Uncle Sam’s House

As recently as 60-70 years ago there were a half dozen families or more living on this farm, other than my own. My family owned the farm and lived in the house that is now our “farmstay” house. The other families were tenant farmers, living in smaller houses scattered around the farm.

Tobacco farming is very labor intensive. Nowadays tobacco farmers grow hundreds of acres of tobacco, using seasonal workers from Mexico to do the labor. But in the past most tobacco farmers were tenant farmers, who grew their crops on “shares.” The owner of the farm would provide a house, land, seeds, draft animals, implements, etc. in exchange for a percentage of the crop grow by the tenants (who are sometimes referred to as “share croppers”). I wonder if that model is something we should consider again, as a way to make entry into farming easier for young people, but that will have to be a topic for another day.

Only a few of the old tenant houses on our farm are still standing.  One of them is in the woods about a hundred yards from our house.

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Rock chimney and hand-hewn logs

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A dog trot connects the old log house to a more recent addition.

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You can still tell the interior was whitewashed

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There was a big porch here, but it has collapsed.

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The foundation has seen better days

There was still a family living in the house when I was a boy, but they were the one of the last of the tenant families left on the farm, and they hadn’t been here long. Before them the house had been occupied by another family for a long time. Our families were very close, like kin folk of sorts. Even though I never met them, I felt like I knew “Uncle Sam” and “Aunt Elnora” (titles of affection and respect, rather than consanguinity), as my father spoke of them often.

I regret that the house has deteriorated so badly. I doubt it will be standing much longer.

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This year at the farmers market a man stopped at our booth, looked at the name of our farm, studied me a few moments then asked where our farm was located. I suspected immediately who it was, and I was right–my father’s dear boyhood friend who grew up in that house. I enjoyed several long conversations with him over the summer. I even brought in an old photo of he and my father playing together as boys, which he enjoyed seeing. It was great hearing stories from his childhood.

The place doesn’t look like much today, but it’s an important part of our story here.

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