The Founding of New England/I

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The Founding of New England by James Truslow Adams
I. The American Background



In the name of the country which to-day occupies the major part of the inhabitable portion of North America is indicated the twofold nature of its history; for the story of the United States may evidently be approached, either from the standpoint of a federal nation, or from that of its component political units. These units, although in themselves separate states, are geographically divided from one another, for the most part, by boundaries which are purely artificial. Natural frontiers consist of the sea, deserts, mountains, rivers, and the now almost obsolete ones of forests and swamps. A glance at the map shows that such natural barriers are only a negligible part of the boundaries between our various states and territories. Rivers alone form an exception, and these, for several reasons, are the least satisfactory for the purpose.[1] Were the federal tie dissolved, and these now united commonwealths to become completely independent, and possibly hostile, the artificial character of their limits would at once become obvious.

From this it has followed, as settlement has gradually spread over the continent, bringing innumerable communities into existence, that these have tended to group themselves into sections, united by common modes of thought, ways of life, and economic needs. Histories of the individual states are almost as arbitrarily localized as the histories of the counties within them; but the story of any of the sections into which the country has divided from time to time possesses an organic unity created by the forces of life itself.

Some of these divisions have tended to remain permanent, while others have passed with the development of the country. During the colonial period, when the English inhabited only the comparatively narrow strip of land between the sea and the mountain-barrier of the Appalachian system, the colonists fell into three natural groups,—the New England, the Middle, and the Southern,—determined by climatic, economic, and cultural conditions. These factors, operating with others somewhat more fortuitous, made the distinctions both lasting and marked, the extreme northern and southern groups exhibiting their differences more clearly than the intermediate one lying between them.

When the frontier was extended west of the mountain-barrier,—and, indeed, on a smaller scale, even earlier,—another grouping came into existence, that of East and West, or old settlement and frontier. This division was also to persist, with an ever-enlarging East and an ever-retreating West. If the economic and political ideas of these new sections were to remain somewhat sharply contrasted, the distinctions between the original extreme eastern groups were also continued, like lengthening shadows across the mountain ridges, and the whole country was to find itself aligned in two hostile groupings in the most tragic division that it has yet had to face—that between the North and the South.

In the New England group we have one which, in spite of minor differences, is unusually homogeneous. Not only are the boundaries between the six states which now form it negligible, but the section, as a whole, is a geographical unit, within which a common life, based upon generally similar economic, political, and religious foundations, has constituted a distinct cultural strain in the life of the nation. The “New England idea” and the “New England type” have been as sharply defined as they have been persistent; and, if, in our own day, they seem, to some extent, to be passing, their influence may be no less living because spread broadcast throughout the whole land, and absorbed into the common national life. Effective natural boundaries, defining a limited area, are of determining influence in fostering the life of primitive peoples or of civilized colonies. Diffusion over an unlimited space, in the one case, tends to weaken the hold on the land and the growth of the state, while, in the other, it greatly retards the development of those elements that make for civilized life. Aside from other factors, the possession by the English, in the settlement period, of a limited and protected area, naturally restricted by the sea and the mountains, resulted, speaking broadly, in the building up of thickly settled, compact colonies as contrasted with the boundless empire of the French, opened to them by their control of the Mississippi and the St. Lawrence rivers. It is noteworthy that, of the great river-highways leading to the interior of the continent,—the St. Lawrence, the Hudson-Mohawk, and the Mississippi,—none was at first possessed by the English, who had everywhere, unwittingly but fortunately, selected portions of the coast where their natural tendency to expand was temporarily held in check.

The Appalachian barrier, which thus served to protect and to concentrate the efforts of the English, may be said to extend from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Alabama, coming nearest to the coast in passing across New York. In the northern part of Maine, where the mountains descend to a low water-shed, enormous forests, with no easy river-route facilitating peaceful or warlike travel, formed almost as effective a barrier; while passage southward, along the coast, was impeded during the early period by the presence of a foreign nation, the Dutch. There were, indeed, certain narrow entrances to this enclosed territory from the north, as the larger streams, flowing southward from the water-shed along the Canadian boundary, could be utilized, in connection with those flowing northward from its other slope to the St. Lawrence. The many falls along their courses, entailing laborious carries in the dense forest, together with the necessary longer ones across the height of land, made these routes more suitable, however, for the military needs of savages than for the movement of troops in large bodies, or for the purposes of trade.[2] The main passage for travel and transport from Canada to the south lay wholly to the west of New England, by way of the Richelieu River and Lake Champlain, which latter well deserved its Indian name of “key to the country.”

Within the boundaries thus roughly defined and the sea, lies a land said to contain a greater diversity of natural features than any other of equal area in the United States. To the west and north are the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts, the Green Mountains of Vermont, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and the scattered peaks of Maine. From a height of fifteen hundred to two thousand feet at the base of the mountains, a gently sloping upland descends gradually to Long Island Sound and the Atlantic. Although, at first glance, its surface seems to present only a confused mass of low-lying hills, their tops are seen to show a marked uniformity of level as they gradually slope downward toward the south and east; and geological evidence makes it almost certain that, at one time, this region was a plain, resulting from the wearing down, by denudation, of an earlier mountain range. Subsequent alterations in its surface, due to erosion and other factors, gave rise to the present uplands and lowlands, which have been of determining influence in the peopling of the section, the rugged uplands offering so hard a subsistence that they were nowhere willingly chosen for settlement so long as land might still be had in the lowlands.

Although, largely in the eighteenth century, economic pressure in the happier valleys forced many farmers to move to the hills, the opening of the West drew many of, them to the prairies during the following century, and the population, like water which had been forced above its level, slowly drained off the uplands again, through the sluiceway of the Mohawk Valley. To-day, dying hill-towns, abandoned farms, and the yet unpeopled wilderness of northern Maine, tell the story of this struggle against geographical conditions.[3]

This formation of upland and valley extends to the shore-line of Sound and ocean, the broad coastal plain, which is so marked a feature from New Jersey southward, being almost wholly absent in New England. This is probably due to a subsidence of the shore, which allowed the ocean to flow back over part of the land, and which also explains the many hundred islands off the coast of Maine, and the drowned river valleys along the Sound. So numerous are the islands, bays, and headlands of the rugged coast north of the Isles of Shoals, that they expand the two hundred and thirty miles of shore to nearly three thousand, if all are included in the measurement. In this section, also, there are many good harbors, particularly that of Portland, but the coast is so greatly dissected as to make land communication along it very difficult; while the small boats, which partially served the needs of commerce and travel in early days, were seriously interfered with by the great rise and fall of the tides. Both these conditions tended to isolate the colonial settlements and hinder their development. The upland country, with its poorer soil and more difficult conditions of life, also approaches nearer to the sea in Maine and New Hampshire than farther south, so that, although Portsmouth, too, has a fine harbor, those states have always been more thinly settled than the others.

The coast of Massachusetts is less rugged, but more varied. South of the granite headland of Cape Ann, the shores of Boston Bay are still rocky and irregular; but both shores of the great sandy curve of the Cape Cod peninsula, which, with Cape Ann, encloses the waters of Massachusetts Bay, are smooth and moulded by wind and wave. The coast again becomes rough around Buzzard’s Bay, while the almost land locked waters of Rhode Island have drowned the old river-system of that state. Opposite Connecticut lies Long Island, the only island of any considerable size along the entire Atlantic coast; so that the Sound, or inland sea, thus formed between it and the mainland, gives to Connecticut the advantage of a quiet, protected waterway for all its ports.

The value of a coast-line, however, depends not alone upon its own features, but upon its relations with the interior, both as to means of communication, and as to the soil and products of the back-country. During the colonial period, the lines of communication were naturally along waterways. With the small tonnage of the vessels then employed, even the sea-going ones, by utilizing rivers, could pass far inland; and we find Henry Hudson penetrating to Albany in the same ship in which he had crossed the ocean. The almost interminable length of the St. Lawrence and the Mississippi lured the French ever deeper into the wilderness in quest of the retreating fur-trade, so that their empire became hardly more than a series of far-flung forts and trading-posts. The rivers of New England, on the other hand, having their rise in the Appalachian barrier, and interrupted by many falls in their short courses, led to no vast domain beyond, and offered little temptation to the settler to leave their fertile valleys and tide-swept mouths. This lack of inland navigation not only tended to concentrate settlement near the coast, or on the lower navigable reaches of such streams as the Connecticut, but, also, in a later period, hastened the progress of turnpikes and railroads more quickly in New England than anywhere else in the country.[4]

At first, however, rivers were the only means of communication with the interior, and settlements along the coast of Massachusetts, and on Buzzard’s and Narragansett bays, tended to remain maritime in character, extending inland but slowly; whereas those located on such streams as the Kennebec and the Connecticut absorbed the rich fur-trade for which they formed the main routes. This trade, it may be noted, was exhausted earlier in New England than elsewhere, on account of the comparatively limited drainage basins of the river-system, so that the people were sooner forced to depend upon agriculture, fishing, commerce, and manufactures.

Land travel continued both difficult and costly in all the colonies throughout the whole of the earlier industrial period, and roads were so poor, even a century after New England was settled, that not until 1722 was a team driven for the first time from Connecticut to Rhode Island. To emphasize the effect of rivers, we may note that in New York, where the Hudson was the highway, the average cost of carrying a bushel of wheat one hundred miles was but two pence, compared with a shilling in Pennsylvania, where forty wagons, one hundred and sixty horses, and eighty men were required to transport the same amount of freight handled by two or three men on a scow in New York. This high cost of land carriage, which, added to the ocean freights, had the effect of fostering home manufactures as against importations from England, also restricted the areas of distribution, and tended to localize industry.[5]

It was not, however, merely the lack of an adequate system of river transport that served to stimulate manufacturing in New England in competition with the mother-country. The character of such rivers as she possessed peculiarly adapted them for the purpose of supplying power, for not only are falls and rapids numerous in all of them, but the “fall-line” in New England is nearer tidewater than it is anywhere else along the coast. In addition, the regularity of the rainfall, and the great number of lakes, which form natural reservoirs, cause the flow of the rivers to be more constant than in other parts of the country. From all these causes, the little Merrimac, for example, which is otherwise insignificant as an American river, is the most noted water-power stream in the world.[6]

The soil of New England is of glacial origin, about three quarters of it being of boulder-clay, stubborn in character and difficult to cultivate, but of fair and lasting fertility, due to the steady decomposition of the smaller pebbles. The remainder, largely in the southeast, is sandy and of little or no use for agriculture, owing to the rapid draining away of all moisture.[7] That on the uplands is thinner and poorer than in the valleys, and the uplands predominate.

A hard living may be forced from such a soil; but the lazy or unskilled fail to subsist, much less leave a surplus. Tests of white and colored farmers in the north indicate that, if the efficiency of the former be taken as 100, that of the latter is but 49,[8] from which fact the economic impossibility of slavery would seem to be established for New England, as that institution requires the production of a considerable surplus over individual needs, even by inefficient labor. In Barbadoes, on the other hand, a hundred acres planted in sugar were tended by fifty slaves and seven white servants; a similar amount of land, if cotton were raised, required forty-five blacks and five whites; while the cultivation of ginger necessitated the labor of seven and a half persons per acre.[9] The economic, social, and political results of such utilization of the soil, as compared with the subsistence farming of New England, are too obvious to need elaboration. As we shall see, the Puritans were not wholly averse to owning slaves, and were often wont, in ethical cases, to weigh both religious scruples and economic considerations. In this case, the latter prevailed, without detriment to the former, and the abolition sentiment of the nineteenth century was rooted in the glacial soil of the seventeenth.

The soil was one which did not foster large plantations, as in the South, but small farms tilled by their owners, with little help from slave or indented servant. There was, therefore, no economic factor at work in New England tending to wide dispersal, as against the obvious need of compact settlement for purposes of protection, mutual help, and social intercourse. The early New Englander was a somewhat hesitating believer in the injustice of slavery. He was a strong believer in a town grouped about a church. The soil confirmed and strengthened him in both convictions.

This compact form of settlement, in turn, however, caused the village lands of New England to become exceedingly high-priced as compared with the plantation lands of the southern colonies. In the seventeenth century, New England farms very rarely contained over five hundred acres, in contrast to the average Virginian plantation of five thousand; but New England land was worth about fourteen times as much per acre as that in Virginia, and a hundred-acre homestead in the north was equal in value to a fair-sized plantation in the south.[10] All these factors, operating with others, emphasized the characteristic nature of New England expansion, which was almost invariably a migration, not of individuals, but of churches and towns, or, at least, of small neighborhood groups.

When the land was first settled, it was everywhere covered by a dense forest, except for meadows here and there, along the shore or in the larger river-bottoms. Even to-day, of the thirty thousand square miles of land-surface in Maine, the forest is said to extend over twenty-one thousand, a district as large as New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut combined.[11] These forests, mainly of hard-wood, deciduous trees, with an admixture of conifers in Maine, had been practically untouched by the natives, except by burning the underbrush. In fact, Whitney claims that more trees had been destroyed by the beavers than by the Indians.[12] Although building stone is plentiful in New England, this abundance of timber along the Atlantic coast determined the form of the colonial architecture, and developed a type of wooden building little used in England. It also provided the materials for shipbuilding, the forests growing to the very edge of a shore indented almost everywhere by suitable harbors; and, in the early period, this industry is found scattered along the entire shore. But it tended to concentrate at fewer points, as the lumber-supply near at hand became exhausted, and the tonnage of vessels increased. “In reading the early commercial history of New England,” however, as Miss Semple well says, “one seems never to get away from the sound of the shipbuilder’s hammer, and the rush of the launching vessel.”[13] The climate, though varying in intensity from northern Maine and New Hampshire to southern Connecticut, and also from inland to the sea, is, on the whole, a severe one. Snow falls to a considerable depth everywhere, remaining in the mountains till late in the spring, the lower mean temperature of the year, as compared with the coast farther south, being due to the greater cold of winter rather than to a cooler summer. The seasonal changes, indeed, are very marked, and the cultural influence of “the harshness of contrasts and extremes of sensibility,” of a “winter which was always the effort to live,” and a summer which was “tropical license,” must formerly have been even greater than to-day.[14] A noteworthy feature of our Atlantic coast, climatically, is the crowding together of the isothermal lines, so that the frigid and tropical zones are brought within twenty degrees of latitude, as compared with forty in Europe. This bringing the products of so many climatic regions comparatively near to one another greatly stimulated intercolonial trade, which New England early claimed the largest share in carrying.[15]

We thus see how the mountain-barrier kept the New Englander within bounds; how the lack of long navigable rivers prevented him from advancing far inland, even within his narrow limits; how the bleak and stony uplands held him along the coast and lower river valleys; how the soil discouraged him from agriculture; and, on the other hand, how his numerous harbors, the quantity of timber for ship-building, and his central position for the carrying trade, all drew him out to sea.

There was another, and most important factor, however, luring him to quit the land, for the banks and shoals, extending from Cape Cod to Newfoundland, were the feeding grounds of enormous masses of cod, herring, and other fish, which swarmed in the cold waters of the Labrador current. If no precious metals rewarded search, if the beaver retreated farther and farther into the wilderness, if the soil gave but grudging yield, here, at least, was limitless wealth. The industry, thanks to the combination of shoals and icy waters, became the corner-stone of the prosperity of New England; and in the colonial history of that section, commerce smells as strongly of fish as theology does of brimstone. Together with lumber, fish became the staple of exchange with old England and the rich West Indian settlements, and the industry bred a hardy race of seamen, who manned New England’s merchant fleet, and, later, the American navy.[16]

In two other aspects the sea exerted marked influence upon both the discovery and the settlement of the new lands, as well as upon their later history. The fact that America and Europe are separated by three thousand miles of water must be considered in relation to culture at various periods; for geographic factors are relative, and not absolute, in their historic connotations. Countries may be said to be habitable or uninhabitable, distances to lengthen or shorten, heights to rise or fall, according to the measure of man’s control over nature at any given time. As a distinguished French geographer has said: “Tout se transforme autour de nous; tout diminue ou s’accroit. Rien n’est vraiment immobile et invariable.”[17] Increase in speed of vessels, with increased storage capacity for food and water, is equivalent to an actual reduction of the distance in miles; and, measured by the standards of modern ships in speed alone, without considering other factors, we may say that twenty to thirty thousand miles of uncharted seas had kept America hidden from European eyes.

Across this wide expanse, in the latitude of Europe, the currents of both air and water set from America toward the Old World, and almost precluded the possibility, under primitive conditions, of European voyaging and discovery. North of this eastward track, however, lie not only the stepping-stones of the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland, but, once at Iceland, the prevailing wind carries the European mariner to Greenland, whence the Labrador current leads him close inshore and along the coasts of Canada and New England.[18] To the south of the central eastward track, is the zone of the trade-winds and the great westward flowing equatorial current; and there, again, we find island stepping-stones. Thus nature clearly indicated the two ways by which America might be found; and, for long, the routes followed were the northerly one to the Newfoundland fisheries and New England, and the southerly one to the Canaries, the West Indies, and, thence, to Virginia. The earliest English efforts at colonization in North America were at the two points lying nearest to England by wind and ocean current.

One other feature in the geographic control over the life of New England may here be noted. The main imports of England were naturally those commodities which she did not produce herself, and these were found in the southern and West Indian colonies rather than in New England, whose fish and cereals competed with similar products in the home market. Destined, from her position and other geographic factors, to occupy the leading place among the colonies in trade and commerce, New England was thus forced to find outlets for her products in intercolonial and foreign trade, rather than in that with England. In order to pay for the manufactured and other articles imported from the old country, she exported, in turn, not to that country, as, in the main, did the other colonies, but to her sister colonies and to foreign ports. According to the accepted economic theories of the colonizing period, this not only made her less valuable to the mother-country, but would evidently give her a considerable interest in breaking those laws for regulating commerce that were the logical expression of the current imperial theory. If we consider, therefore, the nature of the commodities she produced, the competing character of her trade, the democratic ideas of the groups of self-governing land-holders, such as the soil and climate combined to develop, and the economic beliefs of the day, it becomes evident that, when a heavy strain should be put upon the imperial structure, the tendency to break would be likely to appear first in New England.

In the foregoing sketch, an attempt has been made to trace, very briefly, some of the influences of geography upon Puritan development in New England. The early history of all peoples is largely to be found in their struggle against their environment, and its effect upon them. These effects are subtle and far-reaching, and, in connection with them, it may not be wholly idle to speculate upon what might have been had events followed a slightly different course. Had the Jamestown settlers planted themselves upon the coast of Massachusetts, they would probably have failed. On the other hand, had the Pilgrims and Puritans, as both seriously thought of doing, settled in the tropics, where the nature of the climate and the soil would have turned the scale for slavery, where the conditions of life would have strongly combatted their notions of town and church, and where luxury and easy living would have been quickly attained by their inherent energy, what would then have become of what we call the New England element in our national life? To carry the speculation far would be futile, but it serves to bring out into somewhat clearer relief the influences of the geographic environment upon those colonists whose history it is our task to trace.

The distant land to which they came was not an uninhabited wilderness. They found there, as occupants of the soil, an unknown race, in the lower stage of barbarism, with whom they had to contend for its possession. With a few notable exceptions, the relations of the whites with the Indians were the same in all the colonies. The natives were traded with, fought with, occasionally preached to, and then, as far as possible, exterminated. “The precepts Christianity delivers,” wrote Lord Bryce, of the relations between advanced and backward races, “might have been expected to soften the feelings and tame the pride of the stronger race. It must, however, be admitted that in all or nearly all the countries . . . Christianity . . . has failed to impress the lessons of human equality and brotherhood upon the whites . . . . Their sense of scornful superiority resists its precepts.”[19]

This comment, which is only too true in the present day, was still more true in the seventeenth century. Even in history, the Indian has usually been treated as, at best, a picturesque element, to give color to the somewhat drab homespun of the colonial story; while the Indian policy of the several colonies, the history of the Indian trade, and the influence of the Indian upon the settler, yet await adequate treatment.

The Indian’s character and mental traits, which were frequently misinterpreted, were those to be expected in a savage at his stage of culture. If, on the one hand, he was not the noble being painted by Cooper, on the other, he was not the demon often conceived. Indeed, in scanning the list of epithets hurled at him by some of New England’s ministers of Christ, one is reminded of Professor Murray’s comment on the Greek story of Œdipus. “Unnatural affection, child-murder, father-murder, incest, a great deal of hereditary cursing, a double fratricide and a violation of the sanctity of dead bodies—when one reads,” writes this scholar, “such a list of charges brought against any tribe or people, either in ancient or in modern times, one can hardly help concluding that somebody wanted to annex their land.”[20]

The nature of the life the Indian led inclined to render him improvident and lazy, although capable at need of great exertion and endurance. He was dirty in his person, and yet possessed of a childish vanity as to his appearance. The popular idea of him as reserved, silent, and dignified probably came from the fact that his etiquette demanded that he thus appear on ceremonial occasions, social or religious, and it was at such times, at first, that the whites usually saw him. In reality, in his ordinary life, he was a sociable body, cheerful and chatty, with a considerable sense of humor, fond of punning and joking.[21] Hysterical in his nervous make-up, he was peculiarly liable to suggestion and religious excitement. As he was passionate and quick to take offense, like other savages and children, public opinion demanded that he seek revenge; and when a crime was committed against any member of a clan, the punishment of the guilty party became the duty of every other member. Under the compelling influence of such a code, the individual may often have had to appear more revengeful than he really was; and, as a matter of fact, the old law of an eye for an eye had already become softened by possibilities of compensation, through adoption or otherwise, even in the case of murder. Although prisoners of war were frequently tortured with fiendish ingenuity before being killed, in this case, also, adoption offered a milder alternative, often exercised. Scalping, as a sign of victory, was supposed to be performed only on the dead, and, although this theory did not always hold good,[22] it must be remembered that the whites., as well as the Indians, engaged in the practice, with the difference that, while the natives did it for honor, the settlers did it for money. New England men, and even New England women, sold scalps to the authorities at so much a head; and, among the Pennsylvanians, prices went as high as fifty dollars for a female scalp, and one hundred and thirty for that of a boy under ten.[23] With the Indian, it was merely a custom to which he had become inured; and it should be noted that he wore his own hair accordingly, and carefully refrained from shaving the scalp-lock, which it might be his enemy’s glory, some day, to remove.

The influence of a formal code is seen also in his bearing of pain. In public, he would suffer torture of the most excruciating sort with complete stoicism, as required by the opinion of his fellows; whereas, in private, when not thus sustained, he would be childish in his self-abandon over the tooth-ache or other discomfort.[24] Hospitality was a cardinal virtue, to such an extent that “in some languages there was but one word both for generosity and bravery, and either was a sure avenue to distinction.”[25] Fierce and bloodthirsty in war, in domestic life he was affectionate to an extreme, especially toward children. His code, though different from the white man’s, was apparently adhered to quite as strictly; but, when the two were brought into contact, the vices inherent in each tended to develop, and it is natural that the weaker came to be considered hopelessly lazy, cruel, drunken, and untrustworthy.

At the time of discovery, the natives encountered along the Atlantic coast had advanced from savagery to the lower status of barbarism, and were still in the Stone Age. Although agriculture was practised to a considerable extent, the Indians, having no domestic animals, were still dependent upon the chase for a material part of their diet, and so must be considered as in the hunting stage, their advancement in culture being limited by that condition.[26] Their political organization was much misunderstood by the whites, with disastrous results. The settlers, utterly ignorant of savage life, tried to interpret such things as they saw in terms of their own institutions; whence came the kings, princes, and nobles, who parade the pages of our early writers. It is needless to say that nothing in Indian society in any way corresponded to these terms; and the failure of the whites to apprehend that Indian institutions had almost nothing in common with their own was the source of endless trouble and much needless bloodshed.

Among such Indians as had attained to some degree of social organization, which included the majority on the continent and all of those with whom the settlers came in contact, the primary unit was the clan, or gens. Within a clan, or gens, everyone was, or was supposed to be, descended from a common ancestor, and thus related to all the others—in the former the line of descent being traced through the female, and in the latter, through the male. Otherwise, the two organizations were identical, and we shall, therefore, speak in terms of the clan only. Clan members were absolutely forbidden to intermarry; they had the right to elect and depose the sachem and chiefs, to bestow names upon individuals, and to adopt strangers. They possessed common religious observances, were buried in one place, had mutual rights of inheritance in the property of deceased members, were under obligation to defend one another, and participated in the council.[27] The latter was essentially democratic, every man and woman in the clan having a voice, the sachem and chiefs being elected and deposed at will. The sachem was a civil officer having nothing to do with war, and the office was hereditary within the clan, though the succeeding relative, usually a brother or nephew, was elected. Chief was a very vague term, merely indicating one who had been elected for some special fitness, the number of chiefs being roughly proportioned to the size of the clan. Both sachem and chiefs attended the larger council of the tribe. While articles of personal property, such as clothes or weapons, were owned by the individual, the title to all land was in the clan, and the individual had the right of use only. Ownership in fee by the individual, as practised by the whites, was not known at all to the natives, nor was the native institution understood by the whites during the first years, so that the so-called land sales by the Indians were the cause of constant misunderstandings and ill-feeling.[28]

Generally, each clan possessed a totem, or animal, from which it derived its name. These names, however, were not, as a rule, the common ones for the animal or object, but denoted a characteristic feature or haunt, and were less childish than they have been made to seem. Thus the Turtle Clan did not use the common word, ha’nowa, but hadiniaden, “they have upright necks.”[29] A curious importance was attached by the Indian to the names of individuals, and that first given in infancy was usually changed at puberty, and even at other times. Certain names were given only in certain clans, and the individual had property rights in his own name, which he could lend, sell, or even pawn.

The clan was thus the Indian’s little world. To its organization, and his own position in it, he owed almost all that made life worth living from the social standpoint—his name, to which a potent influence attached, his ceremonial rights, his rights of inheritance, his property rights in land, his obligation to defend and succor his fellow clansmen, his right to be protected in return, and, finally, his political right to elect and depose his sachem and chiefs. Notwithstanding the extremely democratic and individualistic nature of Indian society, and the looseness of its political organization, the influence of the clan sentiment upon the individual must have had enormous weight.[30] Above the clan was the tribe, which is difficult to define, but clearly marked, and which was the highest form of organization ordinarily attained by the natives—confederacies, such as the Iroquois, being exceptional. Tribal organization is more obvious to the untrained observer than that of clans, and whenever the settlers found a body of natives possessing an apparent degree of independence or territorial isolation, they gave them a tribal designation, derived from the dialect, locality, or name of the leader, though such designations are of almost no value for scientific classification.[31] The tribe, which was composed of several clans, may be said to have had a common religious worship, a name, a definite territory, and the exclusive use of a dialect, together with the right to invest and depose the sachems and chiefs of the several clans.[32] These chiefs and sachems formed the tribal council, which controlled the tribe’s “foreign policy,” sent and received ambassadors, made alliances, and declared war and peace, although it was a weak organization for military purposes. The assumed natural condition was war, not peace, and every tribe was theoretically at war with every other, unless a specific treaty of peace had been made. On the other hand, there was no forced military service, and public opinion or personal inclination alone sent the warrior along the war-path. Any person could organize an expedition at any time, and service was voluntary, operations, as a rule, being conducted suddenly, secretly, and on a small scale.

As among all primitive peoples, the food-quest was one of the dominating factors in the Indian’s mode of life. This included hunting, both with weapons and with traps, fishing, by net and line, and agriculture, with primitive implements and manuring. Game was fairly abundant for a sparse population, and the bays, rivers, and lakes swarmed with many sorts of fish. Maize, the fundamental food-crop of all eastern North America, was raised as far north as northern Maine; pumpkins, beans, and other native vegetables were cultivated also, and tobacco was grown even beyond the northern limits of maize. Not only these crops, but the whole complex of cultivation which the Indians had developed, was of profound importance to the settlers, who, it maybe noted, also adopted in its entirety the native method of making maple-sugar.

In many cases, the quest of these various foods gave rise to seasonal migrations, from which was derived the false idea that the Indians were nomadic. Although this was not true, they nearly always did have two, and even three, places of residence—one in the summer, conveniently located for their fields of corn; one in the winter, in some sheltered valley; and, perhaps, one for the fall months, for the hunting.[33] Moreover, as Williams tells us, “the abundance of fleas” in their homes would occasionally make them “remove on a sudden” to a more exclusive spot. Most communities had one or more fortified enclosures, consisting of from one to a score of houses inside a stockade, which were resorted to in time of danger, and frequently formed their winter dwellings.[34]

In traveling, birch-bark or dugout canoes were used along the coasts and water-courses, and, on the land, well-established trails extended, with few breaks, across the length and breadth of the continent.[35] The most noted of these in New England, and among the earliest used by the settlers, were the Bay Path and Old Connecticut Path, the latter of which ran from what are now Boston and Cambridge, through Marlborough, Grafton, Oxford, and Springfield, to Albany, where it joined the great Iroquois trail along the Mohawk Valley to Niagara.[36]

In their travel, as in their domestic life, labor was more or less equally divided between the sexes; and, although woman’s position was subordinate, it is a mistake to paint her as drudge, toiling for a lazy master. In building the house, for example, the man cut and set the poles, on which the woman arranged the covering of mats or bark. The tillage of the soil in comparative safety was her share, while the man undertook the more dangerous work of hunting. While she had the care of the household, and the nurture of the children, he laboriously chipped the stone implements used in war and the chase, built the boats, and, in some cases, made the women’s clothes as well as his own. The boys and old men helped her about the crops; to the other males were intrusted the duties of a warrior, and the conducting of public business and ceremonials, including the memorizing of the tribal records, treaties, and rituals.[37] In the production of household goods, the women made baskets and mats; the men, dishes and pots and spoons.[38]

Such a division of labor was calculated to provide the community, under the conditions of its savage and war-like life, with the largest possible measure of food and protection, and did not indicate a degraded position for woman. On the contrary, descent was usually traced through her, and the titles of the chiefs of the clans belonged to her, as did the family lodge and all its furnishings. She had ownership rights in the tribal lands; possessed the children exclusively; had the right of selecting from her sons candidates for the chieftaincy, of preventing them from going on the war-path, and of adopting strangers into the clan. She also had other powers, including that of life and death over alien prisoners, and was not seldom elected a chief or sachem herself. Among the Iroquois, the penalty for killing a woman was twice that exacted for a man; and it is noteworthy that no attempt against the chastity of a white woman prisoner has been charged against the savage—a record distinctly better than that of the white settlers. Although polygamy was not forbidden, it was rare except in the case of chiefs, priests, and shamans (or medicine-men), and monogamic unions were the rule. The tie, however, was loose, and could readily be dissolved by either party, the children, in any case, remaining with the mother. Constancy was expected, and its breach, particularly in the case of the woman, was severely punished. Chastity was not expected before marriage, but, as Wissler points out, it was essential in certain religious ceremonies, and so may have been an ideal.[39]

In their relations with their children, we find some of the highest traits in the character of the natives. Both parents were, as a rule, excessively fond of their offspring, and boys and girls were carefully instructed. In general, moral suasion alone was used; force but rarely. The girls, from an early age, were taught sewing, weaving, cooking, and the other household arts; the boys were initiated into the methods of hunting, fishing, war, and government. Etiquette was carefully observed by all, in such matters as sitting, standing, precedence in walking, interrupting a speaker, respect to elders, passing between a person and the fire, and the other niceties of life according to native standards.

The New England Indians had made but slight progress in the arts. The character of the native music is even yet not well understood, and much preliminary work remains to be done before any generalizations can be made.[40] We know, however, that in the same song the instrumental and vocal rhythms were different, and that there was a characteristic one for every ceremony. Music, indeed, was an important element in life, all ceremonies, public and private, being accompanied by songs, which were the property of clans, societies, or individuals, and were bought and sold. In design, both in pottery and weaving, the patterns used were geometrical only, and simple; but the later New England native pottery showed the influence of the superior art of the Iroquois, in form as well as decoration.[41] In their economic life, the most interesting feature was the use of wampum, or shell-beads, as a primitive medium of exchange. These little black or white cylinders, of which the former were worth twice as much as the latter, were made with great care from certain shells found along the coast. Besides their use as currency, they were prized by the Indians as ornament, and were strung into belts, to perform their well-known symbolic and historical functions.[42]

One of the most popular misconceptions of the Indian is that of his belief in a “Great Spirit.” Nowhere in American aboriginal life do we find anything approaching such a conception. The Indian was in the animistic stage of religious belief. The manitou of the Algonquins, like the orenda of the Iroquois, was merely the magic power which might exist in objects, forces, animals, and even men, superior to man’s natural qualities; and the Indian’s religious beliefs centred about his relations to some embodied form of this power. He believed in good spirits and bad, which could be controlled or invoked by prayer, offerings, charms, or incantations, and had developed a large body of myths to explain the universe and his relation to it. No moral concept attached to any of his deities, nor had he developed any idea of future rewards and punishments, although there was a belief in some vague form of life after bodily death. The rites of their primitive religion were in the hands of priests, whose power and influence increase as we proceed southward toward the highly developed ritualism of the Incas and their neighboring civilizations. The priest, acting for the tribe, must not be confused with the “medicine-man,” who depended solely upon his personal ability to establish relations with the magic powers, which he won by extraordinary experiences derived from fasting, prayer, and nervous excitement.

The exact classification of the Indians by cultural, archæological, linguistic, and other tests, is a matter of considerable difficulty, but the linguistic, on the whole, is the best. Judged by all of them, however, the aborigines of New England possessed a high degree of unity.[43] At the time of settlement, the entire country along the coast, from Maryland to Hudson Strait, was occupied by natives of the widely distributed Algonquin stock, except for a small number of Beothuks in Newfoundland, and the Esquimaux along the Labrador shore.[44] The Algonquins also extended westward to the Mississippi, and two-thirds of the way across Canada. Imbedded in this otherwise homogeneous mass, the great body of the Iroquois dwelt on both sides of the St. Lawrence, surrounded Lake Erie, and covered all central Pennsylvania and the state of New York, except the lower Hudson. Although not included in the confines of New England, the influence of this highly organized and warlike confederacy was felt far beyond their bounds in every direction.[45] It is impossible to state the numbers which composed the New England tribes at the coming of the whites. Perhaps the original settlers faced in all, throughout New England, five thousand warriors, although this may be too high a figure, and all estimates can be only guesses.[46]

Such, in outline, was the Indian when he met the astonished and anxious gaze of the first settlers. Enough has been said to show that in the contact of the races an irrepressible conflict was bound to develop. Even had the savage never received any but kind and just treatment from his white neighbor, it is improbable that he could have readjusted his entire life so as to compete with, or to accept, civilization. That test, however, was never made. To say that his lands were bought, and that, therefore, he was justly treated, is a mockery. To have expected sympathy, understanding, and justice in the situation as it developed in the seventeenth century is asking too much, both of human nature and of the period. Indeed, it is questionable whether, in the competition between races of higher and lower civilizations, when the former intrude upon the lands of the latter, justice, in its strictest sense, is ever possible. One cannot believe that the world would have been either better or happier had the land which to-day supports a hundred million self-governing people been left to the half-million barbarians who barely gained a subsistence from it four centuries ago. Man, in the individual treatment of his fellow, is, indeed, bound by the laws of justice and of right; but in the larger processes of history we are confronted by problems that the ethics of the individual fail to solve. The Indian in the American forest, and the Polynesian in his sunny isle, share, in the moral enigma of their passing, the mystery of the vanished races of man and brute, which have gone down in the struggle for existence in geological or historic ages, in what, one would fain believe, is a universe governed by moral law.


  1. Cf. C. B. Fawcett, Frontiers (Oxford, 1918), pp. 50 ff. Also, Lord Curzon, Frontiers (Oxford, 1908), pp. 13 ff.
  2. The three most important of these routes were: 1, from the headwaters of the St. John to a branch of the Chaudière; 2, from the head of the Kennebec to the Chaudière proper (the route of Col. Arnold in 1775); and 3, from a branch of the Connecticut to a stream entering Lake Memphremagog, and so down the St. Francis. Cf. A. B Hulbert, Portage Paths; Cleveland, 1903. Many of the early maps also show the more important portages and carrying-places.
  3. W. M. Davis, The Physical Geography of Southern New England (New York, 1896), pp. 26 ff.
  4. E. C. Semple, Influences of Geographic Environment (New York, 1911), p. 354.
  5. V. S. Clark, History of Manufactures in the U. S., 1607-1860 (Carnegie Institution, Washington, 1916), pp. 88 ff.
  6. Report on the Water-Power of the U. S.; Census Report, 1885.
  7. N. S. Shaler, United States, vol. i, p. 54.
  8. E. Huntington, Civilization and Climate (Yale University Press, 1915), p. 22.
  9. Dalby Thomas, An historical account of the rise and growth of the W. I. Collonies and of the great advantages they are to England in respect to Trade (London, 1690), pp. 14, 21 f.
  10. J. C. Ballagh, “The Land System in the South,” in American Historical Associationciation Report, 1897, p. 109.
  11. H. A. Pressey, Water-Powers of the State of Maine; U. S. Geological Survey, 1902, p. 15.
  12. J. D. Whitney, The United States (Boston, 1889), p. 176.
  13. E. C. Semple, American History and its Geographic Conditions (Boston, 1903), p. 122.
  14. The Education of Henry Adams (Boston, 1918), pp. 7 ff.
  15. Semple, Influences of Geographic Environment, p. 618. Both Miss Semple and A. P. Brigham (Geographic Influences in American History, New York, 1903) lay their main stress on land-forms. For climatic influences, vide W. N. Lacy, “Some Climatic Influences in American History,” in Monthly Weather Review, vol. XXXVI, pp. 169 ff; Huntington, Civilization and Climate, ubi supra; and The Red Man’s Continent (Yale University Press, 1919).
  16. For the influence of the sea on subsidiary industries, vide M. Keir, “Some Influences of the Sea upon the Industries of New England,” American Geographical Review, vol. v, pp. 399 ff.
  17. Jean Brunhes, La géographie humaine (Paris, 1912), p. 6.
  18. In the Middle Ages there was apparently an additional volcanic island, known as Gunnbiörn’s Skerries, between Iceland and Greenland, destroyed by eruption in 1456. R. H. Major, Voyages of the Zeni (Hakluyt Society, 1873), pp. lxxiv ff.
  19. Lord Bryce, The Relations of the Advanced and Backward Races of Mankind (Romanes Lecture; Oxford, 1902), p. 40. He contrasts the failure of Christianity with the success of Islam in that regard.
  20. Gilbert Murray, The Rise of the Greek Epic (Oxford, 1911), p. 54.
  21. F. W. Hodge, Handbook of American Indians north of Mexico (Bureau of American Ethnology, 1911, vol. i, pp. 578, 88, 286; L. Farrand, Basis of American History (New York, 1904), p. 265.
  22. G. Friederici, Skalpieren u. änliche Kriegsgebräuche in Amerika (Braunschweig, 1906), p. 106.
  23. G. E. Ellis, The Red Man and the White Man in America (Boston, 1882), p. 123.
  24. Farrand, Basis, p. 265; Roger Williams, A Key into the Languages of America (Narragansett Club Publications, vol. i), p. 138.
  25. Hodge, Handbook, vol. i, p. 572.
  26. L. Carr, “The Food of certain American Indians and their Method of preparing it”; Proceedings American Antiquarian Society, New Series, vol. iiv, p. 156.
  27. L. H. Morgan, Ancient Society (London, 1877), pp. 71 ff.
  28. C. J. Ellis, The Red Man, pp. 207 ff.
  29. Hodge, Handbook, vol. i, p. 304.
  30. The phratry was a combination of two or more clans, forming a larger exogamous group, and originating, perhaps, in the division of overgrown clans. Although it frequently had the power of veto over the election of clan sachems and chiefs, its functions were social rather than political. In ball games, phratry played against phratry, while at funerals and other ceremonies the organization appears clearly. There was no chief or head.
  31. Clark Wissler, The American Indian (New York, 1917), p. 152.
  32. Morgan, Ancient Society, pp. 112. ff.
  33. Williams, Key, p. 74.
  34. C. C. Willoughby, “Houses and Gardens of the New England Indians,” American Anthropologist, New Series, vol. viii, p. 126.
  35. Rolle, for example, in 1697, followed one from Quebec to Illinois, 2400 miles. Maine Historical Society Collections, vol. v, p. 325.
  36. The Bay Path went from Boston to Springfield along the same line, except that it passed through South Framingham instead of Marlborough and Worcester, joining the Connecticut Path at Oxford. See map, in L. B. Chase, “Interpretation of Woodward’s and Saffery’s Map of 1642,” in New England Historical and Genealogical Register, vol. iiv. pp. 155 ff. For other early trails, see the same author’s “Early Indian Trails,” in Worcester Society of Antiquity Collections, vol. XIV. pp. 105 ff., and A. B. Hulbert, Indian Thoroughfares; Cleveland, 1902.
  37. Hodge, Handbook, vol. ii, p. 284.
  38. D. D. Gookin, “Historical Collections of the Indians in New England, 1674”; Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, Series I, vol. i, p. 151.
  39. Wissler, The American Indian, p. 176.
  40. Ibid., p. 146.
  41. C. C. Willoughby, “Pottery of the New England Indians,” in Putnam Anniversary Volume of Anthropological Essays (New York, 1909), pp. 83 ff.
  42. W. B. Weeden, Indian Money as a Factor in New England Civilization, Johns Hopkins University Studies, 1884; A. C. Parker, The Constitution of the Five Nations, N. Y. State Museum Bulletin, 1916.
  43. See maps, in Wissler, The American Indian, pp. 205, 246, 282.
  44. In recent years, evidences of a pre-historic culture in the Penobscot valley, wholly different from that of the Algonquin or Beothuks, have been found. Vide W. K. Moorehead, “Prehistoric Cultures in the State of Maine,” Proceedings of the 19th International Congress of Americanists (Washington, 1917), pp. 48 ff. Also his “Red-Paint People,” in American Anthropologist, New Series, vol. XV.
  45. L. H. Morgan, The League of the Iroquois; New York, 1901, passim. Though considered a different stock from the Algonquin, they seem to have been identical physically. A. Hrdlicka, Physical Anthropology of the Lenape; Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 62, 1916, p. 127.
  46. Gookin, Historical Collection, pp. 145 f. Another writer, in 1629, says: “The greatest Saggamores about us cannot make above three hundred men, and other lesser Saggamores have not above fifteen subjects, and others neere about us but two.” [Higginson] “New England’s Plantation, 1630,” in Mass. Hist. Soc, Coll., Series I, vol. i, p. 122.