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Both Andean and Sweet Potatoes were Grown in the Southeast

In an Early Colonial American History course in graduate school, I was taught that American Indians did not know how to grow either sweet potatoes or Andean potatoes, until they were introduced by white Southern planters to feed African slaves. Georgia State University did not have ANY classes on Native American history, but one could get a degree in Chinese History, English History, French History, German History or African American History.

I have read this same statement in numerous archaeology books. Several archaeologists have argued with me that it is true until they got that “Mayas in Georgia” look on their faces. Apparently, that is what their professors told them, too.

Forensic botanists claim that they have not identified Andean potato pollen in Southeastern village sites. That is probably because the potatoes were grown in cultivated fields, not the interiors of houses. Also, It is very difficult to discern between a Muskogean sweet potato pollen and a morning glory pollen.

We have assembled multiple, irrefutable eyewitness accounts from the 16th century French, Spanish and English archives that the Native Peoples of the Lower Southeast grew both sweet potatoes and Andean potatoes. The Andean potatoes were grown within a much wider territory that extended at least to the Potomac River. Governor John White took sassafras, Andean potatoes, tobacco and squash back with him to England in 1587. His friend Richard Hakluyt, sampled all four items. Both White and René de Laudonniére distinguished Indian potatoes (Jerusalem artichoke) from Andean potatoes. Actually, de Laudonniére preferred the little Jerusalem artichokes.

Juan Pardo mentioned passing through a South Carolina Low Country village during 1568 that specialized in growing sweet potatoes. The village happened to have the Creek Indian name for sweet potato, Ajo. (Castilian spelling)

The Lone Ranger and Tonto were surrounded by hostile Apache Indians with no water, no food and little ammunition. Their horses had run off. The Lone Ranger said, “Tonto, we are in deep, deep trouble. What are we going to do?”

Tonto smiled and responded, “What do you mean, WE, kimmosabe?”

How about them thar taters?

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

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