Growing a Nation

Historical Timeline — Farmers & the Land

17th-18th Centuries

17th century
Small land grants commonly made to individual settlers; large tracts often granted to well-connected colonists

1607
First permanent English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia

1619
First African slaves brought to Virginia; by 1700, slaves are displacing southern indentured servants

18th century
English farmers settle in New England villages; Dutch, German, Swedish, Scotch-Irish, and English farmers settle on isolated Middle Colony farmsteads; English and some French farmers settle on plantations in tidewater and on isolated Southern Colony Farmsteads in Piedmont; Spanish immigrants, mostly lower middle-class and indentured servants, settle the Southwest and California.

1776
Continental Congress offers land grants for service in the Continental Army

1785, 1787
Ordinances of 1785 and 1787 provide for survey, sale, and government of northwestern lands

1790
Total population: 3,929,214; farmers 90% of labor force; U.S. area settled extends westward on average of 255 miles; parts of the frontier cross the Appalachians

1796
Public Land Act authorizes Federal land sales to the public in minimum 640-acre plots at $2 per acre of credit.

1800

1800
Total Population: 5,308,483

1803
Louisiana Purchase

1810
Total population: 7,239,881

1819
Florida and other land acquired through treaty with Spain

1820

1820
Total population: 9,638,453; Land Law allows as little as 80 acres of public land for a minimum price of $1.25 an acre; credit system abolished

1830
Total population: 12,866,020; Mississippi River forms the approximate frontier boundary

1830-37
Land speculation boom

1839
Anti-rent war in New York, a protest against the continued collection of quitrents

1840

1840
Total population: 17,069,453; farm population; 9,012,000 (est.); farmers 69% of labor force

1841
Pre-emption Act gives squatters first rights to buy land

1845-55
Potato famine in Ireland and the German Revolution of 1848 greatly increase immigration

1845-53
Texas, Oregon, the Mexican cession, and the Gadsden Purchase added to the Union

1849
Gold Rush

1850
Total population: 23,191,786; farm population; 11,680,000 (est.); farmers 64% of labor force; Number of farms: 1,449,000; average acres: 203

1850s
Successful farming on the prairies begins; with the California gold rush, the frontier extends to the Pacific coast

1850-62
Free land is a vital rural issue

1854
Graduation Act reduces price of unsold public lands

1860

1860
Total population: 31,443,321; farm population: 15,141,000 (est.); farmers 58% of labor force; Number of farms: 2,044,000; average acres: 199

1862
Homestead Act grants 160 acres to settlers who have worked the land 5 years

1865-70
Sharecropping system in the South replaces the old slave plantation system 1865-90 Influx of Scandinavian immigrants

1866-77
Cattle boom accelerates settlement of Great Plains; range wars develop between farmers and ranchers

1870
Total population: 38,558,371; farm population: 18,373,000 (est.); farmers 53% of labor force; Number of farms: 2,660,000; average acres: 153

1880

1880
Total population: 50,155,783; farm population: 22,981,000 (est.); farmers 49% of labor force; Number of farms: 4,009,000; average acres: 134; Most humid land already settled; heavy agricultural settlement on the Great Plains begins

1880-1914
Most immigrants are from southern and eastern Europe

1887-97
Drought reduces settlement on the Great Plains

1890s
Increases in land under cultivation and number of immigrants becoming farmers boost agricultural output

1890
Total population: 62,941,714; farm population: 29,414,000 (est.); farmers 43% of labor force; Number of farms: 4,565,000; average acres: 136; Census shows that the frontier settlement is over

1891
President authorized to set aside public lands as forest reserves

1900

1900
Total population: 75,994,266; farm population: 29,414,000 (est.); farmers 38% of labor force; Number of farms: 5,740,000; average acres: 147

1900-20
Continued agricultural settlement on the Great Plains

1902
Reclamation Act

1905-07
Policy of reserving timberlands inaugurated on a large scale

1905
Forest Service created

1910

1910
Total population: 91,972,266; farm population: 32,077,000 (est.); farmers 31% of labor force; Number of farms: 6,366,000; average acres: 138

1909-20
Dryland farming boom on the Great Plains

1911-17
Immigration of agricultural workers from Mexico

1916
Stock Raising Homestead Act

1920

1920
Total population: 105,710,620; farm population: 31,614,269; farmers 27% of labor force; Number of farms: 6,454,000; average acres: 148

1924
Immigration Act greatly reduces number of new immigrants

1930

1930
Total population: 122,775,046; farm population: 30,455,350; farmers 21% of labor force; Number of farms: 6,295,000; average acres: 157; irrigated acres: 14,633,252

1932-36
Drought and dust-bowl conditions develop

1934
Executive orders withdraw public lands from settlement, location, sale, or entry; Taylor Grazing Act

1940

1940
Total population: 131,820,000; farm population: 30,840,000; farmers 18% of labor force; Number of farms: 6,102,000; average acres: 175; irrigated acres: 17,942,968

1940s
Many former southern sharecroppers migrate to war-related jobs in cities

1950

1950
Total population: 151,132,000; farm population: 25,058,000; farmers 12.2% of labor force; Number of farms: 5,388,000; average acres: 216; irrigated acres: 25,634,869

1956
Legislation provides for Great Plains Conservation Program

1960

1960
Total population: 180,007,000; farm population: 15,635,000; farmers 8.3% of labor force; Number of farms: 3,711,000; average acres: 303; irrigated acres: 33,829,000

1960s
State legislation to keep land in farming increases

1964
Wilderness Act

1970

1970
Total population: 204,335,000; farm population: 9,712,000; farmers 4.6% of labor force; Number of farms: 2.780, 000; average acres: 390

1972
Clean Water Act

1980

1980
Total population: 227,020,000; farm population: 6,051,000; farmers 3.4% of labor force; Number of farms: 2,439,510; average acres: 426; irrigated acres: 50,350,000 (1978)

1980s
For the first time since the 19th century, foreigners (Europeans and Japanese primarily) begin to purchase significant acreages of farmland and ranchland

1986
The Southeast's worst summer drought on record takes a severe toll on many farmers

1987
Farmland values bottom out after a 6-year decline, signaling both a turnaround in the farm economy and increased competition with other countries' exports

1988
Scientists warn that global warming may affect the future viability of American farming; one of the worst droughts in the Nation's history hits Midwestern farmers

1990-2000

1990
Total population: 261,423,000; farm population: 2,987,552; farmers 2.6% of labor force; Number of farms: 2,143,150; average acres: 461; irrigated acres: 49,404,000 (1992)

1991
Farm entrepreneurial population: 5,024,000

1998
Number of farms: 2.19 million; average acres: 435

1990
Rural counties gain population after losing ground in the 1980s

2000
Total population: 275,000,000 (est.)

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