The Indians were the first to cultivate the land of Rhode Island. They raised corn, beans, pumpkins, cucumbers, tobacco, and squash using fish for fertilizer. The Indian women did most of the gardening with the men helping only with the growing of tobacco. They also discovered the value of rotating their crops.
Roger Williams came to Rhode Island in 1636, fleeing religious persecution in Massachusetts. He wrote that "the strawberry was the wonder of all fruits, growing in these parts." When he first saw the squash in an Indian garden, he called it a "vine apple". He later learned the Indian name for them was askutasquash.
Life for these early settlers was a hard and cheerless struggle for existence, with food being their primary concern. Their gardens consisted mainly of vegetables and herbs.
The herbs were used for seasonings and for medicinal purposes. They cultivated hellebore, horehound, and yarrow, which they found growing in the wild. For teas they used sage, tansy, pennyroyal, chamomile, mint, rue, and blackberry root. Also growing in their gardens were rosemary, marjoram, sweet basil, and heartsease.
The woods and bogs provided them many native products. Wild grapes were found growing in great abundance as were cranberries, which were sent back to English relativies as a rariety.
The soil was fertile but very rocky. The rocks had to be removed from the fields before they could be cultivated. These rocks and their use produced one of the most distinguishing features of Rhode Island today, its miles and miles of old stone walls.
Since most animals were allowed to graze freely, it became necessary for the settlers to fence in their houses, gardens, and orchards to keep the animals out. To this day, though the houses may have long since disappeared, walled in plots of all sizes still remain.
An account written in 1690 says " Rhode Island is of considerable bigness and justly called the Garden of New England, for its pleasantness and fertility. It abounds with all things necessary for the life of man; is excellent for sheep, swine, and horses. It is free'd from the dangers of bears, wolves, and foxes which much molest and daminfie those that live on the continent, by being environed by the sea."
Some colonists had brought along with them somes small fruit trees. Governor Hopkins wrote in 1765, "Mr. William Blackstone planted upon his farm at Study Hill an orchard, the first in the Colony of Rhode Island. He had the first of that sort called yellow sweetings, that were ever in the world, perhaps the richest and most delicious apple of the whole kind."
The colony flourshied, and as the houses became more pretentious, the gardens became more elaborate. Boxwood was used as hedges and as clipped borders for herbs and flower beds. They were usually laid out in geometric designs following good English tradition.
Rhode Island has a rich heritage of tradition and perhaps the greatest seed of all, brought here by our ancestors and nourished in this rocky soil, until it spread from this little corner to all parts of America and finally blossomed into one of our four freedoms.
"Freedom of every person to worship God in his own way."
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