The Carolina Parakeet and the American Orchard


William Byrd II

William Byrd II

Virginia planter William Byrd was not impressed with his North Carolina neighbors.  Traveling through North Carolina in the early 1720s on a mission to survey the boundary between the two colonies, Byrd griped about the irregular supply of alcoholic beverages in the colony. Byrd believed the shortage of alcohol in North Carolina was not the result of any moral qualms about drinking but rather a consequence of the improvidence of its early settlers. When it was available, North Carolinians drank imported rum in great quantities, and generously shared it, but these periods of plenty were frequently interrupted by periods of scarcity, when it was hard to find a drop. Apple and peach orchards might have obviated these irregularities in the alcohol supply, providing the ingredients needed to make cider and cider brandy, but it appeared to Byrd that few North Carolinians had bothered to plant them.  He attributed this oversight to lack of industry and foresight, particularly among the common planters, whom he called “Improvident People, who take no thought for the Morrow.” But Byrd did acknowledge that their might have been one other hindrance to the development of orchards in North Carolina.  It appears that massive flocks of the once abundant but now extinct Carolina Parakeet descended upon the colony’s orchards in the summer.  The birds “bite all the Fruit to Pieces in a moment, for the sake of the Kernels.  The Havock they make is so great, that whole Orchards are laid waste in spite of all the Noises that can be made, or Mawkins that can be dresst up to fright ‘em away.”

Carolina parakeet, eastern subspecies, AudubonThe Carolina Parakeet was not a parakeet at all, but North America’s only indigenous parrot.  Despite Byrd’s belief that they were only a threat to North Carolina’s orchards, the Carolina Parakeet was climate hardy, had a quite diverse diet, and a wide geographical  range. It could be found in forest lands as far north as New York, and as far west as the Mississippi valley.  A gregarious creature, Carolina Parakeets traveled in flocks often containing five hundred or more birds, fed itself on the seeds and nuts of the forest, and nested in the cavities of hollow trees.

In the first two centuries of English colonization in North America, Carolina Parakeets and were abundant, but populations began to plummet in the second third of the nineteenth century.  Sometime in the early twentieth century, the Carolina Parakeet became extinct. Byrd was not the only observer to comment on the Carolina Parakeet’s habit of destroying an orchard full of fruit in short order. In 1831, John James Audubon noted that it:

carolina parakeet iieats or destroys almost every kind of fruit indiscriminately, and on this account is always an unwelcome visitor to the planter, the farmer, or the gardener. . . They assail the Pear and the Apple-trees when the fruit is yet very small and far from being ripe, and this merely for the sake of the seeds . . . they alight on the Apple-trees of our orchards, or the Pear-trees in the gardens, in great numbers; and as if through their mischief, pluck off the fruits, open them up to the core, and, disappointed at the sight of the seeds, which are yet soft and of a milky consistence, drop the apple or pear, and pluck another, passing from branch to branch, until the trees, which were before so promising, are left completely stripped, like the ship water-logged and abandoned by its crew, floating on the yet agitated waves, after the tempest has ceased.

Do not imagine, dear readers, that all these outrages are borne without severe retaliation on the part of the planters.  So far from this, the Parakeets are destroyed in great numbers, for whilst busily engaged in plucking off the fruits or tearing the grain from stacks, the husbandmen approaches them with perfect ease and commits great slaughter among them. All the survivors rise, shriek, fly around for a few minutes, and again alight on the very place of most imminent danger. The guns kept at work; eight or ten, or even twenty  are killed at every discharge. The living birds, as if conscious of the death of their companions, sweep over their bodies screaming as loud as ever, but still return to the stack to be shot at, until so few remain alive, that the farmer does not consider it worth his while to spend more of his ammunition. I have seen hundreds destroyed in this manner in the course of a few hours . . .

Other observers also noted that the close bonds Carolina Parakeets formed with others in their flock made them easy prey for an angry farmer. The ease with which farmers slaughtered the grieving birds was no doubt one factor in their extinction, but does not completely explain their disappearance.  While stories of their dramatic and rapid destruction of orchard fruit were frequently repeated, they were not so common that they constituted the orchard’s greatest natural threat. And many farmers recognized the Parakeets value in helping rid his land of another pest. The poisonous cockle-bur, which invaded farm fields and sometimes killed livestock was among the Parakeet’s favorite foods, and no farmer minded when the Parakeets rid his field of them.

Habitat destruction may have played as great a role as the farmer’s gun, as fields and CP-hat-300x300orchard replaced the forests in which the birds nested. The Carolina Parakeet may have also suffered from new competition for nesting sites with the arrival of an insect colonizer, the European honeybee, which filled the hollows of many potential trees with honey and honeycomb. Other factors which also contributed to its demise include the demand for hats decorated with dead birds which became all the rage near the end of the 19th century, and the last of the birds may have been felled by disease they picked up from domesticated poultry. In the end, Euro-American husbandry practices appeared to be a greater threat to the Carolina Parakeet than it was to the farmer’s orchards.

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The Sherfy Peach Orchard


Between May 13 and May 23, 2013, I co-taught a study tour of Civil War battlefields with a colleague. While this was the sixth time I have offered this study tour for undergraduate students, I decided at the outset that I would use this opportunity to gather information about orchards on Civil War battlefields.  I was aware of the “famous” peach orchard where many men died on the field at Gettysburg, and was aware of a few other references to battlefield orchards, but was surprised at the abundance of information I uncovered on the eleven day trip.  This is the first in a series of blog posts on battlefield orchards.

Joseph Sherfy, peach grower and minister in the Marsh Creek Church of the Brethren

Joseph Sherfy, peach grower and minister in the Marsh Creek Church of the Brethren

Joseph Sherfy purchased land along the Emmitsburg Road, south of the town of Gettysburg, in 1842. Sherfy was a striver, and decades later his obituary declared that “he made out of sterile acres a most productive farm [and] deservedly stood in the front rank of intelligent and successful agriculturists.” Planting much of his land in peach trees, by the eve of the Civil War Joseph Sherfy’s peaches, which he sold fresh, dried, and canned, were locally famous, and his orchard appeared on an 1858 map of Adams county. The business supported Joseph, his wife Mary, and their six children.

When the Union army reached Gettysburg on the first of July 1863, Joseph Sherfy and his family were ready to help, providing water and bread to thirsty and hungry soldiers. The next day they were forced to evacuate their home, and did not return until the battle was over.

The vulnerable Union salient in Jospeh Sherfy's Peach Orchard. From Bradly Gotffried's Maps of Gettysburg

The vulnerable Union salient in Jospeh Sherfy’s Peach Orchard. From Bradley Gotffried’s Maps of Gettysburg

On days two and three of the battle, the Sherfy farm was in the midst of the conflict. A decision made by Union General Dan Sickles, against the orders of his commanding officer, ensured that Joseph Sherfy’s Peach Orchard would never be forgotten. Ordered to hold his men in a line that extended south of the town of Gettysburg to a hill called Little Round Top, Sickles’ decided instead to move his men forward to another spot of high ground in the middle of Sherfy’s orchard, a position he believed would be more defensible. By doing so, Sickles created a sharp bend in the line, a vulnerable “salient,” in the language of war, which could be attacked by the Confederate army from two sides. By the time Commanding General Meade realized what Sickles had done, easy retreat was not possible, and the soldiers in Sherfy’s Peach Orchard faced withering fire for several hours before those not killed were able to retreat. The fighting in and around the peach orchard salient is remembered as among the fiercest of the three day battle.

One of the few surviving images of the original Sherfy orchard, in William A. Frassanito, Gettysburg, Then and Now: Touring the Battlefield with Old Photos, 1865-1889.

One of the few surviving images of the original Sherfy orchard, in William A. Frassanito, Gettysburg, Then and Now: Touring the Battlefield with Old Photos, 1865-1889.

What the Sherfy’s found when they returned to their home after the battle surely disheartened them. Their barn had been burnt to the ground, the exterior of their home was riddled with bullets, and the interior had been ransacked by Confederate soldiers. The soils in the orchard and elsewhere on the farm had been hastily dug up, with the corpses of soldiers buried wherever they had fallen, while forty-eight dead horses remained strewn about the orchard, swelling and decomposing in the summer heat. The Sherfy’s estimated their losses as $2500, but like most residents of the village, were awarded little or no compensation from the government.

Yet the peach trees in the orchard where so many men and beasts fell, rattled by canister and rifle fire, mostly survived. In the ensuing years, Joseph Sherfy’s peach orchard became a popular stop with returning veterans and curious visitors. Veterans shared their stories with the Sherfy’s and Mary Sherfy collected pictures of these men, displaying them on a wall in her home. Veterans of the battle, as well as tourists, were eager to view and touch a large cherry tree which stood alongside the Sherfy home, which had a 12 pound ball lodged deep within its trunk. “Soldiers and veterans saw trees (and their fragments) . . . as objects that provided access to the past, a vital link to the landscape of war they had created,” Mary Kate Nelson reminds us in Ruin Nation, her fascinating study of the war’s aftermath. Before they departed, both veteran and tourist to the Sherfy farm took away with them a souvenir of another sort–canned or dried peaches from the Sherfy’s surviving orchard.

Joseph Sherfy died in 1881, but his famous peach orchard survived him, and drew more visitors with each passing year. Just when and why the Sherfy orchards was uprooted I do not yet know. But for decades, the land remembered for the bloody fighting at “the peach orchard,” contained no peach trees at all.

The new Sherfy orchard at dawn, May 2013

The new Sherfy orchard at dawn, May 2013

The battle of Gettysburg was waged on the many family farms which surrounded the village, and most of these farms had orchards in 1863.  The Sherfy’s peach orchard is the most remembered of these, but all across the battlefield, soldiers sought shelter from unrelenting fire beneath the trunks of fruit trees. In recent years the National Parks Service has begun an effort to restore many of its preserved battlefields to their condition on the eve of the battles fought there. In line with those efforts, the NPS has

T-shirts, peach taffy, and aprons, adorned with the Sherfy Peach Orchard logo, are now for sale at the Gettysburg Visitors Center.

T-shirts, peach taffy, and aprons, adorned with the Sherfy Peach Orchard logo, are now for sale at the Gettysburg Visitors Center.

partnered with local volunteer organizations to replant and maintain many of the fruit orchards which dotted the landscape of war.  Gettysburg National Battlefield Park has perhaps done more than any other battlefield, and today dozens of young orchards are rising out of Gettysburg’s soils. New orchards also appear on the Trostle and Rose farms, adjacent to the Sherfy’s Emmitsburg Road farm. Many of the Confederate soldiers who assaulted Sherfy’s Peach Orchard did so from the Rose Farm’s apple orchard, which witnessed destruction as bad or worse than that inflicted upon the Sherfy Orchard. One early postwar visitor to the Rose farm declared that “No one farm on all the widely extended battlefield probably drank as much blood as did the Rose farm.”

William Kerrigan is the Cole Distinguished Professor of American History at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio and the author of Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard.  He is currently working on orchards in American History.  Other posts in this series on Civil War Battlefield Orchards include:

The Apples of Antietam

Orchards and Slavery on the Rappahannock

The Perils and Promise of Restoring Battlefield Orchards

Johnny Appleseed and Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley

Sherfy from Air

 

The Promise and Perils of Restoring Battlefield Orchards


Between May 13 and May 23, 2013, I co-taught a study tour of Civil War battlefields with a colleague. While this was the sixth time I have offered this study tour for undergraduate students, I decided at the outset that I would use this opportunity to gather information about orchards on Civil War battlefields.  I was aware of the “famous” peach orchard where many men died on the field at Gettysburg, and was aware of a few other references to battlefield orchards, but was surprised at the abundance of information I uncovered on the eleven day trip.  This is the fourth in a series of blog posts on battlefield orchards.

The new Sherfy orchard at dawn, May 2013

The new Sherfy orchard at dawn, May 2013

It was about six days into my eleven day Civil War study tour that I realized that replanting orchards at historical parks had become something of a movement. It wasn’t that I was completely unaware of this. I had read Susan Dolan’s  excellent Fruitful Legacy: A Historic Context of Orchards in the United States, which catalogues historic orchards at National Parks sites and also offers a nice historical overview of orchard agriculture in America. I was aware that the Gettysburg National Military Park had replanted the historic Sherfy Orchard. But as we visited one Civil War site after another, and my students rolled their eyes each time I asked a ranger or interpreter about orchards at that particular place, I was happily surprised at how many of them were planning or already in the process of restoring historic orchards.

Heritage Apple Orchard at Belle Grove Plantation

Heritage Apple Orchard at Belle Grove Plantation

Gettysburg has replanted dozens of orchards on their historic sites, and now that they have removed the old Cyclorama building, they intend to replant a historic orchard on that site as well. The oldest trees in Antietam’s restored Piper Orchard are now more than ten years old. The privately-run Belle Grove Plantation on the Cedar Creek battlefield now has a small orchard, of heritage apples and is also keeping honeybees.

Young peach tree in front of Grant's Cabin, City Point

Young peach tree in front of Grant’s Cabin, City Point

At Grant’s Headquarters at City Point on the James River, which had been the Richard Eppes plantation before the war, a few fruit trees have been replanted on the grounds. More significantly, the National Parks Service commissioned a study by the Olmsted Foundation which scoured sketches and paintings of the Eppes Plantation, Richard Eppes’ diaries and account books at the Virginia Historical Society, as well as the letters and diaries of other visitors to the plantation just before or during the time it served as Grant’s headquarters to determine what Eppes planted and where.  They are using that study as a blueprint for a gradual restoration of Eppes’ original landscaping, which included a wide range of fruit trees scattered about the property.

Irvin McDowel went 0-2 at Manassas.  But he loved the local apples.

Irvin McDowel went 0-2 at Manassas. But he loved the local apples.

Nonetheless, it is easier to decide to restore orchards on historic sites, than it is to actually succeed in these efforts. Our National Parks have been starved for funding for years, and the current sequester will only make an already tight situation tighter.  Privately funded sites like Belle Grove also struggle to meet their payrolls. While visiting the Manassas National Battlefield Park, I was delighted to learn that at least one orchard was mentioned in the story of the Battle of Second Manassas, and that Park Service staff had made some effort to replant trees on the Brawner Farm. It was under the branches of the Brawner apple orchard that the hapless but always hungry Ohio General Irvin McDowell spread out his maps and ate “apples by the basket” as he tried to figure out what his Confederate foes were up to.

Deer have made quick work of the netting at Manassas

Deer have made quick work of the netting at Manassas

When I arrived at the Brawner Farm, however, I was disappointed with what I found. In the middle of a pasture of waist-high grass resided a motley collection of young apple trees, each surrounded by not-so-sturdy deer fence, many of them collapsed in on the trees.  I strode into the wet grass to get a closer look, and found several trees completely entangled in the collapsed deer netting, some of them having been in that condition long enough that they were now growing sideways.  While I didn’t hold out much hope for these trees, I couldn’t leave without making some effort to rescue them, carefully untangling the netted trees while my bemused but patient students waited along a dry path some yards away.

At the Shirley plantation, staff recently planted one peach, one apple, one plum, and one cherry tree where an orchard once stood. Hope they are self-fertile varieties!

At the Shirley plantation, staff recently planted one peach, one apple, one plum, and one cherry tree where an orchard once stood. Hope they are self-fertile varieties!

In the interpretive center at the Brawner Farm, one ranger expressed skepticism about the whole project. The farmhouse that the interpretive center occupies was itself a post-war construction, albeit on the site of an earlier farmhouse that resided on roughly the same footprint.  If the very farmhouse itself was not the same as the one that was there in the midst of the battle, he asked me, what value was there in trying to replant a historic orchard on the site? Was this taking the desire to restore battlefields to their precise pre-battle condition a bit too far?

Given what I know about the effort and resources it takes to care for an orchard—and to protect them from the ravages of deer, insects, and harmful diseases and fungi—I had to conceded that this might not be the wisest use of scarce park resources. At Gettysburg and elsewhere, success in these efforts came only when the historic site found committed and knowledgeable volunteers willing to take responsibility for the trees. I can’t fault the over-stretched staff of Manassas National Battlefield Park for neglect, and instead I applaud their intention. It is my hope that they can find a group of committed volunteers to take over this project. And they will need to invest in some more substantial deer fence.

Volunteers for the Philly Orchard Project.

Volunteers for the Philly Orchard Project.

These local volunteer organizations might learn a great deal by looking at the efforts of Urban Orchard organizations around the country, which would no doubt be great resources for them. These include groups like the Philadelphia Orchard Project, Seattle’s City Fruit, the Portland Fruit Tree Project, the Boston Tree Party, and Los Angeles’ Fallen Fruit collective. These organizations have learned a great deal about the pitfalls and promise of planting and maintaining public orchards. I hope that efforts to replant orchards on federal, state, and private historic sites continues to grow, and am eager to learn about other efforts out there.  Please let me know about other efforts by contributing a comment below.

Pequot Orchards


Pequot Hill from my kayak.

Pequot Hill from my kayak.

In the summer of 2012 I had the opportunity to participate in a five week summer seminar for scholars on American Maritime History, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and held at the Mystic Seaport Museum.  In the mornings and evenings I often paddled my kayak along the Mystic River. Rising from the west bank of the river, just across from Mystic Seaport is Pequot Hill, the site where an English force led by John Mason surrounded the Pequot fort atop the hill, set it on fire, and shot anyone who tried to escape. Six to seven hundred Pequots died that day—some warriors, but mostly women, children,

Depiction of the slaughter of Pequots on Pequot hill, May 26, 1637.

Depiction of the slaughter of Pequots on Pequot hill, May 26, 1637.

and old men. When the surviving Pequot surrendered more than a year later, most were enslaved to English-allied tribes or sent to Bermuda. In an attempt to erase the Pequot from memory, the English declared that the word “Pequot” should never be uttered again.

But the Pequot’s story is not just a story of massacre and extermination. It is a story of a determined people who survived an invasion of their lands through both resistance and adaptation. The small nucleus of independent Pequot who survived the Pequot War eventually secured rights to about 3000 acres of land in their ancestral homelands north of Mystic. Some of that land today is owned by the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, who have since built a remarkable museum retelling the Pequot story.  During my summer at Mystic, I was able to get to know Jason Mancini, Senior Researcher at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, who is working on a fascinating project mapping the journeys of Indian Mariners.

Depiction of a Pequot Village in the Pequot Museum

Depiction of a Pequot Village in the Pequot Museum

Among the things I learned from Jason (and at the fine Pequot agriculture exhibit in the museum) was that the Pequot were very early adopters of old world apple and peach orchards. In my article, “Apples on the Border: Orchards and the Contest for the Great Lakes,” and also in my book, Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard, I argued that orchards were a critical part of the European mixed husbandry regime which was in essence a three-legged stool: annual crops (grains), perennial crops (orchard fruit) and domesticated livestock. Before the arrival of Europeans, the Pequots and most other peoples occupying eastern North America practiced a mixed subsistence regime, combining annual crops with hunting and gathering to sustain themselves.

The European mixed-husbandry regime established new rules of property on the

The English brought Red Devon cattle to New England early in the colonization process.

The English brought Red Devon cattle to New England early in the colonization process.

landscape, and privileged the idea of fixity (staying in one place and claiming near-absolute rights to a fixed piece of land) over mobility (seasonal movement to the best sources of food, understanding property as specific land-use rights). In other words, the arrival of the European mixed husbandry regime in the Americas was a classic instance of what Antonio Gramsci called hegemony—when a dominant culture establishes the rules of the game, which all other subordinate peoples must follow. The English mixed-husbandry regime would ultimately establish both a cultural and environmental hegemony over New England; to survive, the Pequot were required to fight for their rights within these new rules.  Jason Mancini recently sent me transcripts of some documents on Pequot orchards which appear to support my view of the important role orchards played in arguments between Native and European peoples about property rights. I need to do additional research to help me contextualize them, but I am offering readers a taste today, and welcome feedback.

cassacinamon

Robin Cassacinamon, early Pequot leader, as depicted in the Pequot Museum.

The documents are dated between the 1720s and 1760s, and chronicle the persistent efforts of Pequot Indians to protect their lands against English encroachment. A document from 1721 was an appeal by “the Pequot Indians Living at Mashuntuxitt (in Groaton)” made by a Pequot leader using the name of the long deceased but revered Pequot leader Robin Cassacinamon.  By the 1720s, the Pequot confronted illegal intrusions onto their land by a rapidly growing English population, most of whom were unwilling to recognize the Pequot’s legal or moral claims to the land.  The appeal chronicled the efforts of Pequot to adopt the European mixed-husbandry regime, and asserted the Mashantucket Pequots’ rights to the land they occupied by both historic claim (“where our Predicessors anciently dwelt”) and by the English doctrine of improvement, which was a central principle of the mixed husbandry regime. For the English, those who did not “improve” the land by adapting it for mixed husbandry forfeited the right to it. The Pequot petitioners noted that they had “improved” the land  by planting both corn and orchards, and “our orchards are of great worth & Value to us. by Reason our Grandfathers & fathers Planted them & the Apples are a great relief to us.” Despite these efforts, it appeared that by 1721 Englishmen from Groton were eager to claim some of this land improved by the Pequot, dividing it in lots and fencing it. The Pequot protested that the English once “Called us brethren: & Esteemed us to be Rational Creatures: but behold now they make us as Goats by moving us from place to place, to Clear rough land: & make it profitable for ‘em.”

In Creatures of Empire, Virginia DeJohn Anderson examines the role European livestock played in the conquest of North America.

In Creatures of Empire, Virginia DeJohn Anderson examines the role European livestock played in the conquest of North America.

Additional records Jason sent along suggest that the conflict between acquisitive Groton English and the Mashantucket Pequot continued for decades, with the Groton men cutting wood and allowing their hogs and cattle to forage freely on lands claimed by the Pequot. In fact, it appears that the Groton English were soon using their livestock as “creatures of empire,” allowing their hogs and cattle to invade and destroy Pequot orchards.  The English response to Pequot complaints about the destruction wrought by their wandering livestock was to argue that the Pequot needed to build better fences. English law at this time did not require farmers to fence in livestock.  Instead, those growing crops were expected to fence them in; owners of marauding livestock were not liable for the damage they did to other people’s crops and orchards.

I am eager to do more research on Pequot orchards and their role in the Pequots’ efforts to defend their rights to their lands.  I hope to write additional blog posts on the subject over the course of the summer.

Battlefield Orchards


The peach orchard at Gettysburg.

The peach orchard at Gettysburg.

In a few weeks I will be taking students on an eleven day biennial Civil War tour of eastern theater battlefields and sites.  We visit Gettysburg, Antietam, Harper’s Ferry, and a whole host of sites in Virginia.  While orchards have been the focus of my research for the last decade or so, I have been teaching courses on the Civil War and leading tours to eastern battlefields for the last fifteen.  I have decided to use this trip as an opportunity to gather information on a subject at the intersection of these interests–orchards on Civil War battlefields.  Of course, most students of the Civil War are familiar with the infamous peach orchards of Gettysburg and maps of antietamShiloh, but orchards were ubiquitous on the mid 19th century American landscape, soldiers waged war in the midst of them, and filled their bellies with their fruit in season.  I have a few resources to get me started.  Bradley Gottfried’s excellent Maps of Gettysburg, Maps of Antietam, and Maps of First Bull Run mark the locations of orchards on those battlefields.  Susan Dolan’s Fruitful Legacy: A Historic Context of Orchards in the United States contains information on orchards on many national parks.  But this seems like a perfect subject to crowd source.  Have you stumbled across restored orchards on visits to Civil War battlefields? Do you have any information to share about battlefield orchards that are now gone?  Even references to soldiers’ memoirs, letters, and diaries which discuss orchards on the battlefield, or those they may have raided during marches across the countryside are encouraged.  I will share anything I find during my upcoming tour on this blog.

This map from Gottfried's Maps of Gettysburg indicates locations of woods, fields, and orchards.

This map from Gottfried’s Maps of Gettysburg indicates locations of woods, fields, and orchards.