This post is the second part of a series of snapshots and viewpoints between the Native Americans and the coming Europeans in 1491. Please feel free to add your thoughts, concerns and views on these topics in the comment section below! :)
One way to study the history of New England is the most common way which is to study the perspective from the explorers and the reigning government point of view. Another perspective is to look at the history from the standpoint from a colonial settler. Living in the 'new' world was hard. Most colonial settlers had no commercial talents – the majority of people came to this world to flee religious persecution, to find land and wealth, or to even try and escape punishment or the gallows for misdeeds such as murder and have a fresh 'start'. Much money and wealth could be made by cutting down trees and shipping the by-products and the collection and shipment of fish and other natural resources. However, many settlers had to learn that money can not be 'eaten' and cannot be used to purchase food where none was grown. The major commodity for making money was through trees and wood products- masts, casks, tools, lumber for construction, barrels, etc... This created the incentive of selling all the available resources leaving none for yourself, your family or your community. From the settlers point of view, the land was a God given right, a place of hardship and work, but a place of potential- a new world of wonders and great fertility.
Another way to study the history of New England is to study it from the perspective of the beaver. In the world that the beaver inhabited before the arrival of the Europeans, the beaver was a king. It manipulated the physical environment more than any other animal in the continent... besides us. :) Through the efforts of the beaver, many trees were felled or drowned, soil erosion was controlled as the water table rose, new homes are created for animals and fish, and new meadows would develop over time. Beavers had been on this continent for millions of years, and live building dens and traveling over land and water. They are difficult for their predators to catch and the life they set up for themselves and their progeny was quite successful. The arrival of the Europeans found an animal quite spread out and in control of its land. Unfortunately for the beaver, the fact that their fur imitated a type of hat manufacturing already in existence in Europe created the incentive to kill the beaver after if was discovered by the new settlers. In humans, the beaver found the ultimate apex predator who could chase them out of the water to kill them, had a great incentive to do so, and would do so at will. Do to the economic inequality between the Europeans, the trade desires between the Indians and Europeans, and the profit margin of upwards of 2000% on the fur, beavers suffered horribly. It is believed that only the laws that sprung up in time saved the beaver from extinction at the time that they were hovering over the precipice. The beavers lost their land, safety and even the possibility to survive without the intervention of the same species who had brought them to near annihilation. The difference between these two histories in some ways is plain. It can certainly be said that the beaver's history in some ways mirrors the history of the Native Americans- both groups had made themselves comfortable and relatively at peace and in harmony with the land... the coming of the European not only spelled the near annihilation of both groups but also their loss of land, food, harmony and peace.
The relationship between Blacks and Indians in the colonial South is a bit complicated. Both Blacks and Indians could and had been enslaved by the white Europeans, but the rules of bondage that were held in the laws were interpreted more harshly for blacks. Many Indian tribes accepted runaway slaves into their tribes and intermarriage was acceptable in most of these cases. However, many Indian tribes would turn in runaway slaves and would get benefits and rewards for doing so. In some cases such as the Seminole tribe, Indians would also own blacks as slaves and at the end of the civil war, some tribes had to actually be forced to free their slaves. Europeans would in some cases cause problems between both of these groups by suggesting to members that the other group was working against them; i.e. Indians would be told that Blacks were working against them, etc.... Some sources suggest that working to cause and develop racism in Indian tribes against African Americans was part of the European government public policy. Europeans tried to stop the flow of runaway slaves to Indian tribes and even signed treaties with some tribes with the agreement that these tribes would return runaway slaves- most who signed did not return the runaway slaves. The reality that Indian tribes welcomed runaway blacks into their folds for the most part caused President Andrew Jackson to fight and push the Indians out of the land we now call Florida as so many blacks were escaping from Georgia and living with Indians there. Some of the ways that these groups tried to deal with their conditions was to hold tight to their cultures (although some groups allowed forms of assimilation), some grew foods from their native lands and others tried to find other ways to find peace with their situation. Some ran away, assimilated, or found justification in exploiting others like their European counterparts.
There are a few differences between an organic and an inorganic economy. An organic economy consists of natural resources such as wind, water, animal and human labor. Inorganic economy consists of iron ore, charcoal, etc... In many instances the resources that make up an organic economy as more easily expanded and grown that those that govern the inorganic economy. Human labor is renewable through rest, importation of servant, slaves and explorers. Wind and water are abundant and while less controllable than human labor, they can be created, collected, and harnessed to squeeze all the resources out of them. Animals can be bread, imported and even trained fairly easily. However, sources such as iron ore are not quickly duplicated. Iron takes a long time for nature to develop and charcoal can be made, but it takes a lot of 'waste' or resource usage to create a small amount of charcoal. So an inorganic economy is a riskier proposition- you risk the loss of the economy when resources run out, if you do not have a strong organic economy you risk starvation, etc... The Europeans focused so much in some cases on the creation for wealth through inorganic economies that they had to buy or steal food from the Indians to survive and some laws were passed in placed requiring the growth of grain if you participation in an economy that did not actual create food. Learning about this phenomenon was really interesting because I was a little shocked that people would 'forget' or be unwilling to waste their time growing food... but would want to eat it later. In many ways we have that same economy today where people are so separate from the growing and making of their food... and farmers can be quite poor. In many ways we still 'despise' this labor even as we eat from it.
The importance of Christopher Columbus's report to Queen Isabella cannot be understated. His report of a new land filled with the potential converts to the Christian religion, gold and other riches, but most importantly.... land for the taking after conquering was staggering and exciting. While this news was important to the Queen and to Spain, the rest of Europe was desperate as well and it was only a matter of weeks before the letter that Christopher Columbus had written to the Queen had been translated, copied and traveled throughout all of Europe by other travelers and pilgrims, traders,and armies. Soon other countries were arming ships to head to the new land with people who had nothing to lose and land and a life and riches to gain in the new world. Soon Spain and the rest of Europe were on their way to conquer the Americans. Spain first, and when England had fought and beaten the Spanish army, the English came and started their own settlements. Other countries such as France and the Dutch soon followed.
Until the arrival of the Spanish, horses were not an animal known to the Americas since the ice age. However, the Spanish brought them in abundance to the Americas to aid in their conquest of the native populations and it is thanks to the horse that Pizarro and the Spanish conquered the local populations in such a small period of time (the European's disease so also be thanked, but I digress :). As some horses escaped and became wild, a new breed of horse was developed that we now call the mustang. This breed became extremely numerous and they populated the land across the continent- the horses do not just stay in the 'conquered' lands. These large groups of wild horses changed the way that the Native Americans lived in a dramatic way. Horses gave the native populations new ways to do almost everything. They could fight, hunt and travel on horses and this 'blessing' transformed their lives. Some tribes become more nomadic as moving farther distances is easier and possible and horses became a new part of the Indian's culture and lifestyle. It seems almost rare to hear about the culture of Indians and not hear about the horse. The horse becomes a symbol of the Indian's culture and life to the Europeans and their future progeny... even though the history of Native Americans is thousands of years long and the history with the horse is only a few centuries.
Pigs were brought from Europe with the explorers and they were a blessing to these non-native people. Pigs are prolific, small, not too picky about food, easy to care for and look after themselves. Some pigs were let loose into the 'wilderness' on purpose- with markings on their ears to show ownership- and then were hunted as needed by their European owners. This way their owners didn't have to care for them and just collected their property when needed. As the Americas are conquered by the Spaniards the pigs help the conquerors by attacking and eating the native's crops of corn- they competed with Indians for the Indian's food. Native Americans do not fence their fields and so wild pigs were able to eat the small shoats and growing crops of the natives. (Between pigs and the entitlement felt by the Europeans that they could take the native's seed corn whenever they wanted to, the native groups must have felt quite trapped and desperate which explains some of their aggression towards the incomers. In a few generations there are tens of thousands of the wild pigs which become more aggressive and develop tusks... and become a serious and daily problem for the Native Americans.
The Europeans reacted to the seemingly endless supply of trees and fish with joy and greed. Europe was desperate for both wood and fish and the 'new world' seemed to be overabundant and unending in these resources. The land is describes as having rivers with more fish than water and trees that are so numerous that a squirrel can go from the north of the country to the south without ever touching the ground. The newcomers see it as their 'duty' to tame the forests and civilize the land for God. So the forests are cut down for building and 'needs' for not only this new land, but the lands of Spain and Europe as well. Fish is harvested as if there will always be an overabundance and it took only 200 years to over-fish the Americas. Wood is taken so quickly that some areas in the Americas are literally denuded of trees – and this 'new world' begins to look like the land that they left. For the settlers, someone who owned land would be able to sell the fish for money or other goods creating wealth- and since the land wasn't owned, the land's resources cost nothing. I think it is safe to say that both wood and fish were harvested with only greed and need in mind and not conservation or with the thought that the resources might potentially be limited. Both of these resources with be overused and run low... and were probably a factor in the fight for independence from the European powers... it would allow those that lived in the Americas to keep more of the resources to themselves and not have the largest share (or what was left) travel across the seas.
The animals that were brought over from Europe such as the horse and pig changed the landscape of the American continent in many ways and the arrival of women and their animals also create great change. Women bring the way of life that they are used to in Europe which included plants such as wheat, barley, fig trees, olives, bananas, other fruit trees, etc … and animals such as goats, chickens, sheep, cows, etc…. Through these passengers that travel to the America's, other 'tagalongs' such as weeds like dandelions and European insects (including bees) arrive and start to populate the environment. With all of these changes, the Americas and it's land literally fall under an environmental revolution as the land becomes a mirror image of the European lands that these people have left behind. The land is invaded by all of these animals and new plants and the land is changed through the trampling and domination of the new animal population- in the end, the settlers do not have to tame the land- they practice environmental imperialism and conquer the land itself and bend it to their will and cause death, destruction and sometimes extinction to the native flora and fauna. One quote states- “livestock and grains changed this world into a true New England.” The land is forever changed and looks nothing like it did before the Europeans arrived.
The new discoveries of resources in the American's brings a demand for luxury goods that are purely American products. Fur and other 'hide' products become in high demand and some animals (such as beavers) are hunted almost to extinction... (But I bet everyone in England and some of the other European countries look very fashionable in their fur coats and beaver hats. :) The land is cleared for gardens and orchards/plantations and the demand for fruit from the 'New World' is high. Sugar and tobacco (the luxury goods with highest demand) were also desired luxury items which are shipped in large amounts to Europe. To satisfy the large demand of these products in Europe, huge plantations or large mono-cultures would stretch over enormous swaths of man and African are captured and forced to work these huge areas for the profit of the Europeans. These African slaves were needed as the native population could not really be enslaved – too many of them had been killed or died out from disease. The downside of growing sugar and tobacco is that they really can not be eaten (for nourishment and health) and these plants tend to rape the soil of all it nutrients. So growing these products in many ways required the process of slavery and the loss of forests as more land had to be cleared to grow these crops when current fields were no longer fertile. The upside is that sugar tastes really good... sorry, couldn't help that comment. :)
The discovery of the potato takes a few centuries to really take hold in Europe, but when it does it becomes a necessary and needful food item for the poor as a healthful and nutritious product. Potatoes are introduced to Spain and from there to Europe and it is embraced in Ireland. Ireland is constantly short of food for its population due to bad land, wars, exc... The potato is easy to grow and has less difficulty in war time of being burned and destroyed and it becomes the crop of choice for this country. The population in Ireland will more than double due to the potato and other town in Europe with explode due to impact of this easy to grow tuber. The fact that potatoes also have a goodly amount of nutrients including vitamin C (which helps prevent scurvy) made them an indispensable food for a moving and financially strapped population.
The impact that the diseases that were brought from Europe had on the native populations was nothing short of devastating. Conservative death estimates suggest that around 50% of these native populations died, but it appears that the estimates that suggest death numbers are over 90% mortality may be a lot more accurate. Historians are still trying to discover all the diseases that were spread and to grasp an clear and accurate mortality number, but we are sure that one of the diseases that caused such devastation was smallpox and because the virus was so strong and traveled easily,
many populations of native tribes fell to the disease and death without ever meeting any of the Europeans who originally brought the disease to their lands. Another disease that is know to have causes large scale death and destruction to the Native Americans was influenza. Neither of these diseases was known in the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans so no animal or person was immune from these diseases and had little to no defense. As the Native Americans fall sick, perish and their civilizations fail, the Europeans give thanks to God and see the death/destruction of the natives as a blessing and a mandate from God; that the land is theirs to tame and occupy, that the natives were sinners, etc... and not worthy of the land, and that the land is a gift from God for them. These thoughts and prejudices allow Europeans to see themselves as the true owners of the land and to see themselves as better and more worthy than the native populations. These viewpoints allow the exploitation of the land and the European settlers to be justified in their minds as right and appropriate... and not greedy and unrighteous. It allows them to look at the natives as label them savages and other forms of animals - not actually human beings like unto themselves (and God's image)