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Last Updated 05/24/00

The Natural History of North-Carolina.
With an Account of the Trade, Manners, and Customs of the
Christian and Indian Inhabitants,
Illustrated with Copper-Plates, whereon are Curiously Engraved the Map of the
Country, several strange Beasts, Birds, Fishes, Snakes, Insects, Trees, and Plants, &c.

John Brickell (Dublin, 1737).


The Wheat of this Province is very good and fair, the Flour very White, but the Grain is not altogether so large as ours, yet it seldom yields less than thirty Measures for one sown; not but that there has been Sixty Increase for one sown in Piney Land, which is accounted the worst Soil in the Country, and I have been credibly inform’d, that the Wheat which was Planted in the Savannas, and such like rich Soil, has produced a Hundred for one Measure Sown. These considerable Increases prevent the Planters to make strict and nice Observations of the Nature and Goodness of the Soil; for I never saw one Acre of Land managed as it ought to be, and were they as Negligent in their Husbandry in Europe, as they are in North Carolina, their Land would produce nothing but Weeds. And I must confess, when some of the Planters enquired of me how we managed the Land in Ireland, and what Labour and Expence we were at in ordering them to the best Advantage, it seemed very surprising to them how we could live, and especially when I told him, that we paid from three Shillings to four or five Pounds per Acre (besides many heavy Taxes) which Relation they could by no means give Credit to, but looked upon what I said as meer Romances or Tales, to impose upon their Credulity.

The Rye thrives very well here, but they having such Plenty of Maiz, in this Province, they little regard or value it, and especially by Reason of the Blackness of the Bread it makes.

The Barley does much better here than may reasonable be expected from their Management of it, that Grain requiring the Ground to be well Wrought, with repeated Plowings to make it Mellow, which their general Way of breaking with Hoes will never perform; though I have seen extraordinary Barley produced in North Carolina, after that manner, or with one Plowing only.

Oats does well here, but the vast Plenty of other Grain prevents their propagating of it in many Places, so that it is not common in these Parts of America at present.

The Rice, whereof there are several Sorts, some Bearded, others not, beside the White and the Red, but the White is best. The Rice of Carolina is esteemed as good as any brought to Europe, and is of a prodigious Increase, yielding from eight Hundred to a Thousand for one Measure that is sown. It grows best in their Wet and wild Land, that hath not been cultivated or broken up before. The Indian-Corn or Maize is most commonly Planted with the Hoe, and proves the most useful Grain in these Parts, being in great Plenty all over this Province; it is very nourishing in Bread Sodden or otherwise, as appears by those that continually feed upon it, making them strong, able, and fit for hard Labour. It grows in all manner of Ground except Barren Sands; but when Planted in good Ground, produces for one Measure, Seven or eight Hundred, at the lowest Computation that can be made. Pigs and Poultery fed with this Grain, eat the sweetest of all others.

The Millet does very well here, especially in light and loose Ground, they sow it in April and May, and prospers best in moist and rainey Weather: The Plenty of other Grain, prevents the Planters from sowing much of it, being only made Use of in Carolina to fatten their Poultry with.

There are two Crops of Corn in the Year, viz. the European Wheat is generally cut down first, and in their Barns the beginning of June, then they immediately Plow, Sow, or Plant the same Ground with Buck-Wheat, or Indian Corn, which wonderfully increases, and is ready to be brought home in September, October, or November, with which they generally feed their Horses, Hogs, and Poultry.

The Guinea Wheat thrives likewise very well here, and serves for the Uses of the former.

There are several sorts of Pulse in this Province; and first, the Bushel Bean, so called from producing a Bushel of Beans or more from one that is Planted; they are a Spontanious product in Carolina, and are Set in the Spring round Arbours, or near long Poles set in the Ground for that purpose, where they make a good Shade to sit under in the extreamity of hot Weather; they continue Budding, Flowing, and Ripening all the Summer, until the approach of Frost, which prevents their farther Growth, and so dye; they climb prodigious high, and their Stalk is about the thickness of a Man’s Thumb, the Pod grows like the Kidney Bean, but the Bean is flat, white, or mottled, with a purple Colour: They are extraordinary good, and well relished Pulse, either by themselves or with Meat.

The Indian Rouncival, or Miraculous Pea, so called from their long Pods and great Increase. These are a late Pea, and require a pretty long Summer to ripen and bring them to Perfection, they are a good Pulse, and in great plenty all over this Province with Christians and Indians.

The Bonavis is another kind of Pulse, and yields a great Increase, it doth not require so long a Summer to ripen as the former, they grow like Kidney-Beans, and are very plenty in this Province.

The Calivances are another kind of Pulse, resembling the former, but are not so flat, they are in great plenty in most of the Plantations amongst the Indian Corn. These and the Bonavis, afford two Crops in the Year, and are generally ripe and in full perfection in six Weeks time.

The Nanticoacks are another kind of Pulse, and resemble the Calivances, and are in great plenty all over this Province.

There are several other kinds of Pulse in this Province that we have no Name for, which are well known amongst the Indians, and are excellent Food.

The Kidney-Bean, is likewise here in great plenty, growing for the most part in every Corn-Field. The Indians had these four Sorts of pulse, viz. the Bonavis, Calivances, Nanticoacks, and Kidney-Beans, and several other sorts, long before the Arrival of the Europeans amongst them; which Report I have had affirmed several times, not only from the Christians, but likewise from the Indians in these Parts.

The large European-Bean, will in two or three Years degenerate into a dwarfish Kind, if not prevented by a new Supply of Foreign Seed, as I have experienced during my stay in those Parts; yet these Dwarfish sort become sweeter, and better relish’d, than any Bean of the same Sort in Europe; but these kind of Beans are very little regarded or made use of, and therefore seldom Planted, by reason the other Pulse are in such Plenty all over this Province.

I have observed several sorts of European-Pease in this Province come to as great Perfection, as in most Parts of Europe, particularly the white and gray Rouncival, the Hot-Spur, the Dwarf, the Field and the Sickle-Pease; and there is no doubt but that all other kinds of European-Pease would thrive well here had any tryal been made.

The Garden Roots that thrive here are Parsnips, Carrots, Skirrets, Turnips, Ground-Artichoakes, Garden-Radishes, Horse-Radishes, Potatoes of several sorts, and very large, some whereof weigh four Pounds; Leeks, Onions in great plenty, and excellent good Shallots, Cives, Garlick, and wild Onions, Beets, and most other Roots that are to be met with in Europe.

The Sallads are the curl’d Cabbage, Savoy, Lettice, round prickly Spinage, the sweet and common Fennel, Endive, Succory, Mint, the Dock or Wild Rhubarb, Cresses of several sorts, as Winter, Garden, Indian, Sciatica, Water-Cresses, and many more; French and English Sorrel, Purslain two sorts, viz. the Tame and the Wild; which are so plenty, that they are common Weeds in their Gardens, the Leaf is not as large as the Tame, but as good; the Planters boil it with their Salt Meat for Greens, this is never to be met with in the Indian Plantations; and is supposed to be produced from the Cow-Dung, which Beast the Indians keep not amongst them.

Samphire, is in very great Plenty along the Marshes near the Sea and Salt Water, and is very good.

Mushrooms, good and in great Plenty all over the Fields.

Asparagus, thrives in this Province to a miracle, without the assistance or benefit of Hot-Beds, Dung, or other Manure, being only produced from the natural goodness of the Soil, and it is found in Plenty in most Gardens in this Province, and as good as any in Europe. As likewise Selery and Clary.

Parsley, two Sorts, the White-Cabbage, from European Seeds thrive well here, but the planters seldom or never take Care or Pains to preserve good Seed of their own; so that by their Negligence, it is not so common as otherwise it might. The Colly-Flower does not thrive well here, by what tryals I have seen made during my abode in those Parts; but the plain and curled Coleworth, flourisheth.

The Artichoak I have observed but in two Places in this Province, which is tollerable good, here are likewise great quantities of excellent good Water-Mellons of several sorts, Musk-Mellons, very good and of several sorts, as the Golden, Green, Guinea, and Orange. Cucumbers, long, short, and prickly, and all produced from the natural Ground with great Increase, without any help of Dung, or reflection from Glasses.

Pompions, yellow and very large Burmillions, Cashaws, which is an excellent Fruit when boyl’d, Squashes, Symnals, Horns and Gourds, besides variety of other Speces of less value, such as the Poke, which is a kind of Mechoacan, and grows in every Field, the tender Tops whereof may be boiled and made use of as other Greens with all the safety immaginable, and are very good and nourishing, but the Roots (which are as thick as a Man’s Leg) are not to be medled with, being in their Nature violent Purgers, and occasion those that eat of them to be frantick for some time, though I have never heard of any farther Mischief done by them. Lambs-Quarter, and various kinds of Salleting, too tedious to mention.

The Pot-Herbs, and others which are useful in Physick are common here, and are as follows, Angelica, two sorts, viz. the Wild and the Tame, Balm, Bugloss, Borrage, Burnet, Marygold, Pennyroyal, Rue, Marjoram, two sorts, Summer and Winter Savory, Thyme, Rosemary, Lavender, Hyssop, which grows very large, Sweet Bazil, Groundsel, Derg, red and white, Nep or Cat-mint, Mallows several sorts, Tansay, Columbine, Dandelion, Wormwood, Southernwood, Bastard Saffron; and several sorts of Mustard.

The more Physical Plants are Anis, Asarabacca, growing in most Places in the Woods; Cardus, Benedictus, Caraway, Cummin, Coriander, Scurvy-Grass, two sorts; the one from Europe, and the other Spontaneous.

In these Parts Tobacco of many sorts, Dill, all the European sorts of Plantain, and two Spontaneous, Elecampain, Archangel, or Dead-Nettle, the Stinging-Nettle, the Seed being brought from Europe, there being none found growing Spontaneous in North Carolina—Comfery, Monks-Rhubarb, Burdock, Featherfew, Wormfeed, Garden-Poppies, none yet being discover’d growing Wild in this Province. Ground-Ivy is Spontaneous, but much smaller than the European; Perewinkle growing in great plenty in most parts of the Woods; Golden-Rod, several sorts of Horehound, Melilot, Bastard-Lovage. The Rattle-Snake-Root, whereof there are three sorts, and is so called, because it alone cures the Bite of the Rattle-Snake; it is very plenty in all the Savannas and Woods. Snake-Root, four sorts in Carolina; Purging Bindweed or Scamony, growing in most parts of this Province.

The Ipecacuana grows likewise in great Plenty in this Province, which I frequently made Use of during my stay in that Country, with as good Success as any I have ever met with in Europe. This Herb bringeth forth one or more Stalks, which are Quadrangular, about a Foot high, whereon grow Leaves confusedly set at certain distance one from the other, unless at the Top, where they grow one opposite to the other, something like Purslain, but more sharp, and of a dark green colour, with a red circle about the Edges, and divided with Threads or Sinews in the middle, which perish in Winter. I am not certain whether it beareth Flowers or Seed; the Root is so well known in every Apothecary’s Shop, that it would be needless to trouble the Reader with a farther Description about it. This and the Scamony grow in high Sandy Ground, in many Places in Carolina. Oak of Jerusalem, Indian-purger, Swallow-wort, Palma-Christi, several sorts of Mint, Red-Dock, Jamestown-Weed, so called from its being so very plenty in Virginia, especially on both sides of James’s River: The Seed it bears is exactly like that of an Onion, but it’s Leaves are very coarse and large, and indented ahout the Edges; it is excellent good in asswaging all manner of Inflammations, and curing Burns, by applying it outwardly, with which the Indians are well acquainted, but if it be taken Inwardly, it immediately occasions a Giddiness and Madness, so that you shall see those that take it (which most commonly happens to Children) run up and down the Fields in a most distracted manner, during its Operation, but does no further Mischief.

There is another Weed, vulgarly called the Swamp-Lillie, which grows in the Marshes and low Grounds, and is something like our Dock in its Leaves, and hath the same Effect, and possesses the Party with Fear and Watchings; though few have had the Tryal, or felt the Effects of these intoxicating Plants, except Boys and Children; it is likewise used with good Success in Inflammations and Burns, as the former.

Camomil thrives well here, but it must be Planted under a Shade, otherwise it comes to little or no Perfection.

The Red-Root, the Leaves whereof are like those of Spearmint, is used with good Success for Thrushes, and sore Mouths.

Vervine is very common here, being Spontaneous. House Leek, being first brought from Europe. Night-shade of several kinds, Yarrow and Mullein, in plenty, both being Spontaneous. Harts-Tongue, Polypodium of the Oak; the greater Centaury, in great plenty; but I never observed any of the Lesser growing in this Province. Prickly Bind-Weed, Larks-Spur, Hops, Flax and Hemp, the best and finest in the known World groweth in North Carolina.

Tisinaw, or Bastard China-Root, these grow in great Clusters, together, and have a stalk like a Brier, whereon grow small Black-Berries, the Indians boil these Roots and eat them, and sometimes make them into Bread.

Sarsaparilla, White Hellebor, several sorts of Thistles, Fern, Male and Female, Liquorice, Oris, Water-lillies, Peony, Male and Female, Solomons-Seal, Agarick, Coloquintida, Guinea-Pepper, Water-Flag, Flower de Luce, Betony, Shepherds-Purse, Chervil; Coffee, whereof they begin to plant much, within these few Years; Jessamine, Pellitory of Spain, Cloud Herb, by the Indians call’d Yaughtli. Strawberries are in such Plenty in the Season, that they are Feeding for Hogs; Narcissus, Daffodil, Snow-Drops, Wall-Flowers, Bloodwort, the white and red Lillie, Stargrass, which is used with good Success in most Fevers in this Country; Rushes of several sorts; the Herb Mastick, Indian-all-heal, Cinquefoil, or five leav’d Grass, Rib-wort, which is a kind of Plantain; Pellitory of the Wall, this Herb grows very plentiful on the Ground, there being no Rocks or Stone Walls for it to grow upon; Shepherds-Needle, Rosa-Solis, or Sun-dew; several sorts of Sage being first brought from Europe; Misseltoe of the Oak, in great Plenty all over this Province, whereof good Birdlime is made.

There are several sorts of Beautiful Tulips growing Spontaneous in this Province: The Trumpet-Flower, so call’d from its resembling the Form of that Instrument, and is of a beautiful Orange colour.

The May-Apple, so call’d from its having Apples in the Month of May; it grows upon one Stalk like the Wood-Sorrel, about half a Foot high, and has Leaves like it, but very near as large as a Man’s Hand, underneath which grow one Apple on each Stalk, about the bigness of a Musket Ball: This Plant is of a very strong Purging nature, and is frequently made use of in these Parts for several Disorders with good Success.

The Sun-Flower, the Indian-Figg, or Prickly-Pear, the Fruit of this Vegetable is frequently eaten, and is very sweet and luscious, but occasions such a high Tincture in the Urine, that it seems like pure Blood; by which means several Persons that have been unacquainted with its Effects, have been so surprized, that they expected nothing but immediate Death; yet it does no manner of harm, and as soon as its Operation is over, which is in less than twenty-four Hours, the Urine resumes its natural Colour, and the Patient, tho’ almost out of his Senses, becomes easy and well. There are various Kinds of Physical Plants growing in their Gardens, the Seed being brought from Europe and other Parts.

Thus have I given an Account of some of the Plants growing in this Country, yet not of the hundredth Part of what remains; a Catalogue of which, would be a Work of many Years, and more than the Age of one Man to perfect, or bring into a regular Classes, this Country being so very large, and different in its Situation and Soil; so that what one Place plentifully produces, another is altogether a Stranger to: Yet it is generally to be observed, that the greatest Variety is to be found in the low Grounds and Savannas.

The Pleasure Gardens of North Carolina, are not yet arrived to any great Perfection, or Adorned with many beautiful fragrant Flowers; there being only some few Rose-Trees, Bead-Trees, Orange-Trees, Clove Gilly-Flower, Pinks of several sorts, Sweet-William, Cowslips, Lavender-Spike, and Lavender-Cotton, Violets, Princess-Feather, Tres-Colores, and such like: But their Kitchen Gardens are very good, abounding with most sorts of Necessaries for that Use.

I will give an Account of the Climate, and so proceed to the Present State of North Carolina.

This Climate is very Healthful, and is not so Hot in the Summer as other Countries to the Eastward, in the same Parallels of Latitude; neither is the Country subject to Earthquakes, as Italy, and many other Hot Countries are: The Sky is generally very serene and clear, and the Air very thin and pure; and though we have but little Rain, yet the constant Dews that fall in the Night, sufficiently refresh the Ground, and supply the Plants with Moisture.

The North West Winds in the Winter, occasion very sharp and piercing Weather, the North East Winds blowing in the Winter, bring with them thick Weather, and in Spring some times Blight the Corn and Fruits of the Earth, but they very seldom continue long, being carried off by Westerly Winds, which are the most pleasant and healthful we have in these Parts of the World. And though these Northerly Winds cool the Air in Summer and are very pearcing in the Winter, yet they are of no Continuance.

Southerly Winds cause very hot and unwholsom Weather, and often occasion Fevers, and other Disorders in these Parts. The Spring and Fall are the most delightful and pleasant Seasons of the Year, being neither too Hot or too Cold; and though these Seasons are very pearcing, yet the Cold is of no Duration, and are in a great Measure owing to the Winds shifting from one Point to the other; for Southerly Winds will occasion it to be warm in the midst of Winter, as with us in April, and the North East Winds will on the contrary, make it cool in the midst of Summer.

The Weather is generally pretty moderate till after Christmas; then the Winter comes on apace, and continues variable ’till the midle of February, according to the Winds, sometimes warm and pleasant, at other times Rain, Snow, or Frost, but the Ice is seldom so strong as to bear a Man’s weight.

In the Year 1730, we had the most agreeable and pleasant Summer that has been known for many Years, and the Winter most severe.

In the Months of August and September we frequently have very great Storms and Squals of Wind, and it is remarkable for two or three Days before they break forth, that the Clouds seem to hang down very thick and pressing towards the Earth, and scarce a breath of Wind to be perceived for the said time; they are sometimes so very violent, that they make Lanes through the Woods by tearing up Trees by the roots.

These Storms are generally attended with most violent Claps of Thunder and Lightning, and pouring with Rain all the time they continue, which are very dreadful whilst they last; and I have seen old decay’d Trees, and especially the Pitch-Pine, frequently set on Fire by these violent claps of Thunder and Lightning, and sometime Trees in their Bloom tore and split in Pieces, yet I have seldom known or heard of any farther Dammage.

There are prodigious Water-Spouts to be seen in this Country, which are the forerunners and certain Signs of Storms and bad Weather, which quickly follow after them: These Water-spouts are vast exhalations of Water running out of the Clouds like little Rivers, and are generally to be met with at Sea and near the Shores, but seldom or never at Land; and are to be seen at a great distance, resembling all the colours in the Rainbow; it is said they are dangerous to be met with at Sea, for fear of falling upon their Vessels, for which reason when they espie them near at Hand, they frequently fire their great Guns to break them in the Air, before they come near the surface of the Water, as I have been credibly informed by several Masters of Ships; for I have never seen them otherwise than at a great distance. There are no regular Tides in Carolina, but what are occasioned for the most part by the Winds shifting from one Point to another.

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