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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Commodities of New-England

By Francis Higginson (1587–1630)

[From New England’s Plantation. 1630.]

THOUGH, as the idle proverb is, “Travelers may lie by authority,” and so may take too much sinful liberty that way, yet I may say of myself, as once Nehemiah did in another case, “Shall such a man as I lie?” No, verily. It becometh not a preacher of truth to be a writer of falsehood in any degree; and therefore I have been careful to report nothing of New-England but what I have partly seen with mine own eyes, and partly heard and inquired from the mouths of very honest and religious persons, who by living in the country a good space of time have had experience and knowledge of the state thereof, and whose testimonies I do believe as myself.

It is a land of divers and sundry sorts all about Masathulets Bay, and at Charles river is as fat black earth as can be seen anywhere; and in other places you have a clay soil, in other gravel, in other sandy, as it is all about our Plantation at Salem, for so our town is now named.

The form of the earth here, in the superficies of it, is neither too flat in the plainness, nor too high in hills, but partakes of both in a mediocrity, and fit for pasture or for plough or meadow ground, as men please to employ it. Though all the country be, as it were, a thick wood for the general, yet in divers places there is much ground cleared by the Indians, and especially about the Plantation; and I am told that about three miles from us a man may stand on a little hilly place and see divers thousands of acres of ground as good as need to be, and not a tree in the same….

The fertility of the soil is to be admired at, as appeareth in the abundance of grass that groweth every where, both very thick, very long, and very high in divers places. But it groweth very wildly, with a great stalk, and a broad and ranker blade, because it never had been eaten with cattle, nor mowed with a scythe, and seldom trampled on by foot. It is scarce to be believed how our kine and goats, horses and hogs do thrive and prosper here, and like well of this country.

In our Plantation we have already a quart of milk for a penny. But the abundant increase of corn proves this country to be a wonderment. Thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, are ordinary here. Yea, Joseph’s increase in Egypt is outstripped here with us. Our planters hope to have more than a hundred-fold this year. And all this while I am within compass; what will you say of two hundred-fold, and upwards? It is almost incredible what great gain some of our English planters have had by our Indian corn. Credible persons have assured me, and the party himself avouched the truth of it to me, that of the setting of thirteen gallons of corn he hath had increase of it fifty-two hogsheads, every hogshead holding seven bushels of London measure, and every bushel was by him sold and trusted to the Indians for so much beaver as was worth eighteen shillings; and so of this thirteen gallons of corn, which was worth six shillings eight pence, he made about £327 of it the year following, as by reckoning will appear; where you may see how God blesseth husbandry in this land. There is not such great and plentiful ears of corn I suppose anywhere else to be found but in this country, being also of variety of colors, as red, blue, and yellow, &c.; and of one corn there springeth four or five hundred. I have sent you many ears of divers colors, that you might see the truth of it.

Little children here, by setting of corn, may earn much more than their own maintenance….

Our Governor hath store of green pease growing in his garden as good as ever I eat in England.

This country aboundeth naturally with store of roots of great variety and good to eat. Our turnips, parsnips and carrots are here both bigger and sweeter than is ordinarily to be found in England. Here are also store of pumpions, cowcumbers, and other things of that nature which I know not. Also, divers excellent pot-herbs grow abundantly among the grass, as strawberry leaves in all places of the country, and plenty of strawberries in their time, and penny-royal, winter-savory, sorrel, brooklime, liverwort, carvel, and watercresses; also leeks and onions are ordinary, and divers physical herbs. Here are also abundance of other sweet herbs, delightful to the smell, whose names we know not, and plenty of single damask roses, very sweet; and two kinds of herbs that bear two kinds of flowers very sweet, which they say are as good to make cordage or cloth as any hemp or flax we have.

Excellent vines are here up and down in the woods. Our Governor hath already planted a vineyard, with great hope of increase.

Also, mulberries, plums, raspberries, currants, chestnuts, filberts, walnuts, small-nuts, hurtleberries, and haws of white-thorn, near as good as our cherries in England, they grow in plenty here.

For wood, there is no better in the world, I think….

Also here be divers roots and berries, wherewith the Indians dye excellent holding colors, that no rain nor washing can alter. Also we have materials to make soap ashes and saltpetre in abundance.

For beasts there are some bears, and they say some lions also; for they have been seen at Cape Anne. Also here are several sorts of deer, some whereof bring three or four young ones at once, which is not ordinary in England; also wolves, foxes, beavers, otters, martens, great wild cats, and a great beast called a molke, as big as an ox. I have seen the skins of all these beasts since I came to this Plantation, excepting lions. Also here are great store of squirrels, some greater, and some smaller and lesser; there are some of the lesser sort, they tell me, that by a certain skin will fly from tree to tree, though they stand far distant.

New-England hath water enough, both salt and fresh. The greatest sea in the world, the Atlantic Sea, runs all along the coast thereof. There are abundance of islands along the shore, some full of wood and mast to feed swine, and others clear of wood, and fruitful to bear corn. Also we have store of excellent harbours for ships….

The abundance of sea-fish are almost beyond believing; and sure I should scarce have believed it except I had seen it with mine own eyes. I saw great store of whales, and grampuses, and such abundance of mackerels that it would astonish one to behold; likewise codfish, abundance on the coast, and in their season are plentifully taken. There is a fish called a bass, a most sweet and wholesome fish as ever I did eat; it is altogether as good as our fresh salmon; and the season of their coming was begun when we came first to New-England in June, and so continued about three months’ space. Of this fish our fishers take many hundreds together, which I have seen lying on the shore, to my admiration. Yea, their nets ordinarily take more than they are able to haul to land, and for want of boats and men they are constrained to let a many go after they have taken them; and yet sometimes they fill two boats at a time with them. And besides bass, we take plenty of scate and thornback, and abundance of lobsters, and the least boy in the Plantation may both catch and eat what he will of them. For my own part, I was soon cloyed with them, they were so great, and fat, and luscious. I have seen some myself that have weighed sixteen pound; but others have had divers times so great lobsters as have weighed twenty-five pound, as they assured me….

The temper of the air of New-England is one special thing that commends this place. Experience doth manifest that there is hardly a more healthful place to be found in the world that agreeth better with our English bodies. Many that have been weak and sickly in Old England, by coming hither have been thoroughly healed, and grown healthful and strong. For here is an extraordinary clear and dry air, that is of a most healing nature to all such as are of a cold, melancholy, phlegmatic, rheumatic temper of body. None can more truly speak hereof by their own experience than myself. My friends that knew me can well tell how very sickly I have been, and continually in physic, being much troubled with a tormenting pain through an extraordinary weakness of my stomach, and abundance of melancholic humors. But since I came hither on this voyage, I thank God I have had perfect health, and freed from pain and vomiting, having a stomach to digest the hardest and coarsest fare, who before could not eat finest meat; and whereas my stomach could only digest and did require such drink as was both strong and stale, now I can and do oftentimes drink New-England water very well. And I that have not gone without a cap for many years together, neither durst leave off the same, have now cast away my cap, and do wear none at all in the day time; and whereas beforetime I clothed myself with double clothes and thick waistcoats to keep me warm, even in the summer time, I do now go as thin clad as any, only wearing a light stuff cassock upon my shirt, and stuff breeches of one thickness without linings. Besides, I have one of my children, that was formerly most lamentably handled with sore breaking out of both his hands and feet of the king’s evil; but since he came hither he is very well ever he was, and there is hope of perfect recovery shortly, even by the very wholesomeness of the air, altering, digesting, and drying up the cold and crude humors of the body; and therefore I think it is a wise course for all cold complexions to come to take physic in New-England; for a sup of New-England’s air is better than a whole draught of Old England’s ale.

In the summer time, in the midst of July and August, it is a good deal hotter than in Old England, and in winter January and February are much colder, as they say; but the spring and autumn are of a middle temper.

Fowls of the air are plentiful here, and of all sorts as we have in England, as far as I can learn, and a great many of strange fowls which we know not….

Though it be here somewhat cold in the winter, yet here we have plenty of fire to warm us, and that a great deal cheaper than they sell billets and fagots in London; nay, all Europe is not able to afford to make so great fires as New-England. A poor servant here, that is to possess but fifty acres of land, may afford to give more wood for timber and fire as good as the world yields, than many noblemen in England can afford to do. Here is good living for those that love good fires. And although New-England have no tallow to make candles of, yet by the abundance of the fish thereof it can afford oil for lamps. Yea, our pine trees, that are the most plentiful of all wood, doth allow us plenty of candles, which are very useful in a house; and they are such candles as the Indians commonly use, having no other; and they are nothing else but the wood of the pine tree cloven in two little slices something thin, which are so full of the moisture of turpentine and pitch that they burn as clear as a torch.