How the New England Colonists` Altered the New England Environment
In Changes in the Land, William Cronon points out the European colonists` pursuits of a capitalistic market and the impact it had on the New England ecosystem. Native Americans and colonists had different views on the use of land resources. The Natives viewed the land as something not owned, but as a resource to sustain life. They believe in a hunting-gathering system, hunting only when necessary. In the long run Native Americans lost their old traditions and were forced to adapt to the colonists` traditions in order to survive. This change contributed even more to the alteration of the ecosystem during the colonization period. In contrast, colonists viewed the land as capitalistic market in which they used more of the land resources without taking into consideration that one day they would run out of resources.
Before the colonists arrived in New England land resources were in abundance.
The only ones to use these resources were the Natives, but the type of resources they used where divided in regions. Northern Indians lived entirely as hunter-gatherers, while the Indians south of the Kennebec River raised crops. (p.38) Even though the Indians used a large amount of the land resources it had very little affect on the land because of techniques in which they regained some of the land resources each season. The Southern Indians changed their farming spot each season; this actually allowed the land to recuperate and become fertile once more.
Rather than raising crops all year the Indians only planted in March and June. They also used their fields to plant more than one crop; such crops included corn, beans, squash, pumpkin, and tobacco. Grain made up half of their diet; this gave the natives an advantage because grain could be easily stored for the winter. They also planted crops that fertilized the land with resources that were lost with the plantation of other plants. Indians raised crops moderately; they cultivated enough to live off of without exhausting the land.
Northern Indians depended on hunting and gathering. During the spring they lived near the river which allowed them to catch fish, whales and seals. Children would catch birds and bird eggs for food. They kept their hunting to a moderation which allowed animal populations to be sustained. They also ate native plants such as strawberries, raspberries, and other wild plants. During the months of October through March Indians moved to the forest where they hunted beaver, moose and deer. They tried to use every part of the animals they hunted; they used the animals’ skin as clothing and their bones as tools. Certain tribes had rules on what to do with left over animal parts. They kept population from increasing in the winter by not storing enough food, which caused some Indians to die during the winter. They also set big forest fires during the summer and fall, which in the long run increased nutrients in the soil. An abundance of grass for the animals made the soil warmer and drier, which allowed oak trees to grow. When the colonists arrived everything changed, the land began to be altered.
As more and more colonists came to New England they began to see things that no longer existed in their mother country, such as an abundance of trees and unused rich land. The colonists viewed Indians as idiots who did not take advantage of the rich land they had. Colonists tended to promote New England as best as possible in order to increase the amount of colonists who immigrated to the New World. (p.34) This caused over population that forced the colonists to cut down forests in order to make more room for new homes and also to get more supplies of wood to build their homes. The clearing of the forest had consequences; weather conditions that did not damage the land now began to have great affects on it. The clearing of the trees made the land become dry right after a big storm due to the lack trees that kept the land moist. Creeks and rivers no longer formed because of overexposure to sunlight. The wind also began to have a great affect in the land. The trees that once stopped the dry wind from hitting the ground and damaging it were no longer there to prevent this. Due to this, the land began to loose its richness in fertility; became dry and hard making it more difficult to harvest. The surface of the land also became extremely hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. (p.122) The land was no longer capable of consuming any water; this caused all the water from the rainfall to over flood the rivers that did exist. Colonists harvested in large amounts. They believed in using all the resources of the land. They stayed on the same piece of land until the land was no longer fertile. In other words they drained it dry. This practice of draining the land dry made the recuperation process of the land longer and harder. On occasions some land never regained the richness it once held. This made Southern Indians lives` more complicated, no longer allowed to live in the old traditional ways. By this time the Indians saw resources dwindling.
By this time the colonists had been introduced to the marketing of animal furs to their motherland. As the fur market increased, the population of animals decreased which meant less food for the Northern Indians who hunted. This was one of the big factors that lead to the Indians integration into the capitalistic market. Colonists` would offer Indians worthless items in exchange for beaver, deer, moose, bear skin and fur. These items became very popular among the Natives, which caused more and more of them to hunt these tradable goods in vast amounts. That also contributed to the decrease of certain animal populations. As Indians traded with colonists` more and more Natives began to interact with New Englanders. This may have seemed good at the time, but in the long run this relationship greatly affected the Indian population.
As more and more colonists immigrated to New England more of them began to bring their domestic animals to the new country. In doing this they wanted to create a replica of the motherland in New England; This had big affects in the ecosystem. It was at this point that death among natives began to increase. Due to exposure to foreign animals natives began to get sicknesses of the mother country. The common cold would lead them to their death. Domestic animals began to eat the native plants and in their place foreign plants would grow. Small animals such as the gray rat, mosquito’s, Hessian and black fly, cockroaches, honeybee, mice and worms became common in New England. (p.153) ?There were even mammalian weeds.?(p.153) These new insects would damage the natives harvest; domestic animals` such as cows would roam around freely and also damage the Native crops that would create tension between both populations. (p.130) This lead to the enforcement of territory distribution among Natives and colonists`. (p.130)
In Changes in the land, we see how populations of Natives and the environment have gone through a drastic change. The introduction of a capitalistic market increased the value of furs and animal skins that caused deer, moose and beaver populations to decrease in a short time period. Cutting down trees led to drastic weather changes on the land; the weather suddenly began damaging the land. Rainfall caused rivers to flood and causing snow to freeze and harden the land. Domestic animals began to bring Old World sicknesses to New England that caused the Indians sickness and eventually caused death. This lead to the decrease of the Indian population in a short time period. As we see colonization had a drastic affect in the ecosystem that helps us understand why things are as they are, this helps us to understand and think about how our actions may affect us in the long run.