Wednesday, October 2, 2019

52 Ancestors - HARVEST: A Farmer Among Farmers

In my early days of researching my family, I did not bother with the non-population schedules. I thought, OK, he was a farmer, big deal. But once I took a GOOD look, a REALLLLY good look, I understood the value of reading those fuzzy columns. Of course, I had to get a blank form so that I could read the questions in order to understand the answers. Fortunately for us all, the census forms are available at National Archives and Records Administration (

Richard Hosier (1815-1899)
Richard Hosier (1816-1899 Nansemond Co, VA)
photo courtesy Jake Dog on Find-a-grave
A study of the 1880 non-population schedule for agriculture gave me a better understanding of Richard Hosier, a 3X great-grandfather on my father’s side. Although he lived in Nansemond County, Virginia, he farmed in the Sycamore community of neighboring Norfolk County. Apparently, Sycamore no longer exists, but if I COULD find it on a map, I bet it would be very close by.

The first set of questions are about TENURE, that is, whether he was the owner or a renter. Richard indicated he rented not for pay but for a share of the products. Now I wonder whether he ever owned his own farm or if he always worked for someone else. At age 65, he was considered “old.” Today, such an arrangement might be considered a “retirement” job or a hobby, but I do not know about 1880. There was no Social Security check to fall back on. If the children were not taking care of him, Richard needed to provide for the family somehow.

Answers to the questions about the acreage and value of the farm indicate that Richard worked on a mid-size farm comparable to those of most of his neighbors. His had 60 acres tilled while the largest farm had 175 tilled acres and the smallest 5. Richard’s farm was valued at $3000; the largest was valued at $15,000 and the smallest at $100. Like Richard’s farm, most were valued between $2000 and $6000.
Portion of the 1880 non-population schedule for agriculture
Richard Hosier is the first in the list
None of the farmers in Richard’s neighborhood boasted large numbers of livestock. Practically all of them had at least one milk cow; a few reported owning one or two sheep and swine. Only two made butter and cheese to sell. However, when it came to chickens, Richard owned among the largest number - 20. Only one other farmer sold more eggs than Richard.

Richard was the largest producer of Indian corn having reaped 300 bushels off 30 acres. He was on par with his neighbors in acres and bushels of Irish potatoes but did not bother with sweet potatoes as most had done. Failure to keep up with the Joneses – or in this case, the Mackeys, Bruces, Carrolls and Carneys – probably explains why the total market value of his produce was so low ($1000) that only one farmer reported a lower amount, and that was the one with the 5-acre farm.

A brief mention in the newspaper in 1888 shows that clearly Richard grew other vegetables besides potatoes.
from The Norfolk Virginian (Virginian Pilot)
24 Apr 1888
Good eating at the Hosier house!

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

© 2019, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. Farming had such a varied definition in those days. Interesting to learn.

  2. Wonder if they still keep detailed records like this? Funny, I never thought of asparagus as something grown back then but something more modern, but why, who knows?


  3. I love the agriculture schedules. They never knew how helpful they’d be!

  4. I love those ag census schedules! It's almost like a tour around the farm. You've done a great job finding Richard's place among his neighbors with regards to farm size, produce and animals grown, and value. So interesting.