Environmental Changes in Colonial New England

It is clear from the reading of Changes in the Land that the two myths proposed in this weeks’ prompt need to be clearly disregarded.  Neither were Native Americans early environmentalists, nor did the first European settlers on the shores of the New England coast encounter a “virgin land” virtually untouched by human hands.  Native Americans had long used the land to their purposes – the myth of the virgin land only occurred because European settlers did not recognize Native American use of the land as either owning or utilizing it.[1]

When combining the lessons learned in previous modules with the ecological impact studied in this one, similar themes are discovered.  The cultural differences between the Native American inhabitants of the European’s new world were simply too vast for either side to gain ground in attempting to understand the other.  Two conflicting views of property, land and ownership made it impossible for either side to come to terms with an opposing culture in any real, meaningful way.[2]  Regardless of what cultural differences existed (and they were almost too numerous to count) it is impossible that the inhabitants from either cultural tradition could live in and work the land without fundamental changing it, making ecosystems and environments far different than they originally were prior to human contact.[3]

Native Americans were also not united in a single, culture-wide way of life.[4]  Southern New England Native Americans did cultivate crops, but even their agriculture was mobile which simply could not be understood by their European neighbors.[5]  Native Americans that lived further north, however, relied on a purely hunter/gatherer society, and did not cultivate the land at all.[6]  The fact that the Native Americans did not create permanent settlements or claim personal property, in fact, was the lynchpin that became the undercurrent in European rights to the land and everything on it.[7]  Due to the growing of the European population and the lower available of both land and resources for the Native Americans, the remaining indigenous population had to resort to participating in the fur trade, further depleting the land’s natural resources and causing permanent changes to the landscape and Biosystems of the North East.[8]

[1] William Cronon, Changes in the Land, (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983): 164.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 55.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

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