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  • Cited by 2
  • Print publication year: 1996
  • Online publication date: March 2008

3 - The European Background

Summary

IN WHAT SENSE DID EUROPEAN ORIGINS MATTER?

Originally the colonial American economy was constructed from European materials. It cannot be questioned that the predominant influence among the European traits was British, or more accurately English, and that until the War of Independence this became ever more firmly established. The admixture of other Europeans does not gainsay this fact, even though their role has been played down in a literature of early Americana that is inordinately concerned with the Pilgrim Fathers. The other major influences on what became a Euro-American way of life were the distant location of the colonies, together with their lavish resource endowment, and the slowly fading aboriginal culture.

The Native Americans had been present since prehistory, and the uses they had made of the land created capital improvements subsequently taken over by the immigrants from across the ocean. These “capital works” included cleared openings in the forest cover; burning to produce browse for their prey, the deer, thus encouraging sprout hardwoods, reducing fire-sensitive species (especially the understory); introducing from farther south crop plants like maize; and pioneering tracks and pathways. There were hundreds of semipermanent Indian villages in the northeast of the future United States, some with up to 150 acres cleared for crops and larger areas ecologically modified for hunting.