(Note: This is the first in a series of articles on the Agrarian Movement in the nation, the south and Bulloch County in the 1800s.)
The first dedicated agricultural club in America was called the “Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture” and was established in 1785 by George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and a number of other very prominent citizens. They were all motivated to further develop the agricultural interests of the country.
The first Agricultural Society ever actually incorporated in America was formed in South Carolina, also in 1785, and was called the “ Society for the Promotion of Agriculture.” Its members strove to increase the importation and distribution of commodities suited to the southern climate, and encourage farmers and planters to work to improve their lot in life.
The first national agricultural organization was called the “American Institute Farmers Club”. Founded in 1843, the society met regularly until the summer of 1873. It accomplished a great deal over its lifetime, including publishing its “Transactions”, and held a regular annual Fair.
Not much happened until Oliver Hudson Kelley came along. He was a newspaper reporter in Chicago. The United States Department of Agriculture was formed (under Commissioner Isaac Newton) in 1864, and President Andrew Johnson instructed Commissioner Newton to send Kelley on a tour of the Deep South.
His purpose: to ascertain the post-war state of agriculture there. Kelley learned that the railroad monopolies were bleeding farmers dry with their exorbitant rates, that the new machinery and better farming methods had doubled and in some cases trebled the size of crop harvests, and that most banks were conspiring to push farmers into economic subservience.
Returning to Washington, D.C. Kelley met with the men who would become the other founders: William Ireland from the Post Office Department; Reverend A. B. Grosh and William Saunders from the Agricultural Department; Reverend John Trimble and J.R. Thompson from the Treasury Department; and F.M. McDowell a fruit tree cultivator.
It was December 4, 1867 when the National Grange was finally formally established in Saunders’ office. They considered many names. Amongst them were the Independent Order of Progressive Farmers; the Knights of the Plow, or the Sickle, or the Flail; the Lords of the Soil; the Bee Hives; or even the Brethren of the Vines.
Kelley, a Mason, proposed calling them the Farmer’s Masons. Eventually, it was decided to call the organization “The National Grange of the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry”, or “The Grange”, for short. Not surprisingly, the first Grange formed was the Potomac, Washington, D.C., local in 1868.
“Grange” is a universal agricultural term. The French “grangier” and Spanish “grangero” translate to farmer”. In Scotland, all the buildings on a grain-farm are called a “Grange”. In the language of the ancients, the Latin word “granum” refers to “grain”. In the olden days, the place where the rents and tithes (payable in grain) due the local priests were deposited was called a “Grange”.
Grange leaders called for a “free and unlimited coinage of silver…the abolition of our national banking system…and healthy competition and reasonable regulations placed on the railroads.” For instance, to keep traffic from going to the port of Savannah but shipping by train to the Mississippi River or the Gulf Coast instead, Southern railroads serving the port of Savannah established extremely high rates on shipments there.
On Savannah traffic, the route was short and the receipts small, whereas on shipments to the Mississippi the receipts were much larger. Therefore, the cost of shipping cotton and naval stores to Savannah the rates were set much higher than to the Mississippi River (as high as $3.30 a bale).
*For more information on “The Grange”, please see James Dabney McCabe’s book, “History of the Grange Movement”, and the Statesboro Regional Library newspaper holdings for the period.*
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look at Bulloch County's historical past. E-mail Roger at roger email@example.com