Iolo Morganwg to William Matthews, 18 July 1796
(NLW 21285E, Letter 856)
Address: William Matthews Esqr, Hetling House, Bath, (for the Bath Agricultural Society)
Source: NLW MS 21285E, no. 856
Cowbridge, July 18th 1796
I have had, on a minute scale, some experience in the cultivation of Indian corn in this part of the kingdom, and a success in my experiments that makes it surprizing to me that this agricultural article has not been more attended to than we have hitherto observed.
About the beggining of the American War a Captain Murray from the province of New York, being a loyalist, came over to this country and lived for some years at Cowbridge where I became acquainted with him. He had Indian corn in his garden of several sorts, one the Virginian, which grows eight feet high or more, the other a short kind which is cultuvated in the northern states of New England &c. This grows about two or tree feet high, never, I believe, more. Mr Murray gave me some grains of these two sorts, which I planted in my garden at St Mary's Church near Cowbridge, where I then lived. The soil a strong raven grey loam, or rather clay, on a limestone bottom, which produces excellent corn particularly wheat, oats and beans, and excellent pasture for cattle. But being late of season, both in the spring and harvest, as that kind of strong cleyey soil generally is, it was not the most favourable for any kind of exotic from warmer or dryier climates than our own. I had however no other, [a]nd in the year 1782 (a very rainy, cold, and late, [su]m[m]er, especially in this county, and I believe all [o]ver this island) I prepared two pieces of fresh ground that, in the south side of a small orchard, had been, probably, for ages in grass. I manured with coal ashes and perfectly rotten barn yard soil and, in rows three feet asunder, planted my Indian corn. The grains about eighteen inches apart (perhaps too close) [-] the row. These, as they grew up, I earthed up, two or three times on each stalk branching out from the sides (the top leading stalk being only a spike of male flowers). I had several ears of corn. The Virginian sort which grew very high, and very luxuriantly never ripened, never changed from its green colour till it dried or shrivel'd into nothing. It was however finely flavoured when dressed as green peas or roasted before the fire in the ear. The short New England sort ripened perfectly even in that unfavourable summer in September (both sorts were planted in April). After this had harded for a month or two in the house, some of was ground and little breakfast rolls made of it which were not as good as those made from wheat flower, but butter or cream ca[?] made with it were as good as any from wheat flower. So were puddings and, boiled in milk till thick was, I think, finer flavoured than flour of wheat.
In 1783, I lived at Landaff where I had a good large garden, the soil a rich reddish loam of a good medium between light and strong or clayey. I gave it some manure, not much, for I had it not. The Virginian corn I planted with some of the seed that Captain Murray had given me, and which I had preserved. The short or New England sort was from what I had raised myself the year before with one row of that which I had from Capt Murray. This summer was a very favourable one, upon the whole. The Virginian corn, many, not all, of its ears ripened tollerably well, and vegetated perfectly the following year. The New England short kind ripened as perfectly as it possibly could and that from the seed of my own raising at St. Mary's Church the year before (soil and seasons unfavourable) ripend fully and as perfectly as that from the American seed. For two or three years afterwards I cultivated both sorts in my garden, but the Virginian corn, with all that I could do for by early planting in Marc(h), favourable site and soil &c, never ripened kindly and the seed from it, excepting some grains of that raised at Landaff in 1783, never vegetated. But the New England co[rn] always, and in the worst of seasons, ripen'd perfectly, and I am fully convinced that it may be a very useful field crop, as well as a delicacy. If not, what is better in the garden, this th[?] Virginian is also, but the seed must, I fear, be always had from abroad, and if it will ripen any where in Britain it will be, most probably in the warm and rather light soils that lie open to the whole day's sun in some of our midland counties, and of these the most southern, as Hertfordshire, Barkshire, Wiltshire &c. These I conceive to be warmer and drier than the maritime, though more southern counties of Sussex &c where sea breezes always cool the air in summer.
About the same time that I cultivated the short New England corn with success in my garden, Mr Keys of St Fagan's castle, on a soil rather light, dry and warm raised, and with equal success, whole fields of it and, I am not sure that he has yet discontinued to do so. Of late years my time and thoughts have been so much otherwise employed, that many of my once favorite attentions have lain dormant. I believe that Mr Bradley of the Angel Inn at Cardiff, cultivated whole fields of the short Indian corn with success, and that he found it excellent food for horses, and more abundant than any other corn in its produce. If I live, I intend to renew my enquiries and, if possible, my experiments on this, I think, important subject. My ideas at present were revived by the perusal of a little pamphlet printed last August at Birmingham, entitled Some Information Respecting the use of Indian Corn &c, wherein, with respect to the cultivation of it in England, there is not a word to any purpose. There is in The Monthly Magazine for last April (printed for Johnson, Pauls' Church yard) an essay on this subject. Some of the observations may be just, but the writer mentions only the Virginian sort or that of tall growth, which I fear will never succeed in this climate. It does not like wheat, barley &c absolutely require to be cut when it is ripe l[e]st it should shed, but in cases of rainy weather may be left a [w]eek a fortnight, or perhaps more, on the ground, till dry [wea]ther returns, as the ear is closely and firmly wrap'd up in a [?]ing of leaves. This is doubtless an advantage in the precarious [climate] of Britain. I have some faint recollection of something [o]n this subject in Dossie's, Memoirs of Agriculture, but I do not remember in which of the volumes. I wish to revive an attention [t]hat was formerly awake to this subject.
I am, gentlemen, with all possible respect,
your most humble servant,