A History of the Apple in 10 Objects: Ships

William Halsall, Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor (1882)

In 1620, Separatists from England (otherwise known as the Pilgrims) arrived in what would become the United States aboard the Mayflower. The onboard menu was far less attractive than what draws travelers to the cruise buffet lines today – hard biscuits, salt pork, dried meats, oatmeal, fish, and a few pickled things. The Pilgrims were not the somber kill joys we tend think of them as – the ship also included stores of alcohol (legend has it that the Pilgrims only stopped in Massachusetts because the beer was running low and not because they actually wanted to settle on Cape Cod) as well as apple seeds for growing the fruit that would make hard cider. The Pilgrims shared a widespread belief that water was unwholesome and dangerous and so preferred to drink the fruits of fermentation.

Like the horses that carried apples overland, ships carried apples overseas. European explorers and colonists brought favorite apple varieties with them to the New World. Some of the first colonists tried planting grafted Old World apple trees but most did not fare well in their new environment. Fortunately, they also planted seeds, which tended to do better. As people moved further inland, they took their apples with them, establishing orchards in the Midwest and on the Pacific coast by the late 19th century.

Apples also traveled to South America with Spanish and Portuguese explorers. The apple trees became so thick and vigorous that by the time Charles Darwin landed in Chile in 1835, he claimed to have nearly missed the Chilean port of Valdivia for the tangle of foliage and fruit.

Apples arrived in Australia in 1788 when Captain Arthur Phillip established the English colony of Port Jackson (today’s Sydney). And the infamous Captain Bligh had a soft spot for plants, sending the Bounty’s  botanist to plant apple seedlings on the coast of Tasmania.

In 1862, writer Henry David Thoreau praised the apple’s sea legs, declaring that the apple “emulates man’s independence and enterprise. It is not simply carried… but like him, to some extent, it has migrated to this New World.”

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