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Generous Fruits: A Survey of American Homesteading


Generous Fruits: A Survey of American Homesteading

Spanning a continuum of five centuries --- from the early colonists of the 17th century to the doomsday survivalists of the 21st --- Barbara Bamberger Scott has woven together an engaging and passionate tapestry about the impulse of Americans to homestead, tying their lives to the land with the goal of self-sufficiency.

America's early settlers were infected with the desire to strike out on their own. "Very few people, proportionately, left the Old World for the New," she writes, "and most who did were peculiar, or remarkable, or both: raw-fisted farmers with a yen for elbow room, seat-of-their-pants entrepreneurs looking for a lucky strike, ex-convicts down to their last choice (gallows or go), members of minority religious sects... bold widows... people who could not bend under the yoke of authority."

"For locavores, off-the-gridders, or those surveying the landscape during these troubled times, GENEROUS FRUITS is an enormous contribution to the literature of the American experiment."

These early homesteaders were cut of many different cloths --- "the buckskinned pioneer, the taciturn New Englander, the xenophobic hillbilly, the canny Quaker tradesman" --- but all were intent on survival, never easy in a land where "he who shall not work shall not eat," in the words of colonist Captain John Smith. Scott writes poignantly about the impact of Europeans' incursion on the Native population. "Hostile and by night or friendly and bearing gifts, they would appear," well aware that these strange new pale-faced settlers posed a serious threat to their land and way of life. "The Indian was grave and calm and loved ceremony and ritual," she writes, whereas the white man was often "loud-mouthed, profane, vulgar and short-tempered," generally treating Native Americans with a barbarity otherwise reserved for enslaved people.

An exception to the rule was the Moravians, who, in Theodore Roosevelt's estimation, were far too peace-loving, as by "seeking to deal honestly with Indians and whites alike…(were) suspected and despised by both," he wrote.

Telling the story of American homesteading through a series of robust and well-drawn profiles, Scott illustrates the challenges of frontier life by presenting the example of the famous, like Daniel Boone and Abraham Lincoln, whose depravations imprinted their characters, as well as those forgotten to history, such as the "women who went" to lay claim to land in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Elinore Pruitt Stewart, an Oklahoma woman who was orphaned at age 14 and raised eight younger siblings before striking out on her own with a young daughter in tow, is a prime example. Stewart's LETTERS OF A WOMAN HOMESTEADER recounts her adventures on a Wyoming claim in the early 1900s. After filing a land claim in Green River, she began working for a neighbor whom she subsequently married, in haste, fitting the ceremony in between a relentless stream of chores. Wed in her old shoes and work duds, Pruitt notes wryly that at least her apron was "white and clean." However, the hard work proved to be an elixir, with Stewart's prescription for happiness resonating to this day: "I want a great many things I haven't got, but I don't want them enough to be discontented and not enjoy the many blessings that are mine."

Scott has filled a gaping void by offering the first comprehensive history of homesteading in America. For locavores, off-the-gridders, or those surveying the landscape during these troubled times, GENEROUS FRUITS is an enormous contribution to the literature of the American experiment. Carefully researched and beautifully written, it is a must-read.

Reviewed by Wanda Urbanska on June 16, 2017

Generous Fruits: A Survey of American Homesteading
by Barbara Bamberger Scott

  • Publication Date: June 6, 2017
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Mascot Books
  • ISBN-10: 1684012384
  • ISBN-13: 9781684012381