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Bulloch History by Roger Allen

The rise of tenant farms in Bulloch

    There were three basic types of agricultural farm ownership in Bulloch County at the turn of the 20th century. First, of course, was private ownership of the land. Secondly, there were two types of tenancy arrangements: the first, where the landlord collected rent from the tenant; and the second, where the landlord collected a percentage of the crops.
    With the shortage of hard currency, many merchants had already created a system of liens so that they could give merchandise to customers without receiving payment in exchange. Unfortunately, many merchants took advantage of the situation and charged excessive interest on these promissory purchases, often as high as 54 percent of the items’ values.
    By 1872, the state Supreme Court had to clarify the difference between a sharecropper and a tenant. They defined the differences as follows: A tenant has possession of the premises exclusive of the landlord and owns his crops, upon which he can take out a lien.
    In the case of a sharecropper, the landlord furnishes supplies and equipment with which to farm, and the cropper’s share of his crops at harvest time is really a way of paying wages rather than any type of tenancy. The sharecropper never actually owns his crops.
    While only 42 percent of Georgia farmers were tenants in 1902, by 1912, 77 percent of all Georgia farmers had been forced into some sort tenancy arrangements. There were three basic type of tenant arrangements used in Bulloch County. The first arrangement was a simple cash payment agreement between renter and landowner, which, amazingly, was the least-common arrangement.
    The second was sharecropping. The landlord would provide the home, land, tools and stock for the farm. The tenant would supply the labor. With the harvest of the crops, the landlord and tenant would split the earnings from the crops. As stated in the Bulloch Questionnaires of 1912, landlords knew their profit or loss depended upon the sharecropper’s success, so the landlord made most of the decisions.
    In the third arrangement, referred to as the “Third and Fourth” system, the landlord would provide the tenant with the house to live and the land to farm, in return for which the tenant would agree to give the landlord 1/3 of his grain and 1/4 of his cotton once the crops were harvested. The tenant made all the decisions.
    In the early 1900s, records show that In Bulloch County, 60 percent of the farms were family-owned, while 22 percent were run on a sharecropping arrangement and 18 percent were run on a cash-renting basis.
    In Bryan County, landowners held 68 percent of the farms, while 15 percent were sharecroppers and 17 percent were renters. In Screven County, only 43 percent of farms were family-owned, 31 percent were sharecropped and 35 percent were cash-rented.

    Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look at Bulloch County's historical past. E-mail Roger at roger dodger53@hotmail.com

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