We found a very neat historical account that mentions our farm! Frederick McCoy wrote about his childhood memories aboard the steamboat lines that went from Washington, DC then down the Potomac River and up the Chesapeake Bay to Baltimore in the 1930s. His account was featured in The Chesapeake and is online here.
His article mentions Cobrum’s Wharf (where we live) and confirms our farm grew a lot of tobacco. His memories of every little stop along the way remind us of how thrilling life’s simple pleasures can be. The memories of the food alone sound so wonderful:
“In the diner room were long tables with white cloths and silver. The meal was served family style. Bowls of new potatoes, lima beans, and sliced tomatoes, ears of sweet corn and platters of fried chicken were in front of us. The food was fresh, directly from the farm and it was cooked to perfection.
We crossed the mouth of the Wicomico River to St. Mary’s County and put in at the Chaptico Wharf. It was time for breakfast and again we dined well. There were pitchers of milk with pieces of ice floating in them. There as hot oatmeal and cream of wheat. There were fried and scrambled eggs, fried country ham and country fried potatoes and biscuits. We all ate heartily. At Bushwood Wharf, we were in a good seafood area. The cook went out on the pier to see what several boys had caught that morning. He bought some strings of Norfolk Spot fish and some soft crabs. […] The children of the farms would bring vegetables from their gardens. The cook would look them over on the wharfs and only purchase the freshest and best. We would be eating the bounty of the tidewater from both the land and the sea at our next meal; all caught or picked that very morning.”
Wow, if only we could all dine that well when we travel today! At the Cobrum’s Wharf stop, the steamboat offloaded cases of canning jars (for tomato canning or moonshine?) and brought on board some hogsheads of tobacco:
“We crossed to St. Clements, stopped at Coburn’s Wharf and off-loaded more jars and took on some hogsheads of tobacco. These hogsheads averaged about 750 pounds but could be easily rolled up the gangplank. The cask was made of native wood; several wires were wrapped around the outside and holding the head in, was a large wild grapevine nailed through the top of the sides. This held the pressed tobacco securely in the cask.”
A hogshead was a standard container that was usually homemade for shipping dried and pressed tobacco. These hogsheads probably made it up to Baltimore, and then who knows where they went from there?
Tobacco farming can be hard on the land because the whole tobacco plant is usually taken off the soil. At least with corn and soybeans, plant material like leaves and stalks usually get left on the field and eventually get incorporated back into the soil. This returns some nutrients to the soil and helps make organic matter. With tobacco, the leaves are the cash crop. They’re taken to barns and dried over the winter and sold off the farm. Out of curiosity, we’d love to know how long our land has been farmed. It could go way back – our farm is close to the water, St. Clement’s Bay specifically, and St. Clement’s island is about 3 miles away. St. Clement’s island is “Maryland’s first landing,” where Europeans landed in the 1630s. We’d love to find more info that will give clues to our soil’s history, so we’ll keep looking.
Take a moment to read Frederick McCoy’s heartwarming article about his steamboat memories. I don’t think anyone needed a Disney World back then!
Part of Health Home Economist’s Monday Mania.