footloose farmers

HolyUnicorn

Senior Member
Mandarin / the Shanghai Dialect
Hello:

“When economic depression hit the woolen trade in the late 1500s, thousands of footloose farmers took to the roads. They drifted about England, chronically unemployed, often ending up as beggars and paupers in cities like Bristol and London.”

From “The American Pageant” by Thomas A. Bailey


footloose - WordReference.com Dictionary of English

foot•loose (fŏŏtlo̅o̅s′), adj.

  1. free to go or travel about;
    not confined by responsibilities.
Should I take “responsibilities” in the definition of “footloose” to mean any responsibilities?

I understand “footloose” in the context means farmers lost their jobs. That is why they drifted about. Does this also imply these farmers were single or had no family? Otherwise, they wouldn’t drift about, would they?
 
  • kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Presumably it means sheep farmers if it's talking about the wool industry. I don't know how sheep farming was organized. Were there lots and lots of shepherds employed by other people that lost their jobs or was it the people who owned the land and the sheep that lost their land and their sheep and had nothing left?
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I think it means "Independent farmers".
    I'm afraid I wouldn't agree with you, Pfaa, in this case.

    An independent farmer is someone who has no commercial tie with a large organisation. He is the antithesis of a corporate farmer, the organiser of a large joint-stock company which owns land and organises its cultivation.

    Footloose is well defined in the opening post here.
    I understand “footloose” in the context means farmers lost their jobs. That is why they drifted about. Does this also imply these farmers were single or had no family? Otherwise, they wouldn’t drift about, would they?
    The reason why these farmers drifted about is not specified in the text we are given, but to say they 'lost their jobs' suggests that they were employees. Another, in my view very strong, possibility is that these farmers owned sheep and also maybe strips; they grazed their sheep on common land and/or on their strips but in time found it hard to make a living from them, because the fleeces of the sheep they grazed raised less income when the price of woolen cloth fell. So the farmers went to other parts of the country, looking for other opportunities.

    It's worth remembering that in the late 1500s the wool trade in England was very localised, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, in East Anglia, and in the West Country. It's possible that a sheep farmer in one of these regions experiencing reduced demand for his fleeces might move to one of the other regions, hoping for better luck there.

    Footloose just means free to move about. It's a term much used by economists and economic historians. Of course responsibilities, such as land ownership, might make a resource difficult to move, but so also might other factors: you can't mine coal in places where there are no coal deposits.
     
    Last edited:

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Just to be clear, in the U.S., and particularly the West, we refer to "farmers" (or "ranchers") as people who own and work their own land.
    Thus, they would never be described as "footloose."
    We do not refer to farm workers as "farmers."
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top