CORN, the greatest of
American cereals, is distinctively an American product. All evidence points
to the fact that it was unknown in Europe until after the discovery of
America. Its culture at an early period in this country is shown by the
accounts of early explorers. Columbus, in writing to King Ferdinand and
Queen Isabella in 1498, mentions cornfields in America 18 miles in length.
Cartier, in the account of his explorations, states that the village of
Hochelega, which later (in 1535) became Montreal, was situated in the midst
of large cornfields. De Soto found large fields in Florida in 1675, and five
years later La Salle noted large supplies in what is now the State of
Illinois. That it was grown rather extensively is also indicated by the fact
that in 1685 1,200,000 acres of corn belonging to the Seneca Indians were
destroyed by the English in New York. In 1696 Frontenac, who invaded the
Onondaga country in New York State, spent three days in destroying growing
CORN AND THE EARLY COLONIES.
The value of corn to the early colonists of the
United States can hardly be overestimated. The Indians, through many years
of experience, had learned the kinds of corn best suited to withstand
varying conditions, and also some successful methods of corn culture. These
facts were communicated to the colonists, who soon began growing corn. Corn
was preferred to other cereal crops because it was easily cultivated,
brought large returns in proportion to the amount of seed planted, and was
an ideal feed for the production of hogs and cattle. Every man of John
Smith's colony was given an acre of land and instructed to plant corn on it.
Corn soon became a medium of exchange among the colonists. Taxes, rents, and
debts were paid in corn, and it was even bartered for marriage licenses. It
is certain that on many occasions starvation would have overtaken the
colonists had it not been for supplies of maize.