Agriculture has always been the leading industry of the people of Shrewsbury. According to tradition, or, perhaps, it were better to say according to the best information that can be obtained from living men as to what their grandfathers told them, which covers a period of more than one hundred years, most of the lands now in use for pasture and tillage was cleared of wood before the Revolutionary War and then used for pasture and tillage.
In the earliest times all meadows which, without improvement or any kind of tilling, produced grass, though of the coarsest quality, were considered "valuable," and farmers often had a few acres of "valuable meadow" quite remote from their farms. These meadows, to begin with, were generally free from wood, or, at any rate, from large trees, and the quantity of natural meadow was much increased and a much better kind of hay produced by bringing water whenever it could be done, by ditches upon uplands.
Down until within the memory of living men, farm products in Shrewsbury were chiefly consumed within the town. Families were large and home consumption was large. Nor was there any market to buy or sell in, nor much money in farmers' pockets to trade with.
But early in the present century it was discovered by Shrewsbury farmers that, there was a market in Boston for butter, cheese, eggs, chickens, veal and pork, and for beef on the hoof in Brighton, and a class of middle men called drovers and market men, began to pass and repass back and forth from Shrewsbury and the market. From this time farming began to improve. Farmers were not so absolutely destitute of money. There were better tools, better methods of farming, better cattle and better crops, and with industry and economy it was possible for the Shrewsbury farmer to rise a little above the chill penury of the beginners.
Rye, oats, Indian-corn and hay were the chief crops. Apple trees were planted at the very outset, and, before 1776, nearly every farm had its orchard, and if good fruit was not abundant, there was no lack of cider.
About 1820, market wagons began to run regularly every week from Shrewsbury to Boston, and returning they hauled for the storekeepers the groceries and dry-goods that they dealt in. This continued till about 1845, when it was found that the town of Worcester was a better market than Boston as well as much nearer, and everybody could be his own market-man, and so put in his own pocket the commissions on sales.
Excerpt from The History of Shrewsbury by William T. Harlow