Farm­ing on the eve of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion

By 1767, bread was sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion by Berks County com­mu­ni­ties to Philadel­phia ex­port trade

The Hamburg Area Item - - Local News - Richard L. T. Orth A Look Back In His­tory

In 1766, Ben­jamin Franklin re­marked that the un­fa­vor­able bal­ance of trade with Engl a nd was only tol­er­a­ble by our im­mense ex­ports to the Colonies and the rest of the world. By 1767, wheat grain, flour, and “bread it­self” were sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions by Berks County in­land com­mu­ni­ties to the ex­port trade of Philadel­phia.

Bread from Penn­syl­va­nia, the staff of life, fed other colonies, and sur­pris­ingly, the pris­ons of Europe. How­ever, farm­land put un­der cul­ti­va­tion just cleared from Penn’s vir­gin forests at first could not grow wheat, but year af­ter year as the sour ground was sweet­ened with lime burned by lo­cal Rhineland im­mi­grants, the soil be­came very much fer­tile

At first, only rye was suit­able to grow on this de­for­ested land, hence there was an over­pro­duc­tion of rye, and its price dropped sig­nif­i­cantly. But by their sheer phys­i­cal en­ergy, Colonists in namely the Oley Val­ley just 50 miles from Philadel­phia cleared land, quar­ried stone, mined iron ore, and had es­tab­lished a pro­duc­tive agribusi­ness cen­ter by 1765.

Philadel­phia’s ex­port trade of wheat and flour, oats, maize, beans, flaxseed, beeswax, and salt beef, to­gether with cheese, but­ter, and ba­con were Colo­nial goods in great de­mand by Bos­ton, the Carolina low­lands, Ge­or­gia, and the West Indies. Thus, by 1775, farm­ers of the Oley Val­ley par­tic­i­pated in Philadel­phia’s ex­port of goods worth 705,000 pounds ster­ling with flour ac­count­ing for 350,000 pounds and wheat 100,000 pounds. By 1791, [ not coin­ci­den­tally, the very same year the great mi­gra­tion of Plain Dutch Amish to the Big Val­ley of Cen­tral Penn­syl­va­nia], the new Com­mon­wealth of Penn­syl­va­nia led all the United States with an ag­gre­gate of im­ports and ex­ports that equaled onethird of the Repub­lic’s to­tal for­eign trade!

In those early Colo­nial days, the vast storm-swept Lan­caster Plain was no match for the pro­duc­tively of shel­tered Oley Val­ley farms, lo­cated along the Schuylkill River lead­ing to the port City of Philadel­phia. By the mid1700s, when im­mi­grant Colo­nial wagon trains passed through the beau­ti­ful Oley Val­ley from Philadel­phia en route to fron­tier lands north­east of Kemp­ton ( up­per part of county), the Ger­mans called this new ter­ri­tory “Alle­man­gel,” mean­ing all wants, for its lack of fer­til­ity and farmable land. A rugged ter­rain, that was even­tu­ally tamed, the land did not match the rich Oley Val­ley bot­tom­lands or its rate of pro­duc­tiv­ity. The Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch, though, were mas­ters at farm­ing wheat, and their over- brim­ming gra­naries in­spired an ex­cel­lence at bread- bak­ing that was un­equalled in early Amer­ica.

Home- baked bread, void of mod­ern me­chan­i­cal and chem­i­cal prepa­ra­tion, had a unique tex­ture and moist yeasty taste that en­hanced ev­ery meal as a culi­nary de­light. Ask any older Dutch­man if he can fondly re­call eat­ing slices of thick warm bread spread with but­ter or topped with mo­lasses or ap­ple but­ter. A sim­ple teaser of ap­petite, bread eaten this way they might con­tinue has no coun­ter­part among the bland com­mer­cial store­bought breads of the sec­u­lar world, but in sim­pler terms. And any Plain Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch woman will tell you that the first step in bak­ing good bread is in the se­lec­tion of the wheat flour.

For mod­ern Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch peo­ple, it is very easy for us to re­call our na­tion’s cel­e­brated his­tory for in large part of Amer­i­can civ­i­liza­tion, our eth­nic­ity has al­ways been in­ter­wo­ven with the pride that Pa­tri­otic cit­i­zens have felt. Take for in­stance the United States flag of this agrar­ian Repub­lic that was born in Philadel­phia, the cra­dle of Lib­erty founded by Wil­liam Penn, who per­son­ally in­vited Ger­man Palatines to help found Penn­syl­va­nia. Our PA Dutch in the 17th and 18th Cen­tury not only flocked to Amer­ica, but soon out­num­bered the Quaker English set­tlers, who like them, em­braced Penn’s idea of be­gin­ning a Holy ex­per­i­ment.


Photo cap­tured in the early 1970s of a bakeoven in dis­re­pair and no longer in use since then in the Shimersville area near the east­ern Berks County bor­der. Many ar­chi­tec­tural trea­sures can still be found and over­looked in the Longswamp area of our county where Oley Val­ley and ru­ral Kutz­town take prece­dent.


Home- baked bread, void of mod­ern me­chan­i­cal and chem­i­cal prepa­ra­tion, had a unique tex­ture and moist yeasty taste that en­hanced ev­ery meal as a culi­nary de­light.

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