Trying to Escape the Goose Yard.
Often in the plantation society of the southern colonies, the mistress of the house would leave the raising of common chickens to the slaves, while she would concentrate on raising the more elite ducks, turkeys and geese. A visitor to a Mount Vernon quarter in 1797, noted that “a small vegetable garden was situated close to the hut. Five or six hens, each with ten or fifteen chickens, walked around there. That is the only pleasure allowed to Negroes: they are not permitted to keep either ducks or geese or pigs.” A 1768 newspaper reported that on a plantation in Fairfax County, Virginia, "Carpenters all...went to sawing railing for a goose yard."
An account in a 1772 Queen Anne's County, Maryland deed book noted the presence of "one new paled garden 150 by 100 in good repair with a paled yard between the dwelling house and garden in good repair." Women usually tended the poultry close to the house.
There was a Poultry Yard at George Washington's Birthplace, Ferry Farm, in the Northern Neck of Virginia about one mile below the falls of the Rappahannock River. George Washington's 1771 survey of the "Home House" farm locates the family "hen yard," adjacent to the kitchen garden to the north of the house.
When Jacques Pierre Brissot de Warville visited Virginia in 1788, he reported "I hastened to arrive at Mount Vernon...In a spacious back-yard are turkies, geese, and other poultry."
The term barn yard was used in the British American colonies by the 1760s. In 1766 Pennsylvania, a parcel of land was offered for sale with "a fine run running through the barn yard." In 1771, Pennsylvanian Mordecai Cloud reported that his brown mare was stolen "out of the barnyard of the subscriber, in East Caln township, Chester county." Just a few months later, a black horse was "STOLEN out of the barnyard of the subscriber, living on Bread and Cheese Island, in Mill creek Hundred, New Castle county" Delaware.
Near Savannah, Georgia, in 1774, property was advertised, "choice Tide Land, on which are Two fine high Knolls fit for Buildings and Barn Yard." Near 1778 Philadelphia, a soldier was said to have made his escape, "by getting over a fence in the barn yard."
The term farm yard was seldom used until well after the Revolutionary War. It came into popular use after the 1790s publication of John Spurrier's "Compendious System of Husbandry, adapted to the different soils and climates of America; containing the mechanical, chemical and philosophical elements of agriculture; wherein the different soils and manures are analized, shewing their real properties, with their proper applications to each other, and the atmospherical influences; the best method of constructing and managing the farm-yard." John Beale Bordley's publication of "Sketches on Rotations of Crops, and other Rural Matters" also popularized the term.
In the late 1790s, Isaac Weld reported on a house at Lake Charles, near Quebec, "The dwelling house, a neat boarded little mansion painted white, together with offices, were situated on a small eminence; to the right, at the bottom of the slope, stood the barn, the largest in all Canada, with a farm yard exactly in the English style."
A 1751 advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette described a plantation in Burlington fronting the Delaware River for 3/4 of a mile with 208 acres containing "a Dairey house, coach house, chaise house, a fine stable, a large barn, barrocks, hovels, a well in the cow yard."
In 1756, the same newspaper noted in New Jersey, "Commodious plantation, well watered and timbered, about four miles from Trenton, on the great road leading to Amwell, containing 236 acres, or thereabouts, of good land, with a good house, and a good cow yard, fenced with stone."
A good cow yard, fenced with stone.
Twenty years later, Pennsylvania Gazette land-for-sale in Newgarden, Chester County, Pennsylvania was described as a plantation of "112 acres...a two story square log house, with a cellar under, a well of good water at the door, a barn, with stabling and cow yard."
An 1800 newspaper noted that behind a house for sale in Savannah, Georgia, was "a garden 34 by 45 feet, a cow yard 20 by 15 feet."
The cow yard, pig yard, or barn yard was not just a pen for livestock, it was a hotbed of fertilizer production for the gardens & grounds of most industrious landowners in the colonies & early America.
Joseph Prentis (1754-1809), a judge of the General Court of Virginia, lived in Williamsburg, and wrote in his Monthly Kalender between 1775-1779. It survives as a manuscript at the University of Virginia. He noted in his Kalender, "Dung your Grounds. Such of the Garden as may be vacant should be well manured in October and also well spaded that it may have the advantage of fallow from the sun, snow, and air of the winter season...In December use every oppy of laying Dung on such parts of the Garden as may want it."
18C English Woodcut
In Annapolis, Maryland, during the 1790s, clockmaker & silversmith William Faris planted most of his kitchen garden near his stables. Faris consistantly carted dung from his own stables to his garden, and he employed neighborhood haulers to bring extra cartloads of "tan" to his garden throughout the growing season into the fall.
The Pennsylvania Gazette recommended creating a hog yard as a means of increasing manure to be used as fertilizer in March of 1791. "Adjoining the stye where your swine are shut up, which should be dry & warm, fence a yard for them to wallow in; 20 or 30 feet square will be large enough for 6 hogs; cover this in the fall or spring with mud...The hogs... will render this mud or earth, if not more than 2 feet deep, an exceeding rich compost in a year's time.
"They will keep it stirring & fermenting with their dung & urine, which will be incorporated with the mud, and thereby their whole strength will be saved; for the mud or earth will prevent the virtues of the dung & urine from being washed in the ground by the heavy rains, or evaporated by the sun and air --- it not only saves them, but makes them stronger, by keeping them in a state of constant fermentation; the fermentation will be increased, and the whole mass will be improved by making this yard the receptacle for the weeds of your garden --- throw into it your soap-suds, brine, and all the greasy slop of the kitchen; you may add potatoe-tops, which should be carefully saved for the purpose when you gather the potatoes; the stubborn corn stalks, which rot slowly in the cow-yard, will soon consume in the hog-yard."
Some 18C Chesapeake farmers dug fenced "dung pits" near their "cow houses" & pig yards to systematically collect future garden fertilizer.
New Yorker John Nicholson wrote about barnyards in The Farmer's Assistant in 1820, "The practice of having a barnyard on a declivity is a bad one, as in this way very much manure is washed away, without essentially benefiting the adjoining grounds. The yard should be level, and lowest in the middle, in order to prevent the escape of much fertilizing liquor, that will otherwise run off from the dung during heavy rains.
"It should be cleared in the Spring of the dung made during Winter; and if the Milch-cows and other cattle are to be kept in it at night, during Summer, much manure may be made in it by carting in rubbish of various kinds...to mix with the dung of the cattle and absorb their stale.
"The yard should also have a high close fence round it, as well for securing the cattle as for breaking off the winds; and, in order to make the most of the dung, the cattle should be kept constantly in the yard during the season of foddering, and have a well close adjoining to supply them with water."