Yeoman Farmers

Photo of Gerry Barker

Carving out a farm on the frontier was a horrendous task. Families were completely tied to the land and the weather if it’s hot, you are hot; if it’s cold, you are cold; if it rains you are wet.

You can have the driest cabin in the world but if it’s raining outside you are going to be wet because you have to take care of the animals and do the farming.

Gerry Barker

Historian, Living History Re-enactor
Frontier Resources
Edmonton, Kentucky

Yeoman Farmers of Davidson Township

Yeoman farmers and their impact on settlement patterns and cultural development in Arkansas have been understudied. By shining light on the plain folk who established themselves in the valleys of the lower Eleven Point River in the early years of the nineteenth century a more comprehensive view of these industrious and self-reliant farmers in the early settlement period emerges.

Not only did the pioneering families coming into the Eleven Point River Valley have migration down to a science, they had the process of settling as well defined. Yet that did not take away from the fact that carving out a farm on the frontier was a horrendous task. So many building and farming tasks could not be achieved alone. That is the reason opening a new frontier was always a family affair. And families grouped together for mutual support.

Constructing a shelter for the family was one of the early tasks. For this they relied on, as Gerry Barker puts it, a toolkit of skills in their heads. They also possessed the skills to make their own cloth, shoes, tools, plus farm and household equipment.

The landowners of Davidson Township were not just farmers. They were merchants, artisans, and craftsmen, all of which set them up as exemplary representatives of economic self-reliance. They were civic and community leaders who built the first roads and established first local governance; they participated in territorial and state politics and government. They established early religious and educational traditions.

The fact that many of the descendants of these plain-folk pioneers still own and profit from the lands patented more than 185 years ago speaks to their enduring success. The fact that descendants of their African American slaves continued to live and work beside the descendants of their former slave-owners speaks to a different pattern woven into the cultural and social tapestry of Arkansas.

In the videos below Gerry and Maria Barker and Dr. Donald R. Holliday discuss yeoman farmers, migration and settlement, and the present-day agricultural heritage of Davidson Township.

Further Reading