Thursday, February 25, 2021

Russian Immigration to Maynard

Russians came to Maynard to work at the mill. They were part of an exodus of millions of people leaving the Russian Empire in search of a better life. St. Mary’s Holy Annunciation Orthodox Church – the heart of the community – with its onion-domed topped roof, is on Prospect Street. It was dedicated in 1917.

The appearance of Russian immigrants in Maynard was representative of a grand exodus. Prior to 1880 the immigration rate to the United States was modest, ramping up during the next decade to more than 10,000 per year, and then the flood: more than three million between 1890 and the beginning of World War I. The catalysts for this mass emigration from the Russian Empire included the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, followed by a repressive government under Tsar Alexander III, combined with famine, deep poverty, anti-Jewish pogroms and political unrest. The Russian experience was part of a larger move from impoverished agrarian countries to countries that were creating millions of jobs as part of the industrial revolution.  

The advent of reliable and relatively inexpensive train travel to a departure port and trans-Atlantic steamship crossings of 7-10 days made it all possible. [Fifty years earlier the famine era Irish were crossing by sail, 6-12 weeks, 10 to 30 percent dying en route on what were called ‘coffin ships’.] Interestingly, although more than half of the Russian immigrants were Jewish, the settling in Maynard was mainly Russian Orthodox. With hindsight, we can guess this was an example of “chain migration,” meaning that if initial few arrivals succeed in finding jobs and places to live, they contact their relatives and townspeople in the old country and invite them to join. Often, the early arrivals would arrange for pre-paid tickets. The cost was roughly equivalent to a month’s salary. Each new immigrant settling in Maynard made people they knew in the old country more likely to move there in turn.     

St. Mary’s Holy Annunciation Church, Maynard MA
In 1917 there was an attempt to create a Russian Co-operative Association. The organization had share certificates, but there is no other evidence in the Historical Society collection that this effort reached its capitalization goal of $5,000 or became operative.

According to Maynard’s newspaper archive, transferred to microfilm and available for viewing at the Maynard Public Library (when it opens again, post-pandemic), circa 1899, Orthodox Christians from Russia were attending occasional services held in the vestry of the Congregational Church. In 1915, Arthur Coughlan sold a plot of land on Prospect Street to Archbishop Evedokin Meschersey. Construction began in the fall of 2016. On April 18, 1917, St. Mary’s Holy Annunciation Church began offering services with Fr Jacob Grigorieff, a priest from the Russian Orthodox Church, presiding.

Foundation stone at St. Mary's Church
The church began as a parish of the Russian Orthodox Church in America. The language used in the Church was Slavonic. In time, with assimilation, subsequent generations did not speak Slavonic, so English was first introduced into parts of the services in 1938. In 1968 Fr Thomas Edwards became pastor of Holy Annunciation Orthodox Church, by then serving all peoples of Orthodox faith. He was the first pastor to be an American-born convert to the Orthodox Faith. Because his native tongue was English and his Slavonic limited, Fr Thomas celebrated the Divine Liturgy completely in English. From this time on, English became the dominant language of the parish. Twice a year since 1978 the church hosts a Bazaar Russe, showcasing Slavic food and displays of cultural items, Orthodox books and icons.

Within Maynard, there might well have been friction between Russian and Finish immigrants. At the beginnings of the nineteenth century, the Grand Duchy of Finland was part of the Russian Empire during a time of policy of Russification: a forbidding of other languages and for men, mandatory conscription into the Russian Army. In opposition, the “Fennoman Movement” promoted Finish nationalism. The motto "Svenskar äro vi icke, ryssar vilja vi icke bli, låt oss alltså vara finnar." translates as "Swedes we are no more, Russians we cannot become, therefore Finns we must be." [Prior to 1809 the region had been under Swedish control.] The Finnish war of independence coincided with World War I, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was again at war with Finland during World War II.  

 Mark says his mother’s side of the family were Jewish immigrants from the Belarus part of the Russian Empire, who settled in New York City.

 

 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Slavery in Massachusetts

On February 25, at 7:00 p.m., the Maynard Public Library will present a Zoomed talk titled: “The Rise and Fall of Slavery in Massachusetts.” Register at https://www.maynardpubliclibrary.org/may150. This is the first in a monthly series of history lectures produced by the Sesquicentennial Steering Committee as part of Maynard’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of its creation on April 19, 1871. The March talk will be “Before the Europeans Arrived…and After.” A new history book “MAYNARD MASSACHUSETTS: A Brief History” is for sale at 6 Bridges Gallery, 63 Nason Street, THUR-SAT, 12-5.   

Massachusetts was the first British colony to legalize slavery. The year 1641 saw the passing of the Massachusetts Body of Liberties. This set of 98 rules established rules of law governing how men, women, children and servants had essential rights. Rule 91 stated that there shall never be slavery, serfdom or captivity "... unless it be lawful captives taken in just wars, and such strangers as willingly sell themselves or are sold to us."

And there it was: strangers sold to us could be slaves.

Lucy Chester (1774-1849), daughter of Cate and
Prince Chester, is buried in Boxborough's North
Cemetery. The burial site of her parents is unknown.
The land that became Maynard in 1871 – prior to that part of Sudbury and Stow – was too poor as farmland to support families with the financial means to purchase and own slaves, but slave ownership did exist in other parts of Sudbury, in Concord, in Lexington, and other well-to-do towns. Record show one slave owned in Stow, on land that later became part of Boxborough. Her name was Cate. She was declared free at age 30 by her owner in 1772. She married Prince Chester, also a freed slave, from Lexington. Their descendants include people with the surnames Chester and Hazard, in Massachusetts and elsewhere.

Prior to 1641 there had been small numbers of slaves owned by British colonists, mostly in Virginia, but slavery was already common in the Spanish-controlled Caribbean and Florida. In colonial Massachusetts the real impetus for this part of the Body of Liberties document was wars with Native Americans. The colonists did not want to free their prisoners of war, but could not decide what to do with them. The decision was reached to sell them into slavery in the Caribbean islands. Returning ships started bring back a few Black slaves as cargo.

Slavery never took hold in the northern colonies as it did in the southern colonies mostly because there were no labor-intensive cash crops - no tobacco, indigo, rice or cotton. Instead, northern slaves were primarily prestige property for the upper class, especially for wealthy men who did not intend to have themselves or their wives do much physical labor about home and farm.  

These ministers, lawyers, doctors, judges and military officers typically owned one to three slaves. Increase Mather, President of Harvard College, owned slaves, as did his minister son, Cotton Mather, author of “Rules for the Society of Negroes,” and “The Negro Christianized.”   

By the numbers: 550 adult slaves in Massachusetts by 1708 grew to 2,720 in the town-by-town slave census conducted in 1754 (an undercount, as children under 16 were not included). This was a bit more than one percent of the total population, but heavily skewed toward higher percentages in Boston and coastal cities. For example, Boston was ten percent Black in 1754 (counting both slaves and free). In that same census year Concord was recorded as having 15 adult slaves, Sudbury 14, Acton 1 and Stow none.

The end of slavery in Massachusetts was hastened by the Revolutionary War. Many Loyalists fled to British-controlled territory, often abandoning their slaves. The Continental Army under the command of George Washington (slave owner), initially opposed enrolling any Black men, but changed this edict in 1776. Slave owners received a cash compensation for any slave freed to serve in the Army. Massachusetts was the first of the newly forming states to end slavery. With the war still raging, Massachusetts passed a state constitution in 1780. Key wording: "All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness."

The State legislature may not have intended this to mean the end of slavery; draft versions proposed in 1777 and 1778 had been clear that slavery would continue. But the 1780 wording was what became law. The right to vote in state elections was gained a year later, after Black businessmen pointed out that “no taxation without representation” applied to them, too. The first United States census, conducted in 1790, reported no slaves in Massachusetts and a population of 5,463 people who were not white, out of a total of 378,787, or 1.4 percent. Present-day, Black citizens make up seven to nine percent (conflicting reports) for the state, under two percent for Maynard.

Free was not equal, neither legally nor economically. Freed slaves often continued to work in the households where they had been owned, basically accepting room and board in return for labor. Their children were unlikely to attend school, and once reaching adolescence, were often indentured until they were 21 years old. The book “Black Walden” describes the lives of former slaves and their children in Concord. Marginalized to poor-quality land in Walden Woods and elsewhere, succumbing to poor nutrition, disease and prejudice, former slaves died, their children too, or else moved to cities where there were larger populations of Black families. By 1880 there were no descendants remaining in Concord from the several score who had lived there as slaves and descendants of slaves. Concord’s “whitewashed” official history had become descriptions of white revolutionaries, authors and abolitionists.

John Adams (second from right) was chauffer for
Dr. Frank U. Rich (Maynard Historical Society photo)
The first documented mention of an Black man living in Maynard is a photo caption in the Maynard Historical Society archive identifying John Adams as a chauffeur for Dr. Frank Rich, circa 1910. There is no mention of whether he lived on the Rich family property or elsewhere, or if he had a family. 

Not in the newspaper column: There is no mention in the Maynard Historical Society archives of Black men, women or children being hired to work in the woolen mill, or elsewhere in Maynard, nor living in Maynard, nor of Black children attending school in Maynard during the woolen mill era (1847-1950). The Ku Klux Klan was active in Maynard and surrounding towns during the 1920s (matching a national prominence), but locally the intent was primarily anti-Catholic. Local amateur and traveling professional minstrel shows - with white actors in blackface - were popular in Maynard in the 1930s and 1940s (long after the national popularity of this type of show had been superseded by vaudeville). The 2019 U.S. Census reported Black population in Maynard at 1.3%. See other post for bibliography.

Massachusetts Slavery References

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Bald-faced Hornet

Winter-degraded bald-faced hornet nest, showing cells,
some empty, some capped, with dead pupae inside the 
latter, that had failed to mature before freezing temperatures

brought the nest to an abrupt end. Click to enlarge. 
Those greyish, roughly football-shaped nests one spies in trees after leaf-fall has left them bare are the products of bald-faced hornets. (The nests of various ‘paper wasp’ species are smaller and do not have an outside wall.) Bald-faced hornets are easily distinguished from their yellowjacket relatives by being colored in black and white rather than shades of yellow. Each now remnant nest is the end-result of one fertilized queen emerging from hibernation in spring. Over the course of spring to fall she churned out eggs, first for workers, then as fall approached, for a mix of workers, new queens and males.   

Fertilized queens over-winter in a weather-sheltered place to avoid being wet, but are still subjected to temperatures below freezing . Extracellular fluids freeze, whereas glycerol (anti-freeze) is produced to protect against intracellular ice crystal formation. The queens emerge in the spring and immediately creating the beginnings of a plum-sized nest in order to raise the first cadre of workers. Once those reach maturity – in about 25 days after eggs are laid – the queen will remain inside the nest while the workers forage for food, enlarge the nest and tend to the next generation of workers.

Early nest, built by a 
queen for the first workers
At maximum size, each nest will contain 300 to 600 workers. The nest wall consists of multiple layers of ‘paper’ made from wood pulp and saliva. Close observation (NOT of an active nest) shows strips of brown to grey depending on the type of dead wood the workers scraped with their jaws, chewed, swallowed, then regurgitated back at the nest. Inside, there are horizontal disks of six-sided cells, each cell open-end downward, in which one egg is laid. These eggs hatch to become wingless larvae, which when full-sized, pupate into winged adults.

Bald-faced hornets are omnivorous and are considered to be beneficial due to their predation of flies and caterpillars; they also consume nectar from flowers, sip tree sap and nibble over-ripe fruit. Toward the end of summer the nest is enlarged downward and a new layer of cells created for eggs that will become new queens and males. All this, mind you, from the sperm the queen had accepted and stored from the previous fall’s mating. Meanwhile, she also continues to produce eggs that will mature into workers. The mix is crucial to next generation success, as too many new queens and males, and/or too early, will mean not enough workers to feed the nest, whereas too few queens and males, and/or too late, will increase risk than fewer new queens will survive winter.

An odd fact: unlike honeybees, female bald-faced hornet workers are able to lay eggs that will become males. This is competition with the queen, who is laying worker, queen and male eggs. A sampling of seven nests showed that one-fifth of the males were from worker eggs. Another study reported that in some nests in the reproductive stage there were no queens. The researchers theorized that egg-laying workers had killed the queen – committed matricide! – so that a larger percentage of the males would be an exact match to their worker DNA rather than the partial match for queen-laid male eggs.

Bald-faced hornet
(internet download)
The aggressive defensive nature of bald-faced hornets makes them a threat to humans who wander too close to a nest or when a nest is constructed too close to human habitation. Their stingers deliver a nest-defensive, pain-inflicting venom rather than the prey-subduing venoms of wasps that sting insects or spiders into living immobility to lay their eggs upon. The act of stinging releases volatile pheromones that serve to alarm and recruit other hornets in the colony and identify the target to be stung. Unlike honeybees, the stinger is smooth rather than barbed, allowing each hornet to sting repeatedly. Venom can also be sprayed at eyes, causing temporarily blindness. Pain lasts five to ten minutes, swelling longer.

Venom components include histamine, dopamine and noradrenaline, and the proteins phospholipase A, phospholipase B, antigen 5 and hyaluronidase. For people who have had an anaphylactic reaction to being stung, immunotherapy greatly reduces the risk of a subsequent severe reaction, although people with this medical history are still advised to have access to an EpiPen (a prescription epinephrine injector).

On the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, bald-face hornets are rated a 2.0, putting them in same class as yellowjackets and honeybees. Luckily for us, no insects in New England cause pain scores of 3.0 or 4.0.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The American Adoption Era

Lakeview Home for Unwed Jewish Mothers, Staten Island, NY
For thirty years, from 1945 to 1975, there was an increased rate of pregnancies outside of marriage that did not immediately result in either speedy ‘shotgun’ marriages or adoptions into the mothers’ extended families, and hence an increase of babies channeled into the adoption business. And business it was. In the United States, well-to-do parents of pregnant daughters would pay to send their daughters “away” to places such as, Florence Critterton Homes, or in New York City, the Lakeview Home for Unwed Jewish Mothers. Girls from poorer families often ended up at homes operated by religious organizations. At the other end of the process, thousands of families were clamoring to adopt children. The numbers were staggering; for a time, for every child that was placed, there were ten families still waiting for a baby. Whether by fee or ‘donation,’ money flowed in from that end, too.  

Estimates of the total number of adoptions during the ‘adoption era’ range from 1.5 to 4.0 million. Most of the women giving up children were young and unmarried, trapped by conservative postwar mores that forbade premarital sex and restricted birth control, even as the sexual revolution simmered.

The hardship on these birth mothers was intense and long lasting. Once ensconced in a ‘home’ they were not given any option toward choosing to leave with their child. They were counseled to never tell anyone, even their husbands if they later married. One woman recounted pretending she was a ‘virgin’ after her wedding and how ironic that felt given that she had already been in a sexual relationship and given birth.

The end of the adoption era – meaning, specifically, the decline of a supply of white babies from birth mothers living in the United States – was the consequence of several changes. Major among these were the growing availability of effective birth control, legalization of abortion and acceptance of single parenthood. It was in 1965 that the Supreme Court ruled for a constitutional right of married couples to use birth control, and then in 1972 that the same right applied to unmarried people. January 1973 saw Supreme Court legalization of abortion. The U.S. prevalence of single parenthood (which includes children of divorce in addition to never-married) is among the highest in the world.   

And what has all this to do with Maynard? Nothing. It’s about me. I was one of the products of Lakeview Home, which channeled its babies to the Louise Wise Adoption Agency. Louise Wise closed its doors in 2004, after 90-plus years of infant brokering. All records were turned over to another agency. According to what I received from Spence-Chapin in 2007, I was born in 1951, with a document showing a birth name given by my biological mother. The records go on to state that my birth mother was Jewish, single, 20.5 years old, born in the U.S., 5'6", blond hair, blue eyes, high school graduate, working in textile design, interested in arts and music. My birth father was described as Jewish, single, either 20 or 23 years old, born in U.S., 6' tall, black hair, brown eyes. Each had a brother, so out there, somewhere, two uncles, and cousins.  

All of this very likely false. The Louise Wise Agency became notorious for having given out bogus information about birth parents. For example, children surrendered by women who were institutionalized for mental illnesses were given similarly detailed ‘glowing’ backgrounds. The thinking at the time was that schizophrenia, depression, autism and bipolar disorders were the results of how children had been raised, so giving an adopted child a ‘clean’ family medical history would allow the nurture of the adopting parents to outweigh any presumed influences of nature, i.e., genetics of the birth parents. Louise Wise also did some secret twins splitting, and in one infamous instance triplets splitting, to see what the outcomes were when the infants were placed with families of different socioeconomic states.  

There was a five-month gap between my birth and adoption. This was not unusual. Babies were often kept in foster care for months to a year, some times more, so that placement social workers could observe their health and responses to rudimentary intelligence tests, so that they might be matched with appropriate families. During the holding period, some were made available to home economics classes, so that unmarried women could practice being mothers. (Eeeek!)

A few years back I went through DNA analysis, not it the hope of finding biological relatives (and relieved I did not), but rather to get information on genetics of my biological father. The answer confirmed Ashkenazi Jewish on that side, too. Through this male lineage there appears to be a connection to the sixteenth century Rabbi Loew of Prague. Loew was reputed to have created a Golem out of clay to protect Jews from anti-Semitic violence.   

 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

50 Shades of Brown

Yes, yes, that title is a reference to the 2011 erotic romance novel “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which went on to spawn four more books, three movies, two song albums, a parody movie (“Fifty Shades of Black”), and a guest appearance as a book club selection in the movie “Book Club.” But enough for a belabored frame of reference – this column will have no sex scenes, no sadism, no masochism, no bondage, no dominance, no submission. Instead, it has leaves. Lot of leaves. In winter.

As to why leaves turn brown, that is more of colors departing than brown being added. Spring to summer to fall, each leaf is in a dynamic state. Leaves are an energy factory, continually synthesizing more chlorophyll so as to convert sunlight to sugar. Toward the end of our temperate zone growing season, as days shorten, chlorophyll synthesis stops. Green fades. In school, we might have been taught that the yellows and oranges and reds and purples of fall leaf color were always present, only becoming visible with the loss of green. Current thinking is more complex. Plants need time to withdraw sugars and carbohydrates from leaves, to be stored in roots over winter. More of the color compounds – anthocyanins – are made in leaves to protect against ultraviolet damage, i.e., sunburn, while nutrients are being salvaged.      

Another part of the leaf life cycle is “abscission,” the means by which leaves fall from trees. At the time of each leaf’s creation there is a specialized layer of cells where the leaf stalk joins the stem – the abscission layer. As days shorten, a tree hormone, auxin, decreases. This triggers a structural weakening on the abscission layer. Leaves are blown off by wind, or even on a quiet morning, can detach by their own weight. A branch broken in summer will have leaves that go straight to brown without intervening color, and the leaves will stay attached into winter.

Oak leaves on a fallen tree that turned brown 
but did not fall off. Click to enlarge photo.
There are a few species of trees that hang onto their brown leaves all winter: American beech and some of the oaks. Preternaturally retaining leaves in winter is called marcescence. As to why it happens, one theory is that beech trees do this, especially on young trees and lower branches of older trees, to discourage deer from feeding on the tree’s twigs and buds, which are a high-protein food source. Another theory is that not dropping winter leaves until spring serves to self-mulch the trees against competing plants trying to get started close to the tree trunk.

Back to brown. The major constituents of winter’s brown leaves are cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, pectin, tannins and mineral content. The percentages of each dictate leaf shade from the pale brown of beech to the rich, dark brown of oak. Falling in between are ash, poplar, maple, birch, pine, hemlock and the various understory plants. Looking downward when out for a woods walk will reward you with myriad shades of brown.   

Winterberry berries, on ice
There are also accents of winter red. When berries go from green to ripe colors, the term is “veraison.” Same for grapes and many types of fruit. Two competing theories here – either these fruits are synthesizing polyphenolic compounds, which just happen to be colorful, to combat fungus growth, or the plants are signaling to animals that the fruits are ripe, and therefore OK to eat. Thinking for the latter concept is that by enclosing seeds in edible fruits, the plants are borrowing the animals’ digestive tract and wandering lifestyle to disperse seeds far farther than just falling to the ground. There is a name for this: “endozoochory.” Mammals and birds are the majority of seed-spreading participants, although plant-eating reptiles such as turtles can be involved.

The red we spy on winter walks included rosehips on Multiflora rose and berries on Burning bush, Japanese barberry, Oriental bittersweet and Winterberry. That is four invasive species and a native, respectively. Several bird species and small mammals will eat the rosehips, burning bush, and barberry, but the bittersweet and winterberry stay around until found by robins, either those who decided to not migrate or the north-migrating birds of spring. With the exception of barberry, none are considered people-edible, but rather mildly poisonous.        

European barberry is used to make jam. In Persian cuisine, barberry is “zereshk”, and “zereshk polow” is a traditional barberry and rice dish. While Japanese barberries are considered edible, strong reasons to why not bother to collect any include a need to separate fruit from seeds, nasty thorns, and the plants being a preferred habitat for deer ticks.  

 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

The First Robin of Spring Isn't

Robins, winterberry, snow
Robins don’t leave anymore. American robins are omnivores, consuming fruit, berries, earthworms, and insects. They used to leave – their Latinate name Turdus migratorius says exactly that – and then come back in the spring. The “Turdus” part refers to being of the thrush family.  Emily Dickinson’s poem “I dreaded that first robin so” started with robins and went on to list other Spring-signs she dreaded such as daffodils and bees. And actually, they still do leave, mostly, but enough stay to make robin sightings year-round not particularly newsworthy. The reasons for seeing robins year-round is probably a combination of in part global warming and part a better winter food supply. A good resource for shifting bird territories is The Great Backyard Bird Count (www.birdsource.org). The next scheduled count is February 12-15, 2021.

Robins that leave New England spend the winter months in the southern states along the Gulf of Mexico or in central Mexico. Coming back, the male show up first. They travel 50 to 200 miles a day, staying behind the northward advancing line of temperatures above 37° degrees. That temperature is when earthworms will start appearing on the surface and also when the ground softens enough for female robins to collect mud with their beaks for nest building.

Spring sightings here in New England will be a combination of flocks stopping off temporarily but heading further north, and those that have stopped here, declared territories (the males) and started nest building (the females). If you hear a robin singing it is a local male declaring his territory.

In passing, “robin egg blue” as a color is defined as a shade of cyan (greenish-blue color) approximating the shade of the eggs laid by the American robin. Tiffany Blue is a trademarked name and trademark-protected version of robin egg blue uniquely associated with Tiffany & Co., a New York City based jewelry company. The company began using the color in 1845, not many years after its founding in 1837.

Robin, winterberry, snow
The robins that don’t leave, more males than females, gather in flocks of 20-50, sometimes co-mingling with wintering flocks of starlings. These are not the plump and gentle birds of summer with the hop-hop-hop-stop method of working a lawn for worms and grubs. In winter, robins are noisy and combative, working their way though berry bushes with the remembered aggressiveness of Bostonians at a Filene’s bargain basement sale.

Robins like winterberry berries (as do Cedar waxwings), but will eat just about any type of berry or fruit. One reason they may find New England more winter-friendly now compared to years ago is the prevalence of two invasive plant species: Oriental bittersweet and multiflora rose. Both the tree-topping vines and the arching ground brambles are lush with red berries by late-November. Many bird species will eat the multiflora rose berries, but the bittersweet crop is left for robins an waxwings

And why the name “robin?” When the English colonists started arriving in the 1630’s they named the local bird “robin” because its appearance reminded them of the European Robin. The species are not related. The European bird is smaller and has a red/orange face and bib, but a whitish belly. It is the national bird of the United Kingdom. When the English got to Australia the local red-breasted birds also became named robins. These “Flame robins” look a bit like our birds, only brighter. Unlike our species, the females lack the red breast color.

“Little Robin Redbreast” is an English language nursery rhyme. It goes, “Little Robin Redbreast, Sat upon a rail; Niddle noble went his head, Widdle waggle went his tail.” Earlier versions, dating to the 1700s, revealed a more coarse humor, to wit: “Little Robin Red breast, Sitting on a pole, Nidde, Noddle, went his head, And poop went his hole.”

There was an Atlantic Ocean crossing important to American robins. The common earthworms we see robins tugging from the earth and feeding to their chicks came over with the colonists. Although there were many species of worms native to the Americas, these immigrants are more adept at managing the colder climate of the northeast. Back across the ocean, earthworms are being threatened by another invasive species: the New Zealand flatworm. In parts of Scotland and Ireland native earthworms are now scarce – and the fertility of the soil is declining.

This is an expanded repeat of a column first published in December 2009.