Sometime around 1630, John Endecott planted a pear tree with the hope it would live for generations. He got his wish with the Endicott Pear Tree, believed the oldest living cultivated fruit tree in North America.
The tree survived harsh winters, hurricanes, earthquakes, grazing by cows, suburban sprawl and vandals. It was declared a national landmark in 2011. Clones from the Endicott Pear Tree have been planted in at least 17 states.
The Endicott Pear Tree was featured in a 1919 biography of trees called The Historic Trees of Massachusetts. Author James Raymond Simmons called it ‘one of the most quaint and strangely impressive of all the historic trees.’
Endecott (the name was changed later) scouted the New World with about 70 others who sailed aboard the Abigail in 1628, during the Great Migration of Puritans. He established a small settlement and called it ‘Salem,’ the Hebrew word for peace.
On July 3, 1632, the General Court of Massachusetts Bay granted Endecott 300 acres of land on “a necke of land lying about three miles from Salem” now known as Danversport, a section of Danvers.
The tree was planted sometime between 1630 and 1649. Endecott may have planted it first on his farm in Salem and then moved it to Danvers. He began cultivating a farm, with a cow barn, house and outbuildings. Endecott is credited with owning the first sundial in America and introducing the ox-eye daisy to the colonies.
He also served as the first governor of Massachusetts until his death in 1665. A descendant, Endicott ‘Chub” Peabody, also became governor of Massachusetts in 1963. People sometimes called the tree the The Governor’s Tree.
The Endicott Pear Tree
John Endecott planted the tree in the presence of his children and workers and said, “I hope the tree will love the soil of the old world and no doubt when we have gone the tree will still be alive,” according to Danvers historian Harriet Tapley.
In 1809, Salem diarist William Bentley sent pears from the Endicott Pear Tree to former President John Adams. Adams planted the seeds and wrote, “I have several young Endicotts … in my garden. They are very flourishing and if I can guard them from accident I hope they will be an ornament to this farm and a comfort to some good citizens 200 years hence.”
In 1904, the Boston Globe reported the tree bore fruit during the last season, although the pears were hard and ‘not of too pleasant flavor.’
A Worthy Shoot
Lucy Larcom wrote a poem to commemorate the Endicott Pear Tree for Arbor Day in 1890:
Who would not be proud to say
Of the deed he does to-day,
If it be a worthy shoot
From an honorable root,
That, when centuries had passed,
Bloom an fruitage still would last,–
Still a growing, breathing thing–
Autumn, with the heart of spring.
In 1964, vandals ripped off the limbs and jumped up and down on them, leaving two trunks five to six feet high. Several weeks later, shoots appeared and the tree grew again. A chain-link fence topped with barbed wire was erected to protect the tree. Later, a more attractive fence was built.
The farm passed down through generations of Endicotts. William Endicott is pictured with the tree in 1925. Ultimately Osram Sylvania bought the farm. Today the land belongs to Massachusetts General Hospital/North Shore Center for Outpatient Care.
To learn about acquiring an Endicott Pear Tree, click here. This story was updated in 2018.