The Early Days
Randall Linebacks in the 1600s and 1700s
The fine details of the early importations of cattle into New England are mysterious and uncertain. The earliest cattle introductions were of “prebreed” cattle. Most of these cattle had a geographic descriptor, such as “Alderney”, or a physical descriptor, such as “a white-backed cow” at Plimouth Plantation. “Prebreed” is the designation used for these early cattle because standardized pure breeds of cattle did not develop until very late in the 1700s, increasingly through the 1800s, and on into the 1900s.
At the beginning of the 1600s there were direct importations to New England from Europe. However, in addition, cattle could have entered both from what is now Quebec, as well as from the more southern coastal colonies of North America, such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. As early as1608 Quebec imported cattle from Normandy, Brittany, and Alderney. The Alderney cattle could easily have provided some of the blood types in today’s Randall Lineback cattle. The origin of the distinctive lineback pattern of the Randall linebacks is uncertain, but Normandy cattle are one potential source of the pattern.
The 1620s saw the importation of cattle from the Netherlands into New York and New Jersey. These cattle were generally black and white, a few were red and white, and they were reputed to be good dairy cattle. Dutch cattle were taken in the 1630s to Maryland, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. The exact type of Dutch cattle is uncertain, but linebacks persist in the Netherlands even today. These easily could have been the source of the distinctive colors and lineback pattern of the Randall Lineback, and blood-types clearly show some relationship to Dutch cattle.
In the 1620s, English cattle were imported to Massachusetts as well as to other areas. For example, Virginia is known to have imported numerous English prebreed cattle in the early 1600s. By 1636 Massachusetts was well stocked with cattle; so much so, that Massachusetts was able to supply other areas. Most of these cattle were red, and of a Shorthorn type. However, English cattle do occasionally sport the colorsided, or linebacked, pattern even today, and these could easily have introduced the distinctive pattern of the Randall Lineback. One modern English breed, the English Longhorn, carries the linebacked pattern. In a few other British breeds, such as the Galloway and the Welsh Black, occasional animals persist with the distinctive pattern. These breeds indicate that the color pattern was present in Britain, and it is likely that it was even more widespread in earlier centuries and then became lost as breeds became standardized on a few colors or patterns. Indeed, one cow imported by the Pilgrims to Massachusetts was contemporaneously referred to as a “great white-backed cow” and indicates that linebacked cattle were among the earliest cattle imported to New England.
In 1627 Swedish cattle were taken to Delaware. These cattle were never described, so it is uncertain what they looked like. One linebacked Swedish breed survives, the Fjällras, which is black and white with the colorsided pattern. Danish cattle, most of which were yellow, were taken to New Hampshire in 1630. These were from the south of Denmark, and were likely similar to various gold or yellow North German or Danish cattle.