Ulster Scots & Potatoes
The Ulster Scots settled in New England in 1718. They weren’t coming here to make their fortune, they were coming for survival. The Ulster Scots were caught between the British and the Irish when forced to out of their homelands in the early 1600’s to the ancestral homelands of the Irish in the County of Ulster. Civil Wars and massacres in Ulster threatened to wipe out the population. Many of these people, seeing no hope for the future in Ulster, migrated to America.
The Governor of Massachusetts in 1718 was Samuel Shute. Shute was looking at the ongoing threat from the French and Indians on the fringes of civilization and felt that these immigrants would be a great buffer. So the Ulster Scots settled in what is today Maine and New Hampshire in great numbers. The Nutfield Grant brought many of these migrants to New Hampshire in 1719, in what is now Derry, Windham and Londonderry.
One of the leaders of these Ulster Scots was the Reverend James McGregor. McGregor is credited with being the first person to plant potatoes in America. And since he did this in Nutfield, this makes New Hampshire the first place on the North American continent to grow potatoes.
Potato crops are still big in New England, but not so much in New Hampshire. The Granite State’s nickname is a stark reality for farmers. There’s a reason there are stone walls all over the place here. The rocky soil makes farming tough for anyone. When your survival is based on what you grew that season, you’d better start with decent soil.
Most of the potato farms are in Northern Maine, with more than 55,000 acres of farmland dedicated to potato crops in Aroostook County. It seems that the farmers are mostly Irish and not Ulster Scots. The original Nutfield Grant doesn’t have any potato farms that I know of, but they’ll be celebrating their 300th anniversary this year.