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The Evolution of Horticulture in New England

[portions of this chapter have been edited for content]


Title Page


        6 SECTIONS   [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]


                 NEW ENGLAND

                 MASSACHUSETTS BAY

through page 105 of 180

I have posted what I have finished typing on this book but I am going to delay indefinitely the rest of the book because most of the rest of the book is unopened (the pages have not been split apart) and I would prefer not to open the pages as this is a good example of how books used to be made. If I get enough requests to finish the book, I will try to find an opened copy. So, if you want to know the ending, e-mail me.






For centuries previous to its permanent settlement, the voyages made by Europeans to New England, were undertaken almost solely for the purposes of exploration and commerce. Enterprises of this character were entered into by the French, English, Spanish, and Portuguese nations, and there is reason to believe that the Northmen had extended their adventurous navigation in the exploration of these shores, as early as the latter part of the tenth century.

          The first permanent European colonization upon the sea coast of New England, was established at Plymouth. “A religious impulse accomplished what commercial enterprise, commanding money and court favor, had attempted without success. Civilized New England is the child of English Puritanism.”2

1 Palfrey, New England, vol.1., p. 101.

          This was soon followed by other plantations, notably on Massachusetts Bay. It is not to the purpose in this connection, to enter upon the causes, either remote or immediate, which led to this religious impulse. A brief consideration, however, of the condition of the country into which the colonists had come, as also some knowledge of the aboriginal inhabitants, are necessary for the proper understanding of important factors which were essential to the early sustenance of the plantations by means of horticulture. In fact there is no evidence whatever that there had been any European settlement in New England previous to that at Plymouth where attempts had been made to cultivate the soil for the maintenance of life.

          New England was forest-clad, including the islands in the bays, the only exceptions to this condition being the salt-marshes, bogs, and the higher ranges of mountains. The Indian tribes found here by the early planters had not materially modified the natural vegetation, although the latter have reported that there was much ground cleared by them. “But, whatever may have been the amount of their planting, if the aborigines had simply abandoned the country, no mark of their occupation would long have remained, so far as the vegetable kingdom is concerned.”1

1 A. Gray, Memorial History of Boston, vol. 1., p. 18.

          Even their custom of burning the country in certain districts, twice a year, must have had a comparatively limited effect upon the aspect of the neighboring regions. The knowledge of this custom, also of our acquaintance with the flora and fauna of early New England, are derived from the chronicles of the Pilgrims, and from those who visited the parts in later years, Morton, who was at Plymouth in 1622, says in his New English Canaan: “The salvages [sic] are accustomed to set fire to the country in all places where they come, and to burn it twice a year, viz., at the spring, and the fall of the leaf. The reason that moves them to do so is because it would otherwise be so overgrown with underweeds, that it would all be a coppice wood, and the people would not be able in any wise to pass through the country out of a beaten path. This custom of firing the country is the means to make it passable, and by that means the trees grow here and there, as in our parks, and makes the country very beautiful and commodius.

1 Morton’s New English Canaan, bk. 1., chap. viii.

          Fresh water was abundantly supplied by rivers and springs. The soil, as a general rule is not naturally fertile; the most arable and fruitful existed in the valleys of the large rivers. “An abundance of the oak, hickory, walnut, ash, elm, maple, pine, spruce, chestnut, cedar, and other forest trees offered supplies for fuel, tools, weapons, utensils, and building. The chestnut, hazlenut, beechnut, butternut, and shagbark yielded contributions to the store of food laid up for winter. Wild cherries, mulberries, and plums enlarged the variety of the summer’s diet. Wild berries as the strawberry, the gooseberry, the raspberry, the whortleberry, the cranberry, grew in plenty in the meadow and champaign lands. Vines bearing grapes of tolerable flavor flourished along the streams. A profusion of flowering shrubs and of aquatic, forest, and field flowers, brought their tribute to the pomp of the year. The lobelia, the sarsaparilla, the ginseng, and the sassafras were prized for their medicinal qualities. The native grasses of the upland were rank but innutritious, so that the planters found it better to salt herbage of the sea-marshes.1

1 Palfrey, History of New England, vol. 1., pp. 16, 17

          At the time of the settlement at Plymouth, the aboriginal inhabitants of New England had been estimated at fifty thousand in number, the population having been reduced greatly by a pestilence which raged among them. . . .[edited for content] we are here more concerned with the food which they procured by means of their  husbandry. This consisted of Indian corn or maize, the squash, pumpkin, and bean. The soil was fertilized by fish which, with the seed, was covered by means of a hoe constructed of a clam-shell or the shoulder-blade of the moose rudely attached to wooden handle. The beans planted with the corn were allowed to find support by clinging to the corn-stalks. When harvested, the corn was preserved in holes.

          “Their barns are holes made in the earth, that will hold a hogshead of corn apiece. In these when their corn is out of the husk, and well dried, they lay their store in great baskets, with mats under, about the sides, and on the top: and putting it into the place made for it, they cover it with earth, and in this manner it is preserved from destruction or putrefaction, to be used in case of necessity, and not else.

          “As the Indians did not understand the art of making bread, they simply boiled the corn alone or mixed with beans. Sometimes they parched the ears and ate the kernels whole, or by pounding them in a rude mortar, converted them into a ‘sweet, toothsome, and hearty’ meal. ‘Nokehich’ parched meal, which is a ready, very wholesome food, which they eat with a little water, hot or cold. I have traveled with near two hundred of them at once, near a hundred miles through the woods, every man carrying a little basket of this at his back, and sometimes in a hollow leather girdle about the middle, sufficient for a man three or four days. With this ready provision, and the bows and arrows, they are ready for war, and travel at an hour’s warning. With a spoonful of this meal, and a spoonful of water from the brook, have I made many a good dinner and supper.”1

1 Roger Williams’s Key, Mass. Hist. Collect., iii. p. 208.

          They also raised tobacco, but used it only in smoking. “They generally all take tobacco, and it is the only plant which men labor in, the women managing all the rest.”2

2 Idem, chaps. II., XX.

The expression “drinking smoke or drinking tobacco” was in common use, among the early colonial writers. It was probably derived from the practice, still followed in some nations, of inhaling the smoke. The vegetable food from the culture of the soil was eked out by various nuts, acorns, roots, and berries, gathered from the forest, and the ground-nut, –a poor substitute for the potato–which grew wild. Their only domesticated animal was a species of native dog of low degree.

          Into the conditions which have thus been briefly noticed, the Mayflower, after a lengthened voyage, brought its company, dropping her anchor in the safe harbor at the extremity of Cape Cod, now the roadstead of Provincetown, November 11, 1620. The events which attended the various explorations made from the ship, in search of a suitable locality for their plantation, are interesting, and have special reference to their future success in colonization. “The building of log hovels, the turning of sand-heaps into corn-fields, dealings with Indians, and with overreaching partners in trade, anxious struggles to get a living, and, at most, the sufferings of men, women, and children, wasting under cold, sickness, and famine, feebly supply, as the staple of a history, the place of those splendid exhibitions of power, and those critical conflicts of intrigue and war, which fill the annals of great empires. But no higher stake is played for in the largest sphere, than the life of a body politic; nor is the merit of that constancy which makes no account of sacrifice and suffering, to be estimated by the size of the theatre on which it is displayed.”1

1 Palfrey, New England, vol. i., p. 166.

          On November 15th, a party of fifteen men under Standish as leader, armed and provisioned, started off on a reconnoissance of the country. They were absent three days. Proceeding southward, on the second day they came to t tract of land which had been cultivated for corn. Here they found certain heaps of sand which they supposed to be graves, also the remains of a hut, and a great kettle which had been some ship’s kettle, and brought out of Europe.  “There was another heap of sand made like the others but it was newly done, we might see how they had paddled it with their hands – which we digged up, and in it we found a little old basket, full of fair Indian corn: and digged further, and found a fine great new basket, full of very fair corn of this year, with some six and thirty ears of corn, some yellow, and some red, and others mixed with blue, which was a very goodly sight. The basket held about three or four bushels, which was as much as two of us could lift up from the ground.”1

1 Young’s Chronicles of the Pilgrims, p. 133.

          After some consideration as to the propriety of taking the corn, the company concluded that, under the circumstances, it was justifiable to fill the kettle with as much corn as they could carry away, and afterwards return the property to the owners if they could be found.

          On the evening of the third day they returned to the ship. Another expedition was soon afterwards made to the same locality, just described, where, after digging, they found several baskets full of corn and a bag of beans. Thus they procured ten bushels of grain, which they intended to retain for seed. After further stances, by explorations on shore, and by means of the shallop, in which the harbors were sounded, they discovered at last a spot well suited to their purposes. “We came to a conclusion, to set on the main land, in the first place, on a high ground, where there is a great deal of land cleared, and hath been planted with corn three or four years ago: and there is a very sweet brook runs under the hill side, and many delicate springs of as good water as can be drunk, and where we may harbour our shallops and boats exceeding well: and in this brook much good fish in their seasons: on the further side of the river also much corn-ground cleared. In one field is a great hill, on which we point to make a platform and plant our ordnance, which will command all round about . . . The land for the crust of the earth is, a spit’s depth, excellent black mould, and fat in some places: two or three great oaks, but not very thick pines, walnuts, beech, ash, birch, hazel, holly, asp, sassafras in abundance, and vines every where, cherry trees, plum trees, and many others which we know not. Many kinds of herbs we found here in winter, as strawberry leaves innumerable, sorrel, yarrow, carvel, brooklime, liverwort, water cresses, great store of leeks and onions, and an excellent strong kind of flax and hemp. Here is sand, gravel, and excellent clay, no better in the world, excellent for pots, and will wash like soap, and great store of stone.”1

1 Idem, p. 165.

          Elated with their success the party of explorers returned to the vessel, and reported the good news, “which did much comfort their hearts.” Accordingly, in a few days afterwards, the Mayflowers had brought the company to the much desired haven, to keep the Sabbath by their future home. The first needful operations on shore were at once entered upon. The company was divided into nineteen families, and a corresponding number of plots for dwellings and gardens were laid out on the opposite sides of a way along the northern side of the brook. A platform was laid for ordnance, and a building twenty feet square, for common occupation and for a storehouse, was erected.

          The sad tale of the sickness, due to exposure, improper and deficient food, followed by extraordinary mortality, and the consequent reduced condition of the colony, is generally familiar, and does not here require comment. In spite of the length of the winter, which providentially had not the usual severity, a very early spring was most heartily welcomed by the much afflicted company.

          “Saturday, the 3rd of March, the wind was south, the morning misty, but towards noon warm and fair weather. The birds sang in the woods most pleasantly. At one of the clock it thundered, which was the first we heard in that country. March 19, 20, Monday and Tuesday proved fair days. We digged our grounds and sowed our garden seeds.”1

1 Idem, pp. 181-9.

          They sowed six acres of barley and pease, and set twenty acres of corn, making use of the ten bushels which they had brought from the Indian subterranean storehouses. In this work, much assitance was rendered them by Squanto, a faithful Indian, who taught them how to plant, manure with fish, and hill it. “Our corn did prove well: and god be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our pease not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown. They came up very well, and blossomed: but the sun parched them in the blossom”2

 2 Ibem, p. 231.

          The sudden death of Governor Carver was closely connected with their first experience in horticultural work. Being one ever ready to serve his fellow-men in every possible manner, and to share their common labors, he was assisting them in planting. “After a short time he comes out of the field being sick, complains of his head greatly. Within a few hours, his senses fail, and in a few days after, he dies, to our great lamentation.”1

1 Idem, p. 200.

His death has been attributed to the effects of the sun, which rarely produce similar results in this climate in the month of April.

          As the season advanced, they found native sallet herbs, and also grapes and berries in great abundance. “Here are grapes white and red and very sweet and strong also: strawberries, gooseberries, raspberries, & plums of three sorts, white, black, and red, being almost as good as a damson, abundance of roses, white, red, and damask: single, but very sweet indeed.”2

2 Idem, p. 234.

          In the  spring of the second year, the planters had tilled sixty acres of corn, and, in addition, had vegetables in their individual gardens. Unfortunately, however, the crop was small, due, as has been reported, to imperfect cultivation, owing to the physical weakness of the company, and to having much other work upon their hands, and also to its being stolen, while still unripe, by unruly settlers under Thomas Weston at Weymouth. Some small supplies were happily obtained from the natives of the neighborhood, and by expeditions made by sea and land to the north and to Cape Cod.

          After the planting of the third season, a severe drought prevailed from that time until midsummer. As a result of earnest supplication to Heaven in behalf of the colony, the abundant rains which soon followed were confidently recognized as the interposition of a special providence. At any rate they received a plentiful harvest. Moreover, the method they adopted of compelling each cultivator to bring in a competent portion for the maintenance of the public officers was successful. This “made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been: and it gave far better content. They now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn, whom to have compelled would have been thought tyranny and oppression.”1

1 Bradford, p. 134.

          The hardships which had been encountered by the colony at Plymouth were now greatly diminished. The increased harvest from their horticultural pursuits more intelligently conducted, the extended trading in various articles, due to their own enterprise, and the additions which had been lately made to their diminished numbers from the mother country, had contributed to these happy results.

          During the struggles of the Plymouth colony for existence, attempts were made to settle other plantations in New England. During 1622, as has already been stated, a settlement under Weston was commenced at Weymouth company not only pilfered the Plymouth people, but got them into trouble with the natives, by treating the last in a similar manner. This was, however, speedily terminated by sending against it a small force under Standish, by which means the settlement was dispersed, and soon abandoned, although, not many years after, I was permanently settled under its present name, the few inhabitants receiving an accession to their number from Weymouth in England. A few miles to the north of this, another plantation was laid out, which, coming under the jurisdiction of Thomas Morton, became an undesirable place, well known by the character of the company, whose unruly exploits were finally terminated through the exertions of Plymouth, aided by contributions to the expenses therein incurred from the small settlements and individuals scattered about Boston Bay and the coast of Maine.

          Although a record exists of the several contributors, and the amounts given no mention is made of their horticultural efforts beyond the statement that they are established for “planting, fishing, and trading.” The largest and most important plantations in Massachusetts Bay, in which the horticultural notices are more frequent and extended than are those of Plymouth, next demand attention.