Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Evidence of Early Agricultural Exports from Pelham to England in the 1840s

During the 1830s and 1840s, the rural Town of Pelham was beginning to awaken from its decades-long slumber following the devastation inflicted on it as part of the infamous "Neutral Ground" during the Revolutionary War.  The population of the town was finally beginning to grow at a healthier rate.  Its population in 1830 was 334, up 18% over its population of 283 in 1820.  By 1840, its population had grown an additional 136.2% to 789.

During this period, there seem to have been a host of efforts by Pelhamites to move beyond simple subsistence farming to broader agricultural, marine, and industrial pursuits.  For example, during the 1830s, a solar salt manufacturing plant was built in Pelham.  See Mon., Sep. 01, 2014:  Solar Salt Manufacturing Plant Built on City Island in the Town of Pelham in the 1830's.  Likewise, during this time, the oyster harvesting and planting industry began to grow in Pelham as did a host of related service industries such as shipbuilding, sail making, and the like.  

During the 1840s, one enterprising Pelhamite -- according to The New York Journal of Commerce -- developed a substantial apple orchard of about twenty thousand apple trees and began exporting his apples to London.  Robert Pell reportedly spent years developing a massive orchard of apples known as "Newtown Pippins."

Also known as the Albemarle Pippin, the Newtown Pippin is an American apple developed in the late 17th or early 18th century.  Although still cultivated on a small scale, it no longer holds the popularity it once did.  According to one account:

"The Newtown Pippin is typically light green sometimes with a yellow tinge.  It is often russeted around the stem.  The flesh is yellow and crisp.  The flavor is complex and somewhat tart, and requires storage to develop properly; some sources ascribe to it a piney aroma.  Green and yellow varieties are sometimes distinguished but it is not clear that they are in fact distinct cultivars.  It is one of the best keeping apples."

Source:  "Newtown Pippin" in Wikipedia -- The Free Encyclopedia (visited Apr. 9, 2017).

The fact that the Newtown Pippin is one of the best "keeping apples" is likely what prompted Robert Pell to raise them for export to London.  He reportedly used special tree-trimming techniques and the application of "the best manures" to bring his Newtown Pippin apples "to unusual size and excellence."  

Pell reportedly harvested the apples and packed them into barrels rather than moving them by cartloads so the fruits would not be jostled and bruised.  Pell harvested up to 4,000 barrels of apples from his orchard and sold them, wholesale, for $6 a barrel -- earning $24,000 per season (about $1.125 million in today's dollars).  The London merchant to whom Pell sold, in turn, sold the apples in London for $21 a barrel.   

The London merchant who bought Pell's apples and resold them in London wrote to Pell and said "the nobility and other people of great wealth had actually bought them by retail at a guinea a dozen; which is some forty-five cents an apple."

For a time in the 1840s, Pelham was becoming quite the agricultural export center -- at least for Newtown Pippins. . . .

Detail from Untitled Folk Art Painting of Apple Pickers in an
Orchard by Arie Reinhardt Taylor.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

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"Apple Trade. -- The New York Journal of Commerce has the following statement:

Robert Pell, Esq., of Pelham, Westchester co., has an orchard of twenty thousand apple trees, all bearing Newton Pippins [sic; should be Newtown Pippins].  By trimming and the application of the best manures, he has brought the fruit to unusual size and excellence.  The apples are picked and packed in barrels without being rolled or jolted in carts, and so arrive in the very best order for shipment.  Last year they were sold in London at twenty-one dollars a barrel, and the merchant to whom they were consigned wrote the nobility and other people of great wealth had actually bought them by retail at a guinea a dozen; which is some forty-five cents an apple.

Mr. Pell has from three to four thousand barrels of the apples this year, which are sold as fast as they arrive in market, at six dollars a barrel, and are all shipped to England.  It is quite a business for one of our commission merchants to dispose of the produce of this noble plantation.  

The American apple, take it all in all, is the most valuable fruit which grows on the earth.  We undervalue them because they are so abundant; and even many American farmers will not take the trouble to live like an English lord, though the trouble would be very little."

Source:  Apple Trade, Huron Reflector [Norwalk, OH], Oct. 21, 1845, p. 3, col. 2 (Note:  Paid subscription required to access via this link).  

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