Thursday, January 3, 2013

Derry, NH's Famous Potato

New Hampshire State Historical Marker
in front of the First Parish Church, East Derry
mentions the first potato
"They introduced the culture of the potato, which they brought with them from Ireland.  Until their arrival, this valuable vegetable, now regarded as one of the necessaries of life, if not wholly unknown, was not cultivated in New England.  To them belongs the credit of its introduction to general use.  Although highly prized by this company of settlers, it was for a long time but little regarded by their English neighbors: a barrel or two being considered a supply for a family.  But its value as food for man and beast became at length more generally known, and who can now estimate the full advantage of its cultivation to this country!"   from the History of Londonderry

The Potato Shrine in East Derry, in the 1960s
from the book Derry Revisited (see below)
Every school child in Nutfield (now Londonderry, Derry and Windham, New Hampshire) can tell you that in 1719 the Scots Irish settlers planted the first known potatoes in America right here in what is now the town of Derry.  The common planting field was located alongside what is now the Route 28 bypass in Derry.  There was a large wooden sign there in the 1960s marking the spot, but it has long since disintegrated.

Potato souvenir on display at the Derry Museum

In New Hampshire, local history is part of the fourth grade curriculum.  A group of students from the Derry Village school have begun a drive to make the humble potato the New Hampshire state vegetable.  They have enlisted State Representative John O'Connor to bring the bill to Concord.  The students will be learning the legislative process as they follow their suggestion as it passes through the statehouse.  This is a great learning experience for elementary school students!

I also think the story of the potato is interesting.  Just remember that potatoes are a new world vegetable, just like pumpkins and squashes.  The first Spanish explorers brought the first potatoes back to Spain and Europe from South America.  The potato was so popular that it spread all over Europe quickly. Then in 1719 the potato made it to North America.  What a migration story!

The potato migration map
from The Natural History Museum website

The potato genealogy:

Between 8000 and 5000 BC South American potatoes originated in Peru and Bolivia

1600s Potatoes brought to Spain when the Inca Empire was conquered

late 1600s and 1700s Potatoes spread all over Europe

1700s and 1800s White potatoes popularized in Ireland, grown almost exclusively over other crops

1719 the first Irish potatoes grown in Nutfield, New Hampshire by Scots Irish settlers

1840s - Potato famine in Ireland caused by Phytophthora infestans and a lack of genetic diversity in the potato crop

1800s - 2000s Eventually potatoes grown all over the United States in many varieties

2012 - Thousands of varieties of potatoes still exist in the Andes, and even more worldwide

For the truly curious:

Derry Revisted, by Richard Holmes and William Dugan, Acadia Publishing, 2005, see the photograph and story of the Potato Shrine on page 27.

The History of Londonderry, by Rev. Edward Lutwyche Parker, 1860, see pages 48 and 49 for the history of the first potato grown in Nutfield.

Nashua Telegraph, Nashua, NH, "Potato shrine here", 14 May 1962,,1327539

Concord Monitor, Concord, NH "Derry representative,  fourth graders want potato to be NH state vegetable", 4 December 2012

Derry News, Derry, NH, "Local lawmaker wants potato named state vegetable", 20 December 2012,
Local lawmaker wants potato named state vegetable

UPDATE:  Governor Maggie Hassan signed the bill into law on June 4, 2013, and proclaimed the white potato as the State Vegetable of New Hampshire!


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "Derry, NH's Famous Potato", Nutfield Genealogy, posted January 3, 2013, ( accessed [access date]).


  1. Fascinating. From South America to Europe and then to North America in 1719 in Derry. If Robert Frost (who gentleman-farmed near Derry) had known this, he could have made a nice poem about it. And now we have the term "meat and potatoes" for a solid and satisfying meal.

  2. What a fun article to read and such creative photos to amplify the story! I enjoy reading articles like this about the history of New England where my ancestors settled and where I grew up. Amazingly are easy to grow in the very short growing season in Flagstaff, Arizona.

    Joanne Shackford Parkes

  3. Very interesting article....thanks so much, my son-in-law is immigrating to the NH and is from Derry Ireland (Londonderry UK) and we will be looking for this site in the near future.

    1. Welcome to "Nutfield Genealogy". Over the weekend "A Kist O Wurds" from Derry, Northern Ireland was here to interview some of us from Derry and Londonderry, New Hampshire. I'll be posting information here when I find out the air time on BBC Radio Ulster. We share a lot of history between the two Londonderrys!