They aren’t listed on the manifest, but cats were undoubtedly among the passengers and crew that disembarked from the Mayflower when it arrived at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620. Their ratting abilities made cats valued members of ships’ crews, and they may well have made their way to the New World even earlier, on ships that carried settlers to the Jamestown colony in Virginia, Spanish explorers to Florida and Vikings to Newfoundland. Some of the descendants of those seafaring cats, known prosaically as shorthairs, or domestic shorthairs, became what we know today as American Shorthairs.
Cats were valued on land as well as at sea. Farmers, shopkeepers and householders all needed a good cat to protect their stores of food from mice, rats and other vermin. The shorthairs were solid, hardy working stock, well suited to the tough conditions that prevailed on the untamed continent. Such good hunters were they that a publication from 1634 credits them with saving a New England colony’s crops from squirrels and chipmunks. From their coastal arrival points, they went west with settlers, and thrived.
By 1895, shorthairs had made enough of a mark that they were exhibited at the first cat show in the United States. The Cat Fanciers Association recognized them as a breed in 1906. To differentiate them from randombred cats, also known as domestic shorthairs, the pedigreed felines were given the name American Shorthair in 1966. The cats are recognized by all registries.