Horses: (Old World)


The Horse, A New Complete, and Universal Body, or system of Natural History, 1785, From The Library at The Mariners’ Museum, QH15.M6 oversize rare.

The horse is the one animal from Europe that Native Americans in both North and South America embraced wholeheartedly. Native Americans were first afraid of the large animal, but soon discovered it was quite useful in their environment. In fact, the horse became very important in many cultures, changing the way people hunted for food and fought wars, increasing their value in society, and influencing who and how they married.

Horses lived in the Americas way back during the Pleistocene period, but they eventually died out. When the Spanish re-introduced them in 1492, horses had difficulty adapting to the warmer temperatures. But, as the Spanish explorers began to breed the horses in America, the animals became better adapted to the new climates, even flourishing in more northern areas. By the 1580s horses had multiplied, becoming so numerous it was difficult to count them. Not everyone was enthralled with the horse, though; on the Pampas, in South America, Native Americans there resisted adopting the horse until the 19th century.

Horses in North America continued to increase due to constant Spanish breeding and importation. By 1690, large herds of wild horses were roaming in areas known today as Mexico and Texas. In the 17th century, the French, English, and Dutch brought in their own horses, which became the basis for many modern American horse breeds.

As horses thrived, so did vaqueros, gauchos, and cowboys. They used the horse as the main tool used to round up wild herds of buffalo or even cattle. The horse also allowed native groups of the North American plains to hunt buffalo more efficiently. Eventually, by the 19th century, the buffalo was almost wiped out when Native and white settlers used horses to over-hunt the vast herds.

Pigs: The Perfect Colonists (Old World)


The Boar or pig, A New Complete, and Universal Body, or system of Natural History, 1785, From The Library at The Mariners’ Museum, QH15.M6 oversize rare.

Pigs were first brought to Espanola and the Antilles in 1493, when Christopher Columbus made his second voyage. They were the perfect colonists. Why? They weren’t picky and did not need to be fed a special diet. They could eat vegetables of any kind including cassava, as well as shellfish, and even small animals. With a healthy diet, and no natural predators, pigs reproduced quickly in the dense forests. And while pigs quickly adapted to their new environment, the environment did not quickly adapt to pigs; they had a dramatic impact on the native ecosystems, rooting in the forests, killing vegetation, and causing erosion. Pigs adapted well to North America in the English and French colonies, but it was the Antilles that were hit the hardest with wild pig populations.


Hunting pigs, The General History of the Vast Continent and Islands of America, 1725-26, From The Library at The Mariners’ Museum, E141.H59.1725 rare.

If you look at a map of the North American East Coast, a number of places are named “Hog Island.” Ever wonder why? The Spanish dropped pairs of pigs on uninhabitable islands as a future food source. Pigs were also a staple food not only for English farmers, but for the Native people who discovered the pigs roaming wild in the woods. Since most Native American cultures felt that animals did not have human owners, they did not hesitate to take advantage of this new food source. This became a sore spot between the colonists, who felt they owned the pigs, and their Indian neighbors. In Virginia, the Powhatans’ killing of pigs and cattle became a rallying point for Bacon’s Rebellion. Which seems so appropriate, since bacon comes from pigs…

Cattle: (Old World)

MobileProjectsMariners MuseumExploration Through The AgesCows.jpg

Cattle used as draft animals, Atlas Japannensis: being Remarkable Addresses by Way of Embassy from the East-India company of the United Provinces, to the Emperor of Japan, 1670, From The Library at The Mariners’ Museum, DS808.M76 over oversize rare.

In 1493, Christopher Columbus carried cattle with him on his second voyage. And although it took European cattle longer than the horse or pig to adapt to the wet, hot climate of Central America, by the 1520s there were over 8,000 of them. Cattle were used as work animals in the sugar fields and mines. They also became the favorite food of pirates. Pirates smoked the wild meat, which in French is boucan. Wonder where the name “buccaneers” came from?

Cows began having calves three times a year, and the young were larger than their parents. The new American-born cattle became lean, tough, and more suited for long drives than their European ancestors. Spain had a minor tradition of cattle driving which grew in the Americas. By 1521, cattle were being bred in Mexico and moved north to present-day Texas.

Mexico also became the major supplier of cattle to the remote grasslands of the New World. After 1540, cattle imports from Mexico to Peru spread onto the Argentine Pampas, which proved to be the most productive cattle-grazing land on earth. By 1600, some 45 ranches had been established on the Ilanos of northern South America, and by the 1680s, the first cattle ranches were operating north of the Rio Grande in what is now Texas.

Sheep: (Old World)


English Sheep, A New Complete, and Universal Body, or system of Natural History, 1785, From The Library at The Mariners’ Museum, QH15.M6 oversize rare.

On his second voyage in 1493, Christopher Columbus brought sheep to Espanola and the Antilles. The first sheep brought to the Americas were probably Spanish churros. These shaggy sheep adapted well in semi-arid climates, but not in moist tropical climates—can you imagine what it must have felt like wearing all that wool? The sheep were resilient though, and had the ability to survive not only in grassy environments, but also where it was drier and had less forage than horses and cattle needed. Sheep were also able to withstand long drives to market and eat succulent plants for water in arid areas. They eventually became a staple food for the native populations. In 1525, Peru became a home for sheep where they thrived in the higher elevations. The sheep, along with indigenous llamas, created a large woolen industry in Peru and by 1571, there were 70 woolen mills. Argentina and Chile discovered the advantages of the sheep and developed sheep herding; in 1614, Santiago, Chile, counted 623,825 sheep. Moving north, 4,000 sheep were brought to the present day United States by Juan de Onate, explorer and founder of the first European settlements in the upper Rio Grande valley of New Mexico. Navajo tribes created a culture around these sheep, developing a brand new breed.

Goats: The Poor Man’s Cow (Old World)

MobileProjectsMariners MuseumExploration Through The AgesGoat.jpg

Goat eating a tree, Atlas Japannensis: being Remarkable Addresses by Way of Embassy from the East-India company of the United Provinces, to the Emperor of Japan, 1670, From The Library at The Mariners’ Museum, DS808.M76 over oversize rare.

First brought to Espanola by Christopher Columbus in 1493, goats did not thrive well in the tropical climates of the islands, but excelled when moved to the mountain regions of Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and the Chilean Islands. Upon their arrival, goats were bred in the mountainous regions of the Antilles, and they were able to eat small animals, birds, and reptiles. They also ate a variety of plants there including flowers, lichen, mosses, branches, and leaves. In fact, goats transformed the landscape by eating ground vegetation and tree branches as far as they could reach. This killed trees, caused erosion, and resulted in the disappearance of many species of small animals. Goat herds became feral in these rocky climates.

Goat milk, meat, and hides became staples in a variety of cultures. African slaves began to own and herd goats as a supplement to their diet. They were valued for more than the food they provided; on market days, goat products could be bartered and traded.

Chickens: (Old World)

Chickens arrived in America in 1493, when Christopher Columbus brought a variety of livestock on his second voyage to the New World. Chickens were a staple on exploration ships since they were able to withstand the rigors of the voyage. African slaves also benefited from chickens, raising them to supplement their diets and selling them during market days. Europeans traditionally kept chickens close to home and fed them grains, but in the New World, many settlers gave their fowl a larger area to roam. The chickens were fed maize and ate seeds from wild plants and insects. The American chicken subsequently developed into a hardier bird than its European ancestor.

Burro or Donkey: The Workhorse of the New World (Old World)

Burros became the pack animal of the New World. Smaller than horses, they were able to go long distances with heavy loads. New World.">Franciscan friars making olive oil in olive mills used the donkey in southern California around the 1760s.

Zuni tribes adopted burros as pack animals, and throughout the Americas they was used for transportation, millwork, packing, and developing mule stock. Did you know mules are American, resulting from the mating of the European male donkey and female horse? This new breed of animal was stronger and more disease resistant than either of its parents and far better suited for the tropical climate. Mule ranches began to spring up in sub-tropical climates and eventually replaced the burro as the pack animal of choice in the New World.

Rats: Old World Varmints (Old World)


Old World Rat, A New Complete, and Universal Body, or system of Natural History, 1785, From The Library at The Mariners’ Museum, QH15.M6 oversize rare.

Rats were stowaways, believed to have arrived in America on Christopher Columbus’ first ships, especially during the second voyage of 1493. The black rat is believed to be the first to arrive, and could carry a variety of diseases, including the bubonic plague and typhus. There is some debate about whether it was the indigenous rat population that took over the

Caribbean Islands or the Old World variety. Bermuda did not have any rats until the arrival of Europeans, so what does that tell you? With no natural predators, rats practically ate the humans out of house and home in the 17th century. Not only did they eat grain and other food stores, but small animals, causing the extinction of some species. It’s interesting to think that rats were some of the most successful colonists in the New World. They adapted to their new home quickly and by the 1700s could be found from Quebec to Patagonia.

Rabbits: (Old World)


Rabbit, A New Complete, and Universal Body, or system of Natural History, 1785, From The Library at The Mariners’ Museum, QH15.M6 oversize rare.

Europeans brought rabbits with them as a convenient food source. With their high fertility rate and in the absence of natural predators, there were many, many (did we mention many?) rabbits. By 1540, La Palma, California was overrun with rabbits, and every plant in sight was nibbled to the ground. Eventually, to control the population, great rabbit hunts were started and continue to this day.

Honey Bees: (Old World & New World)

AE5N52-Plate XX

Bee, A New General Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, 1766, From The Library at The Mariners’ Museum, AE5.N52 rare.

Honeybees are believed to be native to the New World, but historians believe Europeans also brought honeybee hives with them to the Americas. Honey was the main sweetener for the explorers and early colonists until sugar cane fields were established. Killer Bees arrived in Brazil from Africa in 1957.

Dogs: (Old World & New World)


“Valboa Indosnefandum Sodomiae Scelus Committentes, Canibus Obiicit Dilaniandoo,” Americae Pars Qvarta, 1590, From The Library at The Mariners’ Museum, E141.B9 oversize rare.

Dogs weren’t man’s best friends like they are today. Dogs that were native to the Americas tended to be work animals, hauling goods on the Great Plains or helping with hunting game. Christopher Columbus brought more dogs to the New World in 1493. And Europeans brought their hunting dogs, introducing a new use for the dog as a comrade in arms. The Spanish were the first to use dogs during battle in the Americas. Their dogs were trained to attack an enemy on the battlefield or while invading a village. European dogs were fiercer and bigger than their New World cousins, and they could attack and kill a Native American warrior easily. Eventually, these battle-trained dogs ran away, living in wild packs. These feral dogs killed small game and almost wiped out some animal species. They also became a danger to humans, attacking unsuspecting natives, colonists, and slaves alike. Groups armed with guns would go out to hunt down these dangerous packs of wild dogs.

Cats: (Old World)


Cat, A New Complete, and Universal Body, or system of Natural History, 1785, From The Library at The Mariners’ Museum, QH15.M6 oversize rare.

Cats, like dogs, were brought over in Christopher Columbus’ first voyages to the New World. They weren’t kept on the ships to purr in the sailors’ laps, they had an important job: control the rat populations. They were good at it, but they also saw an opportunity and followed the rats as they jumped ship, finding a new home. The islands of the Caribbean did not have any natural predators that could control the cat populations and feral cats became a problem for the Americas. Like the rat and the pig, they ate small animals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds, wiping out many species. For a while, dogs were used to help control the cat population, but they, too, became wild. Today, more than 500 years later, feral cats are still a major problem all across the Americas.

Guinea Hens: (Old World)


Guinea Hen, A New Complete, and Universal Body, or system of Natural History, 1785, From The Library at The Mariners’ Museum, QH15.M6 oversize rare.

During the European colonization of the Americas, Africans were imported as slaves. Many Europeans felt that if the Africans were allowed to have food like that of their homeland, they might adjust better to the condition of slavery. Introducing the guinea hen. Originating in Northern Africa, the guinea hen was domesticated in Europe in the 4th century B.C. Slaves were allowed to grow crops like yams and melons and raise goats, chickens, and, yes, guinea hens. Their eggs are also high in protein and very abundant. The guinea hen adapted well to the free-range atmosphere of the American plantation system and colonists quickly adopted them. And since guinea hens made noise when anything approached them, they became good “watch dogs” for frontier farmers.

Turkey:(New World)

The Aztecs had tamed the turkey by the time Spanish conquerors arrived. In 1519, Hernan Cortes introduced the turkey to Spain. It spread quickly as a delicacy on European tables, arriving in England by 1541. The Pilgrims then brought the domesticated turkey to America, only to find the wild variety in abundance. The wild turkey, an easy target for hunters, was almost wiped out in North America until conservationist groups stepped in to save it.

Llama: (New World)


Llamas, The General History of the Vast Continent and Islands of America, 1725-26, From The Library at The Mariners’ Museum, E141.H59.1725 rare.

Would it surprise you to know there were members of the camel family found in the Americas? The llama, alpaca, guanaco, and vicuna are all members of the camel family found in the Americas. The Incas of Peru had domesticated the llama by the time the Spanish arrived in the 1500s. They were used as pack animals and for food. Their wool was used to make fabric, and their dried dung was used as fuel for fire. Europeans thought the animal odd looking, but quickly discovered just how useful they were in carrying heavy loads through the rocky Andes Mountains. The wool produced by the llama became competition to the thriving sheep wool business. Today, the llama is still primarily raised in South America, but there is a growing number of llama herds in North America.

Gray Squirrels: (New World)

Gray squirrels, those familiar backyard entertainers, made their way from North America to England. Harmless as they may seem, they have almost completely eliminated the red squirrel population in Europe.

Vine Aphid and Grapes: (New World)

One of the earliest cultivated plants, grapes are now used primarily, and very successfully, for fermentation into wine. But it wasn’t always that way. The Spanish tried very hard to produce wine in the New World, but were disappointed by the poor results. It was not until the conquistadors reached Peru that vine cultivation was successful, and in 1551, the first Peruvian wine was made. One hundred years later, enough wine was being produced to begin exporting it to Europe. Chile also became a source for wine; in fact, in 1614, the Catholic diocese of Santiago, Chile, produced 200,000 jugs of wine.

You may be thinking, what about California? Wine production in California, now so popular, had many failures before cultivation was successful in the Sonoma region in 1857. And what about the vine itself? The Spanish used mostly European vines, but in California they experimented with the American vine, Vitis riparia. In 1860, the wine being produced was so good that they exported American grapevines to Europe. What they didn’t know was they were also exporting a vine aphid living on the plants. The American grapevine was resistant to the aphid, but it began to kill the European, North African, and Australian vines. This bug, Phylloxera, attacked the leaves, keeping the host plant from producing grapes. Over one billion liters of wine was lost. It took 40 years to find a way to stop the aphid by grafting the infected vines onto American roots that were naturally resistant to the aphid.

Today, most grapes that produce wines grow on vines with American roots.

Chiggers: (New World)

A native of America, the chigger spread to Europe and Africa. Oviedo, a Spanish Explorer in the southwest of North America, described this insect 400 years ago, saying that it “penetrates the skin of the feet and forms a pocket as large as a chickpea between the skin and the flesh. It swells with nits, which are the eggs the insect deposits. If it is not taken out in time, the nigua grow and increase so that the men are so severely affected that they are crippled and remain lame forever.”