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New York Folklore Quarterly, Vol. VII, No. 1, Spring 1951

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Vol. VII, No. 1, Spring 1951

Selected, edited, and written by Edith E. Cutting

IN THE hill counties and in the fertile valleys of York State live families whose life for generations has been farming. Not on the big specialized farms, but on the acres that included hayfields, grain fields, pasture, wood lot, orchard. and garden, have the farmers kept alive the sayings and stories, customs and songs of their forefathers. Here they have a few cows, some sheep, a pig or two, maybe a goat, some hens, a hive or two of bees ... Some of their sayings are sheer nonsense; some are sure truth. Some are vaguely remembered by elderly men and women who heard them long ago; some are told by boys and girls on farms today. Who can say to what period they belong? There were scientific farmers in Sir William Johnson’s day, in the eighteenth century, and there are rule-of-thumb farmers today in the twentieth.

My deep appreciation goes to Professor Harold W. Thompson of Cornell University and to Dr. Louis C. Jones, Director of the Farmers’ Museum, for their generous help and advice, as well as for permission to use folklore collected by their students. I am grateful also to those students, and to mine, and to the many other Yorkers who have generously contributed from hearsay and memories.


The land was what you looked at first on a farm. Was it in good condition or pretty well run down? A farmer up in Essex County, for instance, had had his eye on a certain farm for some time, but he gave it up after he talked with Arthur Cole. “I saw a queer, dark streak across it the other day,” Arthur told him, “and when I went down to see, it was a whole line of grasshoppers, and every one of them had a bundle of hay on his back to last him till he got across that piece of land.”

Had the farm been ditched, or was it swampy? Of course there was always the chance that a swamp could be turned to advantage. For example, when John Darling bought his farm near Livingston Manor, there was no Sand Pond on the property. What is now the pond was just swampy wasteland. One day John was choppinG a maple on a hill near the swamp. The tree fell the way John had planned it, all right, but it landed with such force that the whole tree except the very bottom sank into the swamp and pulled the swamp in after it. This is true, because you can still see the stump in the middle of the pond.


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