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Farmers and Fishermen: Work in Essex County, 1650-1850
Primary Sources

Theme: An Industrious People: American Economic History
Topic: Farmers and Fishermen: Work in Essex County, 1650-1850
Date: March 2006

Primary Sources from Partner Collections
| objects | manuscripts | published sources | newspaper items |

Primary Sources from Local Archives and Collections

Additional Primary Sources Used in Content and Follow-up Sessions

Selections by Daniel Vickers, Ph.D., Professor, Departmetn of History, University of California, Sandiego; Randall Robar, Education Director, Essex Shipbuilding Museum; and SALEM in History staff. Annotations by SIH staff.

Primary Sources from Partner Collections


Whaling in the South Atlantic, ca. 1834 [detail]
Benjamin Franklin West (1818-1854)
Salem, MA
Oil on wood panel
Gift of Arthur H. Tibbetts
Peabody Essex Museum, M2065

Several activities necessary to whaling are depicted in this image: capturing the whale, removing the skin and blubber, and rendering the material into whale oil.  It also demonstrates some of the danger of this work; one boat’s occupants are in the sea. 


Certificate. Salem Marine Society Certificate for John B. Knight, 31 Jan 1839.
Peabody Essex Museum Collection

This image depicts the Derby Wharf area from approximately 1796/7.  It is believed that the artist shows cod fish drying on the beach area, and close to the foreground, the scattered wood remnants that would remain after a ship was launched.  Today, this is the location of the Pequot Mills. 


Fireboard: The Great Gale of 1846, ca. 1850 [detail]
William Thompson Bartoll (1812-1859)
Marblehead, MA
Oil on wood
Gift of Russell W. Knight
Peabody Essex Msueum, M23465

"Marblehead fishing captain John Proctor commissioned this fireboard after he saved his vessel and crew during a severe storm that sank 11 Marblehead fishing boats, causing the death of many fishermen.  The painting is a memorial to those lost as well as a tribute to Proctor's skill as a mariner.” (gallery label, Peabody Essex Museum)
A fireboard is used to block a fireplace opening during months when a fire is not needed.


Panorama of a Whaling Voyage, ca. 1860 [detail]
Thomas F. Davidson (?-1921)
Salem, MA
Oil on muslin
Museum purchase, M4197

Davidson was a carriage painter in Salem, where he showed his portable panorama outdoors in the wooden "stage" that it retains even today. As the images scrolled past the miniature proscenium, the panorama's narrative format conveyed the multidimensional character of a whaler's life in ways that a conventionally painted ship portrait does not.

Throughout the nineteenth century, many folk artists produced large historical panoramas and other ambitious artistic efforts that were shown to the public for a fee. This miniature panorama by Thomas Davidson illustrates scenes from a whaling voyage including a dramatic burning vessel, the strange ritual performed for those crossing the equator for the first time, flying fish, and other wonders. The back of the muslin is stenciled with the words "Lincoln & Hamlin," suggesting that the material probably served as a banner during Abraham Lincoln's and Hannibal Hamlin's campaign for the White House in 1860. The panorama was apparently shown on the streets of Salem in a simply constructed box that has also survived.(from ArtScape at



The Tuna Shed, 1951
Philip Reisman (1904-1992)
Cape Ann, MA
Oil on masonite
Gift of Louise K. Reisman
Peabody Essex Museum, M23695

Reisman worked on Cape Ann and was interested in painting works that reflected the daily, regional life and work of the people around him.  He was concerned with the “common worker,” a theme that was popular in U.S. artwork in the 1930s.  He continued to explore this issue in his later works, such as The Tuna Shed.  

This painting shows the heavy, manual, visceral work in which people in this industry still labored in the 1950s.  One might imagine that similar workers performed the same tasks generations before.


New Ways on the Banquereau, 1981
Thomas M. Hoyne (1923-1989)
Chicago, IL
Oil on panel
Peabody Essex Museum,

This image depicts an old doryman and his schooner looking out at a steam powered fishing trawler in the distance. The steam vessel eventually replaced schooners in the fishing industry.  In Salem, one might also make the connection between the shift from the important maritime trades (particularly to the Far East) at the beginning of the 19th century to the use of industrial steam power (at the Naumkeag Cotton Mill) by the end of the century.  

Tom Hoyne served on board fishing vessels and also as a naval officer.  He began his career as an illustrator, but is best known for his later marine paintings.  To achieve a sense of realism in his depiction of ships in water, he used ship models.

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Jackson, Caleb, Jr.  Journal, 1802 – 1806.  Jackson Family Papers.  Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.  Selected Journal Entries (1804-5). Transcription by Daniel Vickers, Ph.D. Professor, Department of History, University of California.

Vickers writes about this family in his book, Farmers and Fishermen.  He notes that this farm family of Rowley, Massachusetts, purchased a 50-acre property in 1786.  The family farmed their land largely for their own use, but in these entries, also engages in the local economy with their cider mill.



Gold, Thomas A.  Berkshire Agricultural Society 8 October 1818.  Essex Agricultural Society, 1818-1885.  Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. (Collection Register MSS 112) Transcription by Abaigeal Duda.

The Essex Agricultural Society was founded in 1818 at Cyrus Cumming’s Tavern in Topsfield, MA.  Any Essex County citizens who were interested in agriculture were welcome to join.  The Society shared information and suggestions through presentations by farmers who recounted their own experiences, and through yearly exhibitions that were held in various parts of Essex County.



Pickering, Timothy, President. Premiums offered by the Essex Agricultural Society.  7 December 1819.  Salem: T.C. Cushing, 1819. . Essex Agricultural Society, 1818-1885.  Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. (Collection Register MSS 112) 

This catalog was created to advise potential competitors about agricultural categories for which premiums would be awarded for those selected as outstanding.  The goal of such competitions was to inspire improvement in farming, but also to provide some excitement and prime among farmers who knew the skill and toil it required to produce them.



Tucker, Ichabod.  Premiums Awarded for Domestic Manufactures.  Topsfield 5 October 1825. Essex Agricultural Society, 1818-1885.  Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. (Collection Register MSS 112) Transcript by Abaigeal Duda.

This account records how much was paid to winners in competition for agriculturally-related goods.



Order of Exercises at the Annual Meeting of The Essex Agricultural Society, Danvers.  30 September 1835. Essex Agricultural Society, 1818-1885.  Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. (Collection Register MSS 112)

This society promoted good practice in agriculture.  The order of events suggests that religion was also a strong element in their society; the organization meets at a Unitarian Meeting House in Danvers, sings hymns, and features a prayer led by a Reverend.  Additionally, the itinerary includes a Farmer’s Song “written for the occasion.”



Colman, Henry, Commissioner for Agricultural Survey.  Farm Survey Report.  July 1837. Essex Agricultural Society, 1818-1885.  Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. (Collection Register MSS 112) 

This is a “blank” form that representatives would use to record and summarize the economic productivity of farms.



Proctor, M.W., Danvers to Ichabod Tucker, Vice President, Essex Agricultural Society 15 April 1849. Essex Agricultural Society, 1818-1885.  Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. (Collection Register MSS 112) Transcript by Abaigeal Duda.

Proctor offers his practical experience in a scientific approach to planting his crops in order to achieve the best results.


Jonas Thissell, Journal, Beverly, August 1851 - March 1854. Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. Transcription by Abaigeal Duda.

During the course of this journal, Jonas Thissell of Beverly worked on fishing boats from about April through November and crafted shoes during the remainder of the year. This record includes logbook and journal entries while sailing, and accounts while on shore. Thissell notes his 21st birthday on 17 July 1852. He also records the number of fish caught by his and other vessels, and his financial share of the year's catch. On land, he documents wages paid to women for stitching the uppers for shoes, rent paid for his housing and his shop space, and daily costs such as food, transportation, and clothing.



Unknown Author Newport, MA.  Diary, 1859.  Phillips Museum, Peabody Essex Museum. (Manuscript Collection MSS 86) Transcription by Abaigeal Duda.

This diary was kept by a farmer’s wife from the Newburyport, Massachusetts area.  She describes daily farm and household chores and social activities.  Notably, this farm hires extra help for farm chores, and the journal keeper includes some accounts at the end of the diary.

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Published Documents:
Unless otherwise noted, these materials were accessed at the Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.


Dabney, John.  Addresses to Farmers. Newburyport: Blunt & Mar[?[, 1796. (Phillips Library Call # E / D114.1 / 1796)  [Excerpts] Transcription by Abaigeal Duda.

Dabney offers both philosophical and practical suggestions for farmers.

Colman, Henry.  Report on the agriculture of Mass. County of Essex 1838.  Boston 1839. (Phillips Call # E / C716 / 1838)

Coleman recognizes that manufacturing and fishing command great attention and study in order to improve techniques, output, and profit.  He suggests that farmers should likewise see itself as an industry and commit to studying and improving their production

U.S. Patent office.  Report of the Commissioner of Patents (1849).  Part II: Agriculture, Doc. 20. Washington: House of Representatives, 1850.  [Excerpts] (Phillips Library Call # S353.3 / U5)

This report features tables of products for different localities.  Excerpts selected include Portland, Maine and Boston, Massachusetts. 

Second Annual Report of the Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Agriculture.  Boston:  William White, 1855. (Phillips Library Call # E/F623.1)

This office conducts surveys of Massachusetts farms and publishes a report on their findings.  Selections included in these excerpts describe the difficulty in obtaining accurate, comprehensive information for their study.  One example would be the amount of manure produced or used on a farm.  Because many farms re-used resources (such as producing corn and their families and livestock with the crop), farm families could not necessarily report their statistics in as specific a manner as was desired.  The committees studying farms were promoting a scientific, systematic approach to farming, and offered examples of good design and good practice.  Included here is a section of “Farm Buildings” with illustrations reproduced.


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Newspaper Items:

A Farmer.  “To the Farmers”  The Salem Mercury 11 December 1787

Dalton, Tristram.  “On the Culture of Carrots” Letter 20 February 1788 Newbury.  The Salem Mercury 14 and 15 April 1788

Advertisement: Edward S. Lang. The Salem Mercury 12 Jan 1789

For Sale: Two Fishing Schooners The Salem Mercury 12 Jan 1789

Advertisement:  John Appleton “Cod-lines and Cod-hooks” The Salem Mercury 16 March 1789

Advertisement: Edward S. Lang. The Salem Mercury  16 March 1789

Norris, E. White Bread Pricing Announcement. The Salem Mercury 25 May 1789

“For Sale” (Livestock). The Salem Mercury  25 May 1789

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Primary Sources from Local Archives and Collections


Rutherford, Moses J. and Samuel Burnham, Essex, MA.  Agreement to build a vessel.  19 December 1838.  Essex Shipbuilding Museum Archives, Essex, MA.  Transcription by Randall Robar, Education Director, Essex Shipbuilding Museum.

This agreement demonstrates the type of economic agreements that shipbuilders extended to clients who were not able to pay for their vessel outright.


Salem in History field trips from Spring 2006 to the Cape Ann Historical Museum and the Essex Shipbuilding Museum.  Both offer outstanding primary sources and educational programs related to this topic.


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Additional Primary Sources Used in Content and Follow-up Sessions

--none suggested--


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