Early History of the Strawberry in New England

The Strawberry in North America (S.W. Fletcher)

In his book The Strawberry in North America (published 1917), S.W. Fletcher claims “North America has been a land of wild strawberries. The first settlers at Jamestown, in 1607, found them in abundance.” 

Fletcher was a professor of horticulture at Pennsylvania State College at the time he published this book, and had been involved not just in the cultivation of plants, but in the actual history of their cultivation. His name appears on the "Annual Report of the Secretary of the State Horticultural Society of Michigan," volume 37, published in 1908. In this report, on at least one occasion, he speaks to not only the quality of a fruit, but also its heritage, or pedigree. 

It’s hard to find a good strawberry in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and often I find myself in the grocery store looking at the shipments from California and thinking perhaps California is the land of good fruit. However, early  settlers experienced an abundance of strawberries here in New England. 

In his book, The Strawberry in North America, Fletcher explains, “…the Pilgrims, the Massachusetts Bay colony, and other northern settlers, were having… delightful experiences. Young’s ‘Chronicle of the Pilgrims’ records expeditions from Plymouth into the surrounding country, on which they found ‘strawberries innumerable.’ New England was forest clad at the time (1620); it was the custom of the Indians to burn over certain areas each year, in order to secure ground in which to plant corn. Strawberries thrived in these burnt-over districts. Morton, who was at Plymouth in 1622, says, in his ‘New England Canaan,’ ‘Wild strawberries grew in plenty in the meadow and champaign lands.’” 

In 1629, William Wood wrote (quoted by Fletcher), “There is likewise Strawberries in abundance, verie large ones, some being two inches about; one may gather halfe a bushell in a forenoone.” 

In 1643, Roger Williams wrote (quoted by Fletcher), “This berrie is the wonder of all the fruits growing naturally in these parts. In some parts where the natives have planted [corn], I have many times seen as many as would fill a good ship within a few miles compass. The Indians bruise them in a mortar and mix them with meal and make Strawberry bread.” 

I would like to try some of that strawberry bread! 

Sources:
Fletcher, S.W., The Strawberry in North America (pp. 2-3). 
"Annual Report of the Secretary of the State Horticultural Society of Michigan" (p. 40). 

A special thank you to Jourdan Hafen. 

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