It seems, in the early nineteenth century, that every proud gardener went to his home-town editor every time he produced an unusually large vegetable, searching for a certain celebrity. It may have been these were first-growth vegetables, the soil having never been cultivated before, but they were indeed large. An early MAMMOUTH PUMPKIN was recorded by the New York Gazette, on October 15, 1813: “Daniel Bloodgood, of Flushing, L. I. has raised in his garden this year, a Pumpkin, weighing 169 pounds.” This record was presented by the Savannah Museum, reprinted by the Raleigh Star, September 16, 1814: “TWO PUMPKINS Were brought to this city a few days since from Liberty Island, raised by Mr. George Herb–the one measuring 6 feet 4 inches in circumference, and weighed 143 pounds. The other measured 7 feet 6 inches in circumference, was upwards of 3 feet high & weighed 214 pounds–the same vine contained several others of lesser weight.”
The Connecticut Gazette thought it was keeping up the New England tradition of great pumpkins when it published this account on September 28, 1814: “Mr. Enoch Burrows, of Groton, raised this year a Pumpkin which measures seven feet in circumference, and weighs 130 lbs. Thus Connecticut ‘keeps up her old reputation.'”
The Centinel of Freedom used all caps for its headline, on October 11, 1814, although its pumpkin was a weakling. “MAMMOTH PUMPKIN. Was raised in Newark, this season, a Pumpkin that weighs 161 lbs.; the circumference of it is six feet two inches.” However, on November 8, the Centinel admitted defeat: “Newark out-Pumpkin’d! Mr. Benjamin Crane, a Farmer at Pequannock, Morris County, raised a Pumpkin this year, weighing 178 pounds–being seventeen pounds heavier than the one advertised in the Centinel a few weeks ago.”
But, the New York Columbian, here reprinted by the Vermont Mirror on October 27 1813, claimed “The biggest Pumpkin yet! New England is beat all hollow in the pumpkin raised by Mr. Gelston from the seed of Mr. Schenk’s large growth last year, and now at Mr. Thorburn’s in Nassau street. It weighs two hundred and twenty six pounds, and is considerably larger than any of the wonderful productions of the kind produced in this country.” This little squib was, in turn, taken up by the New York Evening Post, which, on October 21, printed its own squib: “One of our morning papers, by way of informing its readers of the immense size of a certain pumpkin in this city, says “The production, is now in the hands of Mr. Thorburn, who can’t lift it.” This being granted, and the weight of the pumpkin being 226 lbs. as appears by other accounts, Quere, the size of Mr. Thorburn himself?” The next morning, on October 22, the New York Gazette printed its own squib: “The Post of last evening, has taken an unwarrantable liberty with one of our most worthy and respectable citizens, whose size, in mind, is as far superior to that of the editor of the Post, as a pumpkin is to a cucumber.” Another newspaper, the New York Commercial Advertiser, of October 19, 1813, stuck to just the facts, and added, “it is one of eight Pumpkins produced from two seeds, whose weights, added together, amount to one thousand and seventeen pounds. It was raised on the place of D. Gelston, Esq. in the neighbourhood of this city.” The Boston Gazette (as reprinted in the Commercial Advertiser on October 27, 1813) took umbrage at another New York paper, which, in talking of the 226 pound pumpkin, proclaimed that “the Yankee land is beat all hollow.” The Boston paper proclaimed that “the fact is, ‘the Yankee land is’ not ‘beat’–and, instead of ‘knocking under,’ claims the victory! In proof, I beg leave to inform you that there has been raised, in Scarborough, a Pumpkin, weighing 305 lbs. and 9 feet in girth–this ‘beats’ the New York one by 81 lbs . . . .” [I never was great at math, but something seems a little off here.]
From the Rhode Island American, October 17, 1815
“From a single pumpkin seed there have been raised this season, by Mr. John Johnson, of Preston, thirteen pumpkins, which weighed one thousand and six pounds and a half, besides a number of smaller ones, which weighed 43 pounds. The length of the vine, including its branches, was 105 rods, and the circumference of it, at the but, 9 inches.”
From the Albany Argus, November 4, 1814
Unfortunately, Mr. Johnson had already been outclassed by a Mr. Timothy Hitchcock, of Woodbridge, Connecticut, who, “planted one pumpkin seed in May last, which produced twenty pumpkins, fourteen of which weighed 1203 lbs. The largest of them weighed as follows: one 278 lbs, one 159, one 149, one 138, and one 124.”
From the Carolina Star, reprinting Savannah’s Museum
“TWO PUMPKINS were brought to this city a few days since from Liberty Island, raised by Mr. George Herb–the one measuring 6 feet 4 inches in circumference, and weighed 183 pounds.–The other measured 7 feet 6 inches in circumference, was upwards of 3 feet high, & weighed 214 pounds–the same vine contained several others of lesser weight.”
(from the Alexandria Gazette, October 25, 1814)
” A mammoth squash was raised this season on Mr. Hosmer’s farm in Medford, and was exhibited in Boston, weighing 132 lbs. and measuring 5 feet and 8 inches in circumference.”
(from the Richmond Enquirer of December 10, 1816)
The following dimensions of a Radish raised in the garden of a gentleman at Newtown, Long Island exceeds any thing of the kind, we have ever before seen: Length, including the top, 5’10”; Length of the body, 2’9″; Circumference, 2’3″; Weight, 21 pounds!!!!
(From Commercial Advertiser, October 26, 1814)
A mammoth turnip has been raised this season in Westfield, Essex co. which weighed four pounds and eight ounces, and measured about nineteen inches in circumference
(From Commercial Advertiser, October 26, 1814)
A Cabbage has been raised in this borough (Elizabethtown, N. J.) during the present season, of the Savoy family. Dimensions: average length of the largest leaves, 2 ft. 4 1/4 in.; circumference of head, 4 ft 1 1/2 in.; weight of the whole plant, 24 1/4 pound.
(From Commercial Advertiser, November 30, 1814, reprinting the Trenton Federalist)
A Cabbage was raised last season in the garden of Mr. William Laurie, of Arney-Town, Monmouth county, which weighed 26 lb. and 10 ounces. Thus beating the Newark cabbage all hollow.”
(From the Cincinnati Western Spy of October 6, 1815)
We were presented with an apple called Pound _______ , of an enormous size from Judge Wood, which grew in his orchard on the Great Miami. The apple weighs 22 ounces, is 15 inches in circumference each way, and 5 inches in diameter.
The following is from a New Hampshire paper, headlined Concord, and reprinted by the Wilmington American Watchman of February 5, 1814
“Extraordinary Vegetable Increase
From one single Potatoe, Mr. Winthrop Durgin, of Stanbornton, has raised 161 bushels in two seasons past. He got about 3 bushels the first year, which he preserved, and from them he had this season the above quantity. Perhaps no instance can be found wherein the culture of that nutritious and valuable article has been more productive.”
The Raleigh Minerva printed the following account from Worcester, Massachusetts on March 17, 1815: “Mr. Joseph Fay, of Southborough, in this county, raised, in the last season, four thousand six hundred and seventy bushels of good Potatoes. The raising of such quantity of excellent and cheap food, is an act of patriotism and humanity.”
About the Author
Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.