Horticulturist and journal of rural art and rural taste, 5: 256-258 (1855)


HAVING recently visited New Rochelle, Westchester county, N. Y., and there learned many particulars respecting the discovery of the New Rochelle or (as it is more commonly called) Lawton Blackberry, I take the liberty to make this communication, in the hope that eventually, though tardily, proper credit may be given to the person to whom the public are really indebted for the discovery and preservation of this remarkable fruit.

In the year 1834, Mr. LEWIS A. SEACOR, then and now residing in the village of New Rochelle, found, on a farm now owned by F. PRINCE, Esq., a clump of Blackberry bushes bearing fruit of uncommon size, which differed much in shape and appearance from any he had ever seen. Four or five years afterward, having purchased a lot for a residence, he recollected these Blackberries, went to the field, dug up and transplanted several of them into his garden. When in due time these bushes bore fruit, Mr. S. says his neighbors were greatly surprised, and, attributing the difference in size and shape from the common fruit to cultivation alone, several of them supplied themselves with the common wild plants from the fields, expecting to gather fruit equally large, as Mr. SEACOR'S. In this expectation they were disappointed, and after a few years' trial the plants which had been so carefully cultivated were dug up and thrown away as worthless. Mr. S. now supplied several of his neighbors with plants from his garden, and the fruit became generally known in his vicinity.

Seven or eight years ago, Mr. LAWTON (after whom the fruit has been named) saw some of these Blackberries in the garden of a neighbor, inquired where the roots were obtained, &c. He bought plants of Mr. SEACOR, was told by him where they were found, the circumstances of their discovery, &c. In 1853, at a meeting of the Farmers' Club, in the city of New York, Mr. LAWTON presented a quantity of these Blackberries, which were greatly admired. He also at that time read a paper before the Club, in which he says, (I quote from a report of his remarks published in the newspapers,) "it [this fruit] has been cultivated in small quantities for several years in New Rochelle, where I now reside. I have not been able to ascertain who first discovered the plant and brought it into garden culture, but am informed it was found on the roadside, and thence introduced into the neighboring gardens." The Farmers' Club passed a vote of thanks to Mr. LAWTON, and named the fruit the "Lawton Blackberry." The Pomological Convention, which assembled in Boston last year, also use the same name in their list of fruits; so that it is likely to be perpetuated, unless the facts in the case are known. Ask any person in New Rochelle, acquainted with the fruit, as to its origin, and you will be told Mr. SEACOR was the discoverer.

It may be well to mention that Mr. PRINCE, the present owner of the farm where the fruit was found, in making some improvements on his land, destroyed the original bushes, without knowing anything of the existence of such a fruit on his premises; so that but for Mr. SEACOR'S efforts, the fruit would have become extinct.

Now, if his agency in preserving this valuable fruit has not been of a character sufficiently meritorious to make it proper that it should bear his name, there is certainly no reason why it should bear Mr. LAWTON'S. But it may be asked, "What's in a name?" to which I answer, in this case, much. By getting his name affixed to the fruit, Mr. LAWTON does not merely (to use a common phrase) "steal another man's thunder," but he is placed in a situation to make a great deal of money out of it. Persons, unacquainted with the above facts, wishing to obtain this Blackberry, would naturally say, "Who so likely to furnish the genuine Lawton Blackberry, as Mr. LAWTON himself?" And I find that for the year past he has been selling the plants at ten dollars the dozen (double the price charged by Mr. SEACOR); and although in the end he may not win golden opinions, he is likely to win plenty of golden dollars, which perhaps he may value more.

I would suggest that the New York or Brooklyn Horticultural Society investigate this matter, and let justice be done; the parties live in their immediate vicinity.

There have been many conjectures as to the origin of this fruit. It is known that a relative of a former proprietor of the farm brought shrubbery with him from England, and some suppose this Blackberry was then introduced; others think the Huguenots, who originally settled New Rochelle, brought it with them from France; but the prevalent belief appears to be that it is an accidental seedling.

For the facts embodied in this letter, I am indebted to a communication from FREDERIC PRINCE, Esq., (the present owner of the farm where the fruit was found,) published in the Westchester News, and to the verbal statements of Mr. SEACOR and some of his neighbors; and I have every reason to believe all these statements to be substantially correct.