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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Did Francis Drake bring Chilean potatoes to the British Isles

Authors
item Pavek, Joseph - RETIRED ARS
item Spooner, David

Submitted to: Potato Association of America Proceedings
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: March 15, 2007
Publication Date: August 14, 2007
Citation: Pavek, J.J., Spooner, D.M. 2007. Did Francis Drake bring Chilean potatoes to the British Isles [abstract]. Potato Association of America Proceedings. p. 24.

Technical Abstract: R.N Salaman, in 1937, speculated that the first potatoes cultivated in Great Britain and northern Europe were obtained by Francis Drake at Cartagena, Colombia and brought to the British Isles in the 1570-80’s. Presumably S. andigenum tubers would have been brought down the 500 miles from Bogotá to Cartagena Colombia. A search of books reporting on Drake’s visits to this Caribbean port found no evidence of trade then with Bogotá. Drake’s main interest was the Spanish transfer of silver from Potosí Bolivia across the Isthmus of Panama by mule trains from Panama City, on the Pacific, to Nombre de Dios on the Caribbean. Besides silver and gold, these mule trains regularly carried food staples that Drake also helped himself to. He tells of potatoes grown on the Isthmus by the Cimaroons (escaped black slaves). In 1578, on his ‘Voyage Around the World,’ Drake found on Isla Mocha, Chile, latitude 38°S potatoes ready for trade with the Spanish ships. Chilean potatoes and other commodities apparently were in Spanish ships’ stores that carried silver from Arica, Chile to Panama City for transfer across the Isthmus and from there onto ships bound for Spain. Drake was dependent on locally available food, mostly taken from Spanish ships, to get back home. Ironically, over time the potatoes he probably brought to Plymouth became more valuable than the silver he brought. It is unlikely that cottagers and subsistence farmers would have selected early tuberizing clones from the late tuberizing S. andigenum. Indeed, they were very slow to even grow potatoes adapted to tuberizing in their long summer days. In 1588 Gerarde got tubers from Drake’s ship. He grew them out and found the plants to be of main crop maturity, i.e. S. tuberosum maturity, not the very late maturity of S. andigenum.

Last Modified: 10/20/2014
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