Seeds of Knowledge with Sarah the Gardener

We’re ready for spring at Locust Grove, but it’s been a very productive winter! Our gardener Sarah conducts a great deal of research, and today, she’s sharing some insights from her favorite garden journal with us! Tell us more about sainfoin seeds, Sarah!

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Sarah hard at work!

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During those long, grey winter months, a gardener has more time to catch up on her reading, and what better to read than old garden journals! One of my favorites, which I return to again and again, are the journals of Joseph Hornsby. Mr. Hornsby, formerly of Williamsburg, VA, moved to Shelby County with his nearly-grown children and began his journal in Feb. 1798. Not just a simple listing of what seed varieties were planted where, he also used these pages to discuss health, social calls, family, weather, land disputes, and other affairs of his farm life.

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Mr. Hornsby arrived in Shelby with sacks (literally) of seeds from friends in Williamsburg and abroad, and had a curious nature in regard to plants. One of the things I noticed early on was his mention (Oct. 22, 1798) of planting sainfoin seeds. My research reveals that this plant was introduced to the U.S. in 1786, but not much was done with it until the 1900’s, yet here was Mr. Hornsby, giving it a try! What is sainfoin and why would Mr. Hornby have had interest? It is a plant in the legume family which is grown much like alfalfa, yet it is more nutritious and non-bloating, making it an ideal forage plant for livestock, especially sheep. Mr. Hornsby never says how his experiment turned out, but I’m impressed with how forward–thinking he was!

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His non-gardening entries were interesting, too. Suffering from headaches, he allowed himself to be “electrified” to seek relief. No such luck, though! His daughter Peggy experienced a mysterious, lengthy illness, for which the doctor bled her freely. He then posted ‘Doctor Moore went home early this morning & I think my daughter Peggy out of danger.’ ” Does he mean Peggy was cured, or that she’s safe now that Dr. Moore has gone? They spent a great deal of time visiting between neighboring farms, and a visit could last days, involving fox hunting and sending somebody out to barter corn for alcohol!

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Mr. Hornsby was a slave holder, and I find his interaction with his enslaved population interesting. He elected to use the term “My People”, which initially confused me when I read that “The People” were in the corn crib! It’s not easy to find terms slave-owners used for their enslaved population, but it appears that variations on unpleasant terms, “servants”, “field hands”, and just plain “slaves” were more common terms. He was an odd mix of concern and indifference. He carefully noted which slaves were sick each day and seemed to have no problem sending for a doctor when needed, but he also had them working outside in foul weather, with inevitable results. On February 8th, 1803, he sent John to Doctor Knight to pick up pills for Alice. But on December 3rd of that year he dryly noted …”Clear and Cold, Mr. R. Merriweather set off after breakfast. Sally brought to Bed, Child Dead, John making shoes.” He had the same emotion earlier that year when he noted “One cow called young Nubb calved last night, the Calf dead.” Also, there seemed to be little division of labor, on gender lines, on Hornsby’s land when it came to outside work. His most constant gardener was a young woman named Dicey, who appears to be a “Jack of all trades” and quite capable of hoeing, grubbing stumps, making maple syrup, and helping in the kitchen when needed.

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What I would most like to find, however, is a connection between the Croghans and Mr. Hornsby. Shelbyville before modern travel is not exactly next door, but he made trips to Louisville and mentions, in March 1798, getting walnut trees from a friend in town. These plants, as well as English raspberries, English walnuts, English honeysuckle and weeping willow, came from a Mr. Moore, and Hornsby notes the garden was “formerly Mr. Lacasong’s (sic) Garden in his lifetime”. Is this somebody one of the Croghans knew? Mr. Croghan and Mr. Hornsby appear to be of roughly the same income and social standing, and had similarly-sized estates and enslaved populations. If I could just find a connection, I could argue that perhaps Locust Grove had the same plants and taste in garden design, perhaps from Hornsby himself!

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Want to learn more? The diary is available online through the Library of Congress (just Google Joseph Hornsby’s diary) and there is a transcribed copy in our library as well. I would suggest reading it online, as you’re bound to find interesting and obscure words and terms which will send you on a mission of discovery!

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Thanks for sharing, Sarah! We hope to bring you more updates on research related to understanding more about the Croghan family’s daily life and the lives of their neighbors over the next few months. What do you want to know? Ask us your questions–we always love hearing from you and we love sharing what we learn!

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Happy Spring!

Sincerely,

Hannah

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