383-Year Old Endicott Pear Tree — Still Going Strong

by Patrick Muir on March 19, 2014

It’s almost that time of year when orchards will be graced with millions of simple white flowers covered in bees. Well, I have a tale worthy of the indomitable pear tree. Shortly after the first Europeans landed at ye Plymouth Rock in 1620, a Pilgrim named John Endicott was appointed as the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629. His instructions were to establish a welcoming setting for new arrivals. As part of his “Welcome to the Neighborhood Beautification Program” (my less than official title) he planted a young pear sapling. There is a good possibility the tree came to Massachusetts from England on the ship Arbella in 1630. In the presence of his children, the venerable Governor declared  “I hope the tree will love the soil of the New World and no doubt when we have gone will still be alive.” Oh, my learned brothers and sisters, was he selling that tree short.

Already over 170 years old, the Reverend William Bentley delivered some of the pears harvested from the tree in 1809 to one of my favorite leaders of history at the time, President John Adams, as documented in a letter of appreciation from the man himself. Bentley, perchance teetering on the verge of obsession on ye olde tree, arranged to have twigs sent to the less than photogenic Mr.Adams. (One would certainly prefer a portrait of General Washington or Mr. Jefferson, but I superficially, digress again.) We know ye twigs took root cited by a letter from Mr. Adams in 1815 sharing “The hurricane of yesterday has covered the ground around me in pears.”

For Arbor Day in 1890, the poet Lucy Larch penned The Governor’s Tree as a tribute to the now 260 year old tree. Part of the tree long page toast included;

Such a wonder you may see;

For the patriarchal tree

Blossoms still, — the living thought

Of good Governor Endicott.

Fruit again this tree to bear;

Honor to that brave old pear!

The tree was damaged by three hurricanes in the 1800s but was still standing with the resilience of its Pilgrim forbearers at 80′ in 1875. The pear continued to bear heavily with bushels of fruit. Dating back to a story in 1837, some believed the original sapling was grafted until in 1921 the author of Historic Tress of Massachusetts documented that what we commonly refer to now as suckers where yielding the same fruit as the main tree.

The next documentation of the tree was penned by vandals who using hacksaws cut the tree down to a 6′ stump. Must have been a determined bunch of sods because that would have been a tiring piece of ecoterrorism. But while it was far too severe, it might have helped the tree be better prepared to take on hurricanes and the like with a stockier tree. What do you think?

 

The fruit has been described as “medium in size, unattractive and coarse textured”. However with such provenance, including the knowledge your partaking in the very same ritual shared by the second President of the United States, one might be forgiven for exulting in a gratitude not unlike that of the Israelites partaking of manna from heaven. Pardon the hyperbole, my Jewish friends.

Patrick's Garden

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Pauline March 20, 2014 at 12:21 am

What an amazing tree and what a lot of changes it has seen in it’s lifetime! Is anybody taking grafts from it so that they can be grown on in case the inevitable happens, how much longer do you think it can live? Maybe the vandals did it a favour chopping it back, a rough form of pollarding! I hope it lives for many more years.

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Patrick March 21, 2014 at 8:08 pm

I agree the hard core pruning probably was a blessing. What kind of a**holes would be involved in such vandalism. I think there would be more interest in propagating the tree but as I mentioned at the end, the fruit is described as “unattractive and coarse in nature”. Certainly not catalog puffery that would encourage one to say — I gotta have it! So I think it’s destined to be a landmark with a horticultural provenance that’s hard to beat.

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snowbird March 20, 2014 at 12:23 pm

Wow, what history the tree has, and how awful that someone tried to cut it down!!!
It’s incredible to think how old it is and it’s still going strong by the looks of things. Wonderful post.xxx

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Patrick March 21, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Glad you enjoyed this post so much, sb. This has got to be one of my favorite posts I’ve written or read in recent times. After becoming a citizen in 1988 (born in Australia), I have great interest in American history. So a post where my two passions meet has been a total pleasure to both craft and share.

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New Hampshire Gardener March 20, 2014 at 3:33 pm

That’s a great story, Patrick. I had never heard of this tree. Now I’m wondering how long a pear tree can live. I’ll have to look it up!

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Patrick March 21, 2014 at 7:37 pm

At first blush I had a hard time imagining how you could find a topper but come to think of it, I’m sure there’s got to be plenty of candidates in the British Isles. But the provenance of the Endicott tree might be tough to beat.

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Alistair March 21, 2014 at 10:25 am

Great stuff Patrick, I was there when my uncle planted it.

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Patrick March 21, 2014 at 7:25 pm

Can always rely on your Scottish wit, Alistair. I must admit you did have me chuckling out loud, my friend.

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Rose from Oz March 22, 2014 at 12:38 pm

Hello Patrick,
I am going to greatly enjoy reading many of your posts and being a regular visitor.
Thanks so much for calling by and it was very kind of you to share a little of yourself and to learn of your Aussie connections!
Perhaps I shall also learn something from you (being a totally hopeless gardener!) I follow a few gardening blogs as I’m always fascinated by people’s talents of which I have none!
Cheers
Rose

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Patrick March 27, 2014 at 1:54 pm

Well welcome aboard, RFO. Look forward to having you ride along. Just leave your questions in a comment if I can be of assistance.

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Donna March 22, 2014 at 9:43 pm

That really is a tree with quite a past, I enjoyed reading this. I wonder if the vandals knew the history of this tree? I hope it lives on hundreds of more fruit bearing years.

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Patrick March 27, 2014 at 1:50 pm

I’m sure the vandals were clueless but maybe not. Awfully odd thing to expend so much labor cutting down a huge old tree unless they knew exactly what they were doing and just lashing out to hurt society anyway they could. Just disgusts me thinking about it.

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Jason March 26, 2014 at 7:39 pm

I love old trees. In Springfield IL there is a chestnut oak in the Lincoln Memorial Garden that is supposed to be about 250 years old.

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Patrick March 27, 2014 at 1:43 pm

I’d love to see that beauty, my friend. Have you seen this one?

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commonweeder March 31, 2014 at 6:31 am

What a great story. And even though the fruit may not be what we expect of a pear today, there must be something in its genes that make it valuable to the gene pool just because it is so sturdy. The story also gives new meaning to the old proverb – He who plants pears, plants for his heirs.

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Patrick April 1, 2014 at 2:14 pm

My Australian grandfather was fond of saying something similar– Apples and pears, you grow for your heirs. But I think dwarf fruit trees and newer varieties have sped up the maturity process?

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AnnetteM April 8, 2014 at 10:07 pm

What an interesting story Patrick. As the tree is still going strong we have to believe that the vandals probably helped the tree and at least did it no long term harm. Strange thing to do though – I wonder what they were thinking – or maybe they just got a new saw for Christmas!

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Patrick April 9, 2014 at 8:23 am

I think there’s nothing wrong with an extreme prune but it they did get a gift saw, Santa certainly would not have approved.

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