Thomas Harriot was an English astronomer, mathematician, ethnographer, translator and a man who made drawings of the moon as seen through a telescope before Galileo. For none of these things is he remembered, however, and his National Day doesn’t even mention his name on
NATIONAL POTATO DAY!
It seems that Harriot sailed with the renowned navigator Sir Francis Drake as scientific advisor on one of his voyages of discovery, this one to the Roanoke Islands off the coast of The Carolinas, where he was the only Englishman who bothered learning the Carolina Algonquian language, making himself indispensable to the expedition’s success.
So, while Drake was busy claiming everything in sight in the name of the Crown and casing the joint for loot to steal, Harriot was learning about native culture, history and geography, as well as gathering potato plants, which he introduced to England upon their return on July 27, 1586. Turns out potatoes originated in the Andes of South America and migrated everywhere humans did.
The potato was soon feeding Europe and almost immediately expanding human populations. In Ireland alone the population tripled due to the reliable and relatively simple source of nutrition that was potato farming.
Now Europe was bursting at the seams with people, too many for a settled continent to accommodate, and they needed somewhere to go. So, where did they make a beeline? That’s right, to America, the New World that was the source of the potato that made their lives possible. America, because potatoes! And Thomas Harriot.
Suggested Activities: Three cheers for red, white and blue potatoes, and the 5,000 other varieties.