The Perrin Farm
Who worked on a dairy farm in 1874?
Porter Perrin lived and worked on a dairy(related to milk and milk products) farm in Berlin, Vermont. He kept a diary(a daily recording of a person’s activities or thoughts) in 1874, when he was 15 years old. He wrote that “Father keeps 36 head of cattle” on their farm. This was a large herd in 1874. Some of their cows were Jerseys, a breed of cow that produces milk with a lot of cream. Many times during the year, Porter wrote “Father churned.” This meant that his father made butter from the cream in the cow’s milk.
In the diary entries, Porter always described the weather. Then he wrote about the work he did on the farm. Some days he wrote that he “did chores, etc(and so forth, short for et cetera).” He did not explain the daily chores, but someone needed to milk the cows every day. He often wrote about Elisha, his twin brother, who also worked on the farm. In the winter, Porter and Elisha took turns staying home from church on Sundays to do chores.
Porter wrote more details about the work that changed with the season. He moved cow manure(animal droppings like cow or horse poop) from the barn in the winter. In the spring and fall, he spread manure on the fields as fertilizer(a product added to soil to make plants grow better). He fixed fences around the pastures in early May so the cows could stay outside all summer. In the fall, he harvested potatoes and chopped wood. Porter and Elisha only went to school in the winter, when there was less work to do on the farm.
On August 17, 1874, he wrote, “FINISHED Haying.” Hay was an important crop so the cows had food in the winter. Haying was also a lot of work. They had to cut the hay, dry it, and gather it up. Then they had to move the hay into the barn to keep it dry.
Porter’s father was a successful farmer. He had the time to serve in the legislature(the branch of government that makes laws) in October and November. He could pay Porter 20 cents a week to work on the farm. He could afford to hire extra farm laborers, like Eddie Nye who worked from July to November. Porter’s diary entries show how much work took place on a dairy farm, even with all the workers. Porter continued to live and work on his family’s dairy farm for most of his life.
Thinking About History
Historians ask questions to think deeply about history.
Porter Perrin wrote a few entries in all capital letters: ‘FINISHED Haying’ on August 18; ‘FINISHED GETING IN OATS AFTERNOON’ on October 6; and ‘FINISHED DIGING POTATOES’ on October 13. What can we infer (or guess) about why he used capital letters in those entries? How do you think he felt about finishing work on the farm?
Follow the links below to explore related topics.
Learn more about how dairy farming has changed over time
Read a selection of entries from Porter Perrin’s diary from Green Mountaineer Magazine
Read the handwritten entries from a scan of Porter Perrin's 1874 diary.
Read a transcription (typed version) of entries from Porter Perrin’s 1874 diary. The transcription keeps the spelling and punctuation from the original handwritten entries.
Read entries from the diary of Lucy Freeman in 1893 from Green Mountaineer Magazine
Try writing your own diary entries. Ther. means temperature (or thermometer) and wea. means weather.
Read diary entries from Erastus Williams who worked on a Vermont farm in the 1830s
Copy and paste this citation to show where you did your research.
Vermont Historical Society. "The Perrin Farm." Vermont History Explorer. Accessed March 28, 2023. https://vermonthistoryexplorer.org/porter-perrin