The happy fact that the early American home and farm were one is much more that a casual commentary on Colonial life. It was the pioneer's creed and a basic American belief until only a century ago. Today it has all but vanished. Like every American, Jefferson truly believed that "those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God." And that "the farmer is the most noble and independent man in society."
Whether you were a banker or shoemaker in colonial times, you were always at the same time a farmer, and whether your home was large or small, it was also a homestead. Even princes and politicians and poets of the eighteenth century were ardent agriculturists, or posed as farmers and rural philosophers. Not having a rural background and a farming philosophy in those times was perhaps as bad as not being a church member.
To a great extent, the size and condition of your land and barns influenced your standing in the community. This has in many cases resulted in barns being much bigger than necessary, particularly among the Dutch and the Germans who were least conservative architecturally, and most competitive in spirit. Some of the Dutch and German barns were bigger than the great barns of ancient Europe, a fact which gave their owners great pleasure as New World farmers.
We think of George Washington as being a "gentleman farmer," which now describes a hobbyist, but Mount Vernon followed the tradition of homes of that time. The general had the exact knowledge of farming that every American enjoyed as part of his daily life. John Adams recorded in his diary: "Rose at sunrise, unpitched a load of hay and translated two more passages from Justinian's Code."
Excerpted by Maury Tosi
From Eric Sloane's booklet American Yesterday (1956)