What does the expression “to hoe one’s own row” mean and Where does it come from?

The expression “to hoe one’s own row” means: To make one’s own way; to be independent, beholden to no one; to paddle one’s own canoe, peddle one’s own papers, blow one’s own nose.

This was farm lingo, and is still applicable in a literal sense on any farm on which most labor is performed without benefit of machinery.

Figurative application apparently dates to a time shortly after the death of William Henry Harrison (April 4, 1841), a month after inauguration, when John Tyler succeeded him as president.

Tyler, a former Democrat, had broken with his party and was elected with Harrison on the belief that he had fully adopted Whig principles. But within a few months it became evident that such was not the case.

With the exception of Daniel Webster, Secretary of State, the entire cabinet resigned (September, 1841).

This led a writer in The Knickerbocker, a New York monthly, to say, “Our American pretender must, to adopt an agricultural phrase, ‘hoe his own row,’ without the aid of protectors or dependents.”

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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