NEW YORK FOLKLORE QUARTERLY
Vol. VII, No. 1, Spring 1951
YORK STATE FARM LORE
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
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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