Collecting Delaware Books

Caleb Harlan and Green Manure

Published in 1997

portrait caleb harlan
Caleb Harlan
book title page
Title Page

Caleb Harlan was born in Milltown, New Castle County, in 1814 of old Quaker stock. He studied medicine and was licensed to practice in Delaware. He began practice near Brandywine Springs about 1836.

He became interested in homeopathy, a method despised by conservative medical doctors. Though he kept the "M.D." following his name, he moved to Wilmington in 1847 to establish a homeopathic practice. As evidence of the correctness of the method, he boasted he never was absent from his practice due to illness a single day in 50 years.

Harlan had many interests, both scientific and literary. He wrote poems in the heroic couplet of Lord Byron. Elflora of the Susquehanna and its sequel The Fate of Marcel where published in book form. A sample from Elflora will give the flavor.

Elfloras Mansion stands in quietude 
No foes disturb, no noisy guests intrude 
The windows, raised, admit the shine of day,
And glass and massive carved-work catch the ray,
Reflect it oer the walls, diffuse, unite,
Till all the room with yellow beams is bright.
The opening rosebuds, late arranged with care,
And watered fresh, with fragrance fill the air,
And, scattering sweetness, woo the wandering bees,
Which come, and, pilfering, wave those tiny trees
Like gentle zephyrs  and that motions all
Which stirs within the maiden's lonely hall,

His scientific interests included agriculture. In 1863, he bought Plumgrove Farm a few miles from Wilmington and hired a farmer to till it. His instructions were extremely detailed and were based on the writings of English and American scientists and reports of local agricultural experiment stations. The method involved growing non-productive crops for plowing under in alternation with productive crops.

Harlan published Farming with Green Manures on Plumgrove Farm sometime before 1880. It was a standard work 40 years and was revised and expanded for at least seven editions. A 2012 reprint is available quite reasonably from on-line booksellers in paperback and hardcover. An ebook copy can be downloaded free from several sources including Internet Archives.

After his wealthy cousin John Ferris died in 1882, Harlan was executor of the estate. When all other affairs were settled, the remainder of the funds was used to establish the Ferris Reform School according to Ferris's wishes. Harlan served as an administrator at the school. Ferris eventually became a state institution and survives today.

When the Confederates invaded Maryland in 1862, Wilmington became alarmed at the possibility of Delaware being next. The Dupont powder works were considered an attractive military target. Dr. Caleb Harlan was one of those who attended defense committee meetings and subscribed to establishing the National Guard of Delaware. He died in 1902.

Books by Caleb Harlan

Elflora of the Susquehanna, The Fate of Marcel, and Farming with Green Manure … are fairly common and usually sell for under $100 in most editions. The other books and pamphlets are rare, and some are unknown in local institutional libraries. Collecting the complete works of Caleb Harlan would be a formidable task.

Back to Articles List

Back to home page

Contact John P. Reid