I am looking into "Mitchell Family Beans," purplish beans pinto like with brown spots (see below). These have been passed down a couple generations in a Mitchell family of Idaho (formerly Missouri). I was once told a Mitchell ancestor brought these to the US through Ellis Island, most likely from Ireland, hidden in the lining of their coat. A great story! But since these Mitchell's were in Kentucky and Virginia before 1800, they did not come through Ellis Island (which saw its first immigrant 1 Jan 1892). So I am wondering about the rest of the story.

Would have been hidden? When were food restrictions first placed on immigrants to the US?

Obviously the lining of the coat part could be true even if the beans were not hidden. For example, they could accidentally have been there from having beans in a pocket some time earlier. But would an immigrant pre-1800 be hiding beans?

"Mitchell family beans"

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    I like this question, it's very humorous! Love the family beans pic. But unfortunately, I don't have an answer. Excited to see how other members respond. Commented Apr 18, 2013 at 19:43
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    Pre-Civil War, all immigration was the states' responsibility (not federal). Knowing what state they entered through could help in figuring this out. Also, very few states had any laws concerning immigration at this time period. In fact, before 1790, almost no immigration records were kept. If the year they immigrated was before 1776, this could have been related to a British tax.
    – Luke_0
    Commented Apr 18, 2013 at 22:04
  • Not an answer, but consider the possibility that this could be about restrictions (or tarrifs) on the seed crops allowed in the country, rather than an issue of "hiding food." Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 16:37
  • Could be something about the tariffs levied on cocoa beans and coffee beans, which were repealed with the Townshend Acts (see Art. VI).
    – Luke_0
    Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 21:47
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    A likely origin would seem to be an improvised response to "Granpa, where did these speckled beans come from?"
    – RobertShaw
    Commented Apr 21, 2013 at 3:18

1 Answer 1


In a history of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service you will find.

In colonial times, the British government encouraged farmers to produce crops, such as sugarcane and indigo, that were not native to the colonies to reduce England's dependence on foreign sources. After independence, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, along with others who traveled abroad, brought plant material such as olive trees and rice, back to the United States to develop U.S. agricultural production and to continue to increase the variety of crops available for cultivation.

Some key dates from that history include
1862 The U.S. Department of Agriculture created
1912 The Plant Quarantine Act enacted

So while your ancestor may have been "hiding" the beans when arriving before 1800, it is not clear who he was hiding them from. It certainly wasn't the "guvmint" that would have wanted to take them away from him.

Great story but very little possibility of any factual basis.

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