John Lawson (1674-1711) sailed from London to the Carolinas in 1700, when he was 26 years old, after a friend told him that the Carolinas were the best part of America to visit. He set sail almost immediately arriving 1st in New York, then traveling on to the port of Charles Town, modern Charleston, in the summer of 1700. From there he began a 57 day trek that covered nearly 600 miles. They journeyed up the Santee River in a canoe large enough to hold 6 Englishmen, 4 Indians, & their equipment. They traveled up the Yadkin River valley to present-day North Carolina. All along the way, John Lawson recorded his observations in what became his 1709 book, A New Voyage to Carolina.
When he returned to London to publish his book, Lawson met James Petiver—an apothecary known for his vast collection of natural history specimens. Petiver asked Lawson to send him specimens of dried plants, after he returned to the New World. Petiver also supplied Lawson with apothecary & botanical materials. Lawson asked Petiver for varieties of grape vines & stone fruits to take back to North Carolina, as well as information on making wine & distilling spirits.
Lawson sailed back to North Carolina in the spring of 1710, & began fulfilling his promise to Petiver. He sent packets of dried plants to him in 1710 & 1711. The plants usually reached London some 3 months after being shipped out of Norfolk, Virginia. These dried plants eventually found their way to the Natural History Museum (British Museum), where they can be viewed today. Lawson began collecting plants even as he led colonists south toward New Bern. On May 10, 1710, he collected a huckleberry & wrote this note: “The largest huckleberry... green berries on the stem... we’ve gotten in Norfolk County in Virginia.”
The winter of 1711, Lawson left New Bern during the last week of January. On January 29 he recorded collecting a “spontaneous of Carolina growing on a Fork of Neus River & in other places... had from flowers, like drops of blood a few... sweet herb.” Two days later, he stopped at William Hancock’s “on the south side on Neus Rv.” There, he collected specimens of American olive, which he described as “a pritty tree growing on a sandy point by the water side.”
He founded 2 settlements in North Carolina: Bath & New Bern, both at the coast. In September 1711, Lawson & his associate Christopher von Graffenried were captured by Tuscarora Indians while ascending the Neuse River. The Tuscarora released von Graffenried, but they subjected Lawson to ritual torture, typical of warriors, & killed him. Shortly thereafter, tensions between the Tuscarora & their allies & settlers erupted into a bloody conflict known as the Tuscarora War, lasting until the defeat of the Tuscarora in 1715. The colonists gathered their own American Indian allies, especially from among the Yamasee & Cherokee, traditional enemies & competitors of the Tuscarora.
The plants Lawson gathered during this trip were sent to England from Virginia in July. Lawson’s last letter to Petiver was written in July 1711 from Virginia. Petiver got the letter in London on October 20, 1711, almost exactly a month after Lawson’s death.
A New Voyage to Carolina; Containing the Exact Description and Natural History of That Country: Together with the Present State Thereof. And A Journal of a Thousand Miles, Travel'd Thro' Several Nations of Indians. Giving a Particular Account of Their Customs, Manners, &c. by John Lawson 1709
Of the Corn of Carolina.
THE Wheat of this Place is very good, seldom yielding less than thirty fold, provided the Land is good where it is sown; Not but that there has been Sixty-six Increase for one measure sown in Piny-Land, which we account the meanest Sort. And I have been inform'd, by People of Credit, that Wheat which was planted in a very rich Piece of Land, brought a hundred and odd Pecks, for one. If our Planters, when they found such great Increase, would be so curious as to make nice Observations of the Soil, and other remarkable. Accidents, they would soon be acquainted with the Nature of the Earth and Climate, and be better qualified to manage their Agriculture to more Certainty, and greater Anvantage; whereby they might arrive to the Crops and Harvests of Babylon, and those other fruitful Countries so much talk'd of. For I must confess, I never saw one Acre of Land manag'd as it ought to be in Carolina, since I knew it; and were they as negligent in their Husbandry in Europe, as they are in Carolina, their Land would produce nothing but Weeds and Straw.
They have try'd Rye, and it thrives very well; but having such Plenty of Maiz, they do not regard it, because it makes black Bread, unless very curiously handled.
Barley has been sowed in small quantities, and does better than can be expected; because that Grain requires the Ground to be very well work'd with repeated Ploughings, which our general Way of breaking the Earth with Hoes, can, by no means, perform, tho' in several Places we have a light, rich, deep, black Mould, which is the particular Soil in which Barley best thrives.
The naked Oats thrive extraordinary well; and the other would prove a very bold Grain; but the Plenty of other Grains makes them not much coveted.
The Indian Corn, or Maiz, proves the most useful Grain in the World; and had it not been for the Fruitfulness of this Species, it would have proved very difficult to have settled some of the Plantations in America. It is very nourishing, whether in Bread, sodden, or otherwise; And those poor Christian Servants in Virginia, Maryland, and the other northerly Plantations, that have been forced to live wholly upon it, do manifestly prove, that it is the most nourishing Grain, for a Man to subsist on, without any other Victuals. And this Assertion is made good by the Negro-Slaves, who, in many Places, eat nothing but this Indian Corn and Salt. Pigs and Poultry fed with this Grain, eat the sweetest of all others. It refuses no Grounds, unless the barren Sands, and when planted in good Ground, will repay the Planter seven or eight hundred fold; besides the Stalks bruis'd and boil'd, make very pleasant Beer, being sweet like the Sugar-Cane.
There are several sorts of Rice, some bearded, others not, besides the red and white; But the white Rice is the best. Yet there is a sort of persum'd Rice in the East-Indies, which gives a curious Flavour, in the Dressing. And with this sort America is not yet acquainted; neither can I learn, that any of it has been brought over to Europe; the Rice of Carolina being esteem'd the best that comes to that Quarter of the World. It is of great Increase, yielding from eight hundred to a thousand-fold, and thrives best in wild Land, that has never been broken up before.
Buck-Wheat is of great Increase in Carolina; but we make no other use of it, than instead of Maiz, to feed Hogs and Poultry : And Guinea Corn, which thrives well here, serves for the same use.
Of the Pulse-kind, we have many sorts. The first is the Bushel-Bean, which is a spontaneous Product. They are so called, because they bring a Bushel of Beans for one that is planted. They are set in the Spring, round Arbours, or at the Feet of Poles, up which they will climb, and cover the Wattling, making a very pretty Shade to fit under. They continue flowering, budding, and ripening all the Summer long, till the Frost approaches, when they forbear their Fruit, and die. The Stalks they grow on, come to the Thickness of a Man's Thumb; and the Bean is white and mottled, with a purple Figure on each side it, like an Ear. They are very flat, and are eaten as the Windsor-Bean is, being an extraordinary well-relish'd Pulse, either by themselves, or with Meat.
Pease and Beans.
We have the Indian Rounceval, or Miraculous Pease, so call'd from their long Pods, and great Increase. These are latter Pease, and require a pretty long Summer to ripen in. They are very good; and so are the Bonavis, Calavancies, Nanticokes, and abundance of other Pulse, too tedious here to name, which we found the Indians possess'd of, when first we settled in America; some of which sorts afford us two Crops in one Year; as the Bonavis and Calavancies, besides several others of that kind.
Now I am launch'd into a Discourse of the Pulse, I must acquaint you, that the European Bean planted here, will, in time, degenerate into a dwarfish sort, if not prevented by a yearly Supply of foreign Seed, and an extravagant rich Soil; yet these Pigmy-Beans are the sweetest of that kind I ever met withal.
As for all the sorts of English Pease that we have yet made tryal of, they thrive very well in Carolina. Particularly, the white and gray Rouncival, the common Field-Pease, and Sickle-Pease yield very well, and are of a good Relish. As for the other sorts, I have not seen any made tryal of as yet, but question not their coming to great Perfection with us.
The Kidney-Beans were here before the English came, being very plentiful in the Indian Corn-Fields.
The Garden-Roots that thrive well in Carolina, are Carrots, Leeks, Parsnips, Turneps, Potatoes, of several delicate sorts, Ground Artichokes, Radishes, Horse-Radish, Beet, both sorts, Onions, Shallot, Garlick, Cives, and the Wild-Onions.
The Sallads are the Lettice, Curl'd, Red, Cabbage, and Savoy. The Spinage round and prickly, Fennel, sweet and the common Sort, Samphire in the Marshes excellent, so is the Dock or Wild-Rhubarb, Rocket, Sorrel, French and English, Cresses of several Sorts, Purslain wild, and that of a larger Size which grows in the Gardens; for this Plant is never met withal in the Indian Plantations, and is, therefore, suppos'd to proceed from Cow-Dung, which Beast they keep not. Parsley two Sorts; Asparagus thrives to a Miracle, without hot Beds or dunging the Land, White-Cabbage from European or New-England Seed, for the People are negligent and unskilful, and don't take care to provide Seed of their own. The Colly-Flower we have not yet had an Opportunity to make Tryal of, nor has the Artichoke ever appear'd amongst us, that I can learn. Coleworts plain and curl'd, Savoys; besides the Water-Melons of several Sorts, very good; which should have gone amongst the Fruits. Of Musk-Melons we have very large and good, and several Sorts, as the Golden, Green, Guinea, and Orange. Cucumbers long, short, and prickly, all these from the Natural Ground, and great Increase, without any Helps of Dung or Reflection. Pompions yellow and very large, Burmillions, Cashaws, an excellent Fruit boil'd; Squashes, Simnals, Horns, and Gourds; besides many other Species, of less Value, too tedious to name.
Exotick Fruits we have, that thrive well in Carolina; and what others, it may reasonably be suppos'd, would do there, were they brought thither and planted. In pursuance of which, I will set down a Catalogue of what Fruits we have; I mean Species: For should I pretend to give a regular Name to every one; it's neither possible for me to do it, nor for any one to understand it, when done; if we consider, that the chiefest part of our Fruit came from the Kernel, and some others from the Succours, or Sprouts of the Tree. First, we will begin with Apples; which are the
Pearmain Winter. Summer.
Harvey-Apple, I cannot tell, whether the same as in England.
The Golden Russet thrives well.
The Pearmains, of both sorts, are apt to speck, and rot on the Trees; and the Trees are damaged and cut off by the Worm, which breeds in the Forks, and other parts thereof; and often makes a Circumposition, by destroying the Bark round the Branches, till it dies.
Harvey-Apple; that which we call so, is esteem'd very good to make Cider of.
Winter Queening is a durable Apple, and makes good Cider.
Leather-Coat; both Apple and Tree stand well.
The Juniting is early ripe, and soon gone, in these warm Countries.
Codlin; no better, and fairer Fruit in the World; yet the Tree suffers the same Distemper, as the Pearmains, or rather worse; the Trees always dying before they come to their Growth.
The Redstreak thrives very well.
Long-stalk is a large Apple, with a long Stalk, and makes good Summer Cider.
We beat the first of our Codlin Cider, against reaping our Wheat, which is from the tenth of June, to the five and twentieth.
Lady-Finger, the long Apple, the same as in England, and full as good. We have innumerable sorts; some call'd Rope-Apples which are small Apples, hanging like Ropes of Onions; Flattings, Grigsons, Cheese-Apples, and a great number of Names, given according to every ones Discretion.
The Warden-Pear here proves a good eating Pear; and is not so long ripening as in England.
And several others without Name, The Bergamot we have not, nor either of the Bonne Chrestiennes, though I hear, they are all three in Virginia. Those sorts of Pears which we have, are as well relisht, as ever I eat any where; but that Fruit is of very short Continuance with us, for they are gone almost as soon as ripe.
I am not a Judge of the different sorts of Quinces, which they call Brunswick, Portugal, and Barbary; But as to the Fruit, in general, I believe no Place has fairer and better relisht. They are very pleasant eaten raw. Of this Fruit, they make a Wine, or Liquor, which they call Quince-Drink, and which I approve of beyond any Drink which that Country affords, though a great deal of Cider and some Perry is there made. The Quince-Drink most commonly purges those that first drink it, and cleanses the Body very well. The Argument of the Physicians, that they bind People, is hereby contradicted, unless we allow the Quinces to differ in the two Countries. The least Slip of this Tree stuck in the Ground, comes to bear in three years.
All Peaches, with us, are standing; neither have we any Wall-Fruit in Carolina; for we have Heat enough, and therefore do not require it. We have a great many sorts of this Fruit, which all thrive to Admiration, Peach-Trees coming to Perfection (with us) as easily as the Weeds. A Peach falling on the Ground, brings a Peach-Tree that shall bear in three years, or sometimes sooner. Eating Peaches in our Orchards makes them come up so thick from the Kernel, that we are forced to take a great deal of Care to weed them out; otherwise they make our Land a Wilderness of Peach-Trees.
They generally bear so full, that they break great part of their Limbs down. We have likewise very fair Nectarines, especially the red, that clings to the Stone, the other yellow Fruit, that leaves the Stone; of the last, I have a Tree, that, most Years, brings me fifteen or twenty Bushels. I see no Foreign Fruit like this, for thriving in all sorts of Land, and bearing its Fruit to Admiration. I want to be satisfy'd about one sort of this Fruit, which the Indians claim as their own, and affirm, they had it growing amongst them, before any Europeans came to America. The Fruit I will describe, as exactly as I can. The Tree grows very large, most commonly as big as a handsome Apple-tree; the Flowers are of a reddish, murrey Colour; the Fruit is rather more downy, than the yellow Peach, and commonly very large and soft, being very full of Juice. They part freely from the Stone, and the Stone is much thicker than all the other Peach Stones we have, which seems to me, that it is a Spontaneous Fruit of America; yet in those Parts of America that we inhabit, I never could hear that any Peach-Trees were ever found growing in the Woods; neither have the foreign Indians, that live remote from the English, any other sort. And those living amongst us have a hundred of this sort for one other; they are a hardy Fruit, and are seldom damaged by the North-East Blasts, as others are. Of this sort we make Vinegar; wherefore we call them Vinegar-Peaches, and sometimes Indian-Peaches.
This Tree grows to a vast Bigness, exceeding most Apple-Trees. They bear well, tho' sometimes an early Spring comes on in February, and perhaps, when the Tree is fully blown the Cloudy North-East-Winds which attend the end of, that Month, or the beginning of March, destroy most of the Fruit. The biggest Apricock-Tree I ever saw, as they told me, was grafted on a Peach-Stock, in the Ground. I know of no other sort with us, than the Common. We generally raise this Fruit from the Stone, which never fails to bring the same Fruit. Likewise our Peach-Stones effect the same, without so much as once missing, to produce the same sort that the Stone came from.
Damson, Damazeen, and a large round black Plum are all I have met withal in Carolina. They thrive well enough; the last to Admiration, and becomes a very large Tree, if in stiff Ground; otherwise they will not do well.
Of Figs we have two sorts; One is the low Bush-Fig, which bears a large Fruit. If the Winter happens to have much Frost, the tops thereof die, and in the Spring sprout again, and bear two or three good Crops.
The Tree-Fig is a lesser Fig, though very sweet. The Tree grows to a large Body and Shade, and generally brings a good Burden; especially, if in light Land. This Tree thrives no where better, than on the Sand-Banks by the Sea.
We have the common red and black Cherry, which bear well. I never saw any grafted in this Country, the common excepted, which was grafted on an Indian Plum-stock, and bore well. This is a good way, because our common Cherry-Trees are very apt to put Scions all round the Tree, for a great Distance, which must needs be prejudicial to the Tree and Fruit. Not only our Cherries are apt to do so, but our Apples and most other Fruit-Trees, which may chiefly be imputed to the Negligence and Unskilfulness of the Gardener. Our Cherries are ripe a Month sooner than in Virginia.
Goosberries I have seen of the smaller sort, but find they do not do so well as in England, and to the Northward. Want of Dressing may be some Reason for this.
Currants, White, Red, and Black, thrive here, as well as any where.
Rasberries, the red and white, I never saw any Trial made of. But there is no doubt of their thriving to Admiration, since those of the Country do so well.
The Mulberries are spontaneous. We have no others, than what I have already mentioned in the Class of Natural Fruits of Carolina.
Barberry red, with Stones, and without Stones, grow here.
Strawberries, not Foreign, but those of the Country, grow here in great Plenty. Last April I planted a Bed of two hunded Foot in Length, which bore the same Year.
Medlars we have none.
All sorts of Walnuts from England, France, and Maderas, thrive well from the Nut.
No Filberts, but Hazle-Nuts; the Filbert-Nut planted, becomes a good Hazle-Nut, and no better.
As for that noble Vegetable the Vine, without doubt, it may (in this Country) be improved, and brought to the fame Perfection, as it is, at this Day, in the fame Latitude in Europe, since the chiefest part of this Country is a deep, rich, black Mould, which is up towards the Freshes and Heads of our Rivers, being very rich and mix'd with Flint, Pebbles, and other Stones. And this sort of Soil is approv'd of (by all knowing Gardeners and Vigneroons) as a proper Earth, in which the Grape chiefly delights; and what seems to give a farther Confirmation hereof, is, that the largest Vines, that were every discover'd to grow wild, are found in those Parts, oftentimes in such Plenty, and are so interwoven with one another, that 'tis impossible to pass through them. Moreover, in these Freshes, towards the Hills, the Vines are above five times bigger than those generally with us, who are seated in the Front-parts of this Country, adjoining to the Salts. Of the wild Vines, which are most of them great Bearers, some Wine has been made, which I drank of. It was very strong and well relisht; but what detains them all from offering at great quantities, they add, that this Grape has a large Stone, and a thick Skin, and consequently yields but a small Quantity of Wine. Some Essays of this Nature have been made by that Honourable Knight, Sir Nathanael Johnson, in South Carolina, who, as I am inform'd, has rejected all Exotick Vines, and makes his Wine from the natural black Grape of Carolina, by grafting it upon its own Stock. What Improvement this may arrive to, I cannot tell; but in other Species, I own Grafting and Imbudding yields speedy Fruit, tho' I never found that it made them better.
New planted Colonies are generally attended with a Force and Necessity of Planting the known and approved Staple and Product of the Country, as well as all the Provisions their Families spend. Therefore we can entertain but small hopes of the Improvement of the Vine, till some skilful in dressing Vines shall appear amongst us, and go about it, with a Resolution, that Ordering the Vineyard shall be one half of their Employment. If this be begun and carried on, with that Assiduity and Resolution which it requires, then we may reasonably hope to see this a Wine-Country; for then, when it becomes a general Undertaking, every one will be capable to add something to the common Stock, of that which he has gain'd by his own Experience. This way would soon make the Burden light, and a great many short and exacter Curiosities, and real Truths would be found out in a short time. The trimming of Vines, as they do in France, that is, to a Stump, must either here be not follow'd, or we are not sensible of the exact time, when they ought to be thus pruned; for Experience has taught us, that the European Grape, suffer'd to run and expand itself at large, has been found to bear as well in America, as it does in Europe; when, at the same time, the same sort of Vine trimm'd to a Stump, as before spoken of, has born a poor Crop for one Year or two; and by its spilling, after cutting, emaciated, and in three or four Years, died. This Experiment, I believe, has never fail'd; for I have trimm'd the natural Vine the French way, which has been attended, at last, with the same Fate. Wherefore, it seems most expedient, to leave the Vines more Branches here, than in Europe, or let them run up Trees, as some do, in Lombardy, upon Elms. The Mulberries and Chinkapin are tough, and trimm'd to what you please, therefore fit Supporters of the Vines. Gelding and plucking away the Leaves, to hasten the ripening of this Fruit, may not be unnecessary, yet we see the natural wild Grape generally ripens in the Shade. Nature in this, and many others, may prove a sure Guide. The Twisting of the Stems to make the Grapes ripe together, loses no Juice, and may be beneficial, if done in Season. A very ingenious French Gentleman, and another from Switzerland, with whom I frequently converse, exclaim against that strict cutting of Vines, the generally approved Method of France and Germany, and say, that they were both out in their Judgment, till of late, Experience has taught them otherwise. Moreover, the French in North Carolina assure me, that if we should trim our Apple and other Fruit-Trees, as they do in Europe, we should spoil them. As for Apples and Plums, I have found by Experience, what they affirm to be true. The French, from the Mannakin Town on the Freshes of James River in Virginia, had, for the most part, removed themselves to Carolina, to live there, before I came away; and the rest were following, as their Minister, (Monsieur Philip de Rixbourg) told me, who was at Bath-Town, when I was taking my leave of my Friends. He assur'd me, that their Intent was to propagate Vines, as far as their present Circumstances would permit; provided they could get any Slips of Vines, that would do. At the same time, I had gotten some Grape-Seed, which was of the Jesuits white Grape from Madera. The Seed came up very plentifully, and, I hope, will not degenerate, which if it happens not to do, the Seed may prove the best way to raise a Vineyard, as certainly it is most easy for Transportation. Yet I reckon we should have our Seed from a Country, where the Grape arrives to the utmost Perfection of Ripeness.