[July 1738] Tuesd the 4th fair. this morning about 6. Clock my Daughter in Law Stephens wife was DD of a Son in a hopefull way to do well. I was at home foren mending the Cart. aftern in Town Executing Deeds of Conveyance for ye ministry Land to Divers persons. Adam began to Mow before ye Door.


A different view of the fourth of July, 40 years before it became known as Independence Day. Here we see some of Hempstead’s typical shorthand: foren, or fore-noon, for morning, and aftern for afternoon. The wife of Hempstead’s son Stephen, Sarah Holt Hempstead, was “delivered of a son,” Thomas, in 1738 who didn’t do as well as was hoped. A second son named Thomas is born in 1740.

Adam is Hempstead’s slave, whose work is recorded in the diary on a very regular basis. But in this case, Hempstead is recording something a bit more significant, the beginning of the hay mowing season. In 1728 Adam’s first mowing is recorded on 1 July; in 1732 on 10 July. In the seasonal realm of farm work this marks the beginning of one of the most labor intensive and all-summer-long tasks. A good mower would have been expected to mow about an acre of ground a day; and then there was the raking, putting the hay up into stacks, loading onto a cart, carting and then unloading and putting the hay up — although, at this early time the lack of large barns meant the hay was stacked in the field much longer.

To modern farmers this may seem like a late start, but when cutting hay with a scythe, one would wait until the grass was thick and heavy so that there could be a good cut and resistance against the blade. The first cutting of hay is always the rankest, has the largest quantity, but the lowest quality. The second cutting, later in the season, called the rowen, was lower in quantity but greater in food value. Of course, few farmers of the time would have used the phrase, “food value,” but they would certainly be able to know that the rowen was prefered by their livestock.

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