Archive for the ‘Historical Essay’ Category

Questions over the Turner Thesis

For those of you who did not pick up the printed packets, you are going to want to get started on the questions, so here is a .pdf of the packet. You need to get started on these questions as soon as possible to determine ones you need to ask me about on Tuesday.

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Frederick Jackson Turner’s Essay- “The Significance of the Frontier in American History”

Frederick Jackson Turner,  “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” (1893)

In a recent bulletin of the Superintendent of the Census for 1890 appear these significant words: “Up to and including 1880 the country had a frontier of settlement, but at present the unsettled area has been so broken into by isolated bodies of settlement that there can hardly be said to be a frontier line. In the discussion of its extent, its westward movement, etc., it can not, therefore, any longer have a place in the census reports.” This brief official statement marks the closing of a great historic movement. Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development.

Behind institutions, behind constitutional forms and modifications, lie the vital forces that call these organs into life and shape them to meet changing conditions. The peculiarity of American institutions is, the fact that they have been compelled to adapt themselves to the changes of an expanding people-  to the changes involved in crossing a continent, in winning a wilderness, and in developing at each area of this progress out of the primitive economic and political conditions of the frontier into the complexity of city life. Said Calhoun in 1817, “We are great, and rapidly-  I was about to say, fearfully-  growing!” So saying, he touched the distinguishing feature of American life. All peoples show development; the germ theory of politics has been sufficiently emphasized. In the case of most nations, however, the development has occurred in a limited area; and if the nation has expanded, it has met other growing peoples whom it has conquered. But in the case of the United States we have a different phenomenon. Limiting our attention to the Atlantic coast, we have the familiar phenomenon of the evolution of institutions in a limited area, such as the rise of representative government; into complex organs; the progress from primitive industrial society, without division of labor, up to manufacturing civilization. But we have in addition to this a recurrence of the process of evolution in each western area reached in the process of expansion. Thus American development has exhibited not merely advance along a single line, but a return to primitive conditions on a continually advancing frontier line, and a new development for that area. American social development has been continually beginning over again on the frontier. This perennial rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character. The true point of view in the history of this nation is not the Atlantic coast, it is the Great West. Even the slavery struggle, which is made so exclusive an object of attention by writers like Professor von Holst, occupies its important place in American history because of its relation to westward expansion.

In this advance, the frontier is the outer edge of the wave-  the meeting point between savagery and civilization. Much has been written about the frontier from the point of view of border warfare and the chase, but as a field for the serious study of the economist and the historian it has been neglected.

The American frontier is sharply distinguished from the European frontier-  a fortified boundary line running through dense populations. The most significant thing about the American frontier is, that it lies at the hither edge of free land. In the census reports it is treated as the margin of that settlement which has a density of two or more to the square mile. The term is an elastic one, and for our purposes does not need sharp definition. We shall consider the whole frontier belt including the Indian country and the outer margin of the “settled area ” of the census reports. This paper will make no attempt to treat the subject exhaustively; its aim is simply to call attention to the frontier as a fertile field for investigation, and to suggest some of the problems which arise in connection with it.

In the settlement of America we have to observe how European life entered the continent, and how America modified and developed that life and reacted on Europe. Our early history is the study of European germs developing in an American environment. Too exclusive attention has been paid by institutional students to the Germanic origins, too little to the American factors. The frontier is the line of most rapid and effective Americanization. The wilderness masters the colonist. It finds him a European in dress, industries, tools, modes of travel, and thought. It takes him from the railroad car and puts him in the birch canoe. It strips off the garments of civilization and arrays him in the hunting shirt and the moccasin. It puts him in the log cabin of the Cherokee and Iroquois and runs an Indian palisade around him. Before long he has gone to planting Indian corn and plowing with a sharp stick, he shouts the war cry and takes the scalp in orthodox Indian fashion. In short, at the frontier the environment is at first too strong for the man. He must accept the conditions which it furnishes, or perish, and so he fits himself into the Indian clearings and follows the Indian trails. Little by little he transforms the wilderness, but the outcome is not the old Europe, not simply the development of Germanic germs, any more than the first phenomenon was a case of reversion to the Germanic mark. The fact is, that here is a new product that is American. At first, the frontier was the Atlantic coast. It was the frontier of Europe in a very real sense. Moving westward, the frontier became more and more American. As successive terminal moraines result from successive glaciations, so each frontier leaves its traces behind it, and when it becomes a settled area the region still partakes of the frontier characteristics. Thus the advance of the frontier has meant a steady movement away from the influence of Europe, a steady growth of independence on American lines. And to study this advance, the men who grew up under these conditions, and the political, economic, and social results of it, is to study the really American part of our history.

In the course of the seventeenth century the frontier was advanced up the Atlantic river courses, just beyond the “fall line,” and the tidewater region became the settled area. In the first half of the eighteenth century another advance occurred. Traders followed the Delaware and Shawnee Indians to the Ohio as early as the end of the first quarter of the century. Gov. Spotswood, of Virginia, made an expedition in 1714 across the Blue Ridge. The end of the first quarter of the century saw the advance of the Scotch-Irish and the Palatine Germans up the Shenandoah Valley into the western part of Virginia, and along the Piedmont region of the Carolinas. The Germans in New York pushed the frontier of settlement up the Mohawk to German Flats. In Pennsylvania the town of Bedford indicates the line of settlement. Settlements had begun on New River, a branch of the Kanawha, and on the sources of the Yadkin and French Broad. The King attempted to arrest the advance by his proclamation of 1763, forbidding settlements beyond the sources of the rivers flowing into the Atlantic, but in vain. In the period of the Revolution the frontier crossed the Alleghanies into Kentucky and Tennessee, and the upper waters of the Ohio were settled. When the first census was taken in 1790, the continuous settled area was bounded by a line which ran near the coast of Maine, and included New England except a portion of Vermont and New Hampshire, New York along the Hudson and up the Mohawk about Schenectady, eastern and southern Pennsylvania, Virginia well across the Shenandoah Valley, and the Carolinas and eastern Georgia. Beyond this region of continuous settlement were the small settled areas of Kentucky and Tennessee, and the Ohio, with the mountains intervening between them and the Atlantic area, thus giving a new and important character to the frontier. The isolation of the region increased its peculiarly American tendencies, and the need of transportation facilities to connect it with the East called out important schemes of internal improvement, which will be noted farther on. The “West,” as a self-conscious section, began to evolve.

From decade to decade distinct advances of the frontier occurred. By the census of 1820 the settled area included Ohio, southern Indiana and Illinois, southeastern Missouri, and about one-half of Louisiana. This settled area had surrounded Indian areas, and the management of these tribes became an object of political concern. The frontier region of the time lay along the Great Lakes, where Astor’s American Fur Company operated in the Indian trade, and beyond the Mississippi, where Indian traders extended their activity even to the Rocky Mountains; Florida also furnished frontier conditions. The Mississippi River region was the scene of typical frontier settlements.

The rising steam navigation on western waters, the opening of the Erie Canal, and the westward extension of cotton culture added five frontier states to the Union in this period. Grund, writing in 1836, declares: “It appears then that the universal disposition of Americans to emigrate to the western wilderness, in order to enlarge their dominion over inanimate nature, is the actual result of an expansive power which is inherent in them, and which by continually agitating all classes of society is constantly throwing a large portion of the whole population on the extreme confines of the State, in order to gain space for its development. Hardly is a new State of Territory formed before the same principle manifests itself again and gives rise to a further emigration; and so is it destined to go on until a physical barrier must finally obstruct its progress.”

In the middle of this century the line indicated by the present eastern boundary of Indian Territory, Nebraska, and Kansas marked the frontier of the Indian country.l6 Minnesota and Wisconsin still exhibited frontier conditions,17 but the distinctive frontier of the period is found in California, where the gold discoveries had sent a sudden tide of adventurous miners, and in Oregon, and the settlements in Utah. As the frontier had leaped over the Alleghanies, so now it skipped the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains; and in the same way that the advance of the frontiersmen beyond the Alleghanies had caused the rise of important questions of transportation and internal improvement, so now the settlers beyond the Rocky Mountains needed means of communication with the East, and in the furnishing of these arose the settlement of the Great Plains and the development of still another kind of frontier life. Railroads, fostered by land grants, sent an increasing tide of immigrants into the Far West. The United States Army fought a series of Indian wars in Minnesota, Dakota, and the Indian Territory.

By 1880 the settled area had been pushed into northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, along Dakota rivers, and in the Black Hills region, and was ascending the rivers of Kansas and Nebraska. The development of mines in Colorado had drawn isolated frontier settlements into that region, and Montana and Idaho were receiving settlers. The frontier was found in these mining camps and the ranches of the Great Plains. The superintendent of the census for 1890 reports, as previously stated, that the settlements of the West lie so scattered over the region that there can no longer be said to be a frontier line.

In these successive frontiers we find natural boundary lines which have served to mark and to affect the characteristics of the frontiers, namely: the “fall line;” the Alleghany Mountains; the Mississippi; the Missouri where its direction approximates north and south; the line of the arid lands, approximately the ninety-ninth meridian; and the Rocky Mountains. The fall line marked the frontier of the seventeenth century; the Alleghanies that of the eighteenth; the Mississippi that of the first quarter of the nineteenth; the Missouri that of the middle of this century (omitting the California movement); and the belt of the Rocky Mountains and the arid tract, the present frontier. Each was won by a series of Indian wars.

At the Atlantic frontier one can study the germs of processes repeated at each successive frontier. We have the complex European life sharply precipitated by the wilderness into the simplicity of primitive conditions. The first frontier had to meet its Indian question, its question of the disposition of the public domain, of the means of intercourse with older settlements, of the extension of political organization, of religious and educational activity. And the settlement of these and similar questions for one frontier served as a guide for the next. The American student needs not to go to the “prim little townships of Sleswick” for illustrations of the law of continuity and development. For example, he may study the origin of our land policies in the colonial land policy; he may see how the system grew by adapting the statutes to the customs of the successive frontiers. He may see how the mining experience in the lead regions of Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa was applied to the mining laws of the Sierras, and how our Indian policy has been a series of experimentations on successive frontiers. Each tier of new States has found in the older ones material for its constitutions. Each frontier has made similar contributions to American character, as will be discussed farther on.

But with all these similarities there are essential differences, due to the place element and the time element. It is evident that the farming frontier of the Mississippi Valley presents different conditions from the mining frontier of the Rocky Mountains. The frontier reached by the Pacific Railroad, surveyed into rectangles, guarded by the United States Army, and recruited by the daily immigrant ship, moves forward at a swifter pace and in a different way than the frontier reached by the birch canoe or the pack horse. The geologist traces patiently the shores of ancient seas, maps their areas, and compares the older and the newer. It would be a work worth the historian’s labors to mark these various frontiers and in detail compare one with another. Not only would there result a more adequate conception of American development and characteristics, but invaluable additions would be made to the history of society.

Loria, the Italian economist, has urged the study of colonial life as an aid in understanding the stages of European development, affirming that colonial settlement is for economic science what the mountain is for geology, bringing to light primitive stratifications. “America,” he says, “has the key to the historical enigma which Europe has sought for centuries in vain, and the land which has no history reveals luminously the course of universal history.” There is much truth in this. The United States lies like a huge page in the history of society. Line by line as we read this continental page from West to East we find the record of social evolution. It begins with the Indian and the hunter; it goes on to tell of the disintegration of savagery by the entrance of the trader, the pathfinder of civilization; we read the annals of the pastoral stage in ranch life; the exploitation of the soil by the raising of unrotated crops of corn and wheat in sparsely settled farming communities; the intensive culture of the denser farm settlement; and finally the manufacturing organization with city and factory system. This page is familiar to the student of census statistics, but how little of it has been used by our historians. Particularly in eastern States this page is a palimpsest. What is now a manufacturing State was in an earlier decade an area of intensive farming. Earlier yet it had been a wheat area, and still earlier the “range” had attracted the cattleherder. Thus Wisconsin, now developing manufacture, is a State with varied agricultural interests. But earlier it was given over to almost exclusive grain-raising, like North Dakota at the present time.

Each of these areas has had an influence in our economic and political history; the evolution of each into a higher stage has worked political transformations. But what constitutional historian has made any adequate attempt to interpret political facts by the light of these social areas and changes?

The Atlantic frontier was compounded of fisherman, fur trader, miner, cattle-raiser, and farmer. Excepting the fisherman, each type of industry was on the march toward the West, impelled by an irresistible attraction. Each passed in successive waves across the continent. Stand at Cumberland Gap and watch the procession of civilization, marching single file  the buffalo following the trail to the salt springs, the Indian, the fur trader and hunter, the cattle-raiser, the pioneer farmer  and the frontier has passed by. Stand at South Pass in the Rockies a century later and see the same procession with wider intervals between. The unequal rate of advance compels us to distinguish the frontier into the trader’s frontier, the rancher’s frontier, or the miner’s frontier, and the farmer’s frontier. When the mines and the cow pens were still near the fall line the traders’ pack trains were tinkling across the Alleghanies, and the French on the Great Lakes were fortifying their posts, alarmed by the British trader’s birch canoe. When the trappers scaled the Rockies, the farmer was still near the mouth of the Missouri.

Why was it that the Indian trader passed so rapidly across the continent? What effects followed from the trader’s frontier? The trade was coeval with American discovery. The Norsemen, Vespuccius, Verrazani, Hudson, John Smith, all trafficked for furs. The Plymouth pilgrims settled in Indian cornfields, and their first return cargo was of beaver and lumber. The records of the various New England colonies show how steadily exploration was carried into the wilderness by this trade. What is true for New England is, as would be expected, even plainer for the rest of the colonies. All along the coast from Maine to Georgia the Indian trade opened up the river courses. Steadily the trader passed westward, utilizing the older lines of French trade. The Ohio, the Great Lakes, the Mississippi, the Missouri, and the Platte, the lines of western advance, were ascended by traders. They found the passes in the Rocky Mountains and guided Lewis and Clark, Fremont, and Bidwell. The explanation of the rapidity of this advance is connected with the effects of the trader on the Indian. The trading post left the unarmed tribes at the mercy of those that had purchased fire-arms  a truth which the Iroquois Indians wrote in blood, and so the remote and unvisited tribes gave eager welcome to the trader “The savages,” wrote La Salle, “take better care of us French than of their own children; from us only can they get guns and goods.” This accounts for the trader’s power and the rapidity of his advance. Thus the disintegrating forces of civilization entered the wilderness. Every river valley and Indian trail became a fissure in Indian society, and so that society became honeycombed. Long before the pioneer farmer appeared on the scene, primitive Indian life had passed away. The farmers met Indians armed with guns. The trading frontier, while steadily undermining Indian power by making the tribes ultimately dependent on the whites, yet, through its sale of guns, gave to the Indian increased power of resistance to the farming frontier. French colonization was dominated by its trading frontier; English colonization by its farming frontier. There was an antagonism between the two frontiers as between the two nations. Said Duquesne to the Iroquois, “Are you ignorant of the difference between the king of England and the king of France? Go see the forts that our king has established and you will see that you can still hunt under their very walls. They have been placed for your advantage in places which you frequent. The English, on the contrary, are no sooner in possession of a place than the game is driven away. The forest falls before them as they advance, and the soil is laid bare so that you can scarce find the wherewithal to erect a shelter for the night.”

And yet, in spite of this opposition of the interests of the trader and the farmer, the Indian trade pioneered the way for civilization. The buffalo trail became the Indian trail, and this became the trader’s “trace;” the trails widened into roads, and the roads into turnpikes, and these in turn were transformed into railroads. The same origin can be shown for the railroads of the South, the Far West, and the Dominion of Canada. The trading posts reached by these trails were on the sites of Indian villages which had been placed in positions suggested by nature; and these trading posts, situated so as to command the water systems of the country, have grown into such cities as Albany, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Council Bluffs, and Kansas City. Thus civilization in America has followed the arteries made by geology, pouring an ever richer tide through them, until at last the slender paths of aboriginal intercourse have been broadened and interwoven into the complex mazes of modern commercial lines; the wilderness has been interpenetrated by lines of civilization growing ever more numerous. It is like the steady growth of a complex nervous system for the originally simple, inert continent. If one would understand why we are to-day one nation, rather than a collection of isolated states, he must study this economic and social consolidation of the country. In this progress from savage conditions lie topics for the evolutionist.

The effect of the Indian frontier as a consolidating agent in our history is important. From the close of the seventeenth century various intercolonial congresses have been called to treat with Indians and establish common measures of defense. Particularism was strongest in colonies with no Indian frontier. This frontier stretched along the western border like a cord of union. The Indian was a common danger, demanding united action. Most celebrated of these conferences was the Albany congress of 1754, called to treat with the Six Nations, and to consider plans of union. Even a cursory reading of the plan proposed by the congress reveals the importance of the frontier. The powers of the general council and the officers were, chiefly, the determination of peace and war with the Indians, the regulation of Indian trade, the purchase of Indian lands, and the creation and government of new settlements as a security against the Indians. It is evident that the unifying tendencies of the Revolutionary period were facilitated by the previous coöperation in the regulation of the frontier. In this connection may be mentioned the importance of the frontier, from that day to this, as a military training school, keeping alive the power of resistance to aggression, and developing the stalwart and rugged qualities of the frontiersman.

It would not be possible in the limits of this paper to trace the other frontiers across the continent. Travelers of the eighteenth century found the “cowpens” among the canebrakes and peavine pastures of the South, and the “cow drivers” took their droves to Charleston, Philadelphia, and New York. Travelers at the close of the War of 1812 met droves of more than a thousand cattle and swine from the interior of Ohio going to Pennsylvania to fatten for the Philadelphia market. The ranges of the Great Plains, with ranch and cowboy and nomadic life, are things of yesterday and of to-day. The experience of the Carolina cowpens guided the ranchers of Texas. One element favoring the rapid extension of the rancher’s frontier is the fact that in a remote country lacking transportation facilities the product must be in small bulk, or must be able to transport itself, and the cattle raiser could easily drive his product to market. The effect of these great ranches on the subsequent agrarian history of the localities in which they existed should be studied.

The maps of the census reports show an uneven advance of the farmer’s frontier, with tongues of settlement pushed forward and with indentations of wilderness. In part this is due to Indian resistance, in part to the location of river valleys and passes, in part to the unequal force of the centers of frontier attraction. Among the important centers of attraction may be mentioned the following: fertile and favorably situated soils, salt springs, mines, and army posts.

The frontier army post, serving to protect the settlers from the Indians, has also acted as a wedge to open the Indian country, and has been a nucleus for settlement.30 In this connection mention should also be made of the government military and exploring expeditions in determining the lines of settlement. But all the more important expeditions were greatly indebted to the earliest pathmakers, the Indian guides, the traders and trappers, and the French voyageurs, who were inevitable parts of governmental expeditions from the days of Lewis and Clark. Each expedition was an epitome of the previous factors in western advance.
From the time the mountains rose between the pioneer and the seaboard, a new order of Americanism arose. The West and the East began to get out of touch of each other. The settlements from the sea to the mountains kept connection with the rear and had a certain solidarity. But the over-mountain men grew more and more independent. The East took a narrow view of American advance, and nearly lost these men. Kentucky and Tennessee history bears abundant witness to the truth of this statement. The East began to try to hedge and limit westward expansion. Though Webster could declare that there were no Alleghanies in his politics, yet in politics in general they were a very solid factor.

The exploitation of the beasts took hunter and trader to the west, the exploitation of the grasses took the rancher west, and the exploitation of the virgin soil of the river valleys and prairies attracted the farmer. Good soils have been the most continuous attraction to the farmer’s frontier. The land hunger of the Virginians drew them down the rivers into Carolina, in early colonial days; the search for soils took the Massachusetts men to Pennsylvania and to New York. As the eastern lands were taken up migration flowed across them to the west. Daniel Boone, the great backwoodsman, who combined the occupations of hunter, trader, cattle-raiser, farmer, and surveyor-learning, probably from the traders, of the fertility of the lands of the upper Yadkin, where the traders were wont to rest as they took their way to the Indians, left his Pennsylvania home with his father, and passed down the Great Valley road to that stream. Learning from a trader of the game and rich pastures of Kentucky, he pioneered the way for the farmers to that region. Thence he passed to the frontier of Missouri, where his settlement was long a landmark on the frontier. Here again he helped to open the way for civilization, finding salt licks, and trails, and land. His son was among the earliest trappers in the passes of the Rocky Mountains, and his party are said to have been the first to camp on the present site of Denver. His grandson, Col. A. J. Boone, of Colorado, was a power among the Indians of the Rocky Mountains, and was appointed an agent by the government. Kit Carson’s mother was a Boone. Thus this family epitomizes the backwoodsman’s advance across the continent.

The farmer’s advance came in a distinct series of waves. In Peck’s New Guide to the West, published in Boston in 1837, occurs this suggestive passage:
“Generally, in all the western settlements, three classes, like the waves of the ocean, have rolled one after the other. First comes the pioneer, who depends for the subsistence of his family chiefly upon the natural growth of vegetation, called the “range,” and the proceeds of hunting. His implements of agriculture are rude, chiefly of his own make, and his efforts directed mainly to a crop of corn and a “truck patch.” The last is a rude garden for growing cabbage, beans, corn for roasting ears, cucumbers, and potatoes. A log cabin, and, occasionally, a stable and corn-crib, and a field of a dozen acres, the timber girdled or “deadened,” and fenced, are enough for his occupancy. It is quite immaterial whether he ever becomes the owner of the soil. He is the occupant for the time being, pays no rent, and feels as independent as the ‘lord of the manor.’ With a horse, cow, and one or two breeders of swine, he strikes into the woods with his family, and becomes the founder of a new county, or perhaps state. He builds his cabin, gathers around him a few other families of similar tastes and habits, and occupies till the range is somewhat subdued, and hunting a little precarious, or, which is more frequently the case, till the neighbors crowd around, roads, bridges, and fields annoy him, and he lacks elbow room. The preëmption law enables him to dispose of his cabin and cornfield to the next class of emigrants; and, to employ his own figures, he “breaks for the high timber,” “clears out for the New Purchase,” or migrates to Arkansas or Texas, to work the same process over.”

The next class of emigrants purchase the lands, add field to field, clear out the roads, throw rough bridges over the streams, put up hewn log houses with glass windows and brick or stone chimneys, occasionally plant orchards, build mills, school-houses, court-houses, etc., and exhibit the picture and forms of plain, frugal, civilized life.
Another wave rolls on. The men of capital and enterprise come. The settler is ready to sell out and take the advantage of the rise in property, push farther into the interior and become, himself, a man of capital and enterprise in turn. The small village rises to a spacious town or city; substantial edifices of brick, extensive fields, orchards, gardens, colleges, and churches are seen. Broad-cloths, silks, leghorns, crepes, and all the refinements, luxuries, elegancies, frivolities, and fashions are in vogue. Thus wave after wave is rolling westward; the real Eldorado is still farther on.

A portion of the two first classes remain stationary amidst the general movement, improve their habits and condition, and rise in the scale of society.

The writer has traveled much amongst the first class, the real pioneers. He has lived many years in connection with the second grade; and now the third wave is sweeping over large districts of Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. Migration has become almost a habit in the West. Hundreds of men can be found, not over 50 years of age, who have settled for the fourth, fifth, or sixth time on a new spot. To sell out and remove only a few hundred miles makes up a portion of the variety of backwoods life and manners.

Omitting those of the pioneer farmers who move from the love of adventure, the advance of the more steady farmer is easy to understand. Obviously the immigrant was attracted by the cheap lands of the frontier, and even the native farmer felt their influence strongly. Year by year the farmers who lived on soil whose returns were diminished by unrotated crops were offered the virgin soil of the frontier at nominal prices. Their growing families demanded more lands, and these were dear. The competition of the unexhausted, cheap, and easily tilled prairie lands compelled the farmer either to go west and continue the exhaustion of the soil on a new frontier, or to adopt intensive culture. Thus the census of 1890 shows, in the Northwest, many counties in which there is an absolute or a relative decrease of population. These States have been sending farmers to advance the frontier on the plains, and have themselves begun to turn to intensive farming and to manufacture. A decade before this, Ohio had shown the same transition stage. Thus the demand for land and the love of wilderness freedom drew the frontier ever onward.

Having now roughly outlined the various kinds of frontiers, and their modes of advance, chiefly from the point of view of the frontier itself, we may next inquire what were the influences on the East and on the Old World. A rapid enumeration of some of the more noteworthy effects is all that I have time for.

First, we note that the frontier promoted the formation of a composite nationality for the American people. The coast was preponderantly English, but the later tides of continental immigration flowed across to the free lands. This was the case from the early colonial days. The Scotch-Irish and the Palatine Germans, or “Pennsylvania Dutch,” furnished the dominant element in the stock of the colonial frontier. With these peoples were also the freed indented servants, or redemptioners, who at the expiration of their time of service passed to the frontier. Governor Spotswood of Virginia writes in 1717, “The inhabitants of our frontiers are composed generally of such as have been transported hither as servants, and, being out of their time, settle themselves where land is to be taken up and that will produce the necessarys of life with little labour.” Very generally these redemptioners were of non-English stock. In the crucible of the frontier the immigrants were Americanized, liberated, and fused into a mixed race, English in neither nationality nor characteristics. The process has gone on from the early days to our own. Burke and other writers in the middle of the eighteenth century believed that Pennsylvania was “threatened with the danger of being wholly foreign in language, manners, and perhaps even inclinations.” The German and Scotch-Irish elements in the frontier of the South were only less great. In the middle of the present century the German element in Wisconsin was already so considerable that leading publicists looked to the creation of a German state out of the commonwealth by concentrating their colonization. Such examples teach us to beware of misinterpreting the fact that there is a common English speech in America into a belief that the stock is also English.

In another way the advance of the frontier decreased our dependence on England. The coast, particularly of the South, lacked diversified industries, and was dependent on England for the bulk of its supplies. In the South there was even a dependence on the Northern colonies for articles of food. Governor Glenn, of South Carolina, writes in the middle of the eighteenth century: “Our trade with New York and Philadelphia was of this sort, draining us of all the little money and bills we could gather from other places for their bread, flour, beer, hams, bacon, and other things of their produce, all which, except beer, our new townships begin to supply us with, which are settled with very industrious and thriving Germans. This no doubt diminishes the number of shipping and the appearance of our trade, but it is far from being a detriment to us. Before long the frontier created a demand for merchants. As it retreated from the coast it became less and less possible for England to bring her supplies directly to the consumer’s wharfs, and carry away staple crops, and staple crops began to give way to diversified agriculture for a time. The effect of this phase of the frontier action upon the northern section is perceived when we realize how the advance of the frontier aroused seaboard cities like Boston, New York, and Baltimore, to engage in rivalry for what Washington called “the extensive and valuable trade of a rising empire.”

The legislation which most developed the powers of the national government, and played the largest part in its activity, was conditioned on the frontier. Writers have discussed; the subjects of tariff, land, and internal improvement, as subsidiary to the slavery question. But when American history comes to be rightly viewed it will be seen that the slavery question is an incident. In the period from the end of the first half of the present century to the close of the Civil War slavery rose to primary, but far from exclusive, importance. But this does not justify Dr. von Holst (to take an example) in treating our constitutional history in its formative period down to 1828 in a single volume, giving six volumes chiefly to the history of slavery from 1828 to 1861, under the title “Constitutional History of the United States.” The growth of nationalism and the evolution of American political institutions were dependent on the advance of the frontier. Even so recent a writer as Rhodes, in his “History of the United States since the Compromise of 1850,” has treated the legislation called out by the western advance as incidental to the slavery struggle.

This is a wrong perspective. The pioneer needed the goods of the coast, and so the grand series of internal improvement and railroad legislation began, with potent nationalizing effects. Over internal improvements occurred great debates, in which grave constitutional questions were discussed. Sectional groupings appear in the votes, profoundly significant for the historian. Loose construction increased as the nation marched westward. But the West was not content with bringing the farm to the factory. Under the lead of Clay  “Harry of the West”  protective tariffs were passed, with the cry of bringing the factory to the farm. The disposition of the public lands was a third important subject of national legislation influenced by the frontier.
The public domain has been a force of profound importance in the nationalization and development of the government. The effects of the struggle of the landed and the landless States, and of the Ordinance of 1787, need no discussion.

Administratively the frontier called out some of the highest and most vitalizing activities of the general government. The purchase of Louisiana was perhaps the constitutional turning point in the history of the Republic, inasmuch as it afforded both a new area for national legislation and the occasion of the downfall of the policy of strict construction. But the purchase of Louisiana was called out by frontier needs and demands. As frontier States accrued to the Union the national power grew In a speech on the dedication of the Calhoun monument Mr. Lamar explained: “In 1789 the States were the creators of the Federal Government; in 1861 the Federal Government was the creator of a large majority of the States.”

When we consider the public domain from the point of view of the sale and disposal of the public lands we are again brought face to face with the frontier. The policy of the United States in dealing with its lands is in sharp contrast with the European system of scientific administration. Efforts to make this domain a source of revenue, and to withhold it from emigrants in order that settlement might be compact, were in vain. The jealousy and the fears of the East were powerless in the face of the demands of the frontiersmen. John Quincy Adams was obliged to confess: “My own system of administration, which was to make the national domain the inexhaustible fund for progressive and unceasing internal improvement, has failed.” The reason is obvious; a system of administration was not what the West demanded; it wanted land. Adams states the situation as follows: “The slaveholders of the South have bought the coöperation of the western country by the bribe of the western lands, abandoning to the new Western States their own proportion of the public property and aiding them in the design of grasping all the lands into their own hands. Thomas H. Benton was the author of this system, which he brought forward as a substitute for the American system of Mr. Clay, and to supplant him as the leading statesman of the West. Mr. Clay, by his tariff compromise with Mr. Calhoun, abandoned his own American system. At the same time he brought forward a plan for distributing among all the States of the Union the proceeds of the sales of the public lands. His bill for that purpose passed both Houses of Congress, but was vetoed by President Jackson, who, in his annual message of December, 1832, formally recommended that all public lands should be gratuitously given away to individual adventurers and to the States in which the lands are situated.

“No subject,” said Henry Clay, “which has presented itself to the present, or perhaps any preceding, Congress, is of greater magnitude than that of the public lands.” When we consider the far-reaching effects of the government’s land policy upon political, economic, and social aspects of American life, we are disposed to agree with him. But this legislation was framed under frontier influences, and under the lead of Western statesmen like Benton and Jackson. Said Senator Scott of Indiana in 1841: “I consider the preemption law merely declaratory of the custom or common law of the settlers.”

It is safe to say that the legislation with regard to land, tariff, and internal improvements  the American system of the nationalizing Whig party  was conditioned on frontier ideas and needs. But it was not merely in legislative action that the frontier worked against the sectionalism of the coast. The economic and social characteristics of the frontier worked against sectionalism. The men of the frontier had closer resemblances to the Middle region than to either of the other sections. Pennsylvania had been the seed plot of frontier emigration, and, although she passed on her settlers along the Great Valley into the west of Virginia and the Carolinas, yet the industrial society of these Southern frontiersmen was always more like that of the Middle region than like that of the tide water portion of the South, which later came to spread its industrial type throughout the South. The Middle region, entered by New York harbor, was an open door to all Europe. The tide-water part of the South represented typical Englishmen, modified by a warm climate and servile labor, and living in baronial fashion on great plantations; New England stood for a special English movement  Puritanism. The Middle region was less English than the other sections. It had a wide mixture of nationalities, a varied society, the mixed town and county system of local government, a varied economic life, many religious sects. In short, it was a region mediating between New England and the South, and the East and the West. It represented that composite nationality which the contemporary United States exhibits, that juxtaposition of non-English groups, occupying a valley or a little settlement, and presenting reflections of the map of Europe in their variety. It was democratic and nonsectional, if not national; “easy, tolerant, and contented;” rooted strongly in material prosperity. It was typical of the modern United States. It was least sectional, not only because it lay between North and South, but also because with no barriers to shut out its frontiers from its settled region, and with a system of connecting waterways, the Middle region mediated between East and West as well as between North and South. Thus it became the typically American region. Even the New Englander, who was shut out from the frontier by the Middle region, tarrying in New York or Pennsylvania on his west. ward march, lost the acuteness of his sectionalism on the way.

The spread of cotton culture into the interior of the South finally broke down the contrast between the “tide-water ” region and the rest of the State, and based Southern interests on slavery. Before this process revealed its results the western portion of the South, which was akin to Pennsylvania in stock, society, and industry, showed tendencies to fall away from the faith of the fathers into internal improvement legislation and nationalism. In the Virginia convention of 1829-30, called to revise the constitution, Mr. Leigh, of Chesterfield, one of the tide-water counties, declared:
One of the main causes of discontent which led to this convention, that which had the strongest influence in overcoming our veneration for the work of our fathers, which taught us to contemn the sentiments of Henry and Mason and Pendleton, which weaned us from our reverence for the constituted authorities of the State, was an overweening passion for internal improvement. I say this with perfect knowledge, for it has been avowed to me by gentlemen from the West over and over again. And let me tell the gentleman from Albemarle (Mr. Gordon) that it has been another principal object of those who set this ball of revolution in motion, to overturn the doctrine of State rights, of which Virginia has been the very pillar, and to remove the barrier she has interposed to the interference of the Federal Government in that same work of internal improvement, by so reorganizing the legislature that Virginia, too, may be hitched to the Federal car.

It was this nationalizing tendency of the West that transformed the democracy of Jefferson into the national republicanism of Monroe and the democracy of Andrew Jackson. The West of the War of 1812, the West of Clay, and Benton and Harrison, and Andrew Jackson, shut off by the Middle States and the mountains from the coast sections, had a solidarity of its own with national tendencies. On the tide of the Father of Waters, North and South met and mingled into a nation. Interstate migration went steadily on  a process of cross-fertilization of ideas and institutions. The fierce struggle of the sections over slavery on the western frontier does not diminish the truth of this statement; it proves the truth of it. Slavery was a sectional trait that would not down, but in the West it could not remain sectional. It was the greatest of frontiersmen who declared: “I believe this Government can not endure permanently half slave and half free. It will become all of one thing or all of the other.” Nothing works for nationalism like intercourse within the nation. Mobility of population is death to localism, and the western frontier worked irresistibly in unsettling population. The effect reached back from the frontier and affected profoundly the Atlantic coast and even the Old World.

But the most important effect of the frontier has been in the promotion of democracy here and in Europe. As has been indicated, the frontier is productive of individualism. Complex society is precipitated by the wilderness into a kind of primitive organization based on the family. The tendency is anti-social. It produces antipathy to control, and particularly to any direct control. The tax-gatherer is viewed as a representative of oppression. Prof. Osgood, in an able article, has pointed out that the frontier conditions prevalent in the colonies are important factors in the explanation of the American Revolution, where individual liberty was sometimes confused with absence of all effective government. The same conditions aid in explaining the difficulty of instituting a strong government in the period of the confederacy. The frontier individualism has from the beginning promoted democracy. The frontier States that came into the Union in the first quarter of a century of its existence came in with democratic suffrage provisions, and had reactive effects of the highest importance upon the older States whose peoples were being attracted there. An extension of the franchise became essential. It was western New York that forced an extension of suffrage in the constitutional convention of that State in 1821; and it was western Virginia that compelled the tide-water region to put a more liberal suffrage provision in the constitution framed in 1830, and to give to the frontier region a more nearly proportionate representation with the tide-water aristocracy. The rise of democracy as an effective force in the nation came in with western preponderance under Jackson and William Henry Harrison, and it meant the triumph of the frontier  with all of its good and with all of its evil elements. An interesting illustration of the tone of frontier democracy in 1830 comes from the same debates in the Virginia convention already referred to. A representative from western Virginia declared:
“But, sir, it is not the increase of population in the West which this gentleman ought to fear. It is the energy which the mountain breeze and western habits impart to those emigrants. They are regenerated, politically I mean, sir. They soon become working politicians, and the difference, sir, between a talking and a working politician is immense. The Old Dominion has long been celebrated for producing great orators; the ablest metaphysicians in policy; men that can split hairs in all abstruse questions of political economy. But at home, or when they return from Congress, they have negroes to fan them asleep. But a Pennsylvania, a New York, an Ohio, or a western Virginia statesman, though far inferior in logic, metaphysics, and rhetoric to an old Virginia statesman, has this advantage, that when he returns home he takes off his coat and takes hold of the plow. This gives him bone and muscle, sir, and preserves his republican principles pure and uncontaminated.”

So long as free land exists, the opportunity for a competency exists, and economic power secures political power. But the democracy born of free land, strong in selfishness and individualism, intolerant of administrative experience and education, and pressing individual liberty beyond its proper bounds, has its dangers as well as its benefits. Individualism in America has allowed a laxity in regard to governmental affairs which has rendered possible the spoils system and all the manifest evils that follow from the lack of a highly developed civic spirit. In this connection may be noted also the influence of frontier conditions in permitting lax business honor, inflated paper currency and wild-cat banking. The colonial and revolutionary frontier was the region whence emanated many of the worst forms of an evil currency. The West in the War of 1812 repeated the phenomenon on the frontier of that day, while the speculation and wild-cat banking of the period of the crisis of 1837 occurred on the new frontier belt of the next tier of States. Thus each one of the periods of lax financial integrity coincides with periods when a new set of frontier communities had arisen, and coincides in area with these successive frontiers for the most part. The recent Populist agitation is a case in point. Many a State that now declines any connection with the tenets of the Populists, itself adhered to such ideas in an earlier stage of the development of the State. A primitive society can hardly be expected to show the intelligent appreciation of the complexity of business interests in a developed society. The continual recurrence of these areas of paper-money agitation is another evidence that the frontier can be isolated and studied as a factor in American history of the highest importance.
The East has always feared the result of an unregulated advance of the frontier, and has tried to check and guide it. The English authorities would have checked settlement at the headwaters of the Atlantic tributaries and allowed the “savages to enjoy their deserts in quiet lest the peltry trade should decrease.” This called out Burke’s splendid protest:
“If you stopped your grants, what would be the consequence? The people would occupy without grants. They have already so occupied in many places. You can not station garrisons in every part of these deserts. If you drive the people from one place, they will carry on their annual tillage and remove with their flocks and herds to another Many of the people in the back settlements are already little attached to particular situations. Already they have topped the Appalachian Mountains. From thence they behold before them an immense plain, one vast, rich, level meadow; a square of five hundred miles Over this they would wander without a possibility of restraint; they would change ,their manners with their habits of life; would soon forget a government by which they were disowned; would become hordes of English Tartars; and, pouring down upon your unfortified frontiers a fierce and irresistible cavalry, become masters of your governors and your counselers, your collectors and comptrollers, and of all the slaves that adhered to them. Such would, and in no long time must, be the effect of attempting to forbid as a crime and to suppress as an evil the command and blessing of Providence, ‘Increase and multiply.’ Such would be the happy result of an endeavor to keep as a lair of wild beasts that earth which God, by an express charter, has given to the children of men.”

But the English Government was not alone in its desire to limit the advance of the frontier and guide its destinies. Tidewater Virginia and South Carolina gerrymandering those colonies to insure the dominance of the coast in their legislatures. Washington desired to settle a State at a time in the Northwest; Jefferson would reserve form settlement the territory of his Louisiana Purchase north of the thirty-second parallel, in order to offer it to the Indians in exchange for their settlements east of the Mississippi. “When we shall be full on this side,” he writes, “we may lay off a range of States on the western bank from the head to the mouth, and so range after range, advancing compactly as we multiply.” Madison went so far as to argue to the French minister that the United States had no interest in seeing population extend itself on the right bank of the Mississippi, but should rather fear it. When the Oregon question was under debate, in 1824, Smyth, of Virginia, would draw an unchangeable line for the limits of the United States at the outer limit of two tiers of States beyond the Mississippi, complaining that the seaboard States were being drained of the flower of their population by the bringing of too much land into market. Even Thomas Benton, the man of widest views of the destiny of the West, at this stage of his career declared that along the ridge of the Rocky mountains “the western limits of the Republic should be drawn, and the statue of the fabled god Terminus should be raised upon its highest peak, never to be thrown down.” But the attempts to limit the boundaries, to restrict land sales and settlement, and to deprive the West of its share of political power were all in vain. Steadily the frontier of settlement advanced and carried with it individualism, democracy, and nationalism, and powerfully affected the East and the Old World.
The most effective efforts of the East to regulate the frontier came through its educational and religious activity, exerted by interstate migration and by organized societies. Speaking in 1835, Dr. Lyman Beecher declared: “It is equally plain that the religious and political destiny of our nation is to be decided in the West,” and he pointed out that the population of the West “is assembled from all the States of the Union and from all the nations of Europe, and is rushing in like the waters of the flood, demanding for its moral preservation the immediate and universal action of those institutions which discipline the mind and arm the conscience and the heart. And so various are the opinions and habits, and so recent and imperfect is the acquaintance, and so sparse are the settlements of the West, that no homogeneous public sentiment can be formed to legislate immediately into being the requisite institutions. And yet they are all needed immediately in their utmost perfection and power. A nation is being ‘born in a day.’ . . . But what will become of the West if her prosperity rushes up to such a majesty of power, while those great institutions linger which are necessary to form the mind and the conscience and the heart of that vast world. It must not be permitted. . . . Let no man at the East quiet himself and dream of liberty, whatever may become of the West…. Her destiny is our destiny.”

With the appeal to the conscience of New England, he adds appeals to her fears lest other religious sects anticipate her own. The New England preacher and school-teacher left their mark on the West. The dread of Western emancipation from New England’s political and economic control was paralleled by her fears lest the West cut loose from her religion. Commenting in 1850 on reports that settlement was rapidly extending northward in Wisconsin, the editor of the Home Missionary writes: “We scarcely know whether to rejoice or mourn over this extension of our settlements. While we sympathize in whatever tends to increase the physical resources and prosperity of our country, we can not forget that with all these dispersions into remote and still remoter corners of the land the supply of the means of grace is becoming relatively less and less.” Acting in accordance with such ideas, home missions were established and Western colleges were erected. As seaboard cities like Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore strove for the mastery of Western trade, so the various denominations strove for the possession of the West. Thus an intellectual stream from New England sources fertilized the West. Other sections sent their missionaries; but the real struggle was between sects. The contest for power and the expansive tendency furnished to the various sects by the existence of a moving frontier must have had important results on the character of religious organization in the United States. The multiplication of rival churches in the little frontier towns had deep and lasting social effects. The religious aspects of the frontier make a chapter in our history which needs study.

From the conditions of frontier life came intellectual traits of profound importance. The works of travelers along each frontier from colonial days onward describe certain common traits, and these traits have, while softening down, still persisted as survivals in the place of their origin, even when a higher social organization succeeded. The result is that to the frontier the American intellect owes its striking characteristics. That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and for evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom-these are traits of the frontier, or traits called out elsewhere because of the existence of the frontier. Since the days when the fleet of Columbus sailed into the waters of the New World, America has been another name for opportunity, and the people of the United States have taken their tone from the incessant expansion which has not only been open but has even been forced upon them. He would be a rash prophet who should assert that the expansive character of American life has now entirely ceased. Movement has been its dominant fact, and, unless this training has no effect upon a people, the American energy will continually demand a wider field for its exercise. But never again will such gifts of free land offer themselves. For a moment, at the frontier, the bonds of custom are broken and unrestraint is triumphant. There is not tabula rasa. The stubborn American environment is there with its imperious summons to accept its conditions; the inherited ways of doing things are also there; and yet, in spite of environment, and in spite of custom, each frontier did indeed furnish a new field of opportunity, a gate of escape from the bondage of the past; and freshness, and confidence, and scorn of older society, impatience of its restraints and its ideas, and indifference to its lessons, have accompanied the frontier. What the Mediterranean Sea was to the Greeks, breaking the bond of custom, offering new experiences, calling out new institutions and activities, that, and more, the ever retreating frontier has been to the United States directly, and to the nations of Europe more remotely. And now, four centuries from the discovery of America, at the end of a hundred years of life under the Constitution, the frontier has gone, and with its going has closed the first period of American history.

The Deerfield Massacre

Professor John Demos of Yale University wrote this article for American Heritage magazine. This article was adapted from his book, The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story From Early America.

Our traditional picture of colonial New England is essentially a still life. Peaceful little villages. Solid, strait-laced, steadily productive people. A landscape serene, if not bountiful. A history of purposeful, and largely successful, endeavor.

And yet, as historians are learning with ever-greater clarity, this picture is seriously at odds with the facts. New England had its solidity and purposefulness, to be sure. But it also had its share of discordant change, of inner stress and turmoil, and even of deadly violence. New England was recurrently a place of war, especially during the hundred years preceding the Revolution. The French to the north in Canada and the various Indian tribes on every side made determined, altogether formidable enemies. The roster of combat was long indeed: King Philip’s War (1675–76), King William’s War (1689–97), Queen Anne’s War (1702–13), Father Rasle’s War (1724–26), King George’s War (1744–48), and the French and Indian War (1754–63). Most of these were intercolonial, even international, conflicts, in which New England joined as a very junior partner. But there were numerous other skirmishes, entirely local and so obscure as not to have earned a name. All of them exacted a cost, in time, in money, in worry—and in blood.

Much of the actual fighting was small-scale, hit-andrun, more a matter of improvisation than of formal strategy and tactics. Losses in any single encounter might be only a few, but they did add up. Occasionally the scale widened, and entire towns became targets. Lancaster and Haverhill, Massachusetts; Salmon Falls and Oyster River, New Hampshire; York and Wells, Maine: Each suffered days of wholesale attack. And Deerfield, Massachusetts—above all, Deerfield—scene of the region’s single, most notorious “massacre.”

The year is 1704, the season winter, the context another European war with a “colonial” dimension. New France (Canada) versus New England. (New York and the colonies farther south are, at least temporarily, on the sidelines.) The French and their Indian allies have already engineered a series of devastating raids along the “eastern frontier”— the Maine and New Hampshire coasts. The English have counterattacked against half a dozen Abenaki Indian villages. And now, in Montreal, the French governor is secretly planning a new thrust “over the ice” toward “a little village of about forty households,” a place misnamed in the French records “Guerrefille.” (An ironic twist just there: Deerfield becomes “War-girl.”)

Deerfield is not unready. Like other outlying towns, it has labored to protect itself: with a “stockade” (a fortified area, at its center, inside a high palisade fence), a “garrison” of hired soldiers, a “watch” to patrol the streets at night, and “scouts” to prowl the woods nearby. Indeed, many families are living inside the stockade. Conditions are crowded and uncomfortable, to say the least, but few doubt the need for special measures. The town minister, Rev. John Williams, conducts an extraordinary day of “fasting and prayer” in the local church—“possessed,” as he reportedly is, “that the town would in a little time be destroyed.”

The attack forces—French led, largely Indian in rank and file—set out in early February. Steadily they move southward, on frozen rivers and lakes, with one hard leg across the Green Mountains. They have snowshoes, sleds to carry their supplies, and dogs to pull the sleds. The lower part of their route follows the Connecticut River valley till it reaches a point near what would later become Brattleboro, Vermont. Here they will strike off into the woods to the south, leaving dogs and sleds for their return. They are barely a day’s march—twenty miles—from their objective. The rest they will cover as quickly and quietly as possible. Surprise is their most potent weapon. The people of Deerfield, though generally apprehensive, know nothing of this specific threat. On the evening of February 28, the town goes to sleep in the usual way.

Midnight. Across the river to the west the attackers are making their final preparations: loading weapons, putting on war paint, reviewing plans. The layout of Deerfield is apparently known to them from visits made in previous years by Indian hunters and traders. Presently a scout is sent “to discover the posture of the town, who observing the watch walking in the street,” returns to his comrades and “puts them to a stand.” (Our source for the details of this sequence was a contemporary historian, writing some years after the fact.) Another check, a short while later, brings a different result. The village lies “all … still and quiet”; the watch evidently has fallen asleep. It is now about four o’clock in the morning, time for the attackers to move.

Over the river, on the ice. Across a mile of meadowland, ghostly and white. Past the darkened houses at the north end of the street. Right up to the stockade. The snow has piled hugely here; the drifts make walkways to the top of the fence. A vanguard of some forty men climbs quickly over and drops down on the inside. A gate is opened to admit the rest. The watch awakens, fires a warning shot, cries, “Arm!” Too late. The attackers separate into smaller parties and “immediately set upon breaking open doors and windows.”

he townspeople come to life with a rush. Some find opportunities to escape by jumping from windows or roof lines. Several manage to flee the stockade altogether and make their way to neighboring villages. In half a dozen households the men leave families behind in order to rally outside as a counterforce. In others there is a frantic attempt to hide.

The minister’s house is a special target, singled out “in the beginning of the onset”; later John Williams will remember (and write about) his experience in detail. Roused “out of sleep … by their violent endeavors to break open doors and windows with axes and hatchets,” he leaps from bed, runs to the front door, sees “the enemy making their entrance,” awakens a pair of soldiers lodged upstairs, and returns to his bedside “for my arms.” There is hardly time, for the “enemy immediately brake into the room, I judge to the number of twenty, with painted faces and hideous acclamations.” They are “all of them Indians”; no Frenchmen in sight as yet. The minister does manage to cock his pistol and “put it to the breast of the first Indian who came up.” Fortunately—for both of them—it misfires. Thereupon Williams is “seized by 3 Indians, who disarmed me, and bound me naked, as I was in my shirt”; in this posture he will remain “for near the space of an hour.”

With their chief prize secured, the invaders turn to “rifling the house, entering in great numbers into every room.” There is killing work too: “some were so cruel and barbarous as to take and carry to the door two of my children and murder them [six-year-old John, Jr., and six-week-old Jerusha], as also a Negro woman [a family slave named Parthena].” After “insulting over me a while, holding up hatchets over my head, [and] threatening to burn all I had,” the Indians allow their captive to dress. They also permit Mrs. Williams “to dress herself and our children.”

By this time the sun is “about an hour high” (perhaps 7:00 A.M.). The sequence described by John Williams has been experienced, with some variations, in households throughout the stockade: killings (especially of infants and others considered too frail to survive the rigors of life in the wilderness); “fireing houses”; “killing cattle, hogs, sheep & sacking and wasting all that came before them.” In short, a village-size holocaust. When John Williams and his family are finally taken outside, they see “many of the houses … in flames”; later, in recalling the moment, he asks, “Who can tell what sorrows pierced our souls?”

The Williamses know they are destined “for a march … into a strange land,” as prisoners. And prisoners are being herded together—in the meetinghouse and in a home nearby—from all over town. However, one household—that of the militia leader, Sgt. Benoni Stebbins—has mounted a remarkable resistance. Its occupants are well armed and fiercely determined; moreover, the walls of this house, “being filled up with brick,” effectively repel incoming fire. The battle (as described in a subsequent report by local militia officers) continues here for more than two hours. The attackers fall back, then surge forward in an unsuccessful attempt “to fire the house.” Again they retreat—this time to the shelter of the meetinghouse—while maintaining their fusillade all the while. The defenders return bullet for bullet, “accepting of no quarter, though offered,” and “causing several of the enemy to fall,” among them “one Frenchman, a gentleman to appearance,” and “3 or 4 Indians,” including a “captain” who had helped seize John Williams.

In the meantime, some of the attackers with their captives begin to leave the stockade. Heading north, they retrace their steps toward the river. Then a stunning intervention: A band of Englishmen arrives from the villages below (where an orange glow on the horizon “gave notice … before we had news from the distressed people” themselves). “Being a little above forty in number,” they have rushed on horseback to bring relief. They stop just long enough to pick up “fifteen of Deerfield men.” And this combined force proceeds to the stockade, to deliver a surprise of its own: “when we entered at one gate, the enemy fled out the other.” Now comes a flat-out chase—pell-mell across the meadow—the erstwhile attackers put to rout. The Englishmen warm, literally, to the fight, stripping off garments as they run. (Later the same soldiers will claim reimbursement for their losses—and record details of the battle.) They inflict heavy casualties: “we saw at the time many dead bodies, and … afterwards … manifest prints in the snow, where other dead bodies were drawn to a hole in the river.”

They make, in sum, a highly successful counterattack. But one that is “pursued too far, imprudently.” For across the river the French commanders hear the tumult and swiftly regroup their own forces. The riverbank affords an excellent cover for a new stand; soon a “numerous company … [of] fresh hands” is in place there, concealed and waiting. On the Englishmen come, ignoring the orders of the officer “who had led them [and] called for a retreat.” On and on—the river is just ahead, and the captives are waiting on the other side—into the teeth of a withering “ambuscade.” Back across the meadow one more time, pursued and pursuers reversing roles. The English are hard pressed, “our breath being spent, theirs in full strength.” Their retreat is as orderly as they can make it, “facing and firing, so that those that first failed might be defended”; even so, “many were slain and others wounded.” Eventually the survivors regain the stockade and clamber inside, at which “the enemy drew off.” They will appear no more.

It is now about 9:00 A.M. A numbness settles over the village. The fires are burning down. There is blood on the snow in the street. The survivors of the “meadow fight” crouch warily behind the palisades. The townspeople who had escaped start to filter back in through the south gate. Time to look after their wounded and count their dead.

Viewed from close up, the carnage is appalling. Death—by gunshot, by hatchet, by knife, by war club—grisly beyond words. And the torn bodies on the ground are not the whole of it; when the survivors poke through the rubble, they find more. Casualty lists have entries like this: “Mary, Mercy, and Mehitable Nims [ages five, five, and seven, respectively] supposed to be burnt in the cellar.” Indeed, several cellar hideouts have turned into death-traps; in one house ten people lie “smothered” that way.

And then the wounded. One man shot through the arm. Another with a bullet in his thigh. Another with a shattered foot. Yet another who was briefly captured by the Indians, and “when I was in their hands, they cut off the forefinger of my right hand” (a traditional Indian practice with captives). A young woman wounded in the Stebbins house. A second with an ankle broken while jumping from an upper-story window.

There are, too, the lucky ones, quite a number who might have been killed or injured (or captured) but managed somehow to escape. The people who ran out in the first moments and fled the town unobserved. A young couple and their infant son whose “small house” was so small that the snow had covered it completely. A woman who lay hidden beneath an overturned tub. A boy who dived under a pile of flax. Some of this is remembered only by “tradition,” not hard evidence, but is too compelling to overlook. Here is another instance, passed through generations of the descendants of Mary Catlin: “The captives were taken to a house … and a Frenchman was brought in [wounded] and laid on the floor; he was in great distress and called for water; Mrs. Catlin fed him with water. Some one said to her, ‘How can you do that for your enemy?’ She replied, ‘If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him water to drink.’ The Frenchman was taken and carried away, and the captives marched off. Some thought the kindness shown to the Frenchman was the reason of Mrs. Catlin’s being left. …” (Mary Catlin was indeed “left,” the only one of her large family not killed or captured. And this is as plausible an explanation of her survival as any.)

Thus Deerfield in the immediate aftermath: the living and the dead, the wounded and the escaped. Tradition also tells of a mass burial in the southeast corner of the town cemetery. Another “sorrowful” task for the survivors.

Soon groups of armed men begin arriving from the towns to the south. All day and through the evening they come; by midnight there are “near about 80.” Together they debate the obvious question, the only one that matters right now: Should they follow the retreating enemy in order to retake their captive “friends”? Some are for it, but eventually counterarguments prevail. They have no snowshoes, “the snow being at least 3 foot deep.” The enemy has “treble our number, if not more.” Following “in their path … we should too much expose our men.” Moreover, the captives themselves will be endangered, “Mr. Williams’s family especially, whom the enemy would kill, if we come on.”

The day after, “Connecticut men begin to come in”; by nightfall their number has swelled to fully 250. There is more debate on whether to counterattack. However, the “aforesaid objections” remain—plus one more. The weather has turned unseasonably warm, “with rain,” and the snowpack is going to slush. They “judge it impossible to travel [except] … to uttermost disadvantage.” Under the circumstances they could hardly hope “to offend the enemy or rescue our captives, which was the end we aimed at in all.” And so they “desist” once again. They give what further help they can to “the remaining inhabitants”—help with the burials and with rounding up the surviving cattle. They prepare a report for the colony leaders in Boston, including a detailed count of casualties: 48 dead, 112 taken captive. (Another 140 remain “alive at home.”) They leave a “garrison of 30 men or upwards” in the town. And the rest return to their home villages.

Meanwhile, the “march” of the captives, and their captors, is well under way: through the wilderness on to Canada. There is extreme privation and suffering on both sides. The French and Indians are carrying wounded comrades. The captives include many who are physically weak and emotionally stricken: young children, old people, pregnant women, lone survivors of otherwise shattered families. Food is short, the weather inclement, the route tortuous.

The captors, fearing a possible English pursuit, push forward as rapidly as possible. Any who cannot keep up must be killed and left by the trail “for meat to the fowls of the air and beasts of the earth.” Among the first to suffer this fate is the minister’s wife. Still convalescent following a recent pregnancy, she nearly drowns in a river crossing, after which, according to John Williams, “the cruel and bloodthirsty savage who took her, slew her with his hatchet at one stroke.” In the succeeding days another seventeen of the captives will be similarly “dispatched.”

Later in the journey the French and the Indians separate. And later still the Indians, who now hold all the captives, subdivide into small “bands.” At one critical juncture Reverend Williams is marked for execution by revenge-minded kinsmen of the “captain” killed at Deerfield; a rival chief’s intervention saves him. His five surviving children are scattered among different “masters” and, surprisingly, are “looked after with a great deal of tenderness.”

There are two additional deaths —from starvation—as the various bands move farther north, but sooner or later ninety-two captives reach Canada. Some, like John Williams, are ransomed “out of the hands of Indians” by French officials; others are taken to Indian “forts” and encampments throughout the St. Lawrence River Valley.

Almost immediately their relatives and friends in New England begin efforts to secure their release. But the process is complicated, and progress is painfully slow. Eventually some fifty-three will be returned home, with John Williams as one of the last among them. His subsequent account of his experiences, published under the imposing title The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion, will make him famous throughout the Colonies.

His daughter Eunice will become equally famous, but for a different reason: she declines to return and spends the rest of her long life among the Indians. She forgets her English and adjusts completely to Indian ways; she marries a local “brave” and raises a family. Another fifteen or so of her fellow captives will make a similar choice, and still others stay on with the French Canadians. These are the captives unredeemed: a source of sorrow, and of outrage, for the New Englanders.

In fact, efforts to bring them back will continue for decades. “Friends” traveling back and forth quite unofficially, and full-fledged “ambassadors” sent from one royal governor to the other, seek repeatedly to force a change. In some cases there are direct—even affectionate—contacts between the parties themselves. Eunice Williams pays four separate visits to her New England relatives. Each time they greet her with great excitement and high hopes for her permanent “return,” but there is no sign that she even considers the possibility. She acknowledges the claims of her blood, but other, stronger claims draw her back to Canada. She has become an Indian in all but blood, and she prefers to remain that way. She will become the last surviving member of the entire “massacre” cohort.

The destruction of Deerfield came nearer the beginning than the end of the Anglo-French struggle for control of North America. And was barely a curtain raiser in the long, sorry drama of “white” versus “red.” But it left special, and enduring, memories. Well into the nineteenth century New England boys played a game called Deerfield Massacre, complete with mock scalpings and captive taking. A curious bond grew between Deerfield and the descendants of those same Canadian Indians who had formed the attack party, with visits back and forth on both sides. And particular “massacre” memorabilia have been carefully—almost lovingly—preserved to the present day.

Indeed, Deerfield today recalls both sides of its former frontier experience. It remains an exquisitely tranquil—and beautiful—village, its main street lined with stately old houses (twelve of them open to the public). But its most celebrated single artifact is an ancient wooden door, hacked full of hatchet holes on that bitter night in the winter of 1704.

Here is a link to a chart that shows what happened to those in Deerfield:

The Significance of the Frontier in American History

Here it is plus the questions: Turner’s Frontier Thesis + questions

This is here because somebody whose name rhymes with “Zach” didn’t come and get it, that turkey.

John Quincy Adams and Slavery: from the Gag resolution to the Amistad

John Quincy Adams, while president, did not publicly advocate abolitionism. However, after his term in office, he was elected to the House of Representatives, where he became a well-known opponent of the Gag Rule (see pp. 391 in your text).

Click on the link to read a historical essay in .pdf format regarding Adams’ stances regarding slavery:

But perhaps one of the most well-known incidents with Adams was his involvement in the Amistad case. The Amistad was a slave ship bound for Cuba when the captured Africans aboard seized control of the ship. Eventually the ship was stopped by the US Coast Guard, and a court case began to determine, among other things, where the Africans were to go (the options included back to Africa, to prison or execution for mutiny, or back to the Spanish to be sold into slavery). Adams was one of the attorneys who defended the Africans during the trial. It is a fascinating story that you need to understand. Here is an article  about John Quincy Adams and the Amistad case, from the American Almanac, if you have not seen the movie:

Multicultural History of the United States: Early Settlement

Discusses how Native Societies existed before European settlement in North America.

The significance of the GI Bill in American life

Go here ( to read historian Milton Greenberg on how the GI Bill affected American society.

Although copies were handed out in class, here are the questions over this reading in case you lose them. These are due Friday. Make sure you do your own work and answer thoroughly.

Questions for Understanding

1. (Background research) What were the specific provisions of the GI Bill of Rights? What was its other name?

2.  What group was instrumental in getting this law passed? What was the history of this organization? (You can use your book and previous class notes as well as the internet)

3. What previous historical events influenced support for this bill? Explain why these events increased support for this program.

4.  How was this law “democratic?” Was this a “radical” expansion of government power? Explain.

5. How much was the unemployment insurance? What was the justification for this? What were fears about the precedent this set?

6. What impact did this have on higher education and attitudes toward education? Be completely thorough in your answer.


7.  What kind of help was offered to veterans who did not or could not go to college?


8. How did the GI Bill help change the real estate market?

Important announcements, assignments, and deadlines

Due to our crazy, whacked out schedule the last two weeks, I want to remind you about a few things:

1. Make sure you read the posts on the blog for chapters 24 and 25 (front page and archives), since they help make up for all the classtime we have lost. If it’s there, it’s to help you prepare for your upcoming FOUR CHAPTER TEST. Make sure you note that chapter 26 is due on Tuesday!

2. Next week, your big assignment will be to read Frederick Jackson Turner’s seminal historical essay “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” You need to read the (excerpted) essay (it’s several pages long) and be ready to discuss it thoroughly (I would prefer a good discussion to assigning you an essay on it, and I bet you would too).There are questions I wish you to answer thoroughly that will be listed on this post and will be used to help you discuss this essay. These questions and this discussion take the place of outline notes or questions for chapter 26. The questions over the essay will be due (and the discussion will take place) Wednesday or Thursday of next week, depending upon your class period.

You can find the essay online first of all in the chapter 26 archive, where I posted it last year. If you want to be more adventurous, you can also find it  here or here , or you can pick up a hard copy from me on Tuesday. I would not wait that long to start this assignment! I will update the essay in the archives to put it on this page on Sunday morning, as well. I just don’t want to push all the other posts on chapter 25 too far down the page just yet.

My true champions can also get the complete essay in a .pdf here, but that would be going above and beyond the call of duty, and is not really necessary (but might interest you…)

I want you to see an example of historical analytical writing, and this is one of the most well-known ones by a progressive American historian. Some of you are still struggling with emphasizing analysis in you writing rather than narrative, so please pay attention to HOW Jackson uses his information as well as WHAT he is saying.

Questions– Turner’s Frontier Thesis
1) In your own words, what is The Frontier Thesis? What role has the frontier has played in American history, according to Turner?
2) What does Turner say about American distinctiveness (or “exceptionalism”) in the essay? What evidence does he provide for his argument?
3) Trace the process which Turner identifies as “Americanization.” How does that process proceed? What are the steps and stages along the way?
4) Turner is often identified as a “Progressive” historian, meaning that he views history as the inevitable process from chaos to improvement, with the underlying assumption that change is for the better. What “Progressive” assessments of history appear in Turner’s thesis? Does he identify any threats to that progress?
5) Think about America in the 1890s. What are the major social changes shaping peoples’ lives during this era? How does Turner’s thesis reflect these changes, try to make sense of them, or sound a warning call for ways in which America might be losing its way as a result of the changes?
6) What makes it possible for Turner to argue that the land on the other side of the “frontier” is “empty,” despite Native American and Spanish settlement in the region? Of what is this area really “empty?” How does this relate to the understanding of Manifest Destiny in the middle of the 19th century?
7) Examine the language used by Turner. What does his use of such terms as “savagery” reveal about his social philosophy? How is he a product of his times?
8) Who is Turner’s “normative” American? (Look it up!) What activities, identities, geographic locations, etc., reveal that American’s normative status? In what ways is Turner’s thesis a statement of American hegemony (Look it up!) at the moment of the 1890s, both with regards to that normative American and American territorial expansion?

EXTRA CREDIT for those who include a summary of criticisms of Turner’s thesis by other historians.

An Example of Excellent Scholarship by an AP Student

The Concord Review is a quarterly publication that publishes the best historical writing by high school students. You can click here to access other sample essays. The essay below was written in 1993 as a research project in an AP US history class.

As you read this, consider the following questions:
1. What are the causes listed as contributing to the need for a “Great Awakening” of religious piety?
2. Research the particulars of the Saybrook Platform.
3. Did the Halfway Covenenant help or hurt the cause of religious piety in Congregational Churches? Explain.
4. Briefly describe the work of George Whitefield and James Davenport, and include why their evangelizing was considered controversial by some.
5. How does the Great Awakening still influence American society today?

from The Concord Review

Sarah Valkenburgh

The Great Awakening of 1735-1745 was a reaction to a decline in piety and a laxity of morals within the Congregational Churches of New England. Itinerant evangelizing generated renewed enthusiasm and spread the message of revival throughout the churches of Connecticut. Although the Great Awakening stimulated dramatic conversions and an increase in church membership, it also provoked conflicts and divisions within the established church. As the movement became more radical and emotions less restrained, the subsequent factions which emerged from a difference in opinions concerning the Awakening led to the decline of the revival in Connecticut. The Great Awakening subsided around 1745 because proponents could not sustain enthusiasm, while the government of the colony began regulating itinerant preaching and persecuting New Light supporters of the Awakening. This striking revival of religious piety and its emphasis on salvation ultimately transformed the religious order of Connecticut.

The decline in piety among the second generation of Puritans, which stemmed from economic changes, political transformations, and Enlightenment rationalism, was the primary cause of the Great Awakening. During the eighteenth century, political uncertainty and economic instability characterized colonial life and diverted devout Puritans from religious obligations. The first Census in 1790 showed 1 million blacks and 4 million whites in the United States, and there had been a strong development of manufacturing and intercolonial trade. Although this transformation promoted an increase in the standard of living for many merchants and manufacturers in the growing towns and villages, fluctuations in overseas demand and European wars caused inconsistencies within the colonial market. The English government, moreover, was contending with the death of Queen Anne (1714) and the Jacobite effort to usurp King George I (1715 and 1745), and thus the political life of the colonists was also inherently unstable. Not only did economic and political change detract from religious life and the image John Winthrop outlined in 1630 of “a city upon a hill,” but the rationalism of the Enlightenment also challenged Orthodox Calvinism. Denouncing the idea of the “inherent depravity” of human nature, the Enlightenment emphasized the accumulation of knowledge through logic and reason. This trend promoted the introduction of math, science, law, and medicine into the college curriculums, which had been primarily focused upon theology and ancient languages during the 1720s.[1] Emphasis upon economic success, political developments, and rational thought pre-empted concerns for the soul and instilled a confidence in salvation despite a laxity of morals. Individual morals declined as Puritans within the community turned increasingly to Arminianism, the belief that preparation for heaven was easily managed and therefore less important, to justify their participation in secular affairs. The supporters of the Awakening pointed to the apparent degeneration of Puritan values to explain the need for revival.

In addition to secular causes of decline, compromise within the Congregational Church contributed to the weakening of religious commitment. To compensate for the decline in piety, which began as early as the middle of the seventeenth century, and to insure a steady, growing congregation, the Congregational Churches of Connecticut and Massachusetts adopted the Halfway Covenant in 1662, which ultimately led to further degeneration of Puritan influence. Prior to 1662, membership in the church required `regeneration’ and credible testimony of a specific conversion experience. The church baptized the second generation of Puritans as infants with the assumption that they would be converted later in life. As politics and economics superseded religion, however, the second generation of Puritans failed to experience an outward conversion. To sustain the population of the congregation, the church adopted the Halfway Covenant, which allowed the children of unregenerate Puritans to be baptized but forbade them to partake of the Lord’s Supper and denied them suffrage. Isolating the third generation of Puritans from the traditional means of receiving God’s grace, this Covenant furthered the degeneration of the church. In 1690, Solomon Stoddard, pastor of the church in Northampton, Massachusetts from 1669 to 1729, eliminated the Halfway Covenant and allowed the non-confederates, the “halfway members” of the church, to receive Communion. When Stoddard was ordained on September 11, 1672, he had already earned two degrees at Harvard, served as the college’s first librarian, and preached for some time in Barbados. An educated and experienced leader within the community and among the clergy throughout New England, Stoddard believed in extending full Communion to all to assure the continued existence of the church.[2] Although the churches of the Connecticut Valley soon followed his example, the second and third generations of Puritans failed to demonstrate the same devotion and discipline that the original Puritans had practiced.[3] John Whiting of Hartford expressed this sentiment and the need for revival in an election sermon of 1686, saying:

Is there not too visible and general a declension; are we not turned (and that quickly too) out of the way wherein our fathers walked?…A rain of righteousness and soaking showers of converting, sanctifying grace sent from heaven will do the business for us, and indeed, nothing else.[4]

Many devout church members believed the Great Awakening of 1735-1745 was necessary to combat secular influences in the lives of the Puritans and reinstitute the authority of the Congregational Church.

To restore discipline to the churches of Connecticut, a group of ministers and laymen, selected by the General Court, drafted the Saybrook Platform, fifteen “Articles for the Administration of Church Discipline.”[5] Approved by minister and Governor Gurdon Saltonstall in 1708, the document was printed and distributed at the cost of the colony. The Saybrook Platform established control over the churches, calling for consociations in each county to oversee major ecclesiastical decisions such as ordinations, installations, and dismissals of Congregational ministers. The Platform also created an association of ministers to assist with consultations, the licensing of candidates, and the recommendation of supplies and pastors. The elimination of local power and the establishment of a hierarchy within the church contradicted the Puritan belief in the autonomy of the congregation, a belief which had stimulated both their rejection of the Anglican Church in the early 1600s and the Great Puritan Exodus. Attempting to unify the churches and establish moral discipline among the unregenerate, the Saybrook Platform created bitter controversies and caused divisions throughout the colony. New London County renounced the proposed articles, and New Haven County interpreted it minimally. In Fairfield County, however, because of a severe decline in piety and discipline, the consociation became a full-fledged court and thus helped to restore order to a degenerated society.[6] Although the Platform did not succeed in every county, it heightened Puritan belief in man’s inherent depravity and pointed to the need for revival.

Itinerant evangelists, primarily George Whitefield and James Davenport, spread the revival to churches in Connecticut, alarming conservatives and awakening spiritual concern. In the fall of 1740, George Whitefield, a twenty-six-year-old evangelist who had stirred emotions throughout England, toured the seaboard of the Connecticut Valley and amplified the spirit of the Awakening. In his sermons, many of which were printed by his good friend Benjamin Franklin, he emphasized the irresistibility of grace and advocated justification by faith. In response to Whitefield’s success in arousing sinners and instilling a concern for salvation, the Eastern Consociation of the County of Fairfield met on October 7, 1740 an voted to invite Whitefield to preach in several towns within the district. Acknowledging that “…the Life and Power of Godliness in [these] Parts is generally sunk to a Degree very lamentable,” the Consociation requested that Whitefield share his ministry provided he did not denounce unconverted ministers or demand contributions for his orphan house in Georgia.[7] In response to this invitation, Whitefield preached in New Haven on October 26 and Fairfield on October 28. In his journal Whitefield quoted the Governor as saying, with tears streaming down his aged face, “I am glad to see you and heartily glad to hear you.” In Fairfield he “preached, in the morning, to a considerable congregation, and in the prayer after the sermon, [he] scarcely knew how to leave off.”[8] In a letter to Eleazar Wheelock on November24, 1740, William Gaylord of Norwalk wrote,

I realy desired his Coming and was heartily glad to See him, because I believe he excells in that which we (especially in these Parts) want most, I mean Zeal for God and compassion for immortal sins.

Yet in the same letter, Gaylord also declared that Whitefield

lays vastly too much Weight upon the Affection, Tears and Meltings etc. that appear in the Face of the Assembly, as an Argument of his success.[9]

Eleazar Wheelock, a New Light preacher from Lebanon and one of Connecticut’s greatest proponents of the Awakening, served as the “chief intelligencer of revival news.” Because he was the established minister of the North Society of Lebanon, Wheelock received only moderate criticism for his enthusiasm and his itinerant evangelizing. In 1741 he campaigned boldly throughout the colony, and that same year, he wrote 465 sermons to promote the revival.[10] In his letter to Wheelock, Gaylord emphasized Whitefield’s powerful oratory and his ability to arouse emotion and enthusiasm among the unconverted members of the church. In hopes of experiencing a conversion, thousands of people travelled across the colony to hear Whitefield’s sermons. Nathaniel Cole of Middletown, Connecticut described the riverbanks where Whitefield was preaching as “black with people and horses.”[11] Clearly many churches eagerly anticipated Whitefield’s sermons and earnestly desired conversion by the Holy Spirit. Although many conservatives opposed Whitefield’s enthusiasm and emphasis on emotion, he succeeded in spreading the message of revival throughout the colony.

A second, more radical New Light itinerant, James Davenport, followed Whitefield’s example and travelled to congregations throughout Connecticut. He, too, believed in sudden, conscious conversion and employed five specific tactics to garner support and convey his message. Davenport attacked the unconverted ministry, declaring that unregenerate ministers were as damaging to spirits as “swallowing ratsbane or bowls of poison to their bodies.”[12] Moreover, Davenport “exploited anticlericalism for evangelical purposes” and preached in locations subversive to the established order, places such as fields, orchards, or barns.[13] Anticlericalism, the opposition to the influence of church and clergy in public affairs, emphasized the need for purity and revival within the church, a church untainted by the secular affairs of the colony. Davenport also employed loud music, often marching through the streets late at night, disturbing the peace, and attracting unfavorable attention. Davenport’s final and most important tactic was his theatrical, encouraging oratory and his powerful, extemporaneous sermons. One incident that occurred in New London, Connecticut, clearly exemplified Davenport’s radical tactics. On March 6, 1743, he convinced his followers that to be saved, they must burn their idols. Singing psalms and hymns, the participants in this outburst burned their books on the street. Captured by Davenport’s rhetoric, the enthusiasts built a second bonfire comprised of petticoats, silk gowns, short cloaks, cambick caps, red-heeled shoes, fans, necklaces, and Davenport’s breeches.[14] Although a moderate convinced them not to burn the pile, the threat of the fire illustrated the extent of Davenport’s radicalism, a radicalism which characterized the stimulating effects of the Great Awakening on the unconverted. The bizarre events instigated by James Davenport shocked “Old Lights” and established clergy, disrupting the conservative order of the Congregational Church and the conventional system of Puritan values.

Itinerant preachers succeeded in converting hundreds of unregenerate Puritans and increasing church membership throughout the colony. The Great Awakening witnessed a revival of outward conversions which occurred in three stages: the recognition of sin accompanied by fear, distress, or anxiety, a further dependence upon God’s mercy, and, finally, a relief from distress characterized by euphoric emotion.[15] On July 8, 1741, Jonathan Edwards of Northampton, Massachusetts illustrated the second stage of conversion in his famous sermon delivered in Enfield, Connecticut, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” in which he equated mankind with a spider held over a fire. Born into a family of Puritan ministers, Jonathan Edwards rejected the ideas of both his father and his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard. At age five, he read Latin and Greek, engaged in philosophical discussions, and read the theories of John Locke and John Calvin. In 1734 Edwards turned to Locke’s theories that sensation was directly connected to learning and that words could be linked to sensory images. One of the first proponents of the Awakening, he employed vivid, passionate language to arouse compassion among his congregants and spread the revival message throughout the Connecticut Valley. To a shrieking, groaning congregation in Enfield, Edwards declared that “…there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up.”[16] Davenport, too, elevated emotions and inspired a dramatic number of conversions within the congregations of Connecticut. On July 23, 1741, one thousand listeners travelled to Groton to hear him preach, and the following day one hundred people from the town of Stonington claimed to have experienced an outward conversion.[17] Moreover, in the outburst of enthusiasm in March of 1741 that followed the seven sermons of Gilbert Tennent, a prominent evangelist from New Jersey, eighty-one people joined the Congregational Church of New London. The son of a Presbyterian minister, Tennent preached on the importance of a conversion experience, delivered sermons with powerful emotion, and inspired several important itinerant evangelists, including George Whitefield. Tennent travelled to Connecticut in 1741 because the conservative Philadelphia synod thwarted the spread of the Awakening in New Jersey.[18] The itinerants stimulated emotional outpourings which ultimately led to an unprecedented number of conversions and a dramatic rise in church membership.

These New Light preachers heightened the Puritans’ awareness of the depravity of human nature and inspired conversion experiences among Puritans throughout the colony. The events at the church in Lyme, Connecticut in 1735 illustrate the awakened sense of danger and concern for salvation among the unregenerate. The steep climb in church membership began in 1732, when fifty-two people joined the church within ten months. Although he had heard about the revival in Massachusetts, Reverend Jonathan Parsons did not believe or understand the Awakening until on March 29, 1735 he observed that “…a deep and general Concern upon the minds of the Assembly discovered itself at that Time in plentiful Weeping, Signs and Sobs.”[19] Yielding to the supplications of the congregation, Parsons began writing three sermons per week and preaching from old lectures. Sick of “vain Mirth and foolish Amusements” by April 1735, the inhabitants of Lyme, Connecticut formed religious societies within the existing church, studied the Bible, and conversed about religion. In lieu of the traditional feasting, dancing, music, and games of Election Day, May 14 (1735), the Congregationalists requested a lecture.[20] Parson’s audience reacted with deep anguish, lamentations, and outcries: women were thrown into hysterics and several stout men fell “as though a cannon had been discharged, and a ball made its way through their hearts.”[21] After both George Whitefield and Gilbert Tennent preached at the church in Lyme, the congregation continued to grow through the 1740s. Between June 1741 and February 1742 there were 150 conversions, primarily among the youth; however, three or four people were fifty-year-olds, two were nearly seventy, and one convert was ninety-three.[22] Thus the Great Awakening touched the congregation at Lyme, terrifying some and comforting others through itinerant evangelizing and increased devotion to the church.

Despite the success of the New Light clergy and laymen, the radicalism and emotional excesses of the Awakening alienated conservatives, steady Christians, and settled ministers and split the colony into three factions soon after Whitefield’s first visit in 1740. The “Old Lights,” predominantly in New Haven County, opposed the Awakening and the reactions it produced while the “New Lights,” located primarily in the eastern half of the colony, favored its stimulating effects on the churches. As the emotional excesses of the Awakening became more pronounced, however, the New Light faction split into two groups, the moderates and the radicals. Reverend Ebenezer Wight of Stamford declared to the Fairfield West Association that his church “had for a considerable time been sadly broken and divided.”[23] The Old Lights sought rationalism in theology and substituted morality for religion. Solomon Stoddard, for example, preached that anyone with respectable morals who performed charitable tasks within the community could be baptized into the church. Although moderate New Lights saw a need for the revival but opposed its excessiveness, radical New Lights favored all aspects of the revival and went so far as to establish thirty or more separate churches in southeastern Connecticut.[24] The movement divided not only the laymen, but also the clergy of the Congregational Churches in the 1740s. Of the four hundred ministers in New England, 130 supported the revival and viewed conversion as necessary, and thirty of these ministers were considered violent by the Old Lights. When the conflict peaked in 1743, the Old Lights claimed that there had been no revival. The New Light clergy, on the other hand, supported the veracity of the Awakening and the effusion of the Holy Spirit, but cautioned radicals against enthusiasm and Arminianism, belief in justification through works.[25] The inherent radicalism of the Great Awakening, therefore, divided both the congregations and the established clergy into two distinct factions.

The antirevivalists who viewed the movement as insincere found the errors of the Awakening to be many: enthusiasm, justification by faith, itinerant evangelizing, lay exhortations, ordinations, separation from the established churches, judgment of the unconverted, and emotional extravagance. Old Lights denounced enthusiasm, and the emphasis on emotional experiences, arguing that man was an innately rational being. They rejected the revivalist notion of salvation through faith and an understanding of “spiritual knowledge,” a knowledge which comes from self-examination and what Jonathan Edwards called a “sense of the heart.” Antirevivalists believed in justification through works and said that men could attain salvation through “time, exercise, observation, instruction” and the development of their talents. Although they de-emphasized the role of predestination and justification through faith, the Old Lights did not adhere to Arminianism, a sect based on justification through works which eventually gave rise to deism and rationalism. Old Lights continued to believe in the inherent depravity of human nature and the need for conversion by the Holy Spirit as a sign of salvation. They concluded, furthermore, that itinerant evangelizing, lay exhortations, ordinations of enthusiasts, and the creation of separate churches, were subversive to church order. Primarily conservative church members and established clergy, the antirevivalists felt threatened by the increase in lay participation and the competing churches. Accusations against the unconverted ministry further enraged both the accused and their loyal congregants, who argued that revivalists were discrediting the ideal of a “more perfect union” of God’s people in the colonies. The ordinations of new ministers challenged the roles of established clergy, many of whom feared they would lose their congregation to the younger, enthusiastic New Lights. Most importantly, however, the antirevivalists decried emotional extravagances and viewed conversion experiences as an abuse of human nature. Influenced by Enlightenment Rationalism, critics of the revival argued for a rational interpretation of the Bible.[26] One of the underlying issues of the Awakening was whether or not conversions were indeed a manifestation of the Holy Spirit upon God’s chosen people or whether the emotional outbursts were merely expressions of deep human sentiment. Because they did not believe in the veracity of the revival or the conversion experiences, Old Lights disparaged New Light activity in order to maintain authority and preserve order within the established church communities.

Because the Congregational Church dominated all aspects of colonial life during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the formation of separate churches posed a tremendous threat to the established order of the colony. Ministers were the leaders of the community, usually serving for life. The average tenure of the New London County ministers, for example, was 43.4 years, and seventy-four percent of these ministers served for the duration of their lives, dying in office. The meeting house was both the church and the political center of the town, the location for society meetings. Regardless of whether or not they attended the Congregational Church, colonists paid mandatory property taxes to the Congregational Church to fund both the minister’s salary and the construction of the meetinghouse. Until the Great Awakening sparked divisions within the churches, the Congregational Church of Connecticut monopolized the religious life of the colonists.[27] When New Lights began challenging the traditional establishment, however, separate churches destroyed the harmony of the religious order of Connecticut and stimulated religious intolerance.

Separatists, those who wanted to establish a pure communion comprised solely of converts of the revival, emerged from the New Lights faction and established churches throughout the colony. In Windham County, separatists Elisha and Solomon Paine, who were influenced by the revival in 1721, aspired to establish a school for lay exhorters during the climax of the Awakening in 1740-1741. By 1745, however, Elisha Paine’s enthusiasm offended both Old Lights and New Lights, and the ministers of Windham County wrote a letter criticizing Paine’s life and the excesses of the movement. Subsequently, Paine was sentenced to prison for his extravagances, and his vision of a separate, pure church and school was never realized.[28] The attempts to create a separate church in New Haven were more successful, however. Inspired by Davenport’s attack on pastor Joseph Noyes in 1741, several people issued fourteen articles of complaint and prompted a meeting of the consociation on January 25, 1742. The County Court granted the dissenters, sixty persons led by James Pierpont, Jr., permission to establish a separate church, which became known to Old Lights as the “Tolerated Church” of White Haven.[29] Finally, one of the earliest and most significant separations occurred in New London after the preaching of Gilbert Tennent and James Davenport in 1741. On November 29, 1741, five prominent members of the established church, John Curtis, John Hempstead, Peter Harris, and Christopher and John Christophers, absented themselves from church and began meeting in the home of John Curtis. One hundred and fifteen individuals of diverse geographic and occupational backgrounds eventually formed the New London Separate Church. The separatists, however, were notably younger than the congregationalists; the average age of the male separatist was 25.3 as compared to 45.3, and, similarly, the average age of the female separatist was 29.8 as compared to 41.8.[30] Most of the separatists, moreover, were of a lower social and economic standing than the established church members, and most had no strong connections to the Congregational Church. Previously rejected by the Old Light ministerial association, Timothy Allen formed the nucleus for the Separatist Church by establishing the Shepherd’s Tent, an organization which prepared students for itinerant careers and rejected traditional colleges. In May, 1742, however, when the Connecticut Assembly outlawed itinerancy, Allen was sentenced to prison, and the New Lights of New London became isolated from the established community.[31] Although the Separatist Churches enjoyed only limited success as a result of government persecution, they underscored the divisions inspired by the Great Awakening and the radicalism of the New Light faction.

In addition to the divisions caused by the establishment of separate churches, the emotional extravagance of the itinerants ultimately led to increased opposition to the revival. The tactics of James Davenport, for example, alienated not only members of the established church but also his friends and colleagues. Although lower classes continued to believe in him and God’s salvation, Davenport’s fanaticism heightened class conflict and disrupted congregations throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut. In his rebellion against the ministry, Davenport attacked conventional education and even denounced reading the Bible. Therefore, on July 20, 1742, the grand jury of Suffolk County indicted him for committing heresy and serving as an instrument of Satan and then exiled him from Massachusetts on the grounds of insanity.[32] Davenport returned to Connecticut where he continued to preach until the crisis which occurred at Christopher’s Wharf, New London on March 6, 1743, the infamous bonfire. This incident furthered the decline of the separatist movement and embarrassed New Lights, who claimed that anarchy did not have to result from the revival. Influenced by Reverend Eleazar Wheelock, Davenport ultimately recanted his principles and admitted to his emotional enthusiasm.[33] Other itinerants such as George Whitefield and Gilbert Tennent also contributed to a rising opposition and the decline of the New Light influence. Whitefield charged that ministers had “in a great measure lost the old spirit of preaching” and claimed that universities were places of darkness. In these accusations and other radical teachings, Whitefield alienated the upper classes and the ministers of established congregations. Similarly, Gilbert Tennent opposed learned ministers and thus insulted and threatened the tradition of an educated ministry.[34] In denouncing conventional education and the established ministry, the itinerants not only inspired divisions between Old Lights and New Lights, but they also increased conflicts between social classes. The Awakening, moreover, became a struggle of power between the established clergy and the itinerants, who ultimately disrupted unity within the Congregational Churches of Connecticut. The conflicts and divisions which emerged from the radicalism and excesses of the Great Awakening led to its inevitable decline in the early 1740s.

To preserve their role as leaders of the church and to reestablish organization and unity within the congregation, several ministers began attacking New Light radicals. The Great Awakening challenged the tradition of deference within the colony of Connecticut. The attacks on the prominent members of society and the rise of the lower classes in challenging the hierarchical order weakened the social order of the colony and promoted both social mobility and democracy. In the winter of 1742-1743, as people were questioning the verity of the Awakening, Reverend Charles Chauncy attacked the extravagances of the revival. A liberal from Boston and a former advocate of the Great Awakening, Chauncy wrote The Late Religious Commotions in New England (March 1743) in which he denounced the excesses of the revival as sacrilegious. Later that year, in Seasonable Thoughts on the State of Religion in New England, Chauncy stated that true religion was not “shriekings and screamings, convulsion-like tremblings and agitations, strugglings and tumblings.” True joy, Chauncy claimed, came instead from sober and obedient Christian living.[35] Reflecting on the enthusiasm in New England, Chauncy observed that “the plain Truth is, an enlightened Mind, not raised Affections, ought always to be the Guide of those who call themselves Men.”[36] Moreover, the Associated Ministers of the County of Windham addressed the errors of the revival in a letter written to the people of several societies in Windham in 1745. Religious revivals, they claimed, were works of God manifested in signs of the Holy Ghost, signs such as frights, terrors, recognition of sin, joy, and comfort. They wrote, however, that many people had been deceived by these outward experiences, becoming instruments of Satan. In the letter, the ministers denounced five principal beliefs to which New Lights adhered, and they stated that it was not the will of God to separate the converted from the unconverted. They denied the opinion that saints knew one another and could recognize “true ministers” by inward feelings. In an effort to protect their own role within the community, the ministers denounced the beliefs that one need only to be a Christian to preach the Gospel and that there was a greater presence of God at meetings led by lay-preachers. Finally, the ministers said that God had not disowned the ministry and their churches or their ordinances in the years of the Great Awakening.[37] Chauncy and the ministers of Windham articulated the opinion of ministers throughout the colony, and the success of his work and that of others helped to further the weakening of the revivalist movement.

As the radicals encountered opposition from Old Lights, New Lights, and the established ministry, the colonial government began to regulate New Light activity and persecute dissenters. In 1743 the Connecticut Assembly revoked the Toleration Acts of 1708 and 1727, which had increased the privileges of dissenters and granted New Lights the rights to worship as they pleased. The Assembly further prohibited formation of new churches without express approval from the Connecticut legislature and thus thwarted establishment of Separatist churches within the colony.[38] In “An Act for Regulating Abuses and correcting Disorders in Ecclesiastical Affairs,” the government claimed that itinerant preaching had caused divisions which destroyed the ecclesiastical constitution established by the laws of the colony and prevented the growth of piety. This piece of legislation prohibited itinerant evangelizing, lay preaching, and the licensing of ministers without permission from the Saybrook Platform. It also stated that ministers who preached outside of their own congregation could not collect a salary and that any foreigner who preached the Gospel would be exiled from the colony.[39] This Act and the revocation of the Tolerance Act led to excommunications from the church, arrests, and the imprisonment of church members for attending Separatist Churches or failing to pay taxes to the established churches. Several revivalists were expelled from Yale for participating in New Light activities and still others were removed from official positions.[40] Clearly, the restrictions against New Light activity, especially the elimination of itinerant evangelizing, an influential aspect of the movement, and the persecutions of dissenters helped to suppress the Great Awakening less than ten years after it had begun.

Although the Great Awakening only lasted from 1735-1745, it not only increased church membership but also stimulated education and promoted a separation of church and state. As itinerants inspired New Lights to study the Bible, converts focused increasingly on education in lieu of games, music, and other forms of entertainment. The Great Awakening influenced the founding of prestigious universities, including Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown, Rutgers, Washington and Lee, and Hampden-Sydney.[41] Because tolerance, one of the results of the Awakening, was associated with atheism, the Standing Order ended the Holy Commonwealth, or church-state.[42] Thus, the Great Awakening affected not only affairs within the church, but it also transformed the colonial government and had a profound impact on secondary education.

The Great Awakening, furthermore, effected significant social leveling and led to increased religious tolerance within the colony of Connecticut. The Awakening underscored the inherent depravity of the human soul, teaching that all were sinners in the eyes of God, regardless of class. Common emotional experiences united the rich and the poor under a common self-consciousness, and lay participation increased dramatically.[43] James Davenport claimed that the right to speak out was a gift from the Holy Spirit, and a new, informal language of worship emerged as the congregation gained a voice in religious affairs. Because the revivalists taught that joy and salvation were available to all laymen, regardless of class, there was an infusion of democracy into the churches which ultimately led to an increase in democracy and social mobility within the community.[44] Moreover, the divisions inspired by the Great Awakening and the subsequent decline of the Congregational monopoly, presented other denominations with the opportunity to establish new churches. Ironically, the Great Awakening promoted religious tolerance as the Congregational Church split into Old Light and New Light factions and new denominations, such as the Baptist Church, attracted new members. The Awakening also established voluntarism, asserting that religious affiliation was not an obligation but a right that men and women could freely exploit. Ultimately, the persecuting acts such as itinerant regulation and the Saybrook Platform were eliminated from revised government legislation. With the challenges to the social order and the monopoly of the Congregational Church, new Tolerance Acts were passed in 1777 and 1784.[45] The consequences of the Great Awakening, therefore, were not limited to the religious life of the colony,but rather influenced the lives of colonists throughout Connecticut.

The first Great Awakening in Connecticut, which occurred nearly two hundred and fifty years ago, dramatically affected the lives of the colonists and the religious life in Connecticut. A reaction to a laxity in morals within the church, the Great Awakening spread through the words of itinerant evangelists and stimulated theatrical conversions and a powerful commitment to the church. Although the movement ultimately subsided as excesses alienated established members of the church, its repercussions extended beyond colonial borders and the year 1745. All religions depend on revivals to awaken piety and perpetuate a steady, devout populace. The Great Awakening of 1735, though all-encompassing and dramatic, was one in a number of recorded revivals throughout church history. In the western and southern frontiers, Americans experienced the Second Great Awakening from 1800-1840, a revival which also emphasized emotion as opposed to reason, and stressed salvation as opposed to predestination.[46] Even today, Billy Graham’s “Youth for Christ Crusade” and his evangelistic campaigns throughout the United States echo the religious movements which occurred more than two centuries ago. Religious history is not a linear progression of events, but a circle of recurring incidents, a cycle of peace and disorder, of silence and awakening. A common core of beliefs, beliefs in democracy, manifest destiny, or salvation, form the foundation for a dynamic American society. According to religious historian William G. McLoughlin, awakenings and ideological crises redefine this core of beliefs, enabling Christians to emerge as revitalized, confident citizens. Each new manifestation of the Holy Spirit empowers the rising generations to understand the nature of redemption.[47] The Great Awakening not only influenced the lives of those converted, but also affects the lives of Americans today.

Vocabulary for this post:
declension (3rd meaning)

The Impact of the Fur Trade on Native Americans

The Technological Revolution
From The Course of Empire

by Bernard DeVoto

The revolution that destroyed the Neolithic world began with the voyage of John Cabot in 1498. No evidence has ever been found that before that date fishermen—Basque, Spanish, Portuguese, Breton, or English—visited the Grand Banks and went on to the Canadian mainland. But many a historian has had to suppress the twitch of a nerve that comes from certain inexplicable data, of which the most galling one is this: that as early as there are accounts of visits to these shores there are also Indians offering to trade furs for manufactured goods.

Cartier’s voyages of 1534 and 1535 found fishermen in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and up the river, and found Indians who were habituated to the fur trade which had been begun by fishermen who landed to dry their catch. During the next seventy years the intertribal trading system—which was prehistoric, as old as the oldest archaeological discoveries—was converted into the trade for furs. By the time Champlain arrived in 1603 the tribes that Cartier had met had been displaced, a complex system of collecting furs and distributing goods had developed, a practically continuous intertribal war had begun, and Indian life within reach of the trade had been shifted to a new basis. By Champlain’s time too the fur trade had become the beaver trade. Down to 1763 the history of Canada is primarily the history of the trade in beaver pelts. Down to about that date, moreover, the fur trade was the principal objective of imperial competition, and war, everywhere in the continent north of Mexico.

That statement, however, must be phrased in a different way for it emphasizes the currency—furs—whereas what counted was the market for European manufactures. The New World was a constantly expanding market; no limit to its development could be foreseen and indeed there was no limit. Its value in gold was enormous but it had still greater value in that it expanded and integrated the industrial systems of Europe. It was thus a powerful force in the development of capitalism and nationalism.

The impact of European goods produced a change in Neolithic America far more concentrated and rapid than anything in the history of white civilization. In 1500 Indian life north of Mexico was at a stage roughly equivalent to what we vaguely make out Mediterranean life to have been at, say, 6000 BC. The first belt-knife given by a European to an Indian was a portent as great as the cloud that mushroomed over Hiroshima. The heir of the ages had thrust his culture into the era of polished stone. Instantly the man of 6000 BC was bound fast to a way of life that had developed seven and a half millennia beyond his own. He began to live better and he began to die.

Nicholas Perrot bringing a fire-lighter to the Mascoutens signalized a change far more revolutionary than that which the application of steam power to machinery produced in white culture. He was in Wisconsin; his predecessors had signalized the same change from tidemark on inland. A knife blade of the poorest steel, an axehead of worked iron, a needle, a file, a pair of scissors, any piece of steel or iron meant comfort, ease, power, not possible to an Indian without it. Fell a tree with a sharpened stone or hollow out a log with fire, then with an axe; sew a dress with a bone awl and thread made of split animal sinew, then with a needle and silk or linen thread. A garment made of skins required the labor of hunting, skinning, curing, and tanning as well as tailoring, and it was in some weathers ineffective or unhealthy. Woolen cloth was immensely more versatile, comfortable, effective, and easier to work. The matchlock or flintlock of the early seventeenth century, which as a trade gun was displaced by the flintlock musket in another generation, was an incredibly inept firearm; but in the conditions of forest hunting it was much better than the indigenous bow. (The Indians of the Northeast used a bow which was neither double-curved or sinew-backed.) It outranged the bow and its heavy ball, from an ounce to an ounce and a half, made sure of the kill. It was an even greater advantage in war, in so much that the tribes that had firearms inevitably subjugated or drove out those which did not. Metal arrowheads, lance blades, knives, and hatchets had an equal superiority over flint weapons….

The revolution affected every aspect of Indian life. The struggle for existence, for food and shelter to maintain life, became easier. Immemorial handicrafts grew obsolescent, then obsolete. Methods of hunting were transformed. So were the methods—and purposes—of war. As war became deadlier in purpose and armament a surplus of women developed, so the marriage customs changed and polygamy became common. The increased usefulness of women in the preparation of pelts worked to the same end. These and related phenomena produced changes in social organization. The fur trade increased trade in general, so that there was more intercourse among tribes. This meant an acceleration of cultural change, for the tribes acquired arts, crafts, myths, and religious ceremonies from one another. Standards of wealth, prestige, and honor changed. The Indians acquired commercial values and developed business cults. They became more mobile. Hunts, raids, and trade excursions ranged farther. Tribal movements and shifts were speeded up.

In sum it was cataclysmic. A culture was forced to change much faster than change could be adjusted to. All corruptions of culture produce breakdowns of morale, of communal integrity, and of personality, and this force was as strong as any other in the white man’s subjugation of the red man. The wonder is that the Indians resisted decadence as well as they did, and fought the whites off so obstinately and so long. For from 1500 on they were cultural prisoners.

The Fox chief who told Perrot, “You gave birth to us for you brought us the first iron,” was telling the truth, and Perrot’s threat to close the trade to the Ottawas was a threat that he would deprive them of the means of subsistence. To the last fragment of a broken axehead, the last half of a a cracked awl, the last inch of strap iron, a better life depended upon the trade. Down to just such items the goods traveled along the native trade routes, hundreds of miles beyond the white trader who had first sold them for furs. A tribe that traded directly with the whites had the most favorable situation, fully supplied and better armed than its customers and possessing the power of any monopoly. Consequently there were trade rivalries, trade diplomacy, and trade wars. For most Indian tribes war had always been a sport, a cult, and a vocation. But the trade with industrial Europe made it for three centuries a fundamental condition of Indian society. Trade wars produced tribal displacements and migrations. The attacked fled before the attackers; those who had firearms or iron for points pushed back those armed with bone- or stone-tipped weapons. New frictions, tensions, and population pressures followed.

But it must be said with strong emphasis that these movements, though they were a supremely important force in our history, were only movements for a new reason. Too many historians have treated the Indians as if they were a static and even uniform society when the white men reacher North America. Whereas sizeable population movement were going on at that time and had been always going on through the prehistoric period as afar back as archaeological evidence extends. There was competition for hunting grounds and agricultural lands; the less populous or warlike were forced somewhere else. Exhaustion of food supplies caused some movements. Climatic changes produced others, notably in the Southwest and the Upper Mississippi Valley. The massing or aggregation of culture groups forced the displacement of some long-established societies, as in the southward retreat of the Pueblos. For some migrations, such as that of the Utes and Comanches, it appears to be true of many prehistoric peoples, that there was no reason beyond the common American ones; an itching of foot and a conviction that it’s a better country further on.

From Bernard DeVoto, The Course of Empire, (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980), pp 90-94.

Vocabulary for this post: