American Livestock Breeds from Colonial Times
Meet some of the American livestock breeds from Colonial times that arrived on the Mayflower.
The Marsh Tacky horse is known for its ease in swampy conditions.
courtesy American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
We’ve all learned the stories of Christopher Columbus, conquistadors, Pilgrims and Native Americans, colonists and pioneers. We were taught to honor the earliest settlers to this country, but what about those animal heroes who braved the New World, making the Pilgrims’ lives possible, the livestock breeds from Colonial times? Colonists carried many breeds of livestock with them while making this epic journey. These animals supplied food, clothing and labor for the early settlers, yet their legacies are often unsung.
Remnant groups of many historic livestock breeds face new obstacles as modern agriculture favors “improved” breeds. Even worse, many foundational breeds of American agriculture are on the verge of going extinct. Today, let’s celebrate some of the four-legged settlers that became the foundation stock of modern American agriculture. They are a living testament to our past, and a genetic resource for our future.
Marsh Tacky (Colonial Spanish) Horse
Although the exact origin of the Marsh Tacky horse is unclear, it can be attributed to Spanish stock that arrived on the coast and islands of South Carolina as “drop offs” by Spanish explorers, and also to stock brought over by Spanish settlers in the 1500s. During the American Revolution, Marsh Tackies were used by many of the troops of the famous “Swamp Fox” Francis Marion. Known as the “Father of American Guerrilla Warfare,” Marion not only was a great tactician, his troops inadvertently had the technical advantage of riding horses superbly adapted to the rough and swampy terrain of the region. British troops mounted on larger European breeds were at a disadvantage in trying to maneuver in the dense, wild swamps of the lowlands.
The Marsh Tacky is a sturdy, well-balanced and easy-keeping horse. Its gentle nature and easily managed size (13.5 to 15 hands) historically made the Marsh Tacky the preferred mount for women and children, but the breed’s strength, prowess and fearlessness in the field made it popular as a working animal utilized for hunting and herding cattle. They are a direct remnant of the horses of the Golden Age of Spain, and the type is mostly extinct now in Spain. The breed remains critically rare.
Ossabaw Island Hogs
Early explorers brought livestock to the Americas beginning in the 1500s, including pigs that escaped or were deliberately set free in the New World. One of these is the Ossabaw hog, a feral breed that has lived for centuries on Ossabaw Island off the coast of Georgia.
The isolation of these island hogs has given rise to a breed that is the closest genetic representative of the historic swine brought over by the Spaniards.
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