2018-05-15 / Arts & Entertainment

“Performance of one of Ballou’s Patent Threshing Machines”

An advertisement, dated February 7, 1825, appeared in the Delaware Gazette concerning mechanical progress made in threshing – and the effectiveness of a particular machine as demonstrated in the town of Bovina. This ad ran for about two months. Here’s the text of the notice:

We, the subscribers, certify that we have this day viewed the performance of one of BALLOU’s Patent Threshing Machines, erected in the barn of Mr. David Thompson, in the town of Bovina, in the County of Delaware, and that the said Machine, in our presence, threshed thirty six sheaves of Rye in seven minutes; and also the same number of sheaves of Wheat in the same length of time when turned by a two horse power; and that the grain was threshed cleaner from the straw, and more perfectly separated from the chaff, than is done by any mode of threshing with which we are acquainted. We further more certify, that one man and two boys performed all the labour in attending the Machine and removing the straw.

Charles Leet, Martin Keeler, John Hume, John McNaught, Duncan Turner, James H. Leal, Edward Sands, James Cowan, James Coulter, Francis Coulter, Cornelius Bassett.

The Patent Right for making the above Machine, is offered for sale by the subscribers residing in the town of Bovina.




The Cost of the Machines will be from 30 to 40 dollars.

Threshing is a process to loosen the edible part of grain from husks or straw. Before the Industrial Revolution, threshing was done manually using flails on a threshing room floor or using animals walking in circles on the grain. To get a bushel of wheat before mechanization, it took an hour of hand threshing. It is estimated that about a quarter of agricultural labor was devoted to threshing.

Ballou’s machine was invented in 1821 by Seth Ballou from Livermore, Maine. It saw several patented improvements in a few years. In the late 18th and into the 19th century, threshing machines were among the most patented machines. By 1860, over 300 different patents had been issued for threshers.

The farmer who hosted the demonstration of Ballou’s machine,

David Thompson, was born in Scotland in 1780 and came to the United States as a young man, coming to Bovina it is believed, around the time of the War of 1812. He was married twice and died at the age of 51 in 1832. The farm appears to have been in the vicinity of what is now Reinertsen Hill Road, when it went all the way to Jim Lane Road. The other two farmers who were promoting the machine were David’s brother Andrew Thompson (1778-1866) and Jacob Brush, son of Alexander Brush, one of Bovina’s earliest settlers. Born on Long Island, Jacob left Bovina sometime after this demonstration and was in Wayne County, New York at his early death in 1835.

Most of the gentlemen watching the demonstration were neighbors or relatives (or both). James Coulter was the brother in law of Jacob Brush. Francis Coulter (no relation to the James) was an early Bovina settler who had his farm on what is now Coulter Brook Road. John McNaught likely was the McNaught for whom the Mc- Naught Hill area of Bovina is named, and was not far from David Thompson. James Cowan may be the James, born 1794, who married the daughter of another Bovina early settler, Elisha Maynard. John Hume and Charles Leet show up in early Bovina tax rolls but are gone by the end of the 1820s. James Leal likely is the Dr. Leal who was one of Bovina’s first doctors. He lived on the Stamford/ Bovina town line until his death in 1831. Several of the men were not from Bovina. Martin Keeler was from the Town of Kortright (where he was town supervisor in 1820), Duncan Turner was from Stamford, and Cornelius Bassett and Edward Sands were both from Andes.

Ironically, fifty-eight years later, on November 27, 1883, William Thompson, son of Andrew Thompson, one of the Bovina promoters of the thresher, would be fatally injured by a threshing machine. While using a thresher with his son, William tried to remove some straw from the cylinder while the machine was running and lost his arm three inches below his elbow. He initially survived the accident but died of pneumonia, caused in part by the amputation of his arm and complicated by his age (he was 76), on January 30, 1884.

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