This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V24", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
I have for many years believed the American peach to be indigenous, having seen it growing in the woodlands of Virginia and Maryland, and showing its blossoms in the spring among the ordinary trees at the height of thirty or forty feet. And I have now come upon a striking statement of William Penn, in confirmation of this view, found in his letter to his Friends of 16th August, 1683, which I transcribe.
In paragraph V. of this letter, he says : "The fruits that I find in the woods are white and black mulberry, chestnut, walnut, plumbs, strawberries, cranberries, hurtleberries and grapes of divers sorts. * * * Here are also peaches, and very good and in great quantities, not an Indian plantation without them ; but whether naturally here at first I know not. However, one may have them by bushels for very little; they make a pleasant drink, and, I think, not inferior to any peach in England, except the true Newing-ton".
As Penn says, in the same letter, "the first planters here were the Dutch, and after them the Swedes and Finns," it does not appear probable that the cold north of Europe could easily have distributed here this fruit, of Persian origin, in such abundance as to be "on every Indian plantation" in 1682. I am not aware that any one has written up the matter, and have not at this moment time to examine the old narratives. I don't know why the peach should not as reasonably be native here as the mulberry or strawberry, the walnut or the chestnut.
I have trees in my garden that show every evidence of the qualities ascribed to indigenous growths. One peach tree, sixteen years of age, is thirty-eight inches in circumference at two to four feet from the surface, with branches five feet from the ground twenty-four inches in Circumference, and it is as hardy and robust as a honey locust standing twenty feet away. I have still twenty-five trees of various ages, all seedlings, from twelve to sixteen years from the seed, producing large crops of valuable fruit every year.
I have tried to follow the example of the good Indians whom Penn in this letter describes with much enthusiasm, and I have been rewarded, as they were, by bushels of fine peaches every year for the last fourteen. They come up as seedlings with freedom at all times, and more than half of all I have grown have produced valuable fruit, many of them of superior character, as you have seen.
[This very interesting note from Mr. Blodgett suggests to us to express regret that nothing has been done to any extent to trace from authentic records the history of our fruits on this continent. The authors of all our works on fruits content themselves with mere practical details. One who would go into this matter with the intelligent zeal of the genuine hi torian, would render a great service to his country.
As regards the particular question raised by Mr. B. namely, the indigenous character of the peach, there are botanical reasons, which need not be given here, which would leave scarcely a bare probability that such could be the case. There is not a botanist, careful as they usually are with opinions, who would hesitate to say from certain known facts that it was not possible for the peach to be indigenous to the American continent. But we need not dwell on this point, because there is more reason for the conjecture that the Indians obtained the peach from the white man. It must not be forgotten that for a hundred years before this letter of Penn's was written, various colonies had started from the Old World and settled in different places along the coast from what is now North Carolina to Massachusetts. The seeds of the fruits, grains and vegetables of the Old World were brought with them ; and though we have before us no specific statement that they brought peach stones, why should they not? The Dutch and the Swedes had numerous settlements on both sides of the Delaware for a quarter of a century before Penn started his colony - one of them, Warner, having a large garden and farm no less than four miles from the Delaware, over in what is now known as West Philadelphia. Reliable records place a population of at least 3,000 when William Penn arrived.
As the peach will reproduce itself in two or three years from the seed, there was plenty of time for the plant to have spread among the Indians even from these settlers, to say nothing of the sources which existed elsewhere. Champlain's party, which arrived in 1608, is known to have given the Indian the apple, and why not the peach? But there is a letter in existence written a year before this one quoted from Penn, by a "Jersey-man," Mahlon Stacy, and he remarks: "We have peaches by the cart load, and the Indians bring us seven or eight fat bucks a day." The wording of this would indicate that " we," that is, the settlers, had the peach trees and the Indians the deer. No doubt the Indians also cultivated them, for the leaders, or "Sachems," had plantations, in which they grew many things, and they lived in comparative peace with the white settlers. How rapidly the peach was propagated by the early settlers may be inferred from the statement of Oldmixon, that the Ger-mantown road, then but a cart road or trail, a length of at least twelve miles, was lined with peach trees along its whole length.
This was in 1700. No doubt it early escaped from cultivation, and wild trees may have been fuund in some abundance, but as to actual indigenity it must be concluded the facts are against it.
It is, however, a very interesting topic, and we shall be very glad to have notes bearing on the early history of the peach or any other fruit.
It may be noted that in the extract made by Mr. Blodgett, the white and black mulberries are named. These, though found in the woods, are evidently forms of Morus alba, found wild in the woods now as in Penn's time, and must have been introduced in early times as well as the peach, as no one would regard them as indigenous any more than the peach. - Ed. G. M].