Everyone knows tomatoes are poisonous—or rather, everyone in 18th-century New England believed this to be common knowledge. Until an artist and tomato-lover named Michel Felice Cornè emigrated from Europe and sought to change this flawed preconception.
Cornè was born in Italy and lived in France until be became disillusioned with the Napoleonic Wars. He lived in various places in New England until finally settling in Newport, Rhode Island in 1822. He loved tomatoes! He couldn’t understand why Americans refused to eat them or where they came up with the notion that the delicious fruit was deadly.
Cornè was an artist and is known especially for his naval battle paintings, many of which hang in museums throughout the Northeast. However, his true contribution to his adopted country was convincing his neighbors to eat the tomato.
This feat was supposedly achieved by years of his neighbors watching him eat tomatoes every day. He tried to convince his neighbors in Salem and Boston when he lived in those places, but it wasn’t until coming to Newport that his message that the tomato was not poisonous finally got through to folks.
Newport and the United States owe Cornè a great debt. His house stands in town on the corner of Mill and Corne Streets. Yes, the town of Newport was filled with such gratitude, it named the street after him too.
Know Before You Go
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