Jesse Buel was born on a farm in Coventry, Connecticut, the youngest of 14 children. At the age of 12 he moved with his family to Rutland, Vermont. He served an apprenticeship to a Rutland printer and later worked as a journeyman printer on New York City and upstate New York newspapers.
Between 1797 and 1821, he published his own papers in Lansingburgh, Troy, Poughkeepsie, Kingston, and Albany, building up a considerable fortune in capital and property in the process. He was also the official state printer during his time in Albany. After 1821, he shifted his professional energies toward agricultural reform, a cause to which he devoted the latter part of his life.
Work in Agricultural Reform
In 1821, Buel, then 43, surprised many of his acquaintances by announcing that he was leaving his profitable printing business to pursue his long-standing interest in the cause of agricultural reform. Echoing Thomas Jefferson, Buel believed that, "Agriculture is truly our nursing mother, which gives food, and growth, and wealth, and moral health and character to our country. It may be considered the great wheel which moves all the machinery of society." He bought an 85-acre property west of Albany to establish his own farm where he could put his reform principles into practice. Like other reformers of the period, he saw close links among social, moral, and economic improvement, and translated these into farming through an emphasis on good stewardship of farmland through maintaining its fertility rather than exploiting it in search of faster profits.
In addition to demonstrating the effectiveness of his farming methods, Buel was a vocal champion of agricultural reform in both print and politics. He served in the New York State Assembly for many years and was Ulster County's judge of the court of common pleas while living in Kingston. In 1826, he was appointed to the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York. He ran unsuccessfully as the Whig candidate in the 1836 New York gubernatorial election.
Buel also campaigned for the establishment of a state agricultural school and helped to found the New York State Agricultural Society in 1832 and served several times as its president. In 1834 he launched The Cultivator, one of the most popular of the many agricultural journals being published for American farmers in this period. He also wrote extensively for other agricultural publications, and his ideas were widely disseminated in two collections of his work, The Farmer's Companion; or Essays on the Principles and Practices of American Husbandry (1838) and the two-volume Farmer's Instructor, chiefly made up of selections from The Cultivator.
Death and burial
- (editor) A Treatise on Agriculture, John Armstrong (1819)
- The Farmer's Companion; or Essays on the Principles and Practices of American Husbandry (1838)
- The Farmer's Instructor (1839)
- Carman, Harry J. "Jesse Buel, Early Nineteenth-Century Agricultural Reformer." Agricultural History, Vol. 17, No. 1 (January 1943), p. 2.
- Carman, Harry J. Jesse Buel, Agricultural Reformer: Selections from his Writings. New York: Columbia University Press, 1947, p. xix.
- Stoll, Steven. Larding the Lean Earth: Soil and Society in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Hill and Wang, 2002, p. 90.
- Carman, "Jesse Buel," p. 10.
- Jesse Buel at Find a Grave