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Tenant Farming

March 28, 2016

My 3x great-grandmother, Mary Heiden Adermann, had a nephew named John Heiden. (That makes him my 1st cousin, 3x removed.) John lived from 2 August 1884 to 14 May 1956. On April 27, 1942 he registered for the Old Man’s Draft when he was 57 years old. His occupation is listed as “Tenant Farmer” for Mrs. John Richards of Lincoln, IL. Carl Aderman, my great grandfather had also been a tenant farmer in Illinois as a young married man with four children, but didn’t like working so hard just to give such a high portion of it away to the landlord for whom he worked. Carl moved on to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to pioneer that territory and make a new farm; I wonder how likely it was John Heiden was able to move out of tenant farming–if not by age 57.

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Tenant farming still occurs today, but in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was quite common. Tenant farmers had a contract with the landlord to live in a house on the landlord’s property and to work a certain number of acres of the landlord’s farm. The tenet farmers could repay the landlord either in cash or by giving them a percentage of the crops they raised, depending on the terms of the contract.

It seems the contracts could vary, but there were some standard conventions in the tenant farming business. More valuable land was rented for more money per acre; new land in need of preparing for planting cost less to rent. Some crops could be shared by as much as 50:50 with the landlord; some would be a 33:66, landowner: tenant farmer ratio.

Tenant farmers typically brought in their own animals and oftentimes, farm implements. This is how they were distinguished from sharecroppers who usually did not bring anything of their own into the farming relationship and were able to pay by sharing with the landlord a high percentage of the crops they raised.

Finding historical information about tenant farming is fairly difficult, but Donald L. Winters has a great article about tenant farming at the turn of the century in Iowa in Agricultural History. You can read it online at



From → Aderman/Bates

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