The Introduction of the Soybean to North America

The Introduction of the Soybean to North America historical marker was dedicated on January 9, 2016. View The Introduction of the Soybean to North America historical marker listing.


Historical Background

Created by SCAD student Rachel Deutmeyer as part of her SCAD art history department coursework, with guidance from art history professor Holly Goldstein, Ph.D., 2016.

The soybean, alongside wheat and corn, is considered one of the world’s principle field crops.  Though soybeans are associated more strongly with the Midwest in today’s agricultural economy, soybeans remain a stable component of diversified farm practices with many Southeastern states.[i]  Georgia growers produced 13.5 million bushels of soybeans in 2015.[ii]  Southeast Farm Press states that “the U.S. now is the No. 1 global producer of soybeans, with more than half of the U.S. annual soybean production bought by China.”[iii]  In Figure 1, the quiet roadside location of the historical marker for The Introduction of the Soybean to North America is seen.  The prosperous crop claims an expansive history and is evidenced by traces of the first properties dedicated to soybean production in the United States of America.

Mr. Samuel Bowen, a former seaman employed by the East India Company, first brought soybeans to America.  In Figure 2, a cigarette card – a trade card issued by manufacturers – portrays three lions and the words “Auspicio Regis Et Senatus Anglia,” Latin for “By the authority of the King and Parliament of England.”[iv]  Bowen returned from an expedition from China via London with seeds (a domesticate of China) to be planted in Georgia soil.[v]  An Englishman that did not want to leave Savannah, Bowen held an honorable role in both the planting and development of the first American soybean crop in the spring of 1765.[vi]  Because Bowen’s recently purchased property, Greenwich, was not yet ready for a crop, he requested that his friend, Mr. Henry Yonge, plant the first soybeans at his Orangedale plantation, located on Skidaway Island.[vii]  Bowen called the soybean “Chinese vetch.”  In a letter dated December 23, 1766 to Dr. Peter Templeman, Secretary to the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce, London, Henry Yonge wrote the following:

This is to certify that the pease or vetch — lately introduced by Samuel Bowen in this province from China, were planted by me the last year at Mr. Bowen’s request, and did yield three crops: and had the frost kept off one week longer, I should have had a fourth crop, which is a very extraordinary increase, and must, if attended to and be of great utility and advantage to this and his Majesty’s other southern American provinces (Yonge, 1767).[viii]

In subsequent years, Bowen continued to plant on the Greenwich plantation – located near the Wilmington River in Thunderbolt, Georgia – and developed a new method of making soy sauce from American soybean plants.  The soybeans were processed to manufacture both soy sauce and vermicelli (soybean noodles), which were then exported to England.  Bowen received a Royal patent for his inventive soy sauce manufacturing.[ix]  He was a great businessman and entrepreneur and is credited by the Georgia Soybean Commodity Commission as the “Father of North American Soybean Production.”[x]

Though a soybean crop has not been planted at Orangedale or Greenwich in many decades, the crop continues to thrive in a multibillion dollar United States industry.  Today, the University of Georgia Aquarium owns Orangedale as a part of the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.[xi]  Samuel Bowen’s original property, Greenwich, has an enthralling story outside of the characteristics of the plantation relative to agriculture.  The City of Savannah notes that Greenwich “was once considered the most magnificent, privately-owned estate in the entire South.”[xii]  Rivaled only by Biltmore in North Carolina, the sprawling estate boasted a large house with fine furnishings, a pond dug thatresembled the shape of a butterfly, a pool house, many sculptures, and expansive gardens.[xiii]  Figures 3 and 4 exemplify the beauty of Greenwich.

During the Siege of Savannah (October 9, 1779), the plantation was used as a hospital for French and Haitian officers during Count Charles d’Estaing’s bloody attempt to seize Savannah from the British.[xiv]  Despite protests from Samuel Bowen’s widow, Jane, Greenwich was converted into a hospital for the officers of allied forces. [xv]  As seen in Figure 5, the streets through the Greenwich Addition are named for participants in this bloody battle – d’Estaing, McIntosh, Pulaski, and de Noalles Avenues.[xvi]

Years later, an unfortunate fire destroyed the property in 1923.[xvii]  It was never rebuilt, and the scenic property became the 65-acre Greenwich Addition to Bonaventure Cemetery in 1933.  In Figure 6, an oak-lined drive of Bonaventure Cemetery is beautifully printed on a postcard.  The photograph is estimated to have been taken between 1898 and 1931, shortly before the Greenwich plantation became a part of the larger Bonaventure Cemetery.[xviii]  Printed by the Detroit Publishing Company, the postcard portrays Bonaventure as a serene, beautiful, and expansive location.  Bonaventure and Greenwich look incredibly similar today.  The allure of Greenwich is exemplified through Elizabeth Ann Bowen Beecroft’s poem, On Old Greenwich:

Say, have you lived within Savannah’s bounds

And heard not of ‘Old Greenwich Home’ and grounds?

That tangled mass of briers and weeds

Where thistle and night-shade drop their seeds

Was once a garden of flowers rare…

Though Greenwich has retired from its contributions to the soybean industry and alludes an agricultural purpose, the expansive history of the crop’s development remains.  Samuel Bowen’s incredible contribution to the soybean industry and Greenwich’s historical presence and development have influenced the city of Savannah, the United States, and the world in dynamic ways.

 


[i] Brad Haire, “First Soybean Crop in North America was Planted spring 1765 in Georgia,” Southeast Farm Press. 2016. Accessed May 16, 2016. http://southeastfarmpress.com/blog/first-soybean-crop-north-america-was-planted-spring-1765-georgia.

[ii] T. Hymowitz, and J. R. Harlan, “Introduction of Soybean to North America by Samuel Bowen in 1765,” Economic Botany 37, no. 4 (October 1983): 371-79. http://wsrc10.net/about-2/history-of-soy/.

[iii] Haire.

[iv] George Arents Collection, The New York Public Library. “East India Company.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed May 16, 2016. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-a933-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.

[v] Hymowitz.

[vi] Haire.

[vii] Roger Boerma, “Another First for Georgia Agriculture,” Georgia Soybean News 1, no. 1 (Fall 2014): 5. http://gsdc.com/images/uploads/misc_images/ga_soybean_news_fall_2014.pdf.

[viii] Hymowitz.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Boerma.

[xi] “Soybean Marker Set Up,” Seminole Crop E News. 2016. Accessed May 16, 2016. https://seminolecropnews.wordpress.com/2016/01/28/soybean-marker-set-up/.

[xii] “Greenwich Cemetery” Savannah, GA. Accessed May 16, 2016. http://www.savannahga.gov/index.aspx?NID=878.

[xiii] Amie Marie Wilson and Mandi Dale Johnson, Historic Bonaventure Cemetery: Photographs from the Collection of the Georgia Historical Society. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub., 1998.

[xiv] “History.” Bonaventure Historical Society. Accessed May 16, 2016. http://bonaventurehistorical.org/bonaventure/history.

[xv] Terry Shaw, “The Siege of Bonaventure.” Bonaventure Historical Society 8 (September/October 2002).

[xvi] Wilson.

[xvii] Ibid.

1. The Introduction of the Soybean to North America Historic Marker, 2016. Image courtesy of Rachel Deutmeyer.

2. Photograph of cigarette trading card, titled “East India Company.” Courtesy of The New York Public Library Digital Collections, MS 461252.

3. Greenwich Plantation, Gardens. Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society, Ossabaw Island and Torrey family papers, MS 1326-01-934.

4. Greenwich Plantation House Interior. Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society, Flotz Photography Studio, MS 1360-01-07-04.

5. Map of the Greenwich Addition. Courtesy of the City of Savannah.

6. “Oaks, Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Ga.” Courtesy of The New York Public Library Digital Collections, MS 73884.

7. Map of Greenwich and Bonaventure during Siege of Savannah. Courtesy of Live Oak Public Library.

8. Scene near historical marker, 2016. Courtesy of Rachel Deutmeyer.

9. Scene near historical marker, 2016. Courtesy of Rachel Deutmeyer.


Further Reading

Roger Boerma, “Another First for Georgia Agriculture,” Georgia Soybean News 1, no. 1 (Fall
2014): 5.

George Arents Collection, The New York Public Library. “East India Company.” New York
Public Library Digital Collections.

Brad Haire, “First Soybean Crop in North America was Planted spring 1765 in Georgia,” Southeast Farm Press, 2016.

T. Hymowitz and J. R. Harlan, “Introduction of Soybean to North America by Samuel Bowen
in 1765,” Economic Botany 37, no. 4 (October 1983): 371-79.

Terry Shaw, “The Siege of Bonaventure,” Bonaventure Historical Society 8 (September/October
2002).

Amie Marie Wilson and Mandi Dale Johnson, Historic Bonaventure Cemetery: Photographs
from the Collection of the Georgia Historical Society
(Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub., 1998).