David Durfee Shearman did not have a farm of his own, but he helped on his father’s farm (Benjamin C. Sherman) and did odd-jobs for a number of farmers in Portsmouth.  His 1858 diary gives an idea of what the farmer’s year was like.


Portsmouth farmers did not rest over the winter.  Shearman worked on making farm tools, but he noted on January 28th that farmer Dennis Hall was taking advantage of the mild January to plow his onion patch.


The better part of February, March, April and May were spent carting and spreading manure.  Most of the manure came from his father’s stable. February 6th he comments: “Went to father’s about 10 o’clock and helped cart manure until night.  Carted 11 loads. Father has got a great lot of manure this year.  He has got 9 pigs and a sow fattening and a part of oxen and steer for beef besides 12 head of cattle and 5 horses.”  May was a good time to spread fish on the plowed ground.


March and April seemed to be busy months for the potato crop.  Durfee comments on March 27 that some potatoes were being planted in Newtown.    The Shearmans themselves were plowing to plant potatoes April 4th.  On April 22nd Shearman wrote:  “Been planting in my garden today; planted half a bushel of potatoes with two or three peas betwixt each two pieces of potatoes.”  


March 29:  “Uncle John brought us a two horse team and a two ox team to help Father.  We finished plowing and sowed all of the oats – 43 bushels – on about 7 acres and harrowed them in the ground in most excellent order to work upon being dryer than any spring I remember for many years, and so early, too.”  By October 12th, Shearman comments of threshing oats:  “Went over to Father’s to eat breakfast and began to thresh before sunrise.  Finished threshing at three o’clock having thrashed 394 bushels.  The stacks were in first rate condition at the top and bottom and shelled out oats beyond our expectations.”


Corn husking on Glen Farm

Corn occupied the farmers for many months of work.  In April they began to prepare the fields by removing the stubble and rocks from last year.  Planting began in May.  May 15th:  “Planted corn all day.  We manure it in the hill where it is wet.”  Corn was hoed in June and July.  By August they were picking the corn.  August 14th:  “I arose at 4 o’clock and went to Newport with Robert carrying sweet corn, getting 12 or 14 cents a dozen…”  They continued husking through to November.  November 11th:  “Benj. C. Jr. finished husking last evening – being about 3 bushels.  I helped get the corn into the cribs forenoon.  The side bins are full and fifty bushels of ears in the middle part estimated to be 350 bushes of corn, a large crop for the land planted.”  


Grass and hay were planted in April and harvest began in June and through July.  Hay was raked in August.   April 2nd:  “Father and William went to Newport and got the grass seed forenoon, sowed it afternoon.”  June 30th:  Mowed south part of the 2nd meadow below the house very good grass in quality and quantity;  Mostly barley grass.  Stacked hay in the corner meadow.”  Sherman has a delightful entry about an Uncle Ned (a good mower)  who used to mow dressed in a pink striped calico dress!!  


Shearman is busy building stonewalls and other things during September, so we don’t hear as much about agricultural work.  In October Shearman reported picking Sweeting, Greenings, Roxbury Russets, and Leathercoat Russets.  October 22nd:  “We picked Roxbury Russetts today.  They are large and handsome.  The trees were loaded with them.  Picked 57 bushels, which is as many as they have had in any one year, since Uncle has owned the farm which is about 18 years.”


Hogs seemed to be a common livestock for Portsmouth farmers and New Bedford seemed to be the place to sell the pork.  April 21st:  “Helped Uncle John kill 7 fall pigs.  They averaged 175 lbs a piece.  Dressed them all at one scalding. “


Shearman has his own garden and plants.  May 19th: “Been hoeing and planting my garden all day.  Planting sweet and pop corn, squashes, cucumbers and melons….  Potatoes just coming up, the peas about two inches high.”  Other vegetables mentioned in the diary include cabbages, carrots and turnips.  







If you want to read Shearman’s Diary for yourself, it is online at the Portsmouth History Center Archive.  http://www.portsmouthhistorycenterarchive.org/items/show/475