Food Heritage in a Single Old Photo

Reader Contribution by Meredith Sayles Hughes

Sometimes food heritage is sitting right under our noses, in an old family photograph that “has always been there.” Like this one of a large group standing in front of a farmhouse, circa 1915. The sepia picture hung for decades in that same farmhouse on Jonestown Road in Wallace, North Carolina.

This image would not have been remarkable back in the day. According to Ag in the Classroom, in 1910 the farm population comprised one third of all Americans.

Note the mule in the picture, ( we think!) on the far right, an important part of this farm family, or maybe simply a favorite of the bearded man holding the reins, Henry Jones.  Born in 1890, Jones built the house he stands in front of, and established his farm on 80 acres of land. Like so many smallholdings, the farm raised a variety of crops, including corn, tobacco and assorted vegetables, as well as chickens, hogs and some cows. The family owned a horse, as well as the mule pictured. 

Henry’s wife, Annie Walker, is to his right, dressed in dark colors, while her siblings may include the three young women dressed in white. At the far left is likely one of Henry’s sons. Look carefully and you can see that the boy has his arms around a heifer. Hard to see, but the boy next to him appears to be clutching a piglet or some such close to his chest. From his other hand hangs a brass cowbell.

Since photography of this kind cost money, and since those posing were expected to remain motionless for some time, it’s especially pleasing to see that animals clearly prized by those involved were considered important enough to be pictured.

The Jones name is as common in Wales as is Smith in England. Welsh settlers came first to Pennsylvania and Delaware in the 1680s and it may have been their Welsh-American descendants who established farms near the North Carolina coast beginning about 1730. (Some were given land in exchange for providing the British Navy with “stores,” materials for ship building and repair derived from pine trees abundant in the area.)

It took many hands to run a farm, of course, and Henry and his wife, Annie had nine children. The last, Amada, born in 1925, was the mother of the woman who recently took another careful look at this photograph. 

Amada and her husband, Jack, restored and preserved the Jones farmhouse for years, spending summers there while based outside of Washington, DC. By the 1960’s, while still actively farmed, its acreage was down to 3 1/2, as Henry and Annie had deeded small parcels of the land to their assorted offspring long since.

Today the little farm has passed out of the family, along with the large kitchen table Henry built for the place. But this photograph remains, to remind us of what a typical American farm family once looked like.

For more on food history and food heritage, visit The Food Museum.