Wednesday, September 02, 2009

It was the Scotch-Irish who introduced the Potato to America

Do you know that it was Ulster emigrants who introduced the potato to North America? In that world famous periodical, the American Potato Journal (June 1967) there's a reference which will astonish many of you:

Scotch Irish bring potatoes to Londonderry (Derry) New Hampshire
The most authentic report indicates that the first Irish (white) potatoes grown in North America were planted in Derry (previously Londonderry), New Hampshire during the spring of 1719 by a group of Scotch-Irish immigrants. That the seed was brought from Ireland may be the reason that the potato was called the "Irish potato".

Read it for yourself here!

And there's even a sign to mark the location:


Further details about one of the sixteen Scotch-Irish familes involved was published in 1890, in the Proceedings and Addresses of the Second Congress of the Scotch-Irish Society of America at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, May 29 to June 1, 1890 in an article entitled Scotch-Irish in New England by Rev. A. L. Perry, Professor of History and Politics, Williams College, Williamstown, Mass.

"...the most interesting of the purely Irish families, who came with the Scotch to Worcester, with whom they had contracted relationship during their long residence in Ulster... was the Young family, four generations together. They brought the potato to Worcester, and it was first planted there in several fields in the spring of 1719. The tradition is still lively in Scotch-Irish families (I listened to it eagerly in my boyhood) that some of their English neighbors, after enjoying the hospitality of one of the Irish families, were presented each on their departure with a few tubers for planting, and the recipients, unwilling to give offense by refusing, accepted the gift; but suspecting the poisonous quality, carried them only to the next swamp and chucked them into the water.

The same spring a few potatoes were given for seed to a Mr. Walker, of Andover, Mass., by an Irish family who had wintered with him, previous to their departure for Londonderry to the northward. The potatoes were accordingly planted; came up and flourished well; blossomed and produced balls, which the family supposed were the fruit to be eaten. They cooked the balls in various ways, but could not make them palatable, and pronounced them unfit for food. The next spring, while plowing the garden, the plow passed through where the potatoes had grown, and turned out some of great size, by which means they discovered their mistake. This is the reason why this now indespensable esculent is still called in New England certainly, and perhaps elsewhere, the "Irish potato."

John Young was perhaps the oldest immigrant who ever came to this country to live and die. If the inscription on his tombstone is to trusted, which the American Antiquarian Society, of Worcester, copied and published many years ago, he was ninety-five years old when he landed at Boston. He lived in Worcester twelve years, died in 1730; was buried in the old yard on the common. His son, David Young, an old man when he came, died at ninety-four years, and was buried in the same place. His son, William Young, a stone cutter by trade, erected over their graves a common double headstone, with the following inscriptions in parallel columns, united at the bottom by the rude yet precious rhyming lines:

"Here lies interred the remains of John Young, who was born in the isle of Bert, near Londonderry, in the Kingdom of Ireland. He departed this life, June 30, 1730, aged 107 years.

Here lies interred the remains of David Young, who was born in the parish of Tahbeyn, county of Donegal, and kingdom of Ireland. He departed this life, December 26, aged 94 years.

The aged son, and the more aged father
Beneath (these) stones their mould'ring bones
Here rest together."

Any help in finding out more about the other families would be much appreciated. This webpage says that "...Some names found in the early community are: James McKeen, John Barnett, Archibald Clendennin, John Mitchell, James Sterrett, James Anderson, Randall Alexander, James Gregg, James Clark, James Nesmith, Allen Anderson, Robert Weir, John Morrison, Samuel Allison, Thomas Steele, John Stuart. They paid no money for their land as it was a free gift from King William..."


Ulsterscot said...

Clearly, the appropriate way to celebrate this revelation is with an outsize portion of chips, or even a pastie supper.

However, the good folks of Ballymoney tell us we can now only have limited amounts of salt with them - check it out here -

Mark Thompson said...

Scandalous! Early heart disease is our rightful cultural inheritance!

Rob't said...

Howdy! I have recently begun doing genealogical research and have discovered that I am a descendant of Thomas Steele and his wife, Martha Morrison. Two of the other Nutfield/Londonderry founding families are also in my family tree, as John Morrison and Samuel Allison were both brother-in-laws to Thomas Steele. How fun to read about their relation to the potato--one of my favorite foods in almost any incarnation!