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The Dot Farm Boom
Intense Competition for Land, 1825

In 1829 for the farm of East Auchanbeg, Lesmahagow, James McCowan offered "the yearly rent of Seventy three pounds ten shillings Sterling ... but deducting thirty three pounds ten shillings yearly for the first seven years of the Lease and twenty three pounds ten shillings yearly for the next seven years of the Lease". From his landlord's Petition for Sequestration, we know that they eventually agreed to a rent of seventy pounds per year -- for at least the first two years of the lease. Presumably there was keen competition for the farm of East Auchanbeg and James was obliged to improve his offer.

Market forces were now almost the only determining factor in the matter of renting land. Tenants were now selected almost solely on their ability to pay -- to the exclusion of the old principal of passing tenancies from father to son. The enthusiasm with which even marginal land was pursued for "improvement" by the mid 1820's is somewhat suggestive of an outright mania. Unless one was a "man of capital", he had relatively little chance of securing a lease on a farm -- even the farm that had been rented by the same family for generations

While the bankrupted coalmaster, James McCowan, was certainly not a "man of capital" by 1830, his distant cousin apparently was. The Cumnock Parish experiences of  William McCowan (1778-1839), comprise a good example of the intense competition for land in the mid 1820's. William was the type of person who would be most successful at securing the lease of a farm. Note that "Possessed of an intelligence much above the average in his walk of life", William McCowan was the son of John McCowan who had lost the long-held lease of the farm of Hill of Leifnorries about fifty years earlier.  (Agricultural change in Cumnock Parish had begun in earnest by the middle of the eighteenth century.)

Adam Crichton, Factor on the Dumfries Estate in Cumnock, reported regularly to the Marquess of Bute and his Factor at Rothesay:

Dumfries House, 15 August 1825

My Lord

I beg the liberty of annexing for your Lordships perusal, the state of the offers I have received for the farm of Auchingilsy viz:

Yearly Rent

  • James Still, Brunston, 92 pounds -- A man of capital
  • Charles Wyllie, Whitehill, 100
  • Andrew White, Cumnock, 100
  • James Kirkland, Sorn, 100 -- A man of capital
  • Daniel Ross, Muirkirk, 100
  • Wm Shankland, 110 -- A man of capital
  • James Hair, Avisyard, 100 -- ditto do
  • Alex Linman, Straid, 110 -- do do
  • Wm Roseburgh, Ochiltree, 112
  • William McCowan, Caponacre, 120 -- Excellent farmer and is possessed of more capital than any one of the other offerors

On September 6, 1825, Crichton reported to Archibald Moore, Lord Bute's Factor in Rothesay:

I shall send for Mr. McCowan and make him the offer of the farm of Auchingilsy at 130 pounds as you have suggested, I am much afraid that Mr. McCowan will not come to give this rent, I shall be sorry if he does not come up to it as he is a first rate farmer.

And later...

Dumfries House 10th Septr 1825

Dear Sir [Archibald Moore]

I was duly favored with your letter of the 3rd instant, and have just now had a conversation with Mr. McCowan regarding the farm of Auchingilsy. He says if he were to be preferred as tenant, that he intended to have expended very large sums on the improvement of the farm, and before he could receive the interest or reap any advantage from such expenditure, that one half of the lease would be expired. In these circumstances he says he cannot offer more than the 120 pounds per annum during the first ten years and 125 for the remaining years of the lease. After duly considering the circumstances of Mr. Wallace and Mr. McCowan, but particularly the superior knowledge of Mr. McCowan as a farmer, independently of his being possessed of a much greater extent of capital than Mr. Wallace, I am of opinion that it would be very much for Lord Bute's interest to prefer Mr. McCowan as tenant. It is certainly most desirable to get tenants who will improve the lands and pay their rents regularly, and I am inclined to think if Mr. McCowan was in possession of Auchingilsy for a few years that the system of farming which he would follow upon this farm which may be considered in a state of nature [ie unimproved, as it was higher ground], would induce other active and enterprising farmers to follow his example with lands in a similar state, and in this way increase the value of Lord Bute's Estate.

As a proof of Mr. McCowans knowledge of farming, it only requires a person acquainted with agricultural improvements to examine the lands in his possession which I am sure will be found to be in the highest condition. And as to Mr. McCowan's ability for paying the rent, I would consider it as good during the length of the lease, as if the money was deposited in a Bank.

After I found that Mr. McCowan would not come up to the sum mentioned by you, perhaps I should not have troubled you with this, but in terms of your instructions, should have concluded the bargain with Mr. Wallace. I will however now wait for your instructions (after you have again considered the matter) before doing any thing further in the subject, and will therefore be happy to hear from you as soon as convenient for you.

I am D Sir
yours truly
Adam Crichton

Crichton further reported to Archibald Moore on October 4, 1825:

... When Lord Bute was here on the 14th ult, his Lordship desired me to let the farm of Auchingilsy to Mr. McCowan which, I have done ...

That the free market was in complete control of rents and land tenure by this time would appear to be beyond dispute. William McCowan's promise to expend "very large sums on the improvement of the farm" of Auchingilsy parallels "Old Goathouse'" investment of at least  100 in East Auchanbeg. While both farms were of marginal quality by today's standards, the mindset of the agricultural community in 1830, however, was that improvement of poorer ground was not only a feasible but a desirable goal. In spite of James McCowan's bankruptcy as a coal and lime entrepreneur in 1821, he must have had a reasonably successful and impressive decade as a farmer to have been the preferred offeror for East Auchanbeg in 1829.

Not long after the free land grants in Canada ended in 1826, land policy there would soon, too, favour "men of capital".

 

The Scarboro Heights Record V11 #4