Jethro Tull (agriculturist)
Basildon, Berkshire, England
|Died||21 February 1741
Hungerford, Berkshire, England
|Resting place||St Bartholomew's Church, Lower Basildon, Berkshire, England|
|Known for||Agricultural reforms and inventions, such as the seed drill & horse-drawn hoe|
Jethro Tull (1674 – 21 February 1741, New Style) was an English agricultural pioneer from Berkshire who helped bring about the British Agricultural Revolution. He perfected a horse-drawn seed drill in 1700 that economically sowed the seeds in neat rows. He later developed a horse-drawn hoe. Tull's methods were adopted by many great landowners and helped to provide the basis for modern agriculture.
Tull was born in Basildon, Berkshire, to Jethro Tull, Sr and his wife Dorothy, née Buckeridge or Buckridge. He was baptised there on 30 March 1674. He grew up in Bradfield, Berkshire and matriculated at St John's College, Oxford at the age of 17. He was educated for the legal profession, but appears not to have taken a degree. He became a member of Staple Inn, and was called to the bar on 11 December 1693, by the benchers of Gray's Inn.
Soon after his call to the bar, Tull became ill with a pulmonary disorder and travelled to Europe in search of a cure. He was for a considerable period at Montpellier in the south of France. During his tour Tull carefully compared the agriculture of France and Italy with that of his own country, and omitted no occasion to observe and note everything which supported his own views and discoveries. He particularly, on more than one occasion, alluded in his work to the similarity of his own horse-hoe husbandry to the practice followed by the vine-dressers of the south of Europe in constantly hoeing or otherwise stirring their ground. Finding that they did not approve of dunging their vineyards, Tull readily adduced the fact in favour of his own favourite theory: that manuring soil is an unnecessary operation. Returning to England, he took into his own hands the farm called Prosperous, at Shalbourne, in Berkshire, where resuming the agricultural efforts he had commenced in Berkshire, he wrote his Horse-hoe Husbandry.
At a later period, (1730–1740) Jethro Tull devoted all his energies to promote the introduction of this machine, "more especially as it admitted the use of the hoe."
Tull died in 1741 at Prosperous Farm at Hungerford. He is buried in the churchyard of St Bartholomew's Church, Lower Basildon, Berkshire, near his birthplace. His gravestone bears the burial date 9 March 1740 using the Old Style calendar, which is equivalent to the modern date 20 March 1740.
In his travels, Tull found himself seeking more knowledge of agriculture. Influenced by the early Age of Enlightenment, he is considered to be one of the early proponents of a scientific (and especially empirical) approach to agriculture. He helped transform agricultural practices by inventing or improving numerous implements.
Jethro Tull made early advances in planting crops with his seed drill (1701) — a mechanical seeder that sowed efficiently at the correct depth and spacing and then covered the seed so that it could grow. Before the introduction of the seed drill, the common practice was to plant seeds by broadcasting (evenly throwing) them across the ground by hand on the prepared soil and then lightly harrowing the soil to bury the seeds to the correct depth.
In his 1731 publication Tull described how the motivation for developing the seed-drill arose from conflict with his servants. He had struggled to enforce his new methods upon them, in part because they resisted the threat to their position as labourers and skill with the plough.
Jethro Tull invented some machinery for the purpose of carrying out his system of drill husbandry, about 1733. His first invention was a drill-plough to sow wheat and turnip seed in drills, three rows at a time. There were two boxes for the seed, and these, with the coulters, were placed one set behind the other, so that two sorts of seed might be sown at the same time. A harrow to cover in the seed was attached behind.
Tull also invented a turnip-drill somewhat similar to the other in general arrangement, but of lighter construction. The feeding spout was so arranged as to carry one half of the seed backwards after the earth had fallen into the channel; a harrow was pinned to the beam; and by this arrangement one half of the seed would spring up sooner than the other, allowing part to escape the turnip fly.
When desirable to turn the machine, the harrow was to be lifted and the feeding would stop. The manner of delivering the seeds to the funnels in both the above drills was by notched barrels, and Tull was the first to use cavities in the surfaces of solid cylinders for the feeding. Nothing material in the history of the drill occurred afterwards till 1782, and little progress appears to have been made until that period in drill-husbandry.
Jethro Tull considered earth to be the sole food of plants. "Too much nitre," Tull tells us, "corrodes a plant, too much water drowns it, too much air dries the roots of it, too much heat burns it; but too much earth a plant can never have, unless it be therein wholly buried: too much earth or too fine can never possibly be given to their roots, for they never receive so much of it as to surfeit the plant." Again, he declares elsewhere, "That which nourishes and augments a plant is the true food of it. Every plant is earth, and the growth and true increase of a plant is the addition of more earth." And in his chapter on the "Pasture of Plants," Tull told his readers with great gravity that "this pasturage is the inner or internal superficies of the earth; or, which is the same thing, it is the superficies of the pores, cavities, or interstices of the divided parts of the earth, which are of two sorts, natural and artificial. The mouths or lacteals of roots take their pabulum, being fine particles of earth, from the superficies of the pores or cavities, wherein their roots are included."
Tull wrote with the enthusiasm of genius and carried his admiration of the powers of the earth to support vegetation too far; he was deceived, in fact, by the effects of his finely pulverising system of tillage, and did not sufficiently attend to the fact that there are many other substances in the commonly cultivated soils of the farmer besides the earths, and that so far from their being always the chief constituents of the soil, they very often form the smallest portion of even a highly productive field.
That the four earths of which all cultivated soils are composed are all the necessary food or constituents of vegetables has, long since Tull wrote, been decided by the accurate investigations of the chemist. Of these, lime, either as a carbonate or an acetate or a sulphate, is by far the most generally present in plants; indeed, in one form or another, it is rarely absent from them. The presence of silica (flint) is almost equally general. Magnesia is less usually present, or, at least, it exists in smaller proportions ; and the same remark applies to alumina (clay).
Hoeing by hand
The operation of hoeing is beneficial, not only as being destructive of weeds, but as loosening the surface of the soil, and rendering it more permeable to the gases and aqueous vapour of the atmosphere. Hoeing, therefore, not only protects the farmer's crops from being weakened by weeds, but it renders the soil itself as more capable of supplying the plants with their food. Jethro Tull was the first who inculcated the advantages of hoeing cultivated soils. He correctly enough told the farmers of his time, that as fine hoed ground is not so long soaked by rain, so the dews never suffer it to become perfectly dry. This appears by the plants which flourish in this, whilst those in the hard ground are starved. In the driest weather good hoeing procures moisture to the roots of plants, though the ignorant and incurious fancy it lets in the drought.
After Tull's death, his holdings about 70 acres of freehold land in Berkshire found their way into Chancery, and were sold by order of the court in 1784 to a Mr. Blandy. Tull held about 130 acres in addition, by a different tenure. The house in which he dwelt has been modernised, but the old-fashioned Hebrew-house yet remains largely intact; as late as 1840 it was still in very good condition. Of the out houses, Tull's granary and his stables are still in existence, although deteriorating. At the end of this granary, which Tull built, is an old well. When this was cleared out some years ago, there was found buried in the accumulated mud of nearly a century, a three-pronged hoe, which likely belonged to Tull, and is now in the museum of the Royal Agricultural Society of England. Into this well It may have been thrown into well by his men, who adopting the use of his new tools with the reluctance, and reportedly thwarted him in many ways. The farm of Jethro Tull in the rural parish of Shalborn is situated under the Coomb Hills, about 4 miles south of Hungerford, long remained an object of interest to lovers of agriculture. Arthur Young made a pilgrimage to Prosperous, and William Cobbett did the same.
Jethro Tull's work on agriculture initiated a new movement in the 18th-century agricultural science named "horse-hoeing husbandry" or "new husbandry". Tull's system was supported by Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau in France, Michel Lullin de Chateauvieux in Switzerland, John Mills in England, and many others. Tull's system offered two major innovations:
- Scarifiers and horse hoes: These were implements which were unknown until the 18th century. Hoeing by manual labour had, in very early ages, been partially practised; for the earliest writers recommended particular attention to the cutting down and destroying of weeds. But to Jethro Tull is indisputably due the honour of having first demonstrated the importance of frequent hoeing, not merely to extirpate weeds, but for the purpose of pulverising the soil, by which process the gases and moisture of the atmosphere are enabled more freely to penetrate to the roots of the crop.
- The use of drills: In Roman agriculture the endeavour was to attain the advantages incident to row culture by ploughing in their seeds. A rude machine has been used immemorially in India for sowing in rows. The first drill for this purpose introduced into Europe seems to have been the invention of a German, who made it known to the Spanish court in 1647. "It was first brought much into notice in this country by Tull in 1731, but the practice did not become anything like generally adopted until the commencement of the 19th century. By then there were several improved machines adapted to the sowing of corn, beans, and turnips."
The influence of the atmosphere on the soil and the increased fertility produced by pulverising and stirring heavy lands led to the notion adopted by Tull that labour might entirely supersede the necessity of manure: hence the origin of the horse-hoeing husbandry, which at one time was so highly thought of as to be called, by way of distinction, the new husbandry.
Fallows and manuring were both discarded as unnecessary; the seed was sown in rows with wide intervals, which were continually kept worked and stirred. At first the result was highly satisfactory; all the humus, by exposure to the air, was converted into soluble extract and taken up by the plants, which thrived well as long as the supply lasted: but in the end the soil was exhausted; and the wannest admirers and supporters of Tull's system, Du Hamel and De Chateauvieux, besides many others, found to their cost, in practice, that pulverising alone will not restore fertility. The system of drilling and horse-hoeing, when united with judicious manuring, has, however, been found a great improvement in agriculture.
Tull's book upon husbandry also influenced the cotton culture in the American Southern Colonies. Tull's system taught that to ensure a sufficient number of plants, they did not just need to increase the quantity of seed, but to plant the seed at regular distances.
The works of Tull appeared between the years 1731 and 1739. A selection:
- The new horse-houghing husbandry, or, An essay on the principles of tillage and vegetation wherein is shewn, a method of introducing a sort of vineyard-culture into the corn-fields, to increase their product, and diminish the common expence, by the use of instruments lately invented by Jethro Tull. 1731; Horse-hoeing husbandry 4th ed., (1762) from John Adams' library, Internet Archive
- A supplement to the essay on horse-hoing husbandry Containing explanations and additions both in theory and practice. Wherein all the objections against that husbandry, which are come to the author's knowledge are consider'd and answer'd. By Jethro Tull, Esq. 1736
Works on Jethro Tull
- Aaron Brachfeld, Mary Choate (2010) Jethro Tull's Horse Hoeing Husbandry 5th edition.
- Hidden, N. (1989) "Jethro Tull I, II, III", Agric. Hist. Rev., 37 (1), p. 26–35
- Will MacDonald et al. Makers of modern agriculture. Chapter 1. Jethro Tull: Founder of the principles of dry-farming. 1913. pp. 1–15
- "Tull Jethro" in: The farmer's encyclopædia, and dictionary of rural affairs. By Cuthbert W. Johnson, 1844. p. 1056-7
- James Allen Ransome (1843) The Implements of Agriculture. p. 100
- Jethro Tull, The New Horse-Houghing Husbandry (1731), p.xiv
- Horse-hoeing husbandry; 4th edition; 1762; Tull, Jethro, 1674–1741; Adams, John, 1735–1826, former owner; (Boston Public Library)
- "Drill Husbandry" in: The farmer's encyclopædia, and dictionary of rural affairs. By Cuthbert W. Johnson, 1844. p. 419
- Tull's Book on Husbandry. p. 13
- "Earth" in: The farmer's encyclopædia, and dictionary of rural affairs. By Cuthbert W. Johnson, 1844. p. 428-9
- Johnson (1844, p. 626)
- Annals of Agr. vol. xxiii. p. 173
- Johnson (1844, p. 1060)
- "Agriculture" in: The farmer's encyclopædia, and dictionary of rural affairs. By Cuthbert W. Johnson, 1844. p. 41
- Hurte's Essays on Husbandry.
- The Penny Cyclopædia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, Volume 1. C. Knight, 1833. p. 226
- Johnson (1844; p. 549)
- Works by or about Jethro Tull in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
This article incorporates public domain material from: The farmer's encyclopædia, and dictionary of rural affairs. By Cuthbert W. Johnson, 1844.
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