Wild Pigs

Date: 1725
Owner: John Carter Brown Library, Brown University
Source Type: Images


This eighteenth century reprint of a seventeenth century drawing shows Indians hunting wild pigs in the forests of "ye continent of America." Pigs, along with horses, dogs, and cattle, were brought to the Americas as early as Columbus' second voyage in 1493, and the lush vegetation and absence of predators provided an environment in which these Old World animals could thrive. Pigs adapted to American soil very quickly, and they soon spread far beyond the limits of European human encroachment. In fact, they were so transportable and self-sufficient that early European explorers would bring an abundance of swine aboard ship simply in order to deposit them on uninhabited islands so that future settlers would have an abundant supply of pork waiting if they ever decided to settle there. Thus Native Americans often encountered (and ate) wild pigs long before they encountered Europeans, though not necessarily before they fell victim to their germs. The earliest imported pigs, like those pictured here, were related to modern swine yet far more agile and lean, and hunting them was more akin to stalking a boar than slaughtering livestock.

Their great numbers and voracious appetites for almost everything edible made pigs one of the most dynamic forces in changing the ecology of post-Columbian America. Where they cleared out forest undergrowth, European weeds (such as Kentucky bluegrass) took the place of native flora, and pigs destroyed the ecosystems that nurtured many American animals, thus dramatically reducing their populations. With the exception of humans, pigs were the most important animal in shaping modern American vegetation.

CITATION: Herrera y Tordesillas, Antonio de. 1725. The Manner of Hunting on ye Continent of America. Accession no. 07324b. Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.