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Ten Acres Enough
Chapter III.—Resolved to go—Escape from BusinessChoosing a Location

The last thirty years have been prolific of great pecuniary convulsions. I need not recapitulate them here, as too many of them are yet dark spots on the memory of some who will read this. Their frequency, as well as their recurrence at shorter intervals than at the beginning of the century, are among their most remarkable features, baffling the calculations of older heads, and confounding those of younger ones. As the century advanced, these convulsions increased in number and violence. The whole business horizon seemed full of coming storms, which burst successively with desolating severity, not only on merchants and manufacturers, but on others who had long before retired from business. No one could foresee this state of things. I will not stop to argue causes, but confine myself to facts which none will care to contradict.

These disasters made beggars of thousands in every branch of business, and spread discouragement over every community. I passed through several of them, striving and struggling, and oppressed beyond all power of description. How many more the community was to encounter I did not know; but I conceived it the part of prudence to place myself beyond the circle of their influence before I also had been prostrated.

In spite of the losses thus encountered, I had been saving something annually for several years, when the stricture of 1854 came on, premonitory of the tremendous crash of 1857. Most unfortunately for my comfort, that stricture seemed to fall with peculiar severity on a class of dealers largely indebted to me. Many of them became embarrassed, and failed to pay me at the time, while to this day some of them are still my debtors. My old experiences of raising money revived, and to some extent I was compelled to go through the humiliations of similar periods. But the stricture was of brief duration, and I closed the year in far better condition than I had anticipated.

But the trials of that incipient crisis determined me to abandon the city. I found that by realizing all I then possessed, I could command means enough to purchase ten to twenty acres, and I had grown nervous and apprehensive of the future. While possessed of a little, I resolved to make that little sure by investing it in land. I had worked for the landlord long enough. My excellent wife was now entirely willing to make the change, and our six children clapped their hands with joy when they heard that "father was going to live in the country."

I had long determined in my mind what sort of farming was likely to prove profitable enough to keep us with comfort, and that was the raising of small fruits for the city markets. My attention had always been particularly directed to the berries. Some strawberries I had raised in my city garden with prodigious success. My friends, when they heard of my project, expressed fears that the market would soon be glutted, not exactly by the crops which I was to raise, but they could not exactly answer how. They confessed that they were extremely fond of berries, and that at no time in the season could they afford to eat enough; a confession which seemed to explode all apprehension of the market being overstocked.

But my wife and myself had both examined the hucksters who called at the door with small fruits, as to the monstrous prices they demanded, and had begged them, if ever a glut occurred, that they would call and let us know. But none had ever called with such information. It was the same thing with those who occupied stalls in the various city markets. They rarely had a surplus left unsold, and their prices were always high. A glut of fruit was a thing almost unknown to them. It was a safe presumption that the market would not be depressed by the quantity that I might raise.

But here let me say something by way of parenthesis, touching this common idea of the danger of overstocking the fruit-market of the great cities. It is a curious fact that this idea is entertained only by those who are not fruit-growers. The latter never harbored it. Their whole experience runs the other way, they know it to be a gross absurdity. Yet, somehow, the question of a glut has always been debated. Twenty years ago the nurserymen were advised to close up their sales and abandon the business, as they would soon have no customers for trees—everybody was supplied. But trees have continued to be planted from that day to this, and where hundreds were sold twenty years ago, thousands are disposed of now. Old-established nurseries have been trebled in size, while countless new ones have been planted. The nursery business has grown to a magnitude truly gigantic, because the market for fruit has been annually growing larger, and no business enlarges itself unless it is proved to be profitable.

The market cannot be glutted with good fruit. The multiplication of mouths to consume it is far more rapid than the increase of any supply that growers can effect. Within ten years the masses have had a slight taste of choice fruits, and but little more. Indulgence has only served to whet their appetites. The more of them there is offered in the market, the more will there be consumed. Every huckster in her shamble, every vender of peanuts in the street, will testify to this. The modern art of semi-cookery for fruit, and of preserving it in cans and jars, has made sale for enormous quantities of those choicer kinds which return the highest profit to the grower. It is in the grain-market that panic often rages, but never in the fruit-market. If it ever enters the latter, the struggle is to obtain the fruit, not to get rid of it.

The proper choice of a location was now to be the great question of my future success. I had determined on giving my attention to the raising of the smaller fruits for the great markets of New York and Philadelphia. I must therefore be somewhere on or near the railroad between those cities, and as near as possible to a station. The soil of Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, was too heavy for some of the lighter fruits. New Jersey, with its admirable sandy loam light, warm, and of surprisingly easy tillage, was proverbially adapted for the growth of all market produce, whether fruit or vegetable, and was at the same time a week or two earlier. Land was far cheaper, there was no State debt, taxes were merely nominal, and an acre that could be bought for thirty dollars could be made four times as productive as an acre of the best wheat land in Pennsyl­vania. Such results are regularly realized by hundreds of Jerseymen from year to year.

It was also of easy access from the city for manure-boats. Every town within the range of my wants was well supplied with churches, schools, and stores, together with an intelligent and moral population. I should be surrounded by desirable neighbors, while an hour's ride by steamboat or railroad would place me, many times daily, among all my ancient friends in the city. We should by no means become hermits. I knew the country so well from my numerous visits among the fruit-growers, when in search of information, as to anticipate but little difficulty in finding the proper location.

By the mere accident of a slight revival in business in the early part of 1855, a party came along who was thus induced to purchase my stock and machinery. Luckily, he was able to pay down the whole amount in cash. I received what I considered at the time an excellent price; but when I came to settle up my accounts and pay what I owed, I found, to my extreme disappointment, that but a little over two thousand dollars remained.

This sum was the net gain of many years of most laborious toil. Was it possible for farming to be a worse business than this? I had made ten times as much, but my losses had been terrible. This, with my personal credit, was all the surplus I had saved. I remember now, that when thus discovering myself to be worth so little, I half regretted having given up my business for what then appeared to me so inadequate a sum. When selling, I was jubilant and thankful—when settled up, I was full of regrets. I ought to have had more. So difficult is it for the human mind to be satisfied with that which is really best.

But I little knew what the future was to bring forth, and how soon my want of thankfulness was to be changed into the profoundest conviction that I had providentially escaped from total ruin, and come out comparatively rich. I had made myself snug upon my little farm when the tornado of 1857 toppled my former establishment into utter ruin. My successor was made a bankrupt, and his business was destroyed, leaving him overwhelmed with debt. He had lost all, while I had saved all. Had I not sold when I did, and secured what the sale yielded me I too should have been among the wrecks of that terrific visitation.

But I heard its warning in the quiet of my little farm-house, where it brought me neither anxiety nor loss. My position was like that of one sitting peacefully by his wintry fireside, gazing on the thick storm without, and listening to the patter of the snow-flakes as the tempest drove them angrily against the window-pane, while all within was calm and genial. Instead of regrets for what I had failed to grasp, my heart overflowed with thankfulness for the comparative abundance that remained to me. My peace of mind was perfect. The unspeakable satisfaction was felt of being out of business, out of debt, out of danger—not rich, but possessed of enough. The thoughtful reader may well believe that subsequent disturbances, rebellion, war, and even a more wide-spread bankruptcy—from all which my humble position made me secure—have only served to intensify my gratitude to that Divine Providence which so mercifully shaped my ways.

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