William Woys Weaver: Trading Bees for Seeds
If you’ve been following our twitter and facebook page, you’ve been learning about our newly planted vegetable garden at the southwest corner of the National Museum of American History. The Gillette Family Garden is an important adjunct to the current exhibit, “Slavery at Monticello: Paradox of Liberty.” http://www.monticello.org/slavery-at-monticello/about/breaking-ground-gillette-family-garden
Out of all the vegetables in the garden, the fish pepper is likely to have the most interesting history. Fish peppers are dated to the early nineteenth century, where they were popularly grown as an heirloom vegetable by African Americans in Philadelphia and Baltimore. The green, inconspicuous fish pepper was often the secret ingredient in fish and shellfish cookery, passed down in recipes communicated through oral history.
The story of these peppers’ mid-twentieth century rediscovery may be traced to an important barter made by men trading bees for seeds. In the 1940s, Horace Pippin of West Chester, Pennsylvania, sought a unique remedy for his war wounds. Learning that bee stings may relieve the pain of his wounds, Pippin bought bees from H. Ralph Weaver.
In exchange, Pippin offered what he had – tons of interesting vegetable seeds, including the rare fish pepper, for what would become the Roughwood Seed Collection, run by Weaver’s grandson, William Woys Weaver. For the first time, the fish pepper was advertised to the public on a grand scale when William Woys Weaver offered the seeds in the 1995 Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook.
The garden will be on view during the length of the new exhibit, ending October 14, 2012. For more info on the exhibit, see http://ow.ly/bQgBF
To purchase your own fish peppers, go to http://ow.ly/bs0Yc
Kristina Borrman, Katzenberger Art History Intern