Have you ever wondered why, when so much of the homesteading lifestyle deals with the practices and philosophies of the past, no comprehensive history of homesteading even exists? Up until now, that is. Let me assure you that the publication of Generous Fruits – A Survey of American Homesteading fills that void handily, and Barbara Bamberger Scott is just the person to become the first historian of homesteading.
I’ve gotten to know Barbara over the years as a prolific source of high-quality, error-free prose in my capacity as publisher of Homestead.org, so I felt pleasant anticipation before reading this manuscript. I believe you, the reader, will find, as I did, that her latest book is at once scholarly and intriguing. That’s quite an accomplishment in itself. The author has clearly given much thought to the prospect of what America’s earliest founders and settlers, those lucky enough to survive the voyage from the Old World, faced in leaving all of known civilization to strike out for themselves in a new land of apparently endless forest, populated by not particularly welcoming natives and full of as yet unimagined dangers and woes. Homesteaders are, by definition, a self-sufficient crowd, so it’s little wonder that the literature of homesteading is replete with how-to books and individual experiences. I have no argument with that, but this book of history provides would-be pioneers with a realistic view of all the things that could stand between them and their dreams: that is, the things suffered by generations before them. In these pages, you’ll begin to see the common bonds shared by the most laid back, whole-wheat, back-to-the-lander, and the most paranoid and heavily-armed survivalist.
Scott weaves a narrative that begins with the earliest settlers of America, because homesteading is a characteristically American pursuit. We’re reminded that these former Europeans had scarcely even seen buildings made entirely of wood before they were forced of necessity to build their own using techniques developed on the fly.
As the story of homesteading unfolds, we see that many of America’s heroes also played significant roles in, and for, homesteading, from Captain John Smith to Daniel Boone to Abraham Lincoln to Eleanor Roosevelt.
In early America, nearly everyone had to be a homesteader to one degree or another. Later on homesteading was a way to transition from slave to freeman after the civil war, and still later, a technique to survive the Great Depression. The author examines, among many other topics, the original Homestead Act of 1862, the legacy of the Civil War, the New Deal and the back-to-the-land movement of the 1970’s. However, Generous Fruits doesn’t merely dwell on cataclysmic moments and giant personalities. There is also much contemporary commentary on such topics as the life of a pioneer housewife struggling to turn a sod house into an inviting home—or at least a tolerable one—for her family, or the migrant workers of the 30’s, or the failures and limited successes of the Depression Era government-created farm communities, as well as some engaging modern-day interviews.
Frankly, I’m fascinated by the sorts of real-life anecdotes in which this book is so rich. One such example is the story about New York City orphans being rounded up and put on trains headed for what is now the Midwest—alone—with the rather dubious hope that these children might find a marginally better start at life there. What a story those that survived had to tell!
I found that Barbara Bamberger Scott’s richly detailed study gave me a renewed appreciation for the strength of the human spirit as well as a trove of new information to share in conversations with other history buffs. If you have an interest in homesteading, or history, or both, I’m certain you’re going to enjoy reading this book.” —Neil Shelton, creator and publisher of Homestead.org, and author of Landbook, An Owner’s Manual for Rural Land.
“There is a section of Americans who understand that to grow your own food, raise your own stock, develop your own land, is not only healthier but much more satisfying than purchasing your food from a big name grocery store. Welcome to Generous Fruits – A Survey of American Homesteading by Barbara Bamberger Scott, an extensive, well-researched, labor of love, and well worth the read for those interested in trying their hand at homesteading, to those who are already living the life, to those who only dream of such sustainability.
Author Scott takes her reader from the earliest settlements to the current day in a voice that is passionate and educated in the very art of her subject. An essential tool for success!” —Sharon E. Anderson, Chanticleer Book Reviews
“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.’
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.” —Wanda Urbanska, author of The Heart of Simple Living: 7 Paths to a Better Life, and host of the PBS “Simple Living” series.
“And now for something totally different than all this stuff about consciousness, spirit, science, altered states, etc…
A few of days ago I was finished with one task, not quite ready to start the next, how could I entertain myself for a few minutes? I had brought back an unread Tom Clancy thriller from the library, but it was a huge book and I needed a big block of time to get properly started on it. Ah, there was a book of my wife’s, Generous Fruits – A Survey of American Homesteading on the table. Homesteading in America? I didn’t think that topic would be very interesting to me, although Barbara’s a good writer, but it would do to pass the time for a few minutes, and it would satisfy my husbandly duty to take a look at it.
I can’t believe how fascinated I’ve become! It amazes me at a deep level, as it’s not just interesting facts about pioneers and homesteaders, it’s about the depths of my own personality: I am an American, and that’s great! (Although we have a lot to be ashamed of too, like the way the government set up homesteading to help pacify and wipe out the Native Americans…)
At an ordinary level, I’ve been something of a pioneer in opening up psychological ways of understanding altered states of consciousness, but my fascination is not just in ordinary time, present time. My roots for, as it were, liking to learn the lay of the land, blazing new trails (or at least trying to), helping others to settle these new territories of the mind are my rich inheritance from the pioneers who created our nation. I’m supposed to be a sophisticated intellectual, but as I read, I want to find a flag to salute! What those pioneers and homesteaders did was so obviously sensible and right under difficult circumstances… and… my goodness, that’s me!
And ‘me’ is part of a great American ‘we!’ Yes, yes, we’ve made and keep making lots of mistakes, but we’ve moved so far toward freedom and creating a way to a good life for so many! At a personal level, e.g., my maternal grandfather emigrating from Germany as a young man before he would have been drafted to fight in the innumerable bloody wars between various German states—much ‘fun’, I suppose, for the princes who ruled, not much ‘fun’ for the maimed and dead soldiers…
I want to get back to reading on in Generous Fruits! The only critical thing I’ve thought of so far for the book is that I hope a big, coffee-table edition comes out soon, with pictures! We’ve got enough to worry about in today’s world, let’s really share the pride of what we can accomplish and keep pioneering and homesteading!” –Charles T. Tart, PhD, author of The End of Materialism, Living the Mindful Life, and Waking Up.
“Generous Fruits: A Survey of American Homesteading by Barbara Bamberger Scott is a fascinating history of the homesteading movement, from early settlers in America up to the modern day. Written from a ‘walked the walk’ perspective, Scott shows an obvious passion for her subject, unearthing the challenges, successes, and missteps that American homesteaders have faced over the centuries.
There are a great number of books on homesteading that cover the nuts and bolts of going “off the grid”—how to maintain an organic garden, how to generate electricity, and so on–but few, if any, cover the storied history of homesteading, and Scott wisely puts the entire movement in historical context. In this way, the book can be as useful as a strict how-to book for both seasoned and prospective homesteaders, as it can be inspiring to see homesteading as part of a lasting and growing tradition.
Beyond that, the book is immensely interesting as an historical document. Regardless of your specific interest in homesteading, there is a lot to learn here about American history, as the practice is an extension of America’s drive to freedom and independence. Given modern anxieties, homesteading is growing in popularity, making this book prescient, even as it’s looking at the movement’s history.
Thoroughly-researched and expertly written, Generous Fruits is a fascinating treasure trove of information that acts not just as a history of homesteading in America, but as a thoughtful exploration of an enduring pioneer spirit.”—Self Publishing Review