The Tenery Tennessee Farm

Farming. It was the occupation of most of the family in Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama until the 20th century. The quest for farmland drove much of U.S. western expansion and settlement, and thus brought much of this family to Tennessee from states on the eastern seaboard. So what did one of these farms look like?

To follow up on the last post – and to take advantage of an available census record – consider the farm of William Daniel Tenery’s family in Giles County, Tennessee, in the year 1850 (click here for 1827 map; Giles is adjacent to Lincoln County on the southern border of middle Tennessee). Giles County was settled beginning in 1805 following a treaty with the Chickasaw Indians, excepting a few early birds who moved in illegally and were at times ejected by U.S. soldiers. William Daniel, the eldest son of William the Revolutionary War soldier, arrived sometime between 1810 and 1820 perhaps after a short residence in eastern Tennessee. By 1850, he had 8 children with his first wife Nancy Young (who unfortunately died young around 1833) and another 4 children with his second wife Stacy McCormick.

William would turn 61 in the year 1850, and was reaching the end of his life; by the 1860 census his wife Stacy was a widow. However, in this year he still had his four youngest children at home to help with the farm although the youngest was only 5. Like many small farmers in this region the Tenerys did not generally employ slave labor – it was an operation run primarily by the work of the family.*

The farm was 100 acres in size, with 70 acres “improved.” William estimated the total value of his real estate to be $1,000, which would include the value of his house and other structures. The farm produced 500 bushels of corn and lesser amounts of oats, wheat, peas and beans, “Irish” potatoes, sweet potatoes, and cotton. In addition, the farm kept 5 horses, 7 milk cows, 7 working oxen, and 12 sheep that produced wool. It was in part a hog farm, as the census records 85 swine and a value of $110 from animals slaughtered that year. No doubt there was a vegetable garden growing other produce consumed by the family, although the Tenerys do not appear to have commercially sold any of these fruits or vegetables.

The farm was mid-sized compared to the neighbors, some of whom had 100-300 acres under cultivation (or, more rarely, over 300 acres), others only 11-20 acres. The goods produced were very similar, although some farms would also produce dairy products or honey. Tobacco was notably not a crop in the Tenery’s neighborhood, and cotton seemed a very small part of the farm output compared to other areas of the South.

Most of William Daniel Tenery’s sons participated in the Civil War, where at least one was killed. Many children would also move further west in search of the next great store of inexpensive but rich soil. Some remained and continued farming in Giles County, including the next two generations in this family – William’s son Hardaway Manson Tenery and grandson John Wesley Tenery, who was in turn the father of Lola Belle Tenery.


John Wesley Tenery, date unknown

*The 1820 and 1840 censuses report no slaves in the Tenery household; I have not been able to locate the 1830 census record – the Tenery farm seems to have been skipped by the census takers. The 1850 slave schedule does show a single African-American mother and infant child, but nothing more is known about these individuals. I will address slavery and the family in depth in future posts.


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