E.P. Roe:
Christian Agrarian Writer of the 1800s

Edward Payson Roe was the most popular writer of his day. He lived from 1838 to 1888. He was a Christian and an agrarian. I have been reading about E.P. Roe in recent days and I have enjoyed learning about this man.

In addition to writing novels with strong moral and, often, agrarian-based themes, Roe wrote a couple of non-fiction agrarian books. One, The Home Acre, gives advice about planting and growing trees, vegetables and small fruits on your acre. Success With Small Fruits provides a wealth of information specifically about growing small fruits.

Roe was a chaplain in the Civil War. After the war, he pastored an Orthodox Presbyterian church for nine years. Then he left the ministry and pursued writing full time. He also operated a large mail order nursery business.

You can read short biographies of E.P. Roe HERE and HERE. You can also find your way to the text of most of his books on the internet.

Eleven years after his sudden death at 50 years of age, E.P. Roe’s sister wrote a book titled E. P. Roe; Reminiscences of His Life. That book is also available in its entirety on the internet. In this blog entry, I’d like to share a couple of portions from sister Mary’s book with you. Then, in my next blog, I will share some real gems from E.P.’s gardening books.

Mr. Roe wrote of his Civil War experiences for a Christian periodical, and they are excerpted at some length in Mary’s book. Any student of the Civil War would be fascinated by his writings in this regard. I offer the following short paragraph as an example. He is describing the battle cry of the southern soldiers, also known as the Rebel Yell.

“Every now and then a shell would whiz over our heads and explode, inspiring anything but agreeable emotions. Several charges were made on both sides. I wonder if it is possible to give any idea of a rebel charge. Their cries and yells are so peculiar, so wild, shrill, feverish, so ghastly (I had almost said ghostly), for the sounds seem so unreal, more like horrid shrieks heard in a dream than the utterances of living men. The shouting of our men is deeper and hoarser, and partakes more of the chest tone in its character, but the rebels charge with a yell that is something between the shriek of a woman and the scream of a panther. At times you can close your eyes and imagine that some fierce conflict of another age is passing before you in a dream, so strange and unnatural does it seem to see men engaged in mortal combat.”

In 1864 Roe was appointed Chaplain at a Union hospital. The following excerpt, written by Roe, is part of Mary’s book, and it reveals her brother’s strong agrarian inclinations.

”At that time I was one of the chaplains of the Fortress Monroe hospitals, and the campaigns in the vicinity of Petersburg and Richmond often filled our long barracks to repletion and also covered the adjacent acres with temporary tent wards. Lying around the hospital there was an abundance of idle and unfenced land. With the sanction of Doctor McClellan, the surgeon in charge, I had this enclosed and planted with such vegetables as were most useful and conducive to health, the odorous onion taking the lead...

The labor of the hospital farm was performed by the patients themselves, and very many soon became deeply interested in their tasks. When a man became so far convalescent from illness or wounds as to be able to do a little work, he was detailed for the garden and employed in its lighter labors. As he grew stronger he was put at heavier work. Heroes who had lost arms and legs supplemented each other’s deficiencies, the two maimed men contriving to do between them far more than many a stout fellow who now demands $1.50 a day. A man with one hand could sow seed and weed the growing vegetables, while his comrade hitched along on his crutch and vigorously hoed the ground between the rows. I sometimes had as many as a hundred men at work, and I ever found that such tasks benefited body and soul. It did one's heart good to see pallid faces grow brown and ruddy, and flabby muscles round and hard. It did one more good thus easily to banish home sickness and the miserable incubus of ennui from which the sufferer is prone to seek relief in some form of vicious excitement. For the satisfaction of those who ask for more practical results I can state that we were able to send green vegetables to the hospital kitchens by the wagonload. As the record of the second year at the farm, made at the time, I find among other items the following: 700 bushels of snap beans in the pod, 120 do. lima beans, 130 do. carrots, 125 do. peas, 470 do. potatoes, 250 do. tomatoes, 1,500 bunches of green onions, 30,000 heads of cabbage, 26,900 ears of sweet corn, 2,500 muskmelons, etc. A large poultry yard, enclosing four acres, was also built,and many other improvements made, all being accomplished by the willing labor of the convalescents themselves, who more rapidly regained their strength while thus furnishing the means of health to those still confined within the walls.

Recalling these facts I am greatly pleased to learn that the New York Home is to be located on a farm, for thus it may be made a home in reality. Providence put the first man into a garden, and few men have lived since who have not felt more at home when a garden lay about the door."

The following excerpt, written by Roe’s sister, gives you some more insight into Roe’s life. Just imagine harvesting 40 bushels of strawberries, and so big! I think we might be able to learn something of fruit culture from this man’s writings. Roe’s description of currents, which follows, is delightful. It makes me think I should be growing currents and it’s the sort of quotation I will provide more of in my next blog installment.

After my brother's resignation from the ministry, he bought a plain, old-fashioned house with considerable ground about it, at Cornwall-on-the-Hudson, two miles distant from his childhood home, and went there to live.

It soon became evident, however, that Edward could not depend upon his literary work alone for the support of his growing family. He had for some years taken much interest in the cultivation of small fruits, and after the removal to Cornwall he carried on this work upon a larger scale, finding it profitable as well as interesting.

I remember the piles of letters that came to him each day for several years containing orders for plants. Although in general not a methodical man, yet the painstaking care which he was known to exercise in keeping the many varieties distinct enabled his customers to rely implicitly upon his statements as to the kind and value of the plants ordered. He often employed many men and boys on his place, but always engaged them with the understanding that if through carelessness the varieties of plants became mixed the offender was to be dismissed at once, and a few examples soon taught his assistants that he meant what he said. But when they were faithful to their duty, they invariably found him considerate and kind.

The strawberry was Edward's favorite among the small fruits, and he made many experiments with new varieties. When the vines were bearing, sometimes as many as forty bushels of berries were picked in a single day. Some of them were of mammoth size. I remember on one occasion we took from a basket four berries which filled to the brim a large coffee-cup, and notwithstanding their enormous size they were solid and sweet. During this period he wrote the articles on "Success with
Small Fruits," published in Scribbler's Magazine.

Currants came next in his favor. Writing of them he says: "Let me recommend the currant cure. If any one is languid, depressed in spirits, inclined to headaches, and generally 'out of sorts,' let him finish his breakfast daily for a month with a dish of freshly picked currants. He will soon doubt his own identity, and may even think that he is becoming a good man. In brief, the truth of the ancient pun will be verified, 'That the power to live a good life depends largely upon the liver! Let it be taught at the theological seminaries that the currant is a means of grace. It is a corrective, and that is what average humanity most needs."

Edward's coming to live in Cornwall was a source of great pleasure to our father, who, although then past eighty years of age, was still vigorous, and as full of enthusiasm for his garden as when he first moved to the country. Often on summer mornings, before the sun was fairly above the eastern mountains, father would drive over to my brother's, taking in his phaeton a basket of fruit or vegetables that he believed were earlier than any in my brother's garden. These he would leave at the front door for Edward to discover when he came downstairs, and return in time for our breakfast. He would laugh with the keenest enjoyment if he found that his beans or sweet corn had ripened first. Frequently he would remain at his son's house for breakfast, and afterwards the two would wander together over the grounds while the dew was still fresh upon the fruit and flowers. Many of the rosebushes and shrubs had been transplanted from the old garden, and it delighted my father and brother to see that they were flourishing and blooming in their new environment.

When Edward first moved to Cornwall several newspapers severely criticized him for giving up the ministry to write novels. I was sitting with him alone in his library one day when such a criticism came to him through the mail. After reading it he handed it quietly to me, went to his desk and took down a bundle of letters, saying: "These are mostly from young men, not one of whom I know, who have written to me of the benefit received from my books." He then read to me some of those touching letters of confession and thanks for his inspiring help to a better life.

When he finished reading the letters he said: "I know my books are read by thousands; my voice reached at most but a few hundred. I believe many who would never think of writing to me such letters as these are also helped. Do you think I have made a mistake? My object in writing, as in preaching, is to do good, and the question is, Which can I do best? I think with the pen, and I shall go on writing, no matter what
the critics say."

Still his name was retained on the rolls of the North River Presbytery, and he was always ready to preach when needed, especially in neglected districts. For a long time after father's death he kept up the little Sunday-school that had been father's special care.

This post is the first of four 
in a series about E.P. Roe. 
Click Here to go to the next post.


Florie said...

I came accross an E.P.Roe book at a flea market. I bought it and found it a very nice read. I love the richness of the English language used in pre-Hollywood books. Something that is becomming forgotten in todays use of language. Sadly to often foul words are used in place of a good adjective in modern literature.

Sara said...

This is the first time I've seen this man properly recognized outside of a dedicated website. I pulled one of his books, A Young Girl's Wooing, off of my mother's book shelf in the early '70s. I've collected his books since and only recently learned of his gardening publications. Thank you for such a highly informative website.