Background help needed with German translation

“Ein bauer der mit pferdegespannen arbeitet.”

I get the straightforward translation: a farmer who works with horse-drawn wagons (or teams of horses, or wagons drawn by teams of horses).

What is not clear to me is why this would be a sufficiently interesting or different category of farmer to warrant its own special term: pferdner.

So I was wondering if any Europeans, perhaps especially Germans but not necessarily, would have an insight into the background of this term. The only thing that occurs to me is that it was a class distinction, that a pferdner would be a somewhat higher class of farmer because he can afford at least one team of horses. Perhaps he also rented out horses to other farmers.

I know this is pretty arcane so I’m not expecting much from this, but I’m not sure where to go to find out more. Any insights much appreciated.

Quick googling indicates that you’ve got it, with the added distinction that a Bauer working his own farm would have been a higher class also. Most people were peasants back then.

Thanks, I have tried googling the question but I must not be very good at it. Would you share what terms you searched on?

The German-language secondary sources that I found with some googling (e.g. the Wikipedia article Bauernstand and this article from a dictionary published in 1774–1786) mention Pferdner (and as a near-synonym Pferdbauer) in two meanings:

[li]farmer who had at least one horse or a team of horses (as opposed to an Ochsenbauer who had a team of oxen, or a less affluent Kuhbauer who had to plow with cows)[/li][li]farmer whose labour obligation to the lord of the manor included the labour of a horse (Pferdbauer or Spannbauer) as opposed to Handbauer - the latter’s labour obligation included only himself[/li][/ul]
The two meanings of course overlap - a larger holding would more often entail Hand- und Spanndienste (socage obligation of manual labour and use of draft animals) as opposed to Handdienste (socage only of manual labour)

Peasant status in medieval and early modern times was finely granulated - a farmer (Bauer) holding enough land of their own to feed a family (a Hube or Hufe) was in the upper class of village society (only below a Meier (a farmer holding more than one Hufe), and the village priest), which is why Meier, Bauer and Huber survive as common German last names, while the lesser Halbbauer, Viertelbauer, Kötner etc. are rarely encountered as family names. A last name of Bauer or Huber proudly references the fact that the ancestor first taking the name held enough land to support a family, as opposed to a peasant who had to feed his family by wage labour for farmers.

Thank you, and sorry but I’m not clear on one point: would you say a Pferdner/Pferdbauer would be on the same social level or higher (or lower) than a Bauer? Does this explain why there are so many more Bauers in the world than there are Pferdners (or Pferdbauers, if any)?

Not being a qualified onomasiologist, my guess as an idle sometime reader of social history would be that a Pferdner would be a subset of a Bauer, but only used regionally. That would go towards an explanation why Bauers would be much more numerous.

It is sometimes puzzling why some occupations are more numerous as family names now than others. For example, there were two occupation names for a person who specialized in castrating livestock: Nonnenmacher and Schweinepriester (literally, nun maker and pig priest). Nowadays Nonnenmacher is (somewhat infrequently) encountered as a family name in Germany while Schweinepriester only survives as a curse word. Another example: There are significantly more persons named Schwertfeger/Schwerdtfeger (naming a specialist who ground and polished blades of edged weapons that had already been forged and hardened) than Waffenschmidt/Waffenschmied (weapons smith), although the first craft would be a specialisation of the second.