover was also being sown; and by 1791, orchard grass was being mentioned in advertisements. These grasses may have been introduced earlier; however, the dates of advertisements suggest time periods when they became more widespread. Mentioned several times was that timothy was being grown on the low lands.
About 50 Acres of bottom is well
adapted, as experience proved, for the production of Timothy. Wheat,
The increase in referring to grasses grown on
farms may have been influenced by the introduction of the cradle and
scythe in the 1790’s that made harvesting grass easier. Previously
the hoe was used for cultivation and the sickle for cutting hay and
grain. In 1793, Weeding hoes,
sithes & sickles of the |
At farms nearby to |
…may with the greatest ease be
made to produce an abundance of vegetables, fruits, hops, and such
articles for market as will always command ready-money in |
Most rural farms advertised for sale or lease had
orchards containing a variety of fruit trees but predominantly they
were apple and peach trees. Often it was noted that the trees were
grafted. Typically leases to tenant farmers stipulated that an
orchard be planted. A 300-acre leased farm adjoining the old
courthouse in |
|…an apple and peach orchard. In the latter are upwards of 1,400 trees; among the former are 130 winter apple trees, some of them beginning to bear fruit. This is a very healthy situation, the plantation in good repair, a sure place for fruit.|
|Wood was a valuable commodity and portions of most farms were left as wood lots. The wood was used for building, fencing, firewood, and in one observed instance, pines were large enough for ships lower masts. One wood lot yielded on average from 15 to 20 cords of wood to the acre. Rural meadows, gardens, and fields were often described as being enclosed by a post and rail fence. This was almost exclusively the type of fence mentioned during this period; however, in one instance the subscriber notes that 3,000 pannels of fence were on the land. Chestnut and oak were desired for rails.|
|Timber of every description, suitable for all building purposes, post and rails, and a quantity of hickory for firewood, will be found upon the said lots. |
|Property owners enclosed their fields, in part to restrict access of people who would hunt animals or steal fruit and vegetables. George Washington complained that his fences (which are erected at considerable expence) are thrown down and his pastures made a common.|
|In 1790, Piedmont farmers began experimenting with adding Plaister of Paris to the soil as manure. Farmers in northern states had experimented with this additive and found that the corn crop was larger. Instructions on how to use the plaster were spelled out in a sales advertisement in 1790, years before Loudoun farmer John Binns wrote his 1803 A Treatise on Practical Farming suggesting the use of plaster in the soil in conjunction with planting clover and deep plowing. Plaster provides lime and clover provides nitrogen to the soil.|
|PLASTER OF PARIS. The Subscriber has imported from New-York, and left in the hands of Messrs. Hartshorne and Donaldson for Sale, a quantity of PLAISTER of PARIS in barrels of 3 1/2 bushels each; it is already ground and fit for immediate use – In Pennsylvania, New-York, and Jerseys and Maryland, many experiments have been made of this as a Manure, and it has proved the most useful of any yet discovered – a table spoonfull to each hill of corn, laid on the top of the ground after planting, will make the crop considerably larger; and for upland meadow and flax it is also very good – The best season for sowing it is from the 1st of March to the last of May… JESSE LAWRENCE April 22, 1790 |
|By 1801, the use of plaster to improve soil is evident as a trend begins of extolling a farm’s ability to be improved by plaster. Farmers also allowed the soil to rejuvenate by leaving fields fallow. Binns’s soil improvement strategy took hold in the area and, by 1811, landholders were touting their soil’s ability to be improved based on the plaster and clover system, also known as the Loudoun system.|
|To increase the amount of arable land,
farmers reclaimed lowlands. At the Dogue-Run Farm, part of the |
|The marsh land, in its present condition, is capable of supporting an immense number of cattle, and a great part of it might be drained at an expense inconsiderable when compared with its value when drained.|
|In addition to cattle, sheep were also raised on farms. “Grazing farm” was the nomenclature used to describe farms being used for this purpose.|
|Rural gardens contained fruit, vegetables, herbs, and sometimes flowers.|
|…an elegant and useful garden (full of herbs and choice fruits in their season)…|
|…well enclosed, with a post and rail fence, and a growing hedge all round, about 5 acres of this lot is cultivated as a Garden, and well manured, in which there are a variety of excellent bearing fruit trees, grape vines, rasberry, gooseberry, and currant bushes, a variety of herbs and flowers and 38 asparagus beds, highly manured and produced abundantly…|
|Ornamental trees and shrubs were advertised for sale as early as 1806 and then began to be mentioned in the sales advertisements for farms. The farm called Mount-Washington had a square garden plan and an ornamental landscape described in 1808 as follows.|
|The garden consists of 12 large squares, the soil enriched and borders filled with fruit trees, and bushes; it is surrounded by a live cedar hedge, which also extends on each side of the house; the former proprietor possessed much taste, and collected many ornamental trees and shrubs, which are judiciously disposed about the grounds.|
|In 1818, the garden at the estate
|…a falling garden of the most tasteful and costly design, filled with the rarest and most beautiful shrubberies and flowers, exotic and indigenous, all situated on a eminence, commanding a view of the rest of the tract, which extends in an unintercepted plain from the foot of the eminence to the Potomac and Occoquan…|
|In the same newspaper edition, George Mason’s nearby Gunston estate was offered for sale. The advertisement noted that|
|There is a considerable extent of live fence, both useful and ornamental, two orchards of well selected apples and peach, besides an abundance of other choice fruit.|
|TOWN LOTS AND GARDENS|
|Within a town, some lots were
described as being located near wharfs and principal streets. One
|Also mentioned as advantageous was the proximity of lots to the public warehouses and ferry.|
|Town lots were used for a variety of commercial purposes, including stores, taverns, tanneries, shoe shops, nurseries, apothecaries, nail manufactories, blacksmith shops, distilleries, brick-yards, etc. as well as for residences.|
|Clover was grown in town lots. A
half-acre lot was available for rent on |
|The term “garden” was used to describe
Benjamin Prince & Co.’s commercial nursery near |
|One town garden was described as a very pretty
Another contains a great quantity of fine fruit…
|Town lots and gardens were often
enclosed with fencing. A parcel in the Town of |
|The whole lot and garden is under a strong pailing, and the garden well planted with a variety of choice fruit…|
|INFLUENCES ON GARDEN PLANT SELECTION AND DESIGN|
|Seeds, trees, shrubs, flowering
plants, pots, and gardening tools were available for sale in |
Garden seeds were imported from
as 1805, American Nicholas Hingston styled himself a Seedsman. He
imported seeds from
|NICHOLAS HINGSTON, Respectfully
informs his friends and the public in general, that he hath removed his
store to king street, next door to Mr. Jos. Thornton’s, where he hath for
sale an extensive assortment of SEEDS, Both of English & American
growth. The former imported this fall per the ship Sheperdess, captain
Wells, via |
|Various stores in |
|George Custis offered red straw wheat
for sale at |
|Trees could be purchased at a nursery.
In 1800, Peter Billy was the proprietor of a nursery at the lower end of
|In addition to a general assortment of garden seeds of his own raising, William Yeates sold flowering shrubs, dwarf box for edging, …with an extensive collection of green house plants, of the most rare kinds.|
|In the early 1820s, advertisements
began appearing in the Alexandria Gazette
offering nursery stock available through catalogue purchase from nurseries
|In 1821, a catalogue of trees and
shrubs was available from the |
|Beginning by 1822, Daniel Smith
offered to provide catalogues free of charge through his agent, George
Drinker who had a store in |
|The training and experience of
gardeners employed to labor in a garden likely influenced the garden’s
design. John Buzelet, a gardener from |
|The occupation of gardener was a
specialized skill and occupation of slave laborers. Bushrod |
|Publications of books, letter
compilations, and newspaper articles influenced garden practices by
spreading information to a larger audience. The
American Gardener, published in |
|…containing Ample directions for working a kitchen garden every month in the year; and copious instructions for the calculation of Flower Gardens, Vineyards, and Nurseries, Hop Yards, Green Houses, and Hot Houses. |
|Bookstores were also selling the published letters of General George Washington written to Sir Arthur Young and Sir J. Sinclair, Bart. Agriculture was the primary topic discussed. The promotion copy read:|
|Few works have been published in
|In 1803, the Alexandria Advertiser and Commercial Intelligencer printed a method for preserving plants that had been subjected to frost.|
|Before the plant has been exposed to the sun, or thaw’d after a night’s frost, it should be well sprinkled with spring water, in which sal ammoniac, or common salt, has been infused; this must be continued for some time; but immesion of the whole plant, when it can be effected, is still more efficacious. It is particularly requisite that the root should be immersed, because that part being harder withstands the frost much longer, and will not so soon thaw, owing to its being covered with earth. It is particularly useful for the exotics which are in pots, because the process can more easily be resorted to with them. The philosophical reason will be easily perceived. Indeed were plants to be watered every morning in the spring, after the cold nights, in some solution, it is probable it would preserve them greatly from the blight.|
Farmer, a weekly agriculture publication, was first issued on April 2,
1819. The editor, John S. Skinner offered subscriptions for sale in an
|In 1820, handbills with instructions for cultivation were available with the purchase of seeds.|
|Several trends occurred during the
federal period that altered the landscape.
· Tobacco farming declined while growing grasses and grain increased.
· Soil improvements were instituted and improved upon.
· Labor saving farm tools and machinery were invented and patented.
· Literature specifically on American gardening and agriculture practices began to be written and disseminated.
In the early 1820’s, commercial nurseries began
offering greater varieties of trees, shrubs, and seeds from Europe and
other regions of
|There was no emphasis on flowers in the advertisements. When flowers were mentioned, the specific varieties were not noted, as were the varieties of garden seeds, ornamental trees, and fruit bearing shrubs.|
|Wooden fencing on rural farms was almost exclusively noted as being post and rail fence while town lots often were enclosed with a pailing fence. Rural gardens were noted as having live hedges.|
|Throughout the federal time-period,
the affluent populace strove to enhance their lives by way of
experimentation to increase farm yields, healthier living, and the
enjoyment of ornamental landscapes.
 E. Dulin,
“A Great Bargain.,”
Alexander, “Land for
 “Land for
 G. Weedon,
 Edward D.
Fitzhugh, “Land for
Virginia Gazette and
Moore, “Lands for
 William Booker, “Booker’s Patent Threshing Machine,” The Columbian Mirror and Alexandria Gazette, November 1, 1798, p. 3., and “Patent Ploughs,” The Columbian Mirror and Alexandria Gazette, January 14, 1800, p. 1, and Robert Hartshorne, “Patent Corn Shelling Machine,” Alexandria Daily Advertiser, April 27, 1804, p. 4., and John F. Milnor, “M’Conaughey’s Patent Hoe Harrow,” Alexandria Gazette, July 12, 1825, p. 4.
 Hooe and
Wilson, “TAKE NOTICE,” The Columbian Mirror and
Dade, “TO BE RENTED,”
VALUABLE & EXTENSIVE FARM,”
 J. H.
Hooe, “RAILS WANTED.,”
 Geo Washington, Alexandria Advertiser, August 10, 1786, p. 3, see also R. T. Hooe, “NOTICE,” Alexandria Advertiser and Commercial Inteligencer, July 17, 1802, p. 1.
 Per comments by David T. Sheid.
Lawrence, “PLAISTER OF
 R. I. Taylor, “Valuable improved Land for Sale,” Alexandria Daily Gazette, Commercial & Political, November 9, 1811, p. 4., See also Francis Adams, jun., “FOR SALE,” Alexandria Gazette, Commercial & Political, September 11, 1813, p. 1.
Washington, “TO BE LET,” The Columbian Mirror and
Lee, “Farm for
 Charles J. Love, “FOR SALE,” Alexandria Daily Advertiser, November 28, 1805, p. 4, see also Turbuit R. Betton, “For Sale,” Alexandria Gazette, July 12, 1825, p. 4.
Patten, “TO BE SOLD
Virginia Gazette and
Alexander, “To be Rented for a term of years,”
 Philip R.
Fendal, “Valuable Property,”
 Eliza P.
Law, “Mount-Washington for
Mason, “Gunston for
 Thos. L.
 “Shuter’s Hill for Rent,” Alexandria Daily Advertiser, April 6, 1807, p. 4.
 “TO BE
Potts, “THE SUBSCRIBER,”
Seeds,“ The Columbian Mirror and
Columbian Mirror and
M’Clellen, “Clover Seed,”
 George W. P. Custis, “Red Straw Wheat,” Alexandria Advertiser and Commercial Intelligencer, August 24, 1801, p.4.
Billy, “Fruit Trees for
Forest Trees, &c.,”
 George Drinker, Geo. Drinker, “Fruit trees and Ornamental Shrubbery, Alexandria Gazette, December 1, 1825, p. 1.
Buzelet, “John Buzelet,”
 John S.
Skinner, “TO THE Cultivators of the Soil THE AMERICAN FARMER,”
|Appendix A: Seed and Root Varieties Appendix B: Trees and Shrubs Appendix C: Orchard Trees|