What was a man's role on a colonial farm?

Tobacco barn, American Revolution Museum at Yorktown

Tobacco barn, American Revolution Museum at Yorktown

The planter’s main job was to raise the cash crop and manage the slaves, but those who lived on small farms performed many other jobs as well. Depending on their skills, men built and repaired buildings, fences, and simple furniture for the household. Hunting, to feed the family and to keep pests away from crops and livestock, and fishing were other important tasks undertaken by most farmers. Items not produced on the farm were purchased from local merchants or imported from England. Sometimes the planter paid cash for these goods, but he usually bought on credit and paid off his account when he sold his next crop of tobacco or wheat. Virginia planters who were landowners had civic duties as well, such as paying taxes, voting, and participating in county courts as jurors. Men between the ages of 16 and 60 were also required to serve in the county militia. They were required to muster several times each year and had to provide their own gun and ammunition. Militia units were used to keep the peace, fight Indians and put down slave rebellions, if necessary. Muster days also served as good opportunities for men to gather with their friends and neighbors.

 

Net Making, American Revolution Museum at Yorktown

Net Making, American Revolution Museum at Yorktown

Work on the small farm or plantation was determined by the season, and certain jobs were performed at the same time each year. For tobacco planters, seeds were planted in beds in January, fields prepared in the early spring and seedlings transplanted around May. The summer was spent worming, weeding, watering, and topping the tobacco plants to ensure good quality tobacco would be harvested by September. During the fall, the tobacco was hung in tobacco barns and cured or dried, then packed or prized into wooden barrel-shaped containers called hogsheads to be taken to the inspection warehouse down by the river. The process of growing and selling tobacco took a great deal of time and lasted until the following year when the hogsheads were loaded onto ships and sent to England for sale. Growing grains like wheat, corn, and oats took less time, and the growing season was much shorter. Wheat and oats required little attention between planting in early spring and harvesting in June and July. The slack times throughout the year were good times to repair tools, fences and buildings, cut timber, shuck and grind corn, manure the fields, and ship the last season’s grain to market.