Oct 202012

Changes in the LandA history of the Massachusetts colony’s early years that focuses on the way English colonization altered Native Americans’ and the colonists’ sense of what land is and is for. Very good.

What follows after the break is my very long clippings file, copied from my Kindle (may it melt in the sun and die) and thus with location numbers rather than page numbers.

My Clippings File

‘The myth of a fallen humanity in a fallen world is never far beneath the surface in Thoreau’s writing, (location 111)

Just as a fox’s summer diet of fruit and insects shifts to rodents and birds during the winter, so too did the New England Indians seek to obtain their food wherever it was seasonally most concentrated in the New England ecosystem. Doing so required an intimate understanding of the habits and ecology of other species, and it was this knowledge that the English discovered they lacked. (location 644)

The principal social and economic grouping for precolonial New England Indians was the village, a small settlement with perhaps a few hundred inhabitants organized into extended kin networks. Villages, rather than the larger and better-known units called tribes or confederacies, were the centers around which Indian interactions with the environment revolved. But villages were not fixed geographical entities: their size and location changed on a seasonal basis, communities breaking up and reassembling as social and ecological needs required. (location 648)

Important as habitat differences were, however, the crucial distinction between Indian communities was whether or not they had adopted agriculture. (location 662)

Only in the north did Indians live entirely as hunter-gatherers, people who bore at least superficial resemblance to the creatures of English fantasy who captured nature’s bounties with “small labor but great pleasure.” (location 669)

The ecological principle known as Liebig’s Law states that biological populations are limited not by the total annual resources available to them but by the minimum amount that can be found at the scarcest time of the year. (location 712)

The ability of agriculture to smooth out the seasonal scarcities of wild foodstuffs had major consequences for the sizes of Indian populations in New England. The nonagricultural Indians of Maine sustained population densities, on average, of perhaps 41 persons per hundred square miles. The crop-raising Indians of southern New England, on the other hand, probably maintained 287 persons on an identical amount of land, a sevenfold difference. When these two broad groups were combined, the total Indian population of New England probably numbered somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 people in 1600. (Lest this seem unimpressive, one should remember that the English population of New England was smaller than this even at the beginning of the eighteenth century, having reached only 93,000 people by 1700.) (location 727)

Although southern Indians engaged in many of the same annual hunting and fishing activities as northern ones, their concentration on the raising of crops can be seen even in the names they gave their months. Northern Indians named their lunar months in terms of seasonal changes in animal populations, referring to the egg laying of birds, the running of salmon, the molting of geese, the hibernation of bears, and so on. By contrast, southern Indians chose the names of their months with an entirely different emphasis. The fur trader John Pynchon recorded that the Agawam Indian village near Springfield, Massachusetts, began its year with the month of Squannikesos, which included part of April and part of May, and whose name meant “when they set Indian corn.” This was followed by various months whose names indicated the weeding of corn, the hilling of corn, the ripening of corn, the coming of the frost, the middle of winter, the thawing of ice, and the catching of fish. The southern cycle of months was thus remarkable in having only a single reference to the animals which so dominated the northern calendar, an indication of how much agriculture had transformed Indian lives there.14 (location 736)

It was not an agriculture that looked very orderly to a European eye accustomed to monocultural fields. Cornstalks served as beanpoles, squashes sent their tendrils everywhere, and the entire surface of the field became a dense tangle of food plants. But, orderly or not, such gardens had the effect, as John Winthrop, Jr., said, of “loading the Ground with as much as it will beare,” creating very high yields per acre, discouraging weed growth, and preserving soil moisture. (location 756)

Except for tobacco, crops were primarily the responsibility of women. (location 761)

As with the hunting Indians of northern New England, the sexual division of labor for the agricultural peoples of southern New England was very well defined, women performing those jobs which were most compatible with simultaneous child-care. This meant tasks which were generally repetitive, which could be easily interrupted, which did not require travel too far from home, and which did not suffer if one performed them while giving most of one’s attention to the children. In the nonagricultural north, women’s work involved gathering shellfish and birds on the shore, collecting wild plants, trapping small rodents, making garments, keeping camp, and the whole range of food-processing activities; but meat gathered by men probably supplied half or more of a village’s food. In the south, on the other hand, agriculture changed this sexual division and made women much more important than men in providing food. A single Indian woman could raise anywhere from twenty-five to sixty bushels of corn by working an acre or two, enough to provide half or more of the annual caloric requirements for a family of five. When corn was combined with the other foods for which they were responsible, women may have contributed as much as three-fourths of a family’s total subsistence needs.16 (location 763)

Wigwams were also moved if a death occurred in one, or if a settlement was threatened by war.18 (location 788)

The effect of southern New England Indian villages on their environment was not limited to clearing fields or stripping forests for firewood. What most impressed English visitors was the Indians’ burning of extensive sections of the surrounding forest once or twice a year. (location 861)

Northern Indians do not appear to have engaged in such burning. Because they did not practice agriculture and so were less tied to particular sites, they had less incentive to alter the environment of a given spot. Their chief mode of transportation was the canoe, so that they had less need of an open forest for traveling. (location 873)

Selective Indian burning thus promoted the mosaic quality of New England ecosystems, creating forests in many different states of ecological succession. In particular, regular fires promoted what ecologists call the “edge effect.” By encouraging the growth of extensive regions which resembled the boundary areas between forests and grasslands, Indians created ideal habitats for a host of wildlife species. (location 893)

because the enlarged edge areas actually raised the total herbivorous food supply, they not merely attracted game but helped create much larger populations of it. Indian burning promoted the increase of exactly those species whose abundance so impressed English colonists: elk, deer, beaver, hare, porcupine, turkey, quail, ruffed grouse, and so on. When these populations increased, so did the carnivorous eagles, hawks, lynxes, foxes, and wolves. In short, Indians who hunted game animals were not just taking the “unplanted bounties of nature”; in an important sense, they were harvesting a foodstuff which they had consciously been instrumental in cremating.29 (location 898)

Few English observers could have realized this. People accustomed to keeping domesticated animals lacked the conceptual tools to realize that Indians were practicing a more distant kind of husbandry of their own. To the colonists, only Indian women appeared to do legitimate work; the men idled away their time in hunting, fishing, and wantonly burning the woods, none of which seemed like genuinely productive activities to Europeans. (location 904)

As we shall see, the English used this Indian reliance on hunting not only to condemn Indian men as lazy savages but to deny that Indians had a rightful claim to the land they hunted. European perceptions of what constituted a proper use of the environment thus reinforced what became a European ideology of conquest.31 (location 924)

The ecological relationships which the English sought to reproduce in New England were no less cyclical than those of the Indians; they were only simpler and more concentrated. The English too had their seasons of want and plenty, and rapidly adjusted their false expectations of perpetual natural wealth to match New World realities. But whereas Indian villages moved from habitat to habitat to find maximum abundance through minimal work, and so reduce their impact on the land, the English believed in and required permanent settlements. Once a village was established, its improvements—cleared fields, pastures, buildings, fences, and so on—were regarded as more or less fixed features of the landscape. English fixity sought to replace Indian mobility; here was the central conflict in the ways Indians and colonists interacted with their environments. The struggle was over two ways of living and using the seasons of the year, and it expressed itself in how two peoples conceived of property, wealth, and boundaries on the landscape. (location 935)

If English visitors to New England thought it a paradox that Indians seemed to live like paupers in a landscape of great natural wealth, then the problem lay with English eyesight rather than with any real Indian poverty. To those who compared Massachusetts Indians to English beggars, Morton replied, “If our beggers of England should, with so much ease as they, furnish themselves with foode at all seasons, there would not be so many starved in the streets.” Indians only seemed impoverished, since they were in fact “supplied with all manner of needefull things, for the maintenance of life and lifelyhood.” Indeed, said Morton, the leisurely abundance of Indian life suggested that there might be something wrong with European notions of wealth: perhaps the English did not know true riches when they saw them. (location 951)

Criticism of Indian ways of life was a near-constant element in early colonial writing, (location 962)

A people who moved so much and worked so little did not deserve to lay claim to the land they inhabited. Their supposed failure to “improve” that land was a token not of their chosen way of life but of their laziness. (location 965)

As we have seen, the full scorn of English criticism was reserved for Indian males, whose lives were perhaps too close to certain English pastoral and aristocratic fantasies for Calvinists to tolerate. At a time when the royalist Izaak Walton would soon proclaim the virtues of angling and hunting as pastimes, the Puritan objections to these “leisure” activities carried political as well as moral overtones.2 (location 971)

To European eyes, Indians appeared to squander the resources that were available to them. Indian poverty was the result of Indian waste: underused land, underused natural abundance, underused human labor. (location 976 ) [Interesting that a rationale for taking land was even offered. It suggests that some need to justify expropriation was felt.]

Colonial theorists like John Winthrop posited two ways of owning land, one natural and one civil. Natural right to the soil had existed “when men held the earth in common every man sowing and feeding where he pleased.” This natural ownership had been superseded when individuals began to raise crops, keep cattle, and improve the land by enclosing it; from such actions, Winthrop said, came a superior, civil right of ownership. (location 982)

Few Europeans were willing to recognize that the ways Indians inhabited New England ecosystems were as legitimate as the ways Europeans intended to inhabit them. Colonists thus rationalized their conquest of New England: by refusing to extend the rights of property to the Indians, they both trivialized the ecology of Indian life and paved the way for destroying it. (location 1005)

Although ordinary language seems to suggest that property is generally a simple relationship between an individual person and a thing, it is actually a far more complicated social institution which varies widely between cultures. Saying that A owns B is in fact meaningless until the society in which A lives agrees to allow A a certain bundle of rights over B and to impose sanctions against the violation of those rights by anyone else. The classic definition is that of Huntington Cairns: “the property relation is triadic: ‘A owns B against C,’ where C represents all other individuals.” Unless the people I live with recognize that I own something and so give me certain unique claims over it, I do not possess it in any meaningful sense. Moreover, different groups will permit me different bundles of rights over the same object. To define property is thus to represent boundaries between people; equally, it is to articulate at least one set of conscious ecological boundaries between people and things.7 (location 1014)

In reality, sachems derived their power in many ways: by personal assertiveness; by marrying (if male) several wives to proliferate wealth and kin obligations; by the reciprocal exchange of gifts with followers; and, especially in southern New England, by inheriting it from close kin. (location 1035)

relatively fluid set of personal relationships. Although those relationships bore some resemblance to the dynastic politics of early modern Europe—a resemblance several historians have recently emphasized—they were crucially different in not being articulated within a state system. Kinship and personality rather than any alternative institutional structure organized power in Indian communities. (location 1041)

Moreover, the sachem of one village might regularly pay tribute to the sachem of another, thus acknowledging a loose hierarchy between villages and sachems. Such hierarchies might be practically unimportant until some major conflict or external threat arose, whereupon the communities assembled into a larger confederacy until the problem was solved. (location 1045)

When Roger Williams wrote that “the Natives are very exact and punctuall in the bounds of their Lands, belonging to this or that Prince or People,” he was refuting those who sought to deny that legitimate Indian property rights existed. But the rights of which he spoke were not ones of individual ownership; rather, they were sovereign rights that defined a village’s political and ecological territory.10 (location 1058)

What families possessed in their fields was the use of them, the crops that were produced by a woman’s labor upon them. When lands were traded or sold in the way Williams described, what were exchanged were usufruct rights, acknowledgments by one group that another might use an area for planting or hunting or gathering. Such rights were limited to the period of use, and they did not include many of the privileges Europeans commonly associated with ownership: a user could not (location and saw no need to) prevent other village members from trespassing or gathering nonagricultural food on such lands, and had no conception of deriving rent from them. Planting fields were “possessed” by an Indian family only to the extent that it would return to them the following year. (location 1095)

Unlike the English, who most frequently created arbitrary place-names which either recalled localities in their homeland or gave a place the name of its owner, the Indians used ecological labels to describe how the land could be used.20 (location 1156)

A variety of sites refer to “the boundary or ending place” which divided the territories of two different Indian villages or groups. (location 1159)

Boundaries between the Indians and these intruding “strangers” differed in fundamental ways from the ones between Indian villages, largely because the two interpreted those boundaries using very different cultural concepts. (location 1165)

As we have seen, Massachusetts recognized that Indians might have limited natural rights to land, and so provided that such rights could be alienated under the sanctions of Massachusetts law. No question of an Indian village’s own sanctions could arise, for the simple reason that Indian sovereignty was not recognized. The Massachusetts Bay Company was careful very early to instruct its agents on this point, telling them “to make composition with such of the salvages as did pretend any tytle or lay clayme to any of the land.” Indian rights were not real, but pretended, because the land had already been granted the company by the English Crown.24 (location 1194)

Deeds in eastern Massachusetts—when they existed at all—typi—cally took this form, extinguishing all Indian rights and transferring them either to an English purchaser or, as in this case, to an English group with some corporate identity. As the English understood these transactions, what was sold was not a bundle of usufruct rights, applying to a range of different “territories,” but the land itself, an abstract area whose bounds in theory remained fixed no matter what the use to which it was put. Once the land was bounded in this new way, a host of ecological changes followed almost inevitably.25 (location 1204)

Colonial claims to ownership of land in New England had two potential sources: purchases from Indians or grants from the English Crown. (location 1220)

When a colony purchased land from Indians, it did so under its own system of sovereignty: whenever ownership rights were deeded and purchased, they were immediately incorporated into English rather than Indian law. Indian land sales, operating as they did at the interface of two different sovereignties, one of which had trouble recognizing that the other existed, thus had a potentially paradoxical quality. Because Indians, at least in the beginning, thought they were selling one thing and the English thought they were buying another, it was possible for an Indian village to convey what it regarded as identical and nonexclusive usufruct rights to several different English purchasers. Alternatively, several different Indian groups might sell to English ones rights to the same tract of land. Uniqueness of title as the English understood it became impossible under such circumstances, so colonies very early tried to regulate the purchase of Indian lands. (location 1227)

Initial divisions of town lands, with their functional classifications of woodlot and meadow and cornfield, bore a superficial resemblance to Indian usufruct rights, since they seemed to define land in terms of how it was to be used. Once transferred into private hands, however, most such lands became abstract parcels whose legal definition bore no inherent relation to their use: a person owned everything on them, not just specific activities which could be conducted within their boundaries. (location 1309)

The uses to which land could be put vanished from such descriptions, and later land divisions increasingly ignored actual topography. What was on the land became largely irrelevant to its legal identity, even though its contents—and the rights to them—might still have great bearing on the price it would bring if sold. Describing land as a fixed parcel with purely arbitrary boundaries made buying and selling it increasingly easy, as did the recording systems—an American innovation—which kept track of such transactions. Indeed, legal descriptions, however abstracted, had little effect on everyday life until land was sold. People did not cease to be intimately a part of the land’s ecology simply by reason of the language with which their deeds were written. But when it came time to transfer property rights, those deeds allowed the alienation of land as a commodity, an action with important ecological consequences. To the abstraction of legal boundaries was added the abstraction of price, a measurement of property’s value assessed on a unitary scale. More than anything else, it was the treatment of land and property as commodities traded at market that distinguished English conceptions of ownership from Indian ones. (location 1319)

When seventeenth-century New England towns are compared with those of the nineteenth century, with their commercial agriculture, wage workers, and urban industrialism, the transition between the two may well seem to be that from a subsistence to a capitalist society. Certainly Marxists wedded to a definition of capitalism in terms of relations between labor and capital must have trouble seeing it in the first New England towns. Most early farmers owned their own land, hired few wage laborers, and produced mainly for their own use. Markets were hemmed in by municipal regulations, high transportation costs, and medieval notions of the just price. In none of these ways does it seem reasonable to describe colonial New England as “capitalist.”35 (location 1333)

And yet when colonial towns are compared not with their industrial successors but with their Indian predecessors, they begin to look more like market societies, the seeds of whose capitalist future were already present. (location 1339)

Certain items of the New England landscape—fish, furs, timber, and a few others—were thus selected at once for early entrance into the commercial economy of the North Atlantic. They became valued not for the immediate utility they brought their possessors but for the price they would bring when exchanged at market. In trying to explain ecological changes related to these commodities, we can safely point to market demand as the key causal agent.36 (location 1346)

Although taxes bore some resemblance to political tributes in Indian societies, the latter were not based on possession of land and did not reinforce the sense that land had an intrinsic money value. Taxes thus had the important effect of forcing a certain degree of colonial production beyond the level of mere “subsistence,” and orienting that surplus toward market exchange.37 (location 1359)

But the most important sense in which it is wrong to describe colonial towns as subsistence communities follows from their inhabitants’ belief in “improvement,” the concept which was so crucial in their critique of Indian life. (location 1363)

It was capital—the ability to store wealth in the expectation that one could increase its quantity—that set European societies apart from precolonial Indian ones. (location 1385)

Where there is not something both lasting and scarce, and so valuable to be hoarded up, there Men will not be apt to enlarge their Possessions of Land, were it never so rich, never so free for them to take. For I ask, What would a Man value Ten Thousand or a Hundred Thousand Acres of excellent Land, ready cultivated, and well stocked too with Cattle, in the middle of the in-land Parts of America, where he had no hopes of Commerce with other Parts of the World, to draw Money to him by the Sale of the Product? It would not be worth the inclosing, and we should see him give up again to the wild Common of Nature, whatever was more than would supply the Conveniences of Life to be had there for him and his Family. (location 1387 ) [Note: The frontier returns people to this state of no commerce, no capital.]

comparisons of Indians with English beggars which Morton had sought to refute. Locke posed the riddle of Indian poverty as clearly as anyone in the seventeenth century. He described them as a people whom Nature having furnished as liberally as any other people, with the materials of Plenty, i.e. a fruitful Soil, apt to produce in abundance, what might serve for food, rayment, and delight; yet for want of improving it by labour, have not one hundredth part of the Conveniences we enjoy: And a King of a large fruitful Territory there feeds, lodges, and is clad worse than a day Labourer in England. Because the Indians lacked the incentives of money and commerce, Locke thought, they failed to improve their land and so remained a people devoid of wealth and comfort.40 (location 1399)

Marshall Sahlins has pointed out that there are in fact two ways to be rich, one of which was rarely recognized by Europeans in the seventeenth century. “Wants,” Sahlins says, “may be ‘easily satisfied’ either by producing much or desiring little.” (location 1408)

Timothy Dwight, writing at the beginning of the nineteenth century, lamented the fact that Indians had not yet learned the love of property. “Wherever this can be established,” he said, “Indians may be civilized; wherever it cannot, they will still remain Indians.” The statement was truer than he probably realized. Speaking strictly in terms of precolonial New England, Indian conceptions of property were central to Indian uses of the land, and Indians could not live as Indians had lived unless the land was owned as Indians had owned it. Conversely, the land could not long remain unchanged if it were owned in a different way. (location 1422)

We know next to nothing about most of the Europeans who journeyed to New England in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and we can make only the crudest of inferences about how Indians responded to them. Yet there can be no doubt that contacts between the two groups were extensive. (location 1462)

By 1616, Pierre Biard could write of disease as being a regular visitor to the Indians of Maine and Nova Scotia. “They are astonished,” he said, and often complain that, since the French mingle with and carry on trade with them, they are dying fast, and the population is thinning out. For they assert that, before this association and intercourse, all their countries were very populous, and they tell how one by one the different coasts, according as they have begun to traffic with us, have been more reduced by disease. (location 1502)

There was little Indians could do to protect themselves from the epidemics. Whereas they had previously dealt with their sick companions by gathering at their bedside to sit through the illness with them, they quickly learned that the new diseases could be escaped only by casting aside family and community ties and fleeing. “So terrible is their apprehension of an infectious disease,” wrote Roger Williams in the 1640s, “that not only persons, but the Houses and the whole Towne takes flight.” (location 1532)

Once villages were attacked by a new pathogen, they often missed key phases in their annual subsistence cycles—the corn planting, say, or the fall hunt—and so were weakened when the next infection arrived. Worse, hungry times that had always been normal in precolonial Indian society—for instance, the late winter among northern hunters—became lethal when accompanied by the new diseases. Chronic illnesses gained their foothold in this way, and broke out whenever Indian populations became particularly susceptible to them. Tuberculosis had become common by the end of the seventeenth century, and influenza in combination with pneumonia recurred regularly in epidemic proportions. Measles, typhus, dysentery, and syphilis all became endemic and contributed to the general decline in Indian populations. As a result, in the first seventy-five years of the seventeenth century, the total number of Indians in New England fell precipitously from well over 70,000 to fewer than 12,000. (location 1541)

The social disruption brought by the epidemics was not limited to political leaders. Indian doctors, or powwows, found their ordinary healing practices useless against so potent a biological assault. (location 1563)

Indian depopulation as a result of European diseases ironically made it easier for Europeans to justify taking Indian lands. If the English believed that cornfields were the only property Indians had improved sufficiently to own, the wiping out of a village—and the subsequent abandonment of its planting fields—eliminated even this modest right. Over and over again, New England towns made their first settlements on the sites of destroyed Indian villages. (location 1570)

As Indian villages vanished, the land on which they had lived began to change. Freed from the annual burnings and soon to be subject to an entirely different agricultural regime, the land’s transformations were often so gradual as to be imperceptible. But a few changes were directly attributable to the depopulation caused by the epidemics. Fields which had still stood in grass when the Pilgrims arrived in 1620 were rapidly being reclaimed by forest by the time of the 1630 Puritan migrations to Massachusetts. (location 1579)

Some Indian fields were rapidly overgrown by the strawberries and raspberries in whose abundance colonists took so much delight, but these were an old-field phenomenon that would not reproduce themselves for long without the growing conditions Indians had created for them. When the Puritan migrations began, the animals that had relied on the Indians to maintain their edge habitats were still abundant beyond English belief, but in many areas the edges were beginning to return to forest. Declining animal populations would not be noticed for many years, but habitat conditions were already shifting to produce that effect.15 (location 1585)

The fur trade could not have existed without Indians: in order for the English to exploit beavers and other furbearers, it was essential that they have the willing cooperation of Indian partners. This fact sprang from the very hunting skills which English observers regarded as “laziness” in Indian males. (location 1601)

Most exchanges, whether internal or external to a village, were articulated in the language of gift giving.18 (location 1618)

Most were readily incorporated into subsistence practices and trade patterns that had existed in precolonial times. They were in fact often reconverted into less utilitarian but more highly valued Indian objects: the many early explorers who came across Indians wearing brass and copper jewelry, for instance, were probably seeing what Indians believed to be—along with arrowheads—the proper use of European brass and copper kettles.20 (location 1632)

Agricultural produce had been the major substance offered by southern Indians in trade with northern ones, and Plymouth at first behaved little differently from an Indian village in trading its maize for furs. What stimulated the trade was not so much new European technologies—nothing other than the sailing ship was necessary to pursue it—as a new European economic need: the need to find commodities that would repay debts to European merchants. In this sense, Europeans took hold of the traditional maize-fur trade network and transformed it from a system of binary village exchange to a link in the new Atlantic economy. Colonial governments reserved the fur trade as a sovereign right for themselves and the merchants who served as their agents, and began to amass corn both by trading with southern Indians and by taxing the colonists themselves. (location 1650)

It was another commodity—like maize, more Indian than European—that revolutionized the New England fur trade: wampumpeag, the strings of white and purple beads we know today as wampum. (location 1662)

It was exchanged mainly at well-circum-scribed ritual moments: in the payment of tribute between sachems, as recompense for murder or other serious crimes, in the transfer of bride-wealth when proposing marriage, as payment for a powwow’s magical services, or in gift exchanges to betoken friendship and alliance. It was, in other words, a medium of gift giving whose value was widely accepted among the Indians of southern New England.23 To Europeans, wampum was ideally suited to become the medium for a wider, more commercial exchange—to become what John Locke called “money.” (location 1668)

The Dutch first discovered wampum’s value in 1622, and were astonished at how much it facilitated their trade. Fearing that the Pilgrims would become rivals in the Connecticut fur trade if they found out about wampum independently, the Dutch West India Company’s agent, Isaack de Rasieres, decided to introduce them to it himself. He accordingly sold them £50 worth of it in 1627 and encouraged them to try trading it on the Maine coast (location rather than on the Connecticut, where the Dutch trading houses were located). Although Maine Indians were initially reluctant to acquire wampum, within two years it had become the single most important commodity Plymouth had to offer. (location 1676)

The colonists’ economic problem of obtaining a sure supply of wampum and the military problem of dealing with independent Indian arms were finally solved simultaneously by means of armed force: the slaughter of the Pequots in 1637 and the assassination of the Narragansett sachem Miantonomo in 1643. Exacting a regular military tribute in wampum proved a safer and more reliable source of supply than trading guns for it.26 (location 1700)

The fur trade was thus far more complicated than a simple exchange of European metal goods for Indian beaver skins. It revolutionized Indian economies less by its new technology than by its new commercialism, at once utilizing and subverting Indian trade patterns to extend European mercantile ones. European merchants created an expanded regional economy in New England by shuttling between several different trading partners: wampum producers along Long Island Sound, corn growers—both Indians and colonists—in the south generally, European manufacturers, and the Indians—located primarily in the north —who hunted furs. Trade linked these groups with an abstract set of equivalent values measured in pelts, bushels of corn, fathoms of wampum, and price movements in sterling on London markets. The essential lesson for the Indians was that certain things began to have prices that had not had them before. In particular, one could buy personal prestige by killing animals and exchanging their skins for wampum or high-status European goods.27 (location 1704)

Precolonial trade enforced an unintentional conservation of animal populations, a conservation which was less the result of an enlightened ecological sensibility than of the Indians’ limited social definition of “need.” (location 1722)

On the Connecticut River, European traders established in turn the towns of Wethersfield, Hartford, Windsor, and Springfield as fur posts. (location 1737)

Overhunting combined with reductions in edge habitats led some of the meat species to decline in numbers even by the end of the seventeenth century. (location 1758)

Deer were threatened by changes in their habitat, augmented numbers of hunters, and competition from domestic livestock They were so reduced by the end of the seventeenth century that Massachusetts enforced its first closed season on their hunting in 1694, and in 1718 all hunting of them was forbidden for a closed term of three years. By the 1740s, a series of “deer reeves”—early game wardens—were regulating the deer hunt, but to little avail. At the end of the eighteenth century, Timothy Dwight noted that deer were “scarcely known below the forty-fourth degree of north latitude,” having vanished from all but the northern stretches of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. With them, save for in the far north, had gone the elk, bear, and lynx. “Hunting with us,” said Dwight, “exists chiefly in the tales of other times.”33 By the time this happened, of course, the colonists no longer relied on hunting for any significant portion of their subsistence. The real losers were the Indians, whose earlier way of life was encountering increasing ecological constraints. (location 1768)

As Indians increasingly sold the skins they hunted, they had to have an alternative for their own clothing. Despite some initial reluctance, they found it in European fabric, which, next to wampum, was by mid-century the single most important commodity they bought with fur. (location 1786)

Wampum, which in the 1640s had circulated as legal tender among colonists as well as Indians, lost much of its value in the 1660s when European demand for beaver declined and new supplies of silver coin from the West Indies reduced the scarcity of colonial specie. As a result, although wampum continued to circulate in the Indian trade, the colonists no longer defined it legally as money. (location 1801)

Demand for wampum fell, and Indians on the south coast suddenly found themselves isolated from markets on which they had come to rely. Indians for whom pelts had been their main access to trade had comparable experiences when their fur supplies gave out. These changes contributed to the conflicts leading up to King Philip’s War in 1675–76, but their longer-term effect was to force Indians who depended on trade goods to turn to the only major commodity they had left: their land.36 (location 1805)

The second half of the seventeenth century saw Indians in southern New England lose most of their land. The colonists accomplished this dispossession in ways which have been recounted at length elsewhere and need not be repeated here. Whether seized as the spoils of war, stolen by colonial subterfuge, or simply sold by Indians to obtain trade goods, the net effect was the same: decreasing quantities of land remained free for the Indians’ use. (location 1809)

From an ecological point of view, Indian subsistence practices were in many ways more and more like those of European peasants. As European trade had done earlier, European agriculture reorganized Indian relationships within both the New England regional economy and the New England ecosystem.37 (location 1819)

the musket, although rarely used for hunting beaver or the smaller furbearers because of its inaccuracy, made the killing of large herbivores a simpler task. Shooting a moose provided far more food with much less labor than killing many birds or small game animals. A solitary beast which had once been hunted only when deep snows slowed its movements, the moose suddenly became an easier prey. As a result, it was gone from parts of eastern Canada by the mid-seventeenth century, and the same pattern repeated itself in northern New England. (location 1837)

Reduction in beaver populations, as well as conflict over who should be permitted to trap where, led to major shifts in Indian notions of property. Northern villages had formerly divided their hunting territories on a shifting and ad hoc basis; now, as families tried to hang on to their share of a declining beaver hunt, such territories became more and more fixed. By the eighteenth century, Maine Indians had allocated their lands into family hunting territories whose possession was inherited from generation to generation. (location 1845)

When colonists cut a road through freshly opened countryside, they often went out of their way to cross streams on abandoned beaver dams rather than to build bridges. The sites of old dams were often chosen as preferred mill sites. Some beaver ponds became spawning grounds for shad and salmon, thus providing sites where fish for food and fertilizer could be had with a minimum of labor. But it was when the old dams collapsed for want of maintenance that they conferred their greatest benefit on colonial settlers. Behind them was many years’ accumulation of leaves, bark, rotten wood, and rain-washed silt; in addition, their ponds had killed acres of trees which had once stood on the banks of pre-beaver streams. When the pond disappeared with the breaching of its dam, the rich black soil was suddenly exposed to the sun and rapidly became covered with grass that grew “as high as a man’s shoulders.” Not only did this provide forage for moose and deer—as long as those animals remained to browse there—but it became ideal mowing ground when settlers arrived with their cattle. (location 1868)

The death of the beaver in fact paved the way for the non-Indian communities that would soon arrive.42 (location 1878)

The furbearers of colonial New England had been destroyed in two ways: by having a price placed on their heads and by losing their ecological habitats to new human uses of the land. (location 1897)

England’s experiences with timber and fuel shortages, as well as its involvement in European wars that threatened to cut off its foreign supply of shipbuilding materials, led its rulers to adopt what seemed to many colonists an overly cautious attitude toward conserving New England’s forests. (location 1934)

These regulations were repeatedly renewed until the American Revolution; if enforced, they might conceivably have slowed the cutting of New England forests. Enforcement proved virtually impossible, however, and so the “broad-arrow laws” came to stand more than anything else for European anxieties about deforestation. The colonists violated the laws constantly.4 (location 1941)

New England lumbering used forests as if they would last forever. Because prime mast trees were usually scattered among those of lesser value, many less-than-perfect trees were simply destroyed when larger ones were felled. (location 1944)

Even purposes for which Europeans made do with low-quality wood were accomplished by New Englanders with the finest available lumber. (location 1950)

This was a pattern that would characterize American lumbering until the late nineteenth century.5 (location 1956)

Such uses of wood placed prices on certain New England trees just as the fur trade had placed prices on New England mammals: the forest itself came to have a value at market. Neither white pine nor white cedar—extensive stands of the one being limited to dry ridge tops and old burn sites, and of the other to stream-banks and wet swamps—had ever been abundant in New England. (location 1968)

Neither tended to regrow when cut—pine was generally replaced by hardwoods, and cedar by red maple—so that the populations of both were easily reduced by lumbering activities.7 (location 1972)

Although colonial writers tended to notice the disappearance of pine first, probably because of its high value and visibility, other species also suffered from wasteful cutting. (location 1986)

Dwight reported that many Europeans who visited New England in the late eighteenth century were surprised at the small girth of its trees, a fact which many of them attributed to “sterility of soil.” In fact, Dwight said, “the real cause was the age of the trees, almost all of which are young.” Older trees were gone, and most of those remaining were of second growth.9 (location 1995)

Perhaps surprisingly, the lumberer was not the chief agent in destroying New England’s forests; the farmer was. The earliest settlements had tended to be established on land that was already cleared, whether by Indians, by the departed beavers, or by annual river floods. (location Flooded lands, among the richest sites for agriculture, were the intervals so favored by colonial farmers.) The first mowing grounds were salt marshes and sedge meadows, likewise cleared of trees. Nevertheless, it was not long before settlement pressed out into the forest itself, and here farmers encountered the problem of removing trees—not just selected species, but all of them. As with lumbering, some habitats were more subject to such clearing than others. Colonial farmers quickly learned that certain tree species were associated with certain kinds of soil, some of which were better than others for agricultural crops. (location 2008)

Colonial observers like Morse were at least partially misled when they attributed the tree species of a district to its preexisting soils: forests caused soils as much as soils caused forests. The relative fertilities of various lands in part resulted from inherent physical properties of the soil, but also from processes maintained over long periods of time by the forest itself. Trees affected soil through a multitude of mechanisms: the spread of their root systems, the amount of light they allowed to reach the forest floor, the quantity of water which they lost by evaporation from their leaves, their susceptibility to fire, the chemistry and quantity of their annual leaf fall, and so on. The net effect of these mechanisms was to make the forest an astonishingly efficient system for capturing, concentrating, and retaining nutrients from rainwater and other sources. Most soil in a forest was there because the forest kept it there. This being the case, soils changed when their parent forests were removed. (location 2025)

At a minimum, rotting trees eventually became a serious nuisance and were regarded by European travelers as having what Dwight called “an uncouth and disgusting” appearance. Girdling thus had the virtues of saving labor and conserving soil nutrients, but these were purchased by wasting wood, running risks of accident, and devoting long years to the incomplete removal of trees and roots.14 (location 2048)

Destroying the forest thus became an end in itself, and clearing techniques designed to extract quick profits from forest resources encouraged movement onto new lands.16 (location 2073)

The use of fire to aid in clearing land was something English settlers borrowed from their Indian predecessors, but they applied it for different purposes and on a much more extensive scale. Instead of burning the forest to remove undergrowth, they burned it to remove the forest itself. Doing so was not only profligate, consuming huge quantities of increasingly valuable timber, but dangerous as well. (location 2075)

Colonists thus modified the Indians’ practice of large-scale communal burning in order to accommodate it to European notions of fixed property boundaries; fire was not to trespass across such boundaries under penalty of law. (location 2083)

Even when mills ran from sunrise to sunset during seasons, like winter, when water was plentiful, their output probably averaged no more than a few hundred feet of lumber per day. Such low productivity no doubt encouraged sawmills to use only the best timber and waste the rest.19 (location 2096)

In the face of initially abundant timber supplies, colonists altered many Old World uses of wood which had originally been based on scarcity. Half-timbered construction of a building’s walls rapidly gave way to full-timbered construction using clapboards; stone-walled construction became relatively rare. Thatch and slate roofs were replaced with wooden shingles. House size in general increased over English models, so that buildings not only required more lumber to build but more firewood to heat. Even where bricks replaced lumber in construction, great quantities of wood were needed for firing their clay. In short, most aspects of colonial house carpentry came to rely on the seemingly endless supply of timber.20 (location 2099)

The greatest use of the New England forest by far, however, beyond fences or buildings or exported ship’s masts, was for fuel. In addition to their love of large fires and warm houses, which had been apparent from the 1630s onward, New Englanders burned their wood in open fireplaces, which were four or five times less efficient than the closed cast-iron stoves of the Pennsylvania Germans. European travelers were frequently astonished by American consumption of firewood: the Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm remarked with some horror that “an incredible amount of wood is really squandered in this country for fuel; day and night all winter, or for nearly half of the year, in all rooms, a fire is kept going.” A typical New England household probably consumed as much as thirty or forty cords of firewood per year, which can best be visualized as a stack of wood four feet wide, four feet high, and three hundred feet long; obtaining such a woodpile meant cutting more than an acre of forest each year. In 1800, the region burned perhaps eighteen times more wood for fuel than it cut for lumber. When the effects of such burning are summed up for the whole colonial period, it is probable that New England consumed more than 260 million cords of firewood between 1630 and 1800.22 (location 2117)

Most New England naturalists agreed by the 1790s that deforestation and agricultural cultivation had the effect of warming and drying the soil, making the surface of the land hotter in summer and colder in winter. Temperatures in general fluctuated more widely without the moderating effects of the forest canopy to shade the ground and protect it from winds. (location 2152)

It was not, as some thought, that the weather itself was changed by clearing, but rather the way landscapes responded to the weather. If seasons were defined as much by an ecosystem’s cycle of biological rhythms as by the movement of winds and storms, then in one special but important sense destroying the forest changed the very seasons themselves.27 (location 2173)

Floods were a dramatic result of deforestation, but they were only the noisy heralds of a much subtler and more important change. In precolonial times, forests had not only held back the spring floodwaters with their roots and unfrozen ground; they had also staggered the runoff of that water over all the months of the year. Just as temperatures remained steadier in forested areas, so too did stream flows. When snowmelt and stormwater drained off cleared lands as floods, they left less water behind to keep streams and rivers running throughout the year. (location 2187)

Removing trees thus actually increases the total amount of water flowing off the land into streams and rivers. In low, poorly drained areas, colonial clearing sometimes had the effect of transforming a relatively dry area into a swamp. This may be one explanation for the widespread tendency among those who visited frontier settlements to link the process of clearing with disease. As Dwight observed, “While the country is entirely forested, it is ordinarily healthy. While it is passing from this state into that of general cultivation, it is usually less healthy.” Colonists attributed their “fevers” and “agues” to bad air and miasma rising from newly exposed soil; in fact, the real culprit may have been anopheles mosquitoes carrying malaria, their populations temporarily swelled by newly swampy areas which had not been drained.30 (location 2201)

In summary, then, deforestation was one of the most sweeping transformations wrought by European settlement in New England. It aided in the reduction of edge-dwelling animal species. Where forests were not completely eliminated, their species composition changed: trees such as white pines, white cedars, and white oaks became less common. Where forests were entirely destroyed, the landscape became hotter in summer and colder in winter. Temperatures in general fluctuated more widely. Snow melted more readily than it had before, and the ground froze more deeply. The water-holding capacity of the soil was reduced, and runoff was thereby increased and made more erratic. Flooding became more common, and stream levels came to vary so greatly that some dried up altogether for extended seasons of the year. Water tables fell. But the list does not stop even here.32 Dramatic as these changes may be, their full effect remains invisible until they can be seen in relation to the ecological habitats with which Europeans replaced the vanished forests. It was no accident that the colonists cleared land so much more extensively than the Indians had done, nor was it mere chance that the English had such destructive effects on New England forests. The colonists themselves understood what they were doing almost wholly in positive terms, not as “deforestation,” but as “the progress of cultivation.” The two descriptions were in reality simply inverse ways of stating a single fact: the rural economies of Europe were adapted to a far different mosaic of ecological habitats than were precolonial Indian economies. Reducing the forest was an essential first step toward reproducing that Old World mosaic in an American environment. For the New England landscape, and for the Indians, what followed was undoubtedly a new ecological order; for the colonists, on the other hand, it was an old and familiar way of life. (location 2220)

One must not exaggerate the differences between English and Indian agricultures. The two in many ways resembled each other in the annual cycles by which they tracked the seasons of the year. Although English fields, unlike Indian ones, were cultivated by men as well as women and contained a variety of European grains and garden plants which were segregated into single-species plots, their most important crop was the same maize grown by Indians. Like the Indians, the English began working their fields when the land thawed and cleared of snow sometime in March. They too planted in late March, April, and May, and weeded and hilled their corn—if rather more carelessly than the Indians—a month or two later. Summer saw colonists as well as Indians turning to a wide range of different food sources as they became available: fish, shellfish, migratory birds, foraging mammals, and New England’s many wild berries. August through October was the season of harvest when corn was gathered, husked, and stored, and other crops were made ready for the winter months. November and December saw the killing of large mammals—albeit of different species than the Indians had hunted—from the New England woods, the meat and hides of which were then processed for use in the months to come. The rest of the winter was devoted to tasks any southern New England Indian would readily have recognized: making and repairing tools and clothing, looking after firewood, occasionally fishing or hunting, and generally living off the stored produce of the preceding year. As the days lengthened and became warmer, the cycle began again: Europeans as well as Indians were inextricably bound to the wheel of the seasons.1 (location 2236)

What made Indian and European subsistence cycles seem so different from one another had less to do with their use of plants than their use of animals. Domesticated grazing mammals—and the tool which they made possible, the plow—were arguably the single most distinguishing characteristic of European agricultural practices. (location 2249)

Cattle and horses, for instance, were valuable enough so that colonial laws usually held farmers responsible for protecting their crops from them rather than requiring that the animals be restrained. (location 2364)

Swine were the weed creatures of New England, breeding so quickly that a sow might farrow twice in a year, with each litter containing four to twelve piglets. They so rapidly became a nuisance that, as early as 1633, the Massachusetts Court declared that “it shalbe lawfull for any man to kill any swine that comes into his corne”; the dead animal was to be returned to its owner only after payment had been made for damages to crops. The inadequacy of this solution is suggested by the proliferation of swine laws in the ensuing years. (location 2383)

Ultimately, swine were relegated either to farmyard sties, where they could be fed corn, alewives, and garbage, or to relatively isolated areas, where they could feed as they wished and do little harm. Favorite swine-raising locations were coastal peninsulas and offshore islands, where the animals were free to do their worst without interfering with English crops. (location 2399)

In the vicinity of English settlements, regulations were eventually passed requiring that hogs be yoked so that they would be unable to squeeze through fences, and ringed through the nose so that they would be prevented from rooting out growing plants. (location 2408)

What became true of swine also became true of horses, sheep, and cattle: each was allocated its separate section of a settlement’s lands. The interactions among domesticated grazing animals, demographic expansion, and English property systems had the effect not only of bounding the land with relatively permanent fences but of segregating the uses to which that land was put. Even the earliest colonial towns had divided their territories according to intended function, and colonists had been granted land accordingly. Fences thus marked off, not only the map of a settlement’s property rights, but its economic activities and ecological relationships as well. (location 2421)

Whether sold fresh to urban markets or salted for shipment to Caribbean sugar plantations, grazing animals were one of the easiest ways for a colonist to obtain hard cash with a minimum of labor. October and November saw many colonial farmers make an annual pilgrimage to coastal cities such as Boston, New Haven, and Providence, where fatted animals could be sold or exchanged for manufactured goods. This economic profitability contributed to the ecological consequences of livestock raising. Besides intensifying pressure on grazing lands and inviting more territorial expansion, it necessitated the construction of roads connecting interior towns with urban centers. No small number of trees were destroyed by the construction of these roads—they were typically between 99 and 165 feet wide—but their seemingly excessive size was more than justified since they facilitated moving large herds to market. Roads were the link binding city and countryside into a single economy. During the course of the colonial period, the opportunities represented by that linkage encouraged farmers to orient more and more of their production toward commercial ends. (location 2461)

Unlike tillage, whose land requirements were far lower, pastoralism became a significant force for expansion. Further, if Bradford is to be believed, it also contributed to the famous declension which helped drive New England towns from their original vision of compact settlements, communal orders, and cities upon hilltops.23 (location 2492)

Annual grasses were quickly killed off if grazed too closely, and the delicate crowns of some perennials fared little better. Not having evolved in a pastoral setting, they were ill prepared for their new use. That was why European grasses, which had adapted themselves to the harsh requirements of pastoralism, began to take over wherever cattle grazed. “English grasses,” such as bluegrass and white clover, spread rapidly in newly settled areas. Initially carried to the New World in shipboard fodder, and in the dung of the animals which ate them, these European species were soon being systematically cultivated by colonists. By the 1640s, a regular market in grass seed existed in the Narragansett country, and within one or two generations, the plants had become so common that they were regarded as native.25 (location 2507)

In the long run, cattle tended to encourage the growth of woody, thorn-bearing plants which they could not eat, and which, once established, were very difficult to remove. Such plants had to be cleared regularly with a scythe or grub hoe if they were not to take over a pasture entirely. The only other way of dealing with them was to graze sheep heavily in areas which the bushes had taken over; the flocks sometimes succeeded in reclaiming land that had otherwise become useless (location 2547)

Livestock not only helped shift the species composition of New England forests but made a major contribution to their long-term deterioration as well. If colonial lumberers made sure that woods were stripped of their largest and oldest trees, grazing animals made sure that those trees were rarely replaced. (location 2569)

Deforestation, grazing, plowing, erosion, and watershed changes all contributed to a problem that became endemic to colonial agriculture in New England: soil exhaustion. Lands cleared for crops frequently had to be turned back to pasture or woods less than a decade after their first planting. (location 2644)

Because no manure could be gathered from livestock which were not housed in barns at night, the English turned to fish as an alternate source of fertilizer. Whereas Indians had fished the spring spawning runs primarily for their own food, the colonists did so in order to apply tens of thousands of alewives, menhaden, and other fish to their cornfields. As early as 1634, a market in fish fertilizer was already in existence in Massachusetts, and was still going strong in some areas at the end of the eighteenth century, when a thousand fish could be had for a dollar. (location 2676)

Even after we have admitted the multicausal quality of the European institutions transferred to the New World, even after we have acknowledged the autonomous agency of the Indians in meeting the challenges those institutions posed, we are still confronted with a regional ecology which in 1800 bore fundamentally new relationships to other parts of the world. Those new relationships had as their source a new human perception of how the resources of the New England landscape might be made useful to those who could possess them. As the French anthropologist Maurice Godelier has remarked, a natural “resource” cannot exist without some intervening human agency which defines it: “there are thus,” he writes, “no resources as such, but only possibilities of resources provided by nature in the context of a given society at a certain moment in its evolution.” By drawing the boundaries within which their exchange and production occur, human communities label certain subsets of their surrounding ecosystems as resources, and so locate the meeting places between economics and ecology.4 (location 2877)

Ironically, though colonists perceived fewer resources in New England ecosystems than did the Indians, they perceived many more commodities, and so committed much wider portions of those ecosystems to the marketplace. (location 2907)

The process whereby colonists (as well as Indians) linked New England ecosystems to market relationships was neither instantaneous nor continuous. (location 2911)

Land in New England became for the colonists a form of capital, a thing consumed for the express purpose of creating augmented wealth. It was the land-capital equation that created the two central ecological contradictions of the colonial economy. One of these was the inherent conflict between the land uses of the colonists and those of the Indians. (location 2946)

But there was a second ecological contradiction in the colonial economy as well. Quite simply, the colonists’ economic relations of production were ecologically self-destructive. They assumed the limitless availability of more land to exploit, and in the long run that was impossible. (location 2952)

The implications of this second ecological contradiction stretched well beyond the colonial period. Although we often tend to associate ecological changes primarily with the cities and factories of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it should by now be clear that changes with similar roots took place just as profoundly in the farms and countrysides of the colonial period. The transition to capitalism alienated the products of the land as much as the products of human labor, and so transformed natural communities as profoundly as it did human ones. By integrating New England ecosystems into an ultimately global capitalist economy, colonists and Indians together began a dynamic and unstable process of ecological change which had in no way ended by 1800. We live with their legacy today. When the geographer Carl Sauer wrote in the twentieth century that Americans had “not yet learned the difference between yield and loot,” he was describing one of the most longstanding tendencies of their way of life. Ecological abundance and economic prodigality went hand in hand: the people of plenty were a people of wasted (location 2959)

 October 20, 2012  Book Logs Tagged with:

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