Jesse Buel

The American agriculturalist and journalist Jesse Buel (1778-1839) pioneered in the effort to make farming more scientific and more productive. The new agricultural methods he developed were disseminated to other farmers through his journal.

Jesse Buel was born on Jan. 4, 1778, in Coventry, Conn., the youngest of the 14 children of farming parents. When Jesse was 12 years old, the family moved to Rutland, Vt., where he was apprenticed to a printer 2 years later. He worked as a journeyman printer on newspapers in New York City and upstate New York, and in 1797 he began publishing his own newspapers.

Buel's newspaper career lasted until 1821; he published papers in Lansingburgh, Troy, Poughkeepsie, Kingston, and Albany. During his residence in Albany he was the printer for the state. By the age of 43 Buel had acquired a reputation as an editor and built up a sizable fortune in personal property and real estate. He then turned to the work which constituted his major achievement: the improvement of agriculture.

Like Thomas Jefferson, Buel believed that the nation's well-being ultimately depended upon agriculture, which he called "the great wheel which moves all the machinery of society." He also felt that American farming was wasteful, too often merely exhausting the soil of successive farms, much in the manner of the southern cotton planters' ruthless exploitation of successive fertile areas. To improve American agriculture, Buel created an experimental farm on an 85-acre tract just west of Albany. He utilized scientific farming methods, including deep plowing, drainage, the use of manure and the plowingunder of green crops for fertilizers, and crop rotation. The farm became extremely productive and soon gained fame as the "Albany Nursery."

Once Buel had demonstrated the validity of his farming methods, he set out to disseminate the principles of the new husbandry. He became secretary of the state board of agriculture, campaigned for the creation of a state agricultural school, and was instrumental in the founding of the state Agricultural Society in 1832, becoming its first recording secretary. In 1834 Buel began publishing the Cultivator, which soon became the most popular farm journal in the United States. In 1839 he published the Farmer's Companion, a book which embodied the results of his work on farming and went through 11 editions.

Buel served in the New York Assembly in the 1820s and ran unsuccessfully as a Whig for the governorship of the state. He used his political career, like his publishing talents, in the service of improved agriculture.


Further Reading on Jesse Buel

The best source on the life and thought of Buel is Harry J. Carman, ed., Jesse Buel, Agricultural Reformer (1947), which contains selections from his voluminous writings. William Edward Ogilvie includes a biographical sketch in Pioneer Agricultural Journalists (1927). See also Percy Wells Bidwell and John I. Falconer, History of Agriculture in the Northern United States, 1620-1860 (1925).