History of Cider Part IV: Apples and Cider in North America

March 22, 2010

So far, I have only been looking at European history of apples and cider. Today, I will turn my attention to the New World.

  • While North America did have a few wild apples including garland crab (Malus cornaria), prairie crab (M. ioensis), and southern crab (M. angustifolia), officials are unsure how much they were used by Native Americans.
  • Nine years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in America, the first European apple trees were planted in 1623 in Boston by William Blackstone, who was a dissident of the Church of England and a minister to the Plymouth settlers. Stories say he saddle trained a bull and rode around the country side distributing apples to his friends. Due to problems with the British colonial authorities, he moved to Rhode Island in 1635 and established another apple orchard there.
  • Ben Watson states, “To the settlers of this new country, the apple represented the perfect homestead fruit. An apple tree, once it began to bear, would dependably produce bushels of fruit that could be used immediately for eating or cooking. Some varieties, like Roxbury Russet, could be stored in a cold cellar and kept all winter long, while others, like the old Hightop Sweet apple reputedly grown at Plymouth Plantation, could be sliced and dried for later use. But cider played the most crucial role in America’s rural economy, as pressing and fermenting the fresh juice of the apple was the easiest way for farmers to preserve the enormous harvest that came from even a modest orchard. Cider was also the basis for many other products, such as applejack, apple brandy, and cider vinegar, which was used to preserve other fresh foods and for myriad other purposes around the home” (pages 23-24).
  • In 1647, the first grafted tree from Europe arrived and was planted by Gov. Peter Stuyvesant in New Amsterdam. That same year, apple trees were being grafted onto wild rootstock in Virginia.
  • In 1741, apple trees from North America were beginning to be exported to other locations such as the West Indies. In 1773, the English apple crops failed, in which American apples were imported there as a result.
  • As in England, paying with cider became normal, especially in rural areas that did not see much currency. In 1740, cider cost three shillings for a barrel, compared to 1817 when it was selling for five dollars a hogshead. During this time, William Coxe encouraged cidermakders to convert part of their cider to vinegar, which was three times the price of cider. In his book A View of the Cultivation of Fruit Trees written in 1817, he lists how much cider and apple brandy were made.
  • Most people could not afford to buy European grafted apple trees, so much of the propagation and spread of apples in North America was done by seed, as they were easy to carry and plant. Orchards sprung up where farmers disposed of the crushed and pressed apple pomace that included seeds.  However, the most famous spreading of apple seeds was done by a man named John Chapman , AKA Johnny Appleseed. An eccentric man, he tried to push west ahead of settlers between 1797 and at least 1806 to have established orchards by time settlements were beginning to develop.
  • Watson estimates that one out of every ten farms in New England owned and operated a cider mill by 1775. He explains cider’s popularity, “…most early settlers preferred not to drink the local water, which could be unpalatable or even – close to settlements – polluted. This left milk and alcoholic beverages, but importing such a staple as ale from England was expensive and chancy, and early experiments in growing barley and hops in New England had proved a dismal failure… Apple trees, however, could be grown almost everywhere in America, and it didn’t take long for the colonists to put down their persimmon beer and take up cidermaking in earnest” (pages 24-25). A single village near Boston with about forty families reported in 1726 of making 10,000 barrels of cider. In 1767, the per capita average of 1.14 barrels of cider was being consumed in Massachusetts, by both men, women, and children, averaging about 35 gallons of cider. John Adams, the second president of the United States, drank a tankard of cider every morning.
  • In 1790, around 96% of Americans lived on farms which produced nearly all the food they needed, while only 4% of the population lived in towns.
  • Seed propagation lead to the establishment of many new apple breeds, which in turn lead nurseries in the 1800s to offer many different apple varieties. There were more than five hundred cultivated apple varieties in 1850, and eleven hundred that had originated in America was listed in Fruit and Fruit Trees of America in 1872 by Charles Downing.
  • In the 1840 Whig presidential campaign, William Henry Harrison and John Tyler used the log cabin and the cider barrel as their logo for self reliant Americans, and gave out cider to all voters. They won, 234 to 60.

Part V will be on March 29, 2010

My sources include:

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3 Responses to “History of Cider Part IV: Apples and Cider in North America”


  1. […] useful, pears were passed over for the more popular apple, partly because of their propagation by Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman. This is because most pear seeds are sterile, making them more difficult to propagate from seed as […]


  2. […] and well in raw apple juice unless it is treated. This is main reason cider, wine, and beer was so much safer to drink though the ages than water, often because water was polluted with sewage, and it kept longer than milk did. And remember, […]


  3. […] History of Cider Part IV – Foothold of Apples and Cider in America […]


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