Click to Subscribe
▶  More from
Experimental Agricultural Archeology
9/10-17/20, Kamas Valley, Utah
Over the past few years seeking exercise at harvest time in the Rockies, has made September the perfect month for this old hoodrat to lose some weight and tone up waning muscles.
It starts with picking, than sorting berries, then helping as the dishwasher and lid-screwer during caning.
Then comes the composting of pulled up vines and stalks and leaves, and wormy apples, and the turning of the planting beds, shoveling 3 wheelbarrows of manure into each 4 by 12 foot bed. The soil here tends towards sandy and rocky after two plantings and I was reminded of the historical destruction of the sandy soil in Virginia under maize and tobacco planting and the constant need to leave land fallow and clear more planting area.
I compared myself to the Plantation slaves of old:
+ Column
-better nourished
-more experienced
-more intelligent
-able to pace myself
-older by three stages
-sick [doing this with vertigo and sinus infection and bronchitis]
That is +5 and -5, a wash.
I was only able to work 4-6 hours a day digging, hauling, chopping wood and mattocking.
It occurred to me during this process why the earliest planters ringed trees to kill them and then planted around the dead and dying giants. The axe work was just too much for me to sustain for more than two hours a day—and I eat protein. [As of October 4 my axe work rate has doubled, to about 4 hours.] Yes, I have two hernias and two damaged shoulders and an injured wrist, some of this from beatings sustained in training and competition. But these slaves were beaten at least once a week and did not have nutritional yeast or meat to eat like I do, let alone an avocado to replenish potassium. Besides, my axe is better and the machete is excellent, a tool I have much experience with.
I always liked digging with a mattock, which is like a plowshare that one uses as a pickaxe to break and turn over the soil and is very tiring—the reason why it like the axe is such a good training tool making it a terrible labor device. [I have chopped more wood with the mattock than the axe, especially with removing roots and stumps.]
With my torn shoulders, I found that the hoe was something I could use at a lower work rate [perhaps a 3rd] but over 6 to 9 times the duration depending on how I used it. It occurred to me when I was exhausted from the mattock and turned to the hoe I disdained, why the mistresses of the plantation master, known as a “hoe wife,” used this implement and why James Revel described it as the tool of his torment on a tobacco plantation. The hoe can be used with a minimum of muscular effort.
But the shovel certainly was the preferred tool for turning over the hard ground and introducing fresh compost. My host, a man with more injuries and ten years on me, disdained the high- energy mattock and turned over great gobs of soil with the shovel. I did likewise when my shoulders were burned out from the mattock swings. Why this was quite an invention, a long handle on a spaded dish of a scoop, upon the back of which one could place his boot heel and use his leg muscles to shove the spade deep…the slaves had no shoes unless they stole them from the master when they ran away, and this was noted as quite a crime. Indeed, the children of the masters would typically go without shoes so that he could have his rum.
So, I’m too old and injured for a lumberjack, with few of my sports and workplace injuries different from those sustained by the slave of old. But, if only I could have meat, I should make a pretty good hoe boy…but no, meat was rarely to be had.
Thinking now of the life of toil, hoeing from sunup until sundown and doing all of the other sundry chores, while being beaten, and eating only maize, and then needing to retire to the hay and corncob strewn floor of the barn to rest as my shoulders that now ache from felling a single crabapple tree—I see Death grinning. I can well imagine that I would have been one of the 95% of kidnapped, debt-trafficked and criminal transports who failed to survive a five-year term of service. Their end was to be unceremoniously heaved into a potter’s field that, planted with their body that had been earlier declared “trash” or “rubbish” by their betters might grow another cash crop for the master, tended by yet another crop of slaves, who would in their grim term lend their worn out and rotting flesh to the business of maintaining the Planter in his vile-got house.
America was not just founded on lies, it was literally fertilized by the people erased from history by those very lies.
prev:  ‘A Gateway’     ‹  histories  ›     next:  'Rangers and Scouts'

Add a new comment below:
miforestOctober 7, 2020 10:53 PM UTC

I an the descendant of those people. my farthest bac paternal ancestor was born in London in 1705 and had his first child in Virginia in 1730. in the far western part of the state near north Carolina. probably escaped or finished his term and got out of there , preferring to live with the threat of Indians in the wild country to the risks of living near the planters. he had four sons . one was a hero at the battle of shallow ford in the revolutionary war.

until my dad left the mountians in the late 1960's we were there ever since .
responds:October 8, 2020 12:00 AM UTC

Thanks you for this.
squanto mcgillicuddyOctober 6, 2020 9:00 PM UTC

I’ve taken truck tires off rims with mattocks-can confirm calorie expenditure. Also was fence installer In coral rock/shell mound areas, it’s a lot of fun. Raised beds are nice when you get too old and broken to torture yourself/too lazy to test your resolve for hard labor, because they allow you to create the preferred soil environment; but above ground.
responds:October 7, 2020 12:55 AM UTC

I've found that rotating days chopping, hammering and swinging with days sweeping, hoeing and shoveling works well for maintaining a six-day work week.