The Virginia Opossum, the only species to be found in North America, is a common denizen of rural areas. Not known for its attractiveness, Captain John Smith in his Description of Virginia (1612) painted it thus: “An Opossum hath a head like a Swine, & a taile like a Rat, and is of the Bignes of a Cat. Under her belly, she hath a bagge, wherein she lodgeth, carrieth and sucketh her young.”
Opossums have long been hunted by the poor for their flesh and fur. They are not difficult to kill as any threat sends these skittish creatures into an involuntary state of paralysis (hence the phrase ‘to play possum’). As regards their flavour, John Lawson, a traveller to the Carolinas in the early 1700s, reported that they tasted like a cross between “young Pork and Veal”, though they have never been a popular repast amongst those able to afford other meat. Their fur, however, was a fashionable material for shawls and scarves during the early 20th century.