Farming Colonial Pennsylvania

Most of the Germans that came to America in the early 1700s were already experienced farmers or learned the business from relatives and neighbors. My ancestors from the Rhine River valley of Germany came to this country at the invitation of Queen Anne of England with the promise of land to farm and support their families.  There first and second attempt to benefit from the Queen’s offer of 40 acres of free land failed in the province of New York.

In the Spring of 1723, about 33 families including my ancestors accepted an offer of land and freedom from government and religious interferences from Governor Keith in the Province of Pennsylvania. They settled in the Tulpehocken area near present-day Reading, Pennsylvania.

After 34 years in colonial America, Johann Peter Schneider Feg’s dream for his family of land to build a house, to farm and to become part of a community was finally accomplished for his family with help from William Penn.

Pioneer Farming 1700-1740

Some of the original settlers, mostly farmers, in the Tulpehocken Valley staked out their claim for land before any viable legal process was established for the buying, selling and transferring land by a deed in Heidelberg Township. They ended up settling on land that was claimed by the Lenape Indians.

Early colonial living (1723-1729) next to the Tulpehocken Creek area was extremely grueling and labor-intensive. Many tasks to be conducted by almost all members of each family with help from relatives and neighbors. Most early settlers were farmers. They needed to find land for their future home, clear land to grow grain crops for the animals and cultivate vegetables and fruit for the family. Crude housing was constructed at first and improved as construction methods advanced.

Tulpehocken Creek, Pennsylvania
Tulpehocken Creek in April 2019

The model for the early German farms in the Tulpehocken Valley of colonial Pennsylvania was one of the family units working the land with help from relatives and neighbors. In contrast, Palatine Germany and later William Penn’s proposed model was a central village with surrounding plots of land owned by the individual farmers. Penn’s proposal went against the German farmer’s strong independent determination to control their future. In mass, they rejected William Penn’s proposed community farming arrangement.

Farm Crops and Practices

Next, we bring the picture into sharper focus with numerous tasks that need to be completed to sustain the family initially and develop their farm to generate income from the sale of surplus farm products.

Let’s start with the very essentials: food, water, clothing, and shelter.

  • There is plenty of fresh and clean water available from the Tulpehocken Creek. Also plenty of freshwater fish for meals.
  • Plant types of food like wild berries, squash and others should be available during the growing season.
  • Plenty of deer, bear and wild turkey was hunted and processed for the winter months.
  • Most likely they traveled very light bringing no extra clothing. Best guess is they initially went back to Indian style dress- animal skins.
  • They remove thousands of trees to make arable land to plant wheat, oats, and corn. Clearing land with grub hoes and burning took years.
  • Pasture land was selected with a stream for cattle and horses. Crude wooden fences were erected to contain animals.
  • Crude housing was an immediate concern for shelter from the elements.
  • Farmers grew and harvested corn, wheat, barley, oats, rye, and grapes. In the orchards, they picked peaches, apples, and cherries.

Farm Buildings

In the early 1700s buildings were crudely constructed due to the lack of tools and nails. Plenty of virgin forest with many varies of trees for building materials. Historians suggest that the first houses were made of rough planks or logs stacked between poles sunk into the ground. Roofs were made of thatched straw or tree branches tied together by saplings.

Early Colonial Housing
Early Style Log House

As better tools became available the homes and barns were upgraded to log homes. Barns had stone foundations with logs completing the structure where they used wooden pegs to hold the logs in place.  Around 1796 a nail cutting and heading machine was invented which helped to advance construction practices in the American colonies.

Next Post:

The next post will discuss the story of the first President of the  United States, George Washington and his tribute to Conrad Weiser. Both men were early patriots of freedom, military volunteers, farmers, and businessmen. They both are celebrated with their names on monuments, buildings, and memorials- Washington at the national level and Weiser mostly within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

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Copyright © 2018-2021 by Ronald L. Fake. All rights reserved worldwide

Ronald L. Fake

Pennsylvania native from York County. After graduating from Wrightsville High School enlisted in U.S. Navy. While in the Navy working in the field of Aviation Electronics decided to enroll in college. Selected San Diego State University with a focus on urban geography and environmental studies. After graduation in 1968 worked with county and state governments, and private industry on the environmental impacts of transportation projects. After retirement started my ancestry research and today I am writing that history as a blog at