I may have mentioned that the first time I ever saw island sheep was years ago on our little boat "claudia." We were close to shore when we spotted a big old ram that looked like he'd been left wild. His coat in mid summer was dripping off little by little, great swaths of gnarly wool trailing like entrails as he ambled along. He looked prehistoric.
I tried to find a history of sheep herds in New England - how they got out to the islands. This was all that was readily available including a new word to me:
Ovine: of, relating to, or resembling sheep
Origin: Late Latin ovinus, from Latin ovis sheep — more at ewe
First Known Use: 1676
The first domestic sheep in North America were most likely of the Churra breed which arrived with Columbus' second voyage in 1493.
The next transatantic shipment to arrive was in Mexico with Cortes in 1519. No export of wool or animals is known to have occurred from these populations, but flocks did disseminate throughout what is now Mexico and the Southwest United States with Spanish colonists.
Churras were also introduced to the Navajo tribe of Native Americans, and became a key part of their livelihood and culture. The modern presence of the Navajo-Churro breed is a result of this heritage.
The Susan Constant sheep
The next transport of sheep to North America was not until 1607, with the voyage of the Susan Constant to Virginia. However, the sheep that arrived in that year were all slaughtered because of a famine, and a permanent flock was not to reach the colony until two years later in 1609.
In two decades' time, the colonists had expanded their flock to a total of 400 head. By the 1640s there were about 100,000 head of sheep in the 13 colonies, and in 1662, a woolen mill was built in Watertown, MA. During the periods of political unrest and civil war in Britain spanning the 1640s and 1950s which disrupted maritime trade, the colonists found it pressing to produce wool for clothing.
Many islands off the coast were cleared of predators and set aside for sheep including Nantucket, Long Island Martha's Vineyard and small islands in Boston Harbor. There remain some rare breeds of American sheep—such as the Hog Island sheep—that were the result of island flocks. Placing semi-feral sheep and goats on islands was common practice in colonization during this period.
Island Sheep • 8" X 8"acrylic framed to 12" X 12" • $200