Saturday, August 6, 2016

Bird protection in a southern agricultural journal (The American Cotton Planter 1855)

Abolitionism and bird protection didn't always go together. Case in point: a series of "spare the bird" articles running in the American Cotton Planter in 1855.

The bird protection theme began in March, with a comment by South Carolina naturalist John Bachman drawn from a longer "Essay on the Connection of the Natural Sciences with Agriculture." Bachman supported the economic ornithological project of separating "species injurious to us" from "what are beneficial." While the owl, hawk, and crow had no "special claim to our sympathies" and the vulture, no longer needed for public sanitation, shouldn't be protected, "the warbler and all birds feeding on insects should be cherished as benefactors."

In July, the Cotton Planter ran a genuine "spare the birds" article, excerpted below:
Go out among the trees in the orchard or through the grove, or look into the hedge-rows or peep under the old bridge down the lane, or go to the barn--go any where, every where, where you will, and at this season--this lovely May season--you will find the birds--busy, merry, singing birds, hard at work they are too, building their houses--cradles rather--and all the time keeping up a concert of sweet music. Various, too, are their tastes in selecting their sites for their nesting-places, some hiding away from man, some coming up to his very door; or like the martin and swallow, under his roof and protection. Robin-redbreast almost invariably comes into the orchard, sometimes on the trees, sometimes on the fence, sometimes where kindly treated under the shed by the barn or house.
We look upon birds as among the essentials of a landscape, and would as soon think of chopping down the orchard, shooting the turkeys, and wringing the necks off of the barn-yard fowls, or making mutton of the sheep, or giving the lambs to the dogs, as to think of destroying the birds or driving them from the premises 
"Going a gunning," with the murderous intent to kill such birds, ought to consign a man to the infamy that we are apt to attach to a savage or a brute who wantonly kills the finest of God's creations
We don't know of a higher Christian duty for a minister to engage in than an effort to preserve the birds in his parish… [my emphasis]
Don't tell us they destroy the small fruit. Plant enough for you and them. If they do eat fruit, so they do eat worms, and you can well afford to give them a few cherries and currants for what they have done for you 
Around the city there is a difficulty in preserving the birds, because all the groves are infested with an abominable nuisance in the shape of big boys and prowling loafters "out for a day's shooting. 
They ought to be out for a day's shooting, and that should be at their own idle caracasses, with fine salt and pepper-cords, and every owner of land should be allowed by law thus to salt and pepper any of these idle vagabonds who come upon his grounds without leave to doom the birds to destruction. 
Farmers! let your motto be--and impress it upon all your family--Never kill a bird.
This article ran uncredited. It was likely written by Solon Robinson, noted agricultural writer and editor, who included the essay in his Facts for Farmers (1865).

In the same issue, the Cotton Planter also reprinted an article from the Hartford Courant, "Don't Kill the Birds", that repeated the "spare the birds" plea, adding,
So important is this subject considered by agriculturists, that the Secretary of the Board of Agriculture in Massachusetts, Mr. Flint, has issued a circular urging upon the farmers and others the execution of the stringent law there is in that State against killing such birds. We have a similar law in this State [Connecticut], and we trust our farmers will see rigidly to the prosecution of all breakers of it….
And then in September, the Cotton Planter ran the widely circulated summary version of Wilson Flagg's two-part "Birds and Insects" article from Hovey's.

It was in fact rare for southern agricultural papers to run these kinds of stories. But the American Cotton Planter was notoriously "progressive." Its editor, N.B. Cloud, had made a concerted effort to bring the best practices of agriculture, including northern ideas, to the south. This included the protection of insectivorous birds.

Make no mistake about it. The American Cotton Planter, based in Alabama, was pro-slavery. Although Cloud, during Reconstruction, would gain a reputation as a radical reviled by the Ku Klux Klan, before the war he was explicit and unapologetic about his publication's stance. Browsing the Cotton Planter and some of the other major southern agricultural journals such as the Southern Cultivator and the Southern Planter can be rather unsettling for a modern reader for this reason. At the same time, for Cloud, at least, bird protection was a northern idea worth promoting.

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