Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Plantation of the Atlantic, XIII: New Towns

Not to belabour the point, but we have enough details to  make it clear that there was a long-distance trade route running along the coast of the Eastern Seaboard in the century between Columbus and the Mayflower. It's at least plausible that it is older than that, and that it was plugged into the Norse settlements in Greenland, at least as far south as the limits of distribution of Ramah Island chert. (The gulf of the Saint Lawrence, so far as is currently established.) If the linguistic hypothesis be credited, the route extended as far south as the Carolinas, and was paralleled by another one just inland running above the Fall Line. Of course, if the linguistic evidence be credited, I need something a little stronger than "trade route." The affective ties were sufficient to produce relatively linguistically homogenous Algonquin and Iroquian-speaking areas on the two proposed routes.

So what happened? The obvious analogy here, for this Northwest Coaster, is the trade area defined by the Chinook Jargon.  We'll leave it to the historical linguists to hash out whether or not the Algonquin and Iroquian language families could have emerged as "natural" languages from similar trade jargons, or whether we should look to single groups dominating these exchange networks. What matters here is the analogy. The early contact period history of the Pacific Northwest coast is well known, where that of the East Coast is not. The proposed mechanism for the first European settlements on the East Coast is one of self-sufficient agriculturalists driven by exogenous "push" factors. People come either fleeing religious persecution, seeking to establish Indian missions, or in a quixotic search for bullion mines. Yet in the case of the Pacific Northwest, we know that the issue was endogenous "pull" factors. Hawaiians, Europeans, and Asians are drawn in by the availability of fur, fish, mineral resources, and the wheat boom. Moreover, the plantation was orchestrated from the land side, by Canadian, Russian and American fur trading enterprises. That is, there was agency on the part of the pre-existing community receiving the plantations.

That "pull" factors subsequently came to play a major role in the plantation of the East Coast is well known. The north  has access to substantial fish and whale resources that, in New England in particular, can best be exploited by over-wintering fishers due to the early cod-spawning season, which would otherwise call for European fleets to depart  for the fishing grounds at the peak of the Atlantic storm season. There is also fur, tobacco in the south, and eventually wheat and other provisions, mainly for the Caribbean sugar islands.

We are given to understand that these pull factors are irrelevant to the initial colonisation, in spite of at least one of them (the fur resources available on the lower Saint Lawrence and at the mouth of the Kennebec) being already in exploitation.

This is not as strange as it may seem, because the breakdown in the analogy makes the point self-evident. There is no East Coast counterpart to the Hudson's Bay Company in 1600.

But wait! There is precisely an equivalent to the Hudson's Bay Company. There's a fur trade going on! It clearly isn't a corporate entity, but it equally clearly doesn't require a corporate entity to exist. And if we look to the people who would have been organising trade, we find, well, people like Squanto and his liege, Massasoit. When we find that Squanto has crossed the Atlantic three times under the aegis of, amongst other European patrons, Sir Ferdinando Gorges, who had a well-established interest in the Patuxet area well before the establishment of the New Plymouth Colony, our eyebrows have to rise. Apart from a desire to maintain a clear distinction between European agency and Native American passivity. (Check it out: this link comes up higher on Google than any academic discussion I could find of the historically well-established interaction between pre-Contact Iroquians and Basque fishers.)  it's hard not to draw a picture of...

Okay, let me back this up a bit. And how about some Muppets blogging?.

  The digressive (like I should talk!) but fascinating Nick Bunker has found a huge amount of additional information about the early days of the Plymouth pilgrims. Notably, he has found discussion in the Privy Council of trouble up in Yorkshire in the spring of 1608.

Just what the Privy Council felt about it is unclear. We do know that because the 1607 harvest had been poor, and the Privy Council had directed local authorities to prevent grain exports. And because there has been political unrest, JPs were directed to extract loyalty oaths from travellers bound in and out of the country. That was on top of laws preventing useful Englishmen, such as weavers, from leaving the country at all.

So when a group of upcountry Yorkshire folk, most, if not all of them, the wives and children of weavers who had presumably been able to escape the scene before the militia arrived, were arrested trying to board a ship on the muddy verge of the Humber that May, a ship contracted to carry cargo belonging to the Sherrif of Lincolnshire, he had a problem. Actually, he had lots of problems.

After all, while the law barred tradesmen from leaving the country, in practice, they did so all the time. And wives and children, being obligated to obedience, were legally required to follow their husbands in unlawful flight. Besides, this small group was a community by elective affinity, something that could and did happen all the time and for any number of reasons in Early Modern societies, but which was usually concretely manifested in shared, separate worship. Irrespective of the content of that worship, one could and did get denounced as a sectarian or a splitter just for doing it. And, indeed, since making such accusations is so much fun, it is hard to be sure that the worship was even separate, except for such fairly obvious anti-Church of England acts as fleeing the benevolent jurisdiction of the King and Head of the Church of England. And the legal punishment of self-admitted-by-attempting-illegal-emigration sectarians was --banishment. Heckuva legal system, Jimmie.

No wonder it went to the Privy Council. "It's your mess; you deal with it!" And the response that came down from London seems easily summarised. By the summer, the Sherrif's brother, Thomas, was in Leiden in the County of Holland, along with the weavers and their families. 

So here's a link I have, to Wikipedia, of course, and the history of the city of Leiden.  Well, that's Wikipedia. I'd have said more yesterday, but, I thought to myself, vague memories of archaeological reports and Jonathan Israel's Dutch Republic aren't going to do it. So I went to the library instead, and found that Israel is laid up in the damaged book depository, presumably for binding repair, since even those beautiful OUP covers can't support the weight dangling from your hands when a thousand page book just falls out of your grip. It's a risk you take when you settle for the comprehensive approach. Be careful, everybody! That's a seventy-buck-book!

But that's okay, I took a wander down into the stacks to look for shiny new bindings. It's definitely the lazy man's approach to a historiographic review, but here's what I've got.

First, the archaeologists: from a fusty old Festschrift, some deep historical context:

Here, J. C. Besteman has a nice review  (91—120) of the relevant early history of the Netherlands. Leiden has an earlier history, being adjacent to the main Roman coastal base on the Oud Rijn, but as the Frankish period opens, archaeology tells us of "Frisians" living along the outer coast in the midst of the four parallel beach barriers of dunes enclosing the province of Holland. With access to the sea, intertidal resources, and local upcroppings of Paleozoic clay for farming, they had enough to sustain their lifestyle. The boggy interior was exploited seasonally, but only to a limited extent, as the beach barriers choked practically any water access.

The Carolingian period saw the Frisians moved inland from and reclaim land with dikes, mainly for pasture and hayland rather than arable. In the long run, this was inadequate, since dried-out peat bogs tended to shrink and then flood under the copious runoff trying to  make its way from the Rhine to the sea.  As late as 1400, this process was increasing the inundated areas. The "history" of Holland is taken to begin with the founding of the See of Utrecht, but it is hard to see that a new era has clearly begun. As H. Safartij notes, it is hard to find signs of any early Medieval town in Holland or adjacent, including at Utrecht, and Utrecht is one of those places where subsequent ecclesiastical developments are unclear, to say the least. 

Thanks to the legal stipulation that the King owns the wilderness and makes grants out of it to interested developers, we have a coherent story of nobles and monasteries reclaiming land from the 900s on. The question is how much this reflects what is really going on in Holland and how much is a legal fiction, or, rather, formality, covering whatever might actually have been happening. 

What we do know is that even by the middle 1400s, a wide range of evidence converges on a picture of Holland as still not well developed. The herring fleet is large, there are certainly towns and farmers, but tax assessments, excise rolls, and the exhaustively studied records of the Danish Sound Tolls converge on demonstrating that the conjoint economy of Holland and Zeeland (the archipelago province in the combined delta of the Scheldt and Meuse/Maas) was somewhere around a third the size of that of Flanders. 

This was certainly not the case by 1608, so what happened? First, as any number of people have noted, the Baltic Sea littoral began to export a massive surplus of grain in the 1500s. The existence of a reliable, annual export of the grain staple is actually a pretty astonishing historic fact, and the very fact of it would encourage other regions of arable farming to move to specialise in other crops, but there's a little more going on here for the people of Leiden, and James D. Tracy gives a nice, recent account.

It is hard for Baltic shipping to get anywhere paricularly interesting. The Rhine's mouth is as choked as ever, and reaching any important markets beyond that meant travelling the stormy North Sea. Or one could enter the Zuider Zee at Texel and utilise inland waterways. The westernmost of these routes leads via the IJ from Amsterdam to the lock into the Spaarne at Spaarndam, through  and across the Harlemmeer to the Oude Rijn upstream of Leiden, from whence either upstream to the Rhineland or eastward to Gouda, where ap lock actually within the town walls allowed boats and barges to enter the Holland Ijssel, which flowed into the Maas below Dordrecht. As was the practice for towns within the Holy Roman Empire --indeed, as was the justification for them, the locks they controlled incorporated toll stations that were town privileges granted by the Emperor. The lock thus produced solid revenue to be split between town and whatever higher authority had aggrandised the Imperial revenue share by this point (the Counts of Holland, or whoever had muscled into the revenues of that office.)

What, in practice, this meant for Leiden is that while a vast Baltic shipping passed by its walls, it had no stake in the revenues. What it had, as the centre and administrator of one of the largest drainage districts in Holland, was a constant source of tension with neighbouring towns. Sources being what they are, we have record of an intermittent guerilla war between Amsterdam and Haarlem, with the former sending out militia raiders to cut dykes to increase water depth and the latter using its militia to rebuild them. (58—60). No doubt relations between Leiden and its neighbours were equally fraught.

This brings us to Tracy’s crucial conjuncture; not 1566, not 1568, but 1572. That is, it has been well-established by Israel that the revolt of the Dutch Republic as deep roots. The provinces above and below the rivers were never well-integrated in the first place, and the usual tensions between the Crown's revenue-raising efforts and local particularism are well known. The historiographic tradition has been to locate the causes of the Revolt proximately in religious strife, but this is a particularly old-fashioned approach. The complex of ideas that are required to make religion the cause of the Revolt can be unpicked in many ways. It is assumed that Protestantism is right and therefore tolerant and free, whereas Catholicism is wrong, and tyrannical. (Thus, tolerant Protestants can persecute intolerant Catholics and heretics without being "intolerant.") Worse, because it points towards the Twentieth Century's even more lethal conceptual defect, it requires that northerners be more likely to be convinced of the rightness of right religion than southerners.

Which isn't to say that religion isn't an important factor. It's just that the Dutch Church evolves with the revolt. What Tracy wants to single out is the States of Holland’s extraordinary debernture, issued to William of Orange to pay for his 1572 invasion, of half-a-million pounds. That Amsterdam’s seal is not on the debenture is interesting. That the seal of eight cities not previously recognised as being members of the States of Holland is interesting, too. That German mercenary commanders chose to recognise the credit of the debenture is a third. What we have here is a paper that has conjured half-a-million pounds of money, and a summer of war, out of the air. In some ways, it's the story of stone soup all over again. Everyone interested will have to play their part to make it real, and if the coming-into-being of the United Netherlands and the Dutch Reformed Church is the price that particularists and local interests will have to pay, so be it.

Still, the war didn't have to go beyond the summer of 1572. However, the armies of the Duke of Parma could not sustain themselves in the field in Holland in force, and, when it proved necessary, the States of Holland proved able to cut the dykes and keep them cut. It was a harder task than some realise, but it made it possible for those great historical enigmas, the Sea Beggars, to relieve Leiden at the height of its historic siege. The crazy-quilt conglomerate political authority of the rebels could now turn to the threefold task of securing its "garden" against future Habsburg invasions, and of fielding an army and a navy against them to liberate as much more of the United Netherlands as possible. 

We don't need to follow the war in any detail. It suffices to notice the well-rehearsed process by which war paralleled economic growth. Much of this was driven by war. The traditional explanation, correct as far as it goes, is that Antwerp gave way to Amsterdam as an industrial and port city. Beyond that, we really ought to look to the borrowing and deficit financing required by war. This provided the money, as the army did the demand, for  the spread of drainage projects, complete with landlord/urban oligarchs making out like bandits in the usual way. The need for vast amounts of additional labour to process the industrial raw materials accumulating in Holland towns led to a constant inflow of foreign migrants, often departing their homelands in the Rhineland, Scotland, England and further afield as affinity groups before even being organised as such upon arrival so as to plug into emergent Hollander society. And, perhaps more importantly, imported, closed affinity groups could not upset the difficult political compromise that backed the war effort.

Which brings us, finally, to the winter of 1608 and the aftermath of the extraordinary campaigns of the Marchese Spinola at the head of the Army of Flanders, campaigns that drove deep fissures into the Netherlander body politic, as some sought additional revenues to carry on the war, while others looked for a way out. Unbelievably considering the population growth then going on, the north was obsessed with the idea that it was "leaking" people due to catastrophes, plagues, and even the high death rate in the merchant marine. It is, I think, evidence of the power of teratology over contemporary minds. (That is, the psychological impact of catastrophes was far more immediate than the near-invisible effects of demographic growth. Not that I'm making an implicit comparison with these same contemporaries' reports of plagues in North America or anything.)*

What does that mean? In practice, that Leiden was very eager to greet a community of weavers, transplanted in a body from a similar ecology in England. And notice that when I say weavers, it isn't just because they weave cloth. No townsfolk of this era "just" did industrial work. That is why the ecology matters. With ever more land being drained and being brought into familiar patterns of production, there was need for people who could not merely weave plant fibre and wool into cloth, but who could, when the weaving was slack, run sheep in salt marshes, farm their little plots, keep tidy homes, and make cheese and butter out of abundant milk. 

It also means that when bitterness over the Twelve Year's Truce signed in 1609 metastatised in conditions of postwar economic depression into a major religio-civil strife, people might have looked elsewhere, to other places like Leiden.

So what is New Patuxet? It's a town on coastal marshes and sand dunes. It controls a convenient inland waterway that bypasses the stormy seas of Cape Cod. It has salt marshes, and a ruler who is interested in aggrandising his economo-military power in order to make war against local rivals.

And... it has animals. The current argument (fully subscribed by Bunker) is that the animals are late arrivals. In fact, he's forced to argue that the famous 1627 division of some common land outside Patuxet for the use of the community's herd was done in anticipation of the arrival of domestic livestock. You see, it's the small size of the ships that has kept the colonists at bay, because they can't bring livestock from England.

I'm sorry, but I don't buy it. The Portuguese have managed to stock and settle the Atlantic Islands, probably with nothing larger than a caravel. Cattle and sheep probably didn't reach Greenland and Iceland on multi-hundred ton vessels; they certainly didn't reach, say, St. Kilda that way. In any case, bulls and stallions did not get to North America on 300 ton vessels any more than they did on 30 ton boats. On the contrary, we have a conceptual error here.  Before animals are large, they are small. And when they are small, they are much easier to ship. Indeed, this is a pretty basic point of stock raising. You take small, young animals, to the grass. They eat the grass and grow big. And then you profit.  

It is true that in over a century --in fact, in four centuries-- the Newfoundland fleet never managed to establish dairy or sheep herds in Newfoundland. But there's a reason for that. Just check out the weather reports for St. John's. It's actually colder than coastal southern Greenland, due to its continental climate, and, perhaps more importantly, it stays colder, longer. It's hard to winter livestock there, and it doesn't pay well, because the growing season is shorter. You have to lay in more hay for a given pound of salt beef, wool, or milkfat.  I'll bet that the fleets were bringing animals out to Newfoundland in the 1500s. It's just that they slaughtered all, or virtually all of them, at the end of the season, and those that were missed, died.

In New England, by contrast, livestock was always escaping, and, once it escaped, it flourished, after a fashion. Given that there were fishing settlements on the New England coast from 1607, notwithstanding other earlier experiments going back to Cartier, the situation in 1621 was, I frankly speculate here, not that Massasoit was looking at his land and thinking, "Why, if I just bring Europeans and European livestock over, all of this Cape Cod saltmarsh could be an excellent revenue stream for me." He was thinking, "these cows and sheep are turning up everywhere. And I'm told that there's power in them." 

The presumption --and I'll be the first to admit that I really need to get my hands on a copy of Creatures of Empire, is that North American Indians had a radically different perspective on animals than did Europeans. Europeans are pastoralists, Indians are hunters. And never the twain shall meet, etcetera. But the anthropological trend is now to distinguish a spectrum of hehaviours ranging from pure herding to pure hunting, and this argument is now being made specifically in regards to Mississippian use of migratory buffalo herds.** Given that the buffalo is still being used this way, indeed that it is probably being exploited even more intensively in this way to meet the needs of the fur trade, I think that there's room here again for Indian agency. 

Massasoit was probably not thinking as a "rational economic actor" in promoting an English settlement at Patuxet. But, again, the Nassaus and the Oldenbaarnevelts and Hollanders in general weren't thinking as "rational economic actors" when they promoted the English settlement at Leiden. The community wasn't there to increase GDP growth and enhance general prosperity. It was supposed to generate revenues with which to fight the Spanish, and replace native Dutch who were supposedly dying off due to plagues and whatnot, and its very alienness within the Dutch body politic was supposed to limit its potential disruptive effect. That, of course, didn't work out in the end. In general, foreign migrants were assimilated into Dutch society, while native New Englanders were assimilated into migrant society.

And at this point, given the amount of controversy this claim has engendered, it's long past time to point out that it's not conjecture. We can see this happening. It's a well-documented historical process. You just have to be willing to actually register the evidence.

So, next up, if I post in this series next week (I haven't made up my mind), it's well past time to talk about Praying Towns.

I couldn't find anything about swamps that I actually liked, CCR's best efforts notwithstanding, so I decided to stoop to Muppet blogging to close the post out. Sue me.

*Willem Frijhoff and Marijke Spies, Dutch Culture in a European Perspective, Volume 1, 1650: Hard-Won Unity transl. Myra Heerspink Scholz (Houndmilss, Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004): 163ff.
**I'm being a bit lazy about tracking down the absolute, killer link/source for these two claims. Serves me right for not putting That Book I Read About the Origins of Agriculture into my bibliography, but there you go. I'll find it eventually, and in the meantime write a digressive footnote excusing linking to this cool blog that I found while looking for that elusive perfect link.


  1. Hey, look, a hypertext in the comment body! And, according to the link, you sure like bikes! I bet if someone was looking for a bike in Sydney, they could look you up.....

  2. Erik - another great post. With regard to the book-in-progress, I think you could do well to make the themes explicit as part of its structure. Frex:

    The Context -

    Pre-Columbian economy.
    The littoral in early modern northern Europe.
    The corrupting sea concept.
    The problematic demography.

    Institutions of transition -

    The northern fishing economy - Vikings and after.
    Logistics and the Portuguese.
    Upshot: the sea-level economy around two thirds of the North Atlantic

    Labour: the making of the Atlantic working class (aka building the leaky pump) -

    Drivers of departure - crime and punishment, poverty, religion.
    The voyage - terms of enlistment and their discontents.
    Jumping ship - livestock, trading, unofficial opportunities.

    Integration 1 -

    Erotic capital
    Trade and diplomacy - marriage as a motif of politics
    Fur and resupply - opportunity beyond the sea-level economy.
    Transforming the landscape - beaverisation and the emerging creole elite.

    Integration 2 -

    Marriages and land. The consolidation of the new elite.
    Logistics and the Caribbean.
    The crisis of the fur trade and the wars.
    Declaring independence; from fur trading and the covenant chain to landowning and the Declaration?
    Synchronicity - planting in Ireland.

    Institutions of transition 2 -

    From the lodge to The Lodge. Masons.
    Absolutely no black coffee. Mormons.
    A certain political party, if I understand you right.
    The combination of massive denial and romantic (in fact, Romantic) myth.

    Case studies:

    Locations, biographies, artefacts that integrate these.

    Conclusion: America is Mexico under the skin. Or whatever the conclusion eventually is:-)

  3. Thanks, man. Although I find it a little frightening that anyone is paying so much attention.

  4. I hope my understanding of the project so far isn't completely wrong.

    One thing I'm not clear about is the transition from the (relatively) native-identifying, British-allied fur-export society to the (relatively) American-identifying, landowning one, especially as it seems to be closely related with the war of independence.

  5. Well, the years between 1763 and 1776 are hugely tumultuous for a lot of reasons. I do know at least one historian has labelled this as the era of the birth of American racism, when the idea of a multiracial, mixed America was abandoned. (See? I'm not completely out on a limb on this.) I just can't remember who it was, off hand.

    The crisis was so huge and multifaceted that it's hard to get a grasp on it. there's the financial crisis that reaches back from the frontier all the way to London. The crisis in governance that links opposition in Britain and America.

    But, I'm afraid to say, this is another of those places where we've systematically underestimated the role of religion in shaping Enlightenment history.

    Bernard Bailyn emphasises popular resistance to Episcopalianism in the context of the idea of bishops as agents of tyranny and/or Antichrist. And, you know, any idea that Adam Smith is willing to entertain, even half-seriously, is probably a deep spring of motivation. This opposition to central control is a resistance to state surveillance as much as ecclesiastical, but it is powerfully motivating because it attaches itself to religious impulses.

    And I can't help to bring it back to the questions that interest me. I'm a little abashed about this in that I have to gesture to my crazy gurus here, to Bishop Wilberforce complaining about how too many Americans are deprived of the sacraments, and James Fenimore Cooper writing virtually a whole book about how easy it is to get a fake birth certificate/wedding certificate in America.

    So my take is that identity-switching really is at the core of this, and, if so, it might be that a competely unregistered grievance, Hardwicke's Law, plays a larger role here than might be acknowledged. (This is why I need to read Lawrence Stone, right?)

    Admittedly, Hardwicke's law, which placed marriage under the common law, did not apply to the colonies. But it did apply to anyone who wanted to enter London society as properly born and properly married, so it certainly applied to American transatlantic elites. Inasmuch as, between proposals for American bishops and for rigorous vetting for baptismal certificates and publications of the bann, it was clear that identity switching would be under much more scrutiny and control in the future, it is possible to see a real threat.

    Indeed, the "revolution before the revolution," with the Yankee-Pennamite War, the Regulators in the Carolinas...

    Hey, look. I've found a place where I can ramble even more than in my posts!