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A History of American Agriculture 1776-1990
Farmers and the Land
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16th-18th 
Centuries
17th century
Small land grants commonly made to individual settlers; large tracts often granted to well-connected colonists
1619
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 
1790
Total population: 3,929,214
Farmers made up about 90% of labor force 
1790
The U.S. area settled extended westward an average of 255 miles; parts of the frontier crossed the Appalachians
1790-1830
Sparse immigration into the United States, mostly from the British Isles
1796
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
1803
Louisiana Purchase
1810
Total population: 7,239,881
1819
Florida and other land acquired through treaty with Spain
1820
Total population: 9,638,453
1820
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
1810
1820
1830 1830
Total population: 12,866,020
1830
The Mississippi River formed the approximate frontier boundary
1830-37
Land speculation boom
1839
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
1841
Preemption Act gave squatters first rights to buy land
1845-55
The potato famine in Ireland and the German Revolution of 1848 greatly increased immigration
1845-53
Texas, Oregon, the Mexican cession, and the Gadsden Purchase were added to the Union
1849
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
1850's
Successful farming on the prairies began
1850
With the California gold rush, the frontier bypassed the Great Plains and the Rockies and moved to the Pacific coast
1850-62
Free land was a vital rural issue
1854
Graduation Act reduced price of unsold public lands
1859-75
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
1862
Homestead Act granted 160 acres to settlers who had worked the land 5 years
1865-70
The sharecropping system in the South replaced the old slave plantation system
1865-90
Influx of Scandinavian immigrants
1866-77
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
1880's
Heavy agricultural settlement on the Great Plains began
1880
Most humid land already settled
1880-1914
Most immigrants were from southeastern Europe
1887-97
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
1890's
Increases in land under cultivation and number of immigrants becoming farmers caused great rise in agricultural output
1890
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
1900-20
Continued agricultural settlement on the Great Plains
1902
Reclamation Act
1905-07
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
1909-20
Dryland farming boom on the Great Plains
1911-17
Immigration of agricultural workers from Mexico
1916
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
1924
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
1932-36
Drought and dust-bowl conditions developed
1934
Executive orders withdrew public lands from settlement, location, sale, or entry
1934
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
1940's
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
1956
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
1960's
State legislation increased to keep land in farming
1964
Wilderness Act
1965
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)
1980's
For the first time since the 19th century, foreigners (Europeans and Japanese primarily) began to purchase significant acreages of farmland and ranchland
1986
The Southeast's worst summer drought on record took a severe toll on many farmers
1987
Farmland values bottomed out after a 6-year decline, signalling both a turnaround in the farm economy and increased competition with other countries' exports
1988
Scientists warned that the possibility of global warming may affect the future viability of American farming
1988
One of the worst droughts in the Nation's history hit midwestern farmers
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