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Cranberries during Colonial and Pre-Columbian Eras
Long before the European colonists arrived, the Native Americans used cranberries for making pemmican. At one time, the cranberry plants were native to New York City. But, they have disappeared not only from the city but also throughout the region.
In New Jersey, prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Lenni-Lenape Indian tribes, which were a branch of the Algonquins, were likely the first to harvest the fruits in New Jersey. For these people, the fruits had come to represent peace.
It didn’t take long for the white settlers to learn about cranberries from the natives. In many locales, the latter collected the berries and sold them to the European colonists.
Although most historical records refer to the Eastern tribes, there were also reports that the fruits were gathered and sold by Native Americans to settlers in the Northwest.
In addition, to consuming the fruits, the European settlers shipped them to Europe and England. According to one historical source, cranberries were being shipped to Europe as early as 1550.
According to historians, this was likely one of the first native fruits to be shipped to Europe. These were packed in barrels with water. In 1677, colonists shipped ten barrels of the berries along with other gifts to King Charles II. During the era of the clipper ships, the berries were packed in barrels with water. They were used as food by sailors on the ships in order to prevent scurvy.
From the beginning, cranberries were mentioned in the writings of the settlers. In 1614, Captain John Smith was among those who described the fruits.
In writing about the fruits, Roger Williams wrote in the 1640s that the name given by the local Native Americans was sasemineash. Williams said New England Indians ate the berries. John Josselyn, an English writer who made several voyages to New England, wrote in the 1670s that “the Indians and English use them much.”
Despite all the legends about cranberries being part of the Pilgrims first Thanksgiving dinner, there is no historical evidence stating that the natives contributed cranberries to the feast.
One of the early mentions concerning cranberries by European colonists was in a letter dated April 26, 1680. Written by Mahon Stacy, who lived in Burlington, N.J., to his brother in England, the letter indicated that the settlers got cranberries and other fruits from the Native Americans.
Colonel James Smith wrote about having eaten the berries in 1755. He had lived in Michigan and Ohio. After he had been captured by the French and Indians, he spent several years at Fort Duquesne and in the vicinity. The berries showed up on the menus at logging camps in the Midwest.
Very early on wherever the plants were native, most state laws sought to prevent harvesters from picking the unripe fruits. One such law in New Jersey was passed in 1789 and a similar one was in effect in Wisconsin. Cape Cod implemented such a law in 1773.
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