Book Review

"Changes in the Land": Quotes and Notes

How Native Americans Saw the Land Differently than the English

"The shift from Indian to European dominance in New England entailed important changes, well-known to historians, in the ways these peoples organized their lives. But it also involved fundamental reorganizations, less known to historians, in the region's plant and animal communities."

"New England mortality rates, for Europeans, were on average much lower than comparable rates in Europe."

"Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England"
William Cronon, Hill and Wang

"People sought to give their landscape a new purposefulness, often by simplifying its seemingly chaotic tangle. Different peoples of course did this in different ways."

"Northern Indians accepted, as a matter of course, that the months of February and march, when the animals they hunted were lean and relatively scarce, would be times of little food. European visitors had trouble comprehending this Indian willingness to go hungry in the late winter months. They were struck by the Northern Indians apparent refusal to store more than a small amount of the summer's plenty for winter use."

This helped keep Indians to low population densities

Liebig's law of the minimum: "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."

"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."

"The resulting harvest of beans and corn provided the amino acids necessary for a balanced diet of vegetable protein." 44

hunting and agriculture: "the mobility of village sites and the shift between various subsistence bases reduced potential strains on any particular segment of the ecosystem, keeping the overall human burden low"

"The annual reoccupation of fixed village and planting sites meant that the area around field and camp experienced heavy human use, intensive food gathering, the accumulation of garbage and,most importantly, the consumption of firewood. One on the main reasons Indians moved to winter camps was that their summer sites had been stripped of the fuel essential for winter fire."

"Indians who hunted game animals were not just taking the unplanted bounties of nature. in an important sense they were harvesting a food stuff which they had consciously been instrumental in creating."

"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."

The English left the beaver for the Indians to hunt. william Wood:

The English were dependent on animals for their economy: In 1634 William wood defined the Massachusetts Bay Colony through its livestock: "Can they be very poor, where for four thousand souls there are fifteen hundred head of cattle, besides four thousand goats and swine innumerable?"

"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."

"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."

Indians vs. English conflicting perceptions of land: "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 land."

An "Ideology of conquest": "In a vacant soil, he that taketh possession of it, and bestoweth culture and husbandry upon it, his right it is--John Cotton, 17th century Massachusetts minister.

How Native Americans Saw the Land Differently than the English

Wigwams moved every few months, fields abandoned for years: "Once abandoned, a field returned to brush until it was recleared by someone else and no effort was made to set permanent boundaries around it that would hold it indefinitely for a single person."

"What the Indians owned -- or more precisely what their villages gave them claim to -- was not the land but the things that were on the land during the various seasons of the year. It was a conception of property shared by many of the hunter-gatherer and agricultural peoples of the world but radically different from that of the invading Europeans"

"Unlike the English, who mostly frequently created arbitrary place names which either recalled localities in their homeland,or gave a place the name of its owner, the Indian used ecological labels of how the land could be used."

"late spring or summer place"

"It is clear that the Indians conceived of this sale as applying to only very specific uses of the land. They gave up none of their most important hunting and gathering privileges, they retained right to their cornfields and and evidently intended to keep living on the land much as they had been doing before."

"...Not to possess the land as a trade-able commodity but to use it as a ecological cornucopia."

Deeds on Eastern Mass, when they existed at all, typically took these forms: "extinguishing all Indian rights and transferring them either to an English purchaser, or in this case, to an English group with some corporate identity."

the deeds "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 way, a host of ecological changes followed almost inevitably." -- 68

"Land was allocated to inhabitants using the same Biblical philosophy that had justified taking it from the Indians in the first place: Individuals should only possess as much land as they were able to subdue and make productive."

"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 into 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."

"Describing land as a fixed parcel with purely arbitrary boundaries made buying and selling it increasing easy, as did the recording systems -- an American innovation -- which kept track of such transactions."

"It was capital, the ability to store wealth in the expectation that one could increase its quantity, that set European societies apart from pre-Colonial Indian ones."

"The Indians did recognize see themselves as poor."

Two ways of to be rich: Producing much or desiring little.

As the original settlers came across the Bering Straits 20-30,000 years ago, they left diseases behind with their sparse populations. As The Indians were susceptible to the diseases brought by the Europeans. A 1633 epidemic of Small Pox saw mortalities in many villages reached 95%. Syphilis and dysentery ravaged the population as well. In the first 75 years of the 17th century, the Indian popular shrunk from well over 70,000 to less than 12,000.

William Wood wrote that the beavers were "too cunning" for English hunters, who left them for the Indians whose time is "less precious." In fact, the Indians were just better hunters.

European agriculture was defined by its use of domestic animals. "The Indians' relationships to the deer, moose and beaver they hunted were far different from those of the Europeans to the pigs, cows, sheep, and horses they owned."

The Indians concentrated their hunting in the fall and winter where the English "sought a much more total and year-round control over their animals lives."

"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 the same fact."

The effects of deforestation: A bowl of water placed in an open pasture evaporated 1.5x as quickly as one placed within the shades of a forest.