Today I’m sharing a page out of my great grandpa’s “Farm Account Book” showing a list of men he paid one hundred years ago. I assume these payments were farm labour. There are quite a few entries in the book detailing farm labour and wages.
I am curious if all farmers paid other labourers during this time period (1900-1920s), or if the Duck Family had a larger farm to be able to afford help. The workers varied over the years: there are some names that come up frequently. One entry from 1897 includes an entry on the expense account for “Indians” $25. Later in the 1930s, my great grandparents had some workers they often mention in diaries and letters as “The Germans.”
It seems like workers were paid around $1-$2 per day.
We still require labour on farms today, of course. My cousin has hired migrant workers from Mexico throughout my lifetime to help with farm work in tobacco and tomato fields.
Some of my first jobs as a child were farm jobs. Every spring, we “picked up stones.” We’d take turns driving the tractor carefully through the bean field between the rows, while a crew of family spanned the rows scanning for rocks larger than our fists, which we would pick up and chuck on an open wagon. These stones were later deposited in piles along the fence rows. I remember one year my Dad bought me a pink radio that I recall being $13 as payment for helping out.
When I was older, I went through the Kent County right of passage of corn-detasseling. Clad in a plastic bag to keep the dew off my clothes, I hustled along rows of corns, pulling the tassels off the plants. I found a video from my home county in case you are curious what a day-in-the-life of a corn detasseler looks like. Needless to say, I didn’t last too long doing this.
When I was 18, I also worked on tomato harvesting and planting machines. People who know me in my current life are often surprised to hear these stories, as I’ve spent my adult life primarily in an urban setting, but I definitely grew up in a rural community with feet firmly planted in soil: sandy loam actually.