The Country Life: It’s Harvest Time… Right?

When many people think of the harvest, they think of autumn. But another important time for gathering crops, not to be forgotten, takes place in the heat of the summer!

In an age where food wasn’t from the local supermarket, but from the land people lived on, it was important to use the soil to the best of its ability.  With ground-breaking techniques (no pun intended!) of the time, farmers were able to work the land to provide maximum yield from the beginnings of spring, to the eve’s of winter.

The Corn Harvest (August), Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565

One important crop of colonial Pennsylvania was wheat.  Of three varieties grown, winter and summer wheat were able to be harvested around the month of June if weather had been good.  Governor Penn even reports “they may sow eight acres; half with summer wheat and half with Oats,” referring to successful agriculture production in his colony.  Other summer crops include rye, hemp, barley, oats and flax.  

In smaller kitchen gardens, more customized techniques could be applied to each plant being grown. Here at Pennsbury Manor we have a reconstruction of William Penn’s own kitchen garden. It was intended for raising vegetables, herbs, and anything else that could be found useful in the estates kitchen. Structures like “hot beds” were created to begin the germination of seeds in late winter. This wooden framework was filled with manure, and topped with a layer of soil; this bed could become as hot as 100°F in the coldest of winter. Once mature enough, they can be moved to garden beds.

A view of the cold frames and hotbed at Pennsbury Manor

Similar to the hot bed, the cold frame was a structure used to protect fragile herbs.  This structure was enclosed with spare glass, matting or canvas. One would also find raised beds. This state of the art invention allowed planters to control the fertility of their soil and manage it accordingly.

With innovations such as these, the kitchen garden would be able to adapt to the seasons and continuously provide for the estate. In a time like Penn’s, it was always important to put time to its best use, even in the heat of the summer!

By Ray Tarasiewicz, Intern

Edited by Hannah Howard

Come visit Pennsbury Manor next Sunday, August 26 and learn about the Kitchen Garden’s summer activities!


11 comments on “The Country Life: It’s Harvest Time… Right?

  1. Howard Miller says:

    You do not pay tribute to Penn’s gardeners at Pennsbury. The first was Ralph Smith who died in 1685 and the second was “James.” Do you know the second gardener’s last name?

  2. Pennsbury Manor Staff says:

    That’s a great suggestion for a future blog post! Yes you’re right, Ralph Smith was the first known gardener, who is first mentioned in 1684. James Reed was the next head gardener from 1685-1687, and after that we have no further record of him. While William Penn was in residence at Pennsbury Manor, Hugh Sharp was gardener, in 1701 and 1702. Records indicate his plans to be married and leave Pennsbury as soon as a replacement could be found. Thanks for your question!

  3. Howard Miller says:

    Did any of the three gardeners plant or tend grapevines at Pennsbury?

  4. Pennsbury Manor Staff says:

    William Penn did arrange for the French vintner Andrew Doz to come to America, but we don’t know of any evidence that Doz ever worked at Pennsbury specifically. He had a piece of land on the Schuylkill where he definitely grew grapes, got them to fruit, and made wine (at least once). Penn received a letter from someone who had tried the wine and said it was OK.

    But the vines didn’t stand a chance. Diseases (black rot and mildew) and American insects (plylloxera bug which feeds on the roots) would have discovered them and weakened them so in the long run they would not have fruited well, though they may have survived quite a while. The American botanist/farmer John Bartram reported in the 1750s that there was an old vineyard of European grapes along the Schuylkill — Doz’s vineyard perhaps? We don’t know.

    In the 1940s after Pennsbury Manor was reconstructed, a vineyard was planted and tended by staff. We do not currently have a vineyard, though, as grapes are nowhere specifically attested for the Pennsbury Estate. Penn did ask gardener Ralph Smith to “make wine” in 1684 but the context makes clear that he is referring to a drink from peaches, not grapes. The names of other fruits we know were here: apples, peaches, pears, apricots, cherries, plums, raspberries, quinces, gooseberries, currants, even figs. These came up in letters, as to whether they were doing well or poorly, but grapes are absent.

    We think it’s highly unlikely that any of the Pennsbury gardeners attempted grapes, since that was what Doz was brought over for and it’s a specialty fruit that would take time to cultivate and tend. So it’s highly unlikely, but we just don’t know.

  5. Howard Miller says:

    In Thomas Pinney’s book, A History of Wine In America, Volume I pp84-85 he is suggesting that the second’s gardener’s name was not James Reed but James Alexander. He gives J. R. McGrew as a reference. If this second gardener’s name is Alexander he is the finder of the first cross between the European vitis vififers grapes and the native American grapes which became known as the Alexander grape.

  6. Pennsbury Manor Staff says:

    James Alexander was actually Thomas Penn’s gardener, not William Penn’s. The context of John Bartram’s reference to the old vineyard of European grapes along the Schuylkill is that Bartram said that, in 1740, James Alexander found a hybrid of the European vinifera grapes (in “the old vineyard”) and a species of native grape, which hybrid was later named the Alexander grape.

    Thomas Pinney’s book is online as a google-book and his account is as above. He gets it right. Pinney does give his source as McGrew, a
    journal article from 1776. But there is definitely some misleading info out there – if you read the Wikipedia article on the Alexander Grape you run across the following misleading account (we just cut and pasted this excerpt):

    “[The Alexander grape] was discovered in 1740 in the neighborhood of Springgettsbury, Philadelphia, in a vineyard where James Alexander(d. 1778), William Penn’s gardener, had originally planted cuttings of vinifera in 1683.”

    **If you’ll note the 1778 death date of the gardener being credited with this discovery (in 1683), you’ll see how funny we found this article!**

  7. Howard Miller says:

    Thank you for your reply. The McGrew article is 1976, not 1776, that Pinney mentions. If you are interested, I found a PDF of that article and will be happy to send it to you. For some reason, I could not attach it to this reply.

    Howard Miller

  8. Pennsbury Manor Staff says:

    Oops thanks for catching the typo! We’d be glad of a pdf copy, you can email

  9. Charlie Thomford says:

    I’d also be interested in a pdf, or the internet citation for the 1976 McGrew article. I can’t raise an internet copy. I am at Thanks.

    A bit more on James Reed. When he arrived in America in 1685 he’d been able to make a good deal with WP. Although he was indentured, he was to have a month in the year to do his own work and to receive 30 pounds at the end of his three years, as well as the usual grant of land. (ed. Marianne Wokeck et. al, Papers of William Penn Vol 3, 1986, pp. 39 and 67.) According to Albert Cook Myers, WP scholar in the early 20th century, WP dismissed Reed as Reed was hard for others to get along with. (op cit. p. 259, citing Albert Cook Myers Historical Collection, vol. 63a and 64, Chester County Hist. Soc, West Chester, Pa.). I have not checked the ACM collection so I don’t know on what basis Myers made this assertion. In any case, Reed did leave Pennsylvania in mid to late April 1689. As he was carrying documents from WP’s new Governor, John Blackwell, to give to WP he presumably went to England (though this is not specifically attested). (op cit. p. 243)

    In the fall of 1689 a James Reed (also spelled Read, Rede, Reid, Rheed, Rheede), “the Quaker,” went from England to Barbados. He collected plants there through 1691 and returning to England he died at sea. (op cit. p. 92; also ed. J.E.Dandy, The Sloane Herbarium, 1958, p. 192-3; Alice Coats. The Plant Hunters, 1969, p. 332; RGC Desmond. Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturists, 1977, p. 515; Raymond Stearns. “James Petiver, Promoter of Natural Science c. 1668 – 1718, Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society vol 62 (1952) p. 291-2). Scholars have accepted that this is the same James Reed who worked for WP (RGC Desmond, per. comm.; AC Myers, ACM Hist. Coll. vol. 64) though I at this point don’t know of a positive attestation for this.

    And a bit more on Hugh Sharpe. His request for clearance to marry Rachel Allen was approved for the second (final) time at the Falls Meeting Business Meeting in November of 1702. In 1710 he and Rachel (who he apparently did marry) received a certificate of clearness from the Newtown Monthly Meeting of Burlington Quarterly Meeting to travel to England.

  10. Howard Miller says:

    Question: James Claypoole, Penn’s treasurer of the Free Society had ordered Bordeaux grapevines vines (along with “one peck of grape seeds”) from William Popple, a London merchant living in Bordeaux in 1682. Did he order the seeds in case the vines failed or were they ordered to make cooking oil?

  11. Charlie Thomforde says:

    As the vines and seeds were ordered together, it is possible that they were for planting. I don’t have the expertise to address whether or not they might have been for pressing oil.

    Here are a few more comments on James Reed, William Penn’s gardener.
    According to Albert Cook Myers, James Reed’s parents were Alexander and Elizabeth Reed, Scottish Quakers living in Ireland (PWP III, p. 93, quoting ACM). WP described Reed in a letter to James Harrison as “a scotsman bred in Ireland, a good gardener, counted a rare Artist at it (PWP micro., 5:344). WP also told Harrison that “the man has lived well,” and urged Harrison to supervise him closely (PWP micro., 5:347). Reed travelled to America in 1685 on the ship “Globe, Joseph Paine master being bound for Chessapeake Bay in Mary Land…” He brought with him hundreds of trees (“fruit,” though no other designation) as well as seeds and gardening tools (PWP micro 5:349). Initially WP told Harrison to assign three servants to work with Reed, though later backed this off to two (PWP iii p. 139, PWP micro. 5:593). On several occasions WP asked Reed to send plants to England: sassafrass, sumac, wild myrtle (and in one letter the portion listing the plants he wants is torn) (PWP III p. 139; PWP micro 5:593). In 1686 WP wrote that he was sending more plants – trees, seeds and scions (PWP micro 5:600). In winter of 1689 when John Blackwell, WP’s governer-designate, visited Pennsbury he was met by the gardener (PWP III p. 219). James Harrison, WP’s plantation steward, had died in 1687 and WP had not appointed another steward. It was normal practice on English estates that the head gardener act as steward in the steward’s absence.

    It would be nice to know more of what James Reed did during his three years at Pennsbury. In his first year he sent drawings of some sort to WP and WP requested more (though none of these appear to be extant) (PWP III p. 163). He laid out some walks up and down the river (PWP III p. 261). James Harrison wrote WP a description of what was primarily James Reed’s work during the spring and summer of 1686: “The gardiner is brisk at work. The Peach-Trees are much broken down with the weight of Fruit this year. All or most of the Plants that came from England grow, (being bout four Thousand) Cherries are sprung foar and five Foot. Pears, Codlings, and Plumbs three or four Foot. Pears and Apple Grafts in country Stocks, and in Thorns, are sprung three or four Foot. Rasberries , Gooseberries, Currans, Quince, Roses, Walnuts and Figs grow well. Apricoks from the stone fourteen or sixteen inches sprung, since the Month called April…” (PWP micro: 5:557).

    We do know what James Reed might have been reading during this time, though this in no way attests to what actually happened at Pennsbury. An inventory of Pennsbury taken in December 1687 after James Harrison died listed eight books “taken out of the Governers Closet and now in the custadey of James Reed Gardener.” And they are described, as follows (with the generally accepted full title added): “1 in small folyo the mystery of husbantry [John Worlidge. Systema Agriculturae: the Mystery of Husbandry Discovered, 1669] one in quarto improving Coocks forestres [Moses Cooke, the Manner of Raising, Ordering, and Improving Forrest-trees, 1676] the English gardener [Leonard Meager, The English Gardener…1670] 1 in octabo plots garden [Sir Hugh Plat, The garden of Eden, 1653] 1 the frentch gardener [Nicholas de Bonnefons, The French Gardiner: instructing how to cultivate all sorts of fruit trees and herbs for the Garden, translated into English by John Evelyn, 1671] 1 flower gardener [William Hughes, The Flower Garden, 1671] 1 Cotons planters Maneuell [Charles Cotton, the Planters Manual…being instructions for the…Cultivating all sorts of Fruit Trees, 1675] 1 the gardeners allmanick [John Evelyn. Kalendarium Hortense: or the Gard’ners Almanac…1666] (Cummings, Hubertis. An account of Goods at Pennsbury Manor, 1687, PMHB vol86:4, Oct 1962, p. 407). Among these they instruct in a wide range of agriculture and horticulture. Some are availabe as modern reprints. All are available on microfilm. I don’t know how many are available as internet copies.

    This inventory also refers to the gardener’s tools, but only to say “no inventory taken of the garners toules.” (op. cit. p. 416).

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