History, Country Folks & God's Providence
Updated: May 21
“Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds.” ~ Thomas Jefferson to John Jay, 1785
I came across a rather interesting piece at LewRockwell.com the other morning comparing rural and urban lifestyles. The author posits that the benefits of living in rural areas and living a "rural lifestyle" far exceeds that of living in urban areas. I agree.
For the first fourteen years of my live, I lived in a small town in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. Though we lived in a typical, Southern small town neighborhood with planned streets, alleys separating rows of houses, street lights, etc., our family was still very connected to the surrounding countryside of Augusta County. My grandfathers and great grandfathers had all been farmers and one set of grandparents still lived in a very rural area of the county. Until the 1970's, they did not have an indoor toilet. They did have a three-seater Johnny House. Both sets of grandparents had large gardens. In the neighborhood I grew up in, there was a fifteen acre area across the street from our home consisting of fields and woods. There were possums, racoon, rabbits, and even some grouse in that area. There were also wild strawberries, blackberries, raspberries asparagus and cherry trees of which I and my friends took full advantage.
My father also took my brother and I fishing and hunting in the Valley's abundant streams, fields and woodlands. When I turned fifteen, our family moved out of town to the county where we raised our own beef, had a large garden and where I went to a county high schools. There I joined a 4H Club and took agriculture and forestry classes. Those classes included welding, shop, tree identification and woodworking. They also included gun and hunting safety classes taught, in party, by the NRA. It was not at all uncommon for boys to drive their pick-ups to school with guns in their window racks. There were no school shootings. There was even one boy who, on several occasions, drove a large John Deere tractor to school decked out in his bib overalls and cheek full of tobacco. So even though my early years were spent "in town", I was still very connected to a rural lifestyle.
After I was married, and struck out on my own, my wife and I purchased a small home on two acres in Augusta County. There we raised a large garden, chickens, beef, fruit trees, grapes and six children. We harvested wild honey, ate wild game taken from the surrounding woods and heated our home solely with wood I cut myself. We were given apples, homemade apple cider and homemade maple syrup from kind, elderly neighbors. After we outgrew this home, we sold it and bought five acres (also in Augusta County) and built a home there. We continued raising chickens, beef and lambs as well. We also continued to heat our home with wood harvested from our property.
“In rural country where wood is always available and wind and water are plentiful, and food can be grown and stored for emergencies, you begin to realize how well nature had provided for man. Once upon a time America was aware of God’s providence but today in the metropolis, God’s providence is not as evident and we easily overlook it.” ~ Eric Sloane
All of these experiences brought me closer to the land and area that my family has occupied for generations. I've never lived more than ten miles from the spot I was born. I've never even considered, nor desired, to live anywhere else. Large cities make me extremely uncomfortable. I recoil at the noise, the smells, the press of crowds, the disconnect of personal relationships, the crime, the grit, asphalt and concrete. It actually affects me physically and psychologically; and not in a good way.
So these experiences will inform readers, at least in part, of my biases and why I found the aforementioned article compelling. So allow me to share a few quotes from the piece: "Historians spend a great deal of time on the subject of cities. Rome, Athens, Constantinople, London, Tokyo, Cairo, New York and Moscow. . . . It would appear that all the significant events and accomplishments of a people throughout history are focused on urban centers and as a result we have convinced ourselves that it is and has always been the cities that define a society."
But this focus misses the larger picture. As the author points out:
"The majority of all US Patents are held by someone who was born and raised in a rural environment and most of the greatest developments of the past two hundred years were the result of people reared on farms; Whitney, Deere, Bell, Edison, Ford, Browning, Eastman, Farnsworth and Howe are but a fraction of the names of those whose roots and generalist approach to life allowed them to create innovative and groundbreaking technologies, while most of what takes place in the cities is a form of refinement of those creations. Specialists have their place, especially in areas like surgery and engineering, but the origin of their fields always have their roots in the soil.
"Human beings possess an innate and powerful drive towards concern for their fellow man. In the country if some sees an accident or a fire the first impulse is always to stop and render aid. It is a rare time when someone in need is ignored in a rural community. In the streets of most major cities the population has inured itself to the sight of human suffering and want. They step over the homeless, pretend they don’t notice the piles of human waste or puddles of urine, blithely stare off into space when someone exhibits signs of mental illness or emotional instability and walk away from random acts of violence."
Though I've always preferred the rural lifestyle, I began to think much more about it a few years ago when I was chatting with a college professor who was extolling the virtues of city dwelling telling me rather smugly, "We all need to live here [downtown]." When I asked him why, he stared at me blankly and walked off. He assumed that he had made his case but his remarks only confirmed my own preferences. Moreover, all of his assumptions were wrong.
The development of mathematics, written language, metallurgy, construction, engineering, medicine, all of them were a direct result of living in tune with the observable world of nature. Urban living divorces human populations of everything from the source of their daily nourishment to the elimination of their wastes. . . . They are as dependent as babies on the material resources of the places they make fun of, incapable of feeding themselves or of cleaning up their own mess. They make more waste, use more resources, produce fewer necessities, consume more luxuries, have greater disparities between the economic classes, fewer intact families, experience far more crime and pay a higher price to adjudicate it, then ship off their offenders to prisons in the hinterlands where the rubes are hired as custodians to the human effluent of the cities.
The writer of the essay I'm quoting from laments that "historians rarely concern themselves with life in the provinces, where the toil and sweat of the creator classes accumulated the surpluses that allowed cities to exist in the first place, to flourish and become the centers of civilization we think of today."
Of course, that is not completely true. Perhaps the best known treatise on an agrarian lifestyle, I'll Take My Stand, included contributions by several historians. But modern academic historians are not so much as guilty of ignoring "the soil and sweat of the creator classes" as they are of impugning them. In many moderns' view, the hicks, hillbillies, rubes and rednecks living in fly-over country are stumbling blocks to their version of utopia. But those who are aware of God's providence know better.
You may read the complete essay here.