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  • 19 Jun 2021 3:16 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Massasoit learns

    Massasoit must have learned about the captivity (not to say incarceration) of John Billington among the Nausets about today.  This whole affair had become very convoluted, and the fact that the Nausets (or the Manomets) communicated with Massasoit rather than directly with the English settlers shows that this was, at least in part, about inter-tribal rivalries.  A good deal of this is also, “Well, they are YOUR allies, not ours,” as well.  Massasoit must have decided to inform the settlers as soon as he found out, although Mourt’s Relation, the only source to describe the events in detail, simply states that the colonists learned about Billington’s captivity from Massasoit.

  • 18 Jun 2021 3:59 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Trading Posts

    Because bulky items (like furs and pelts) and people moved more easily along water, trading stations had to be set up along navigable rivers, like the Plymouth trading house in Kennebec (now in Maine).  Plymouth, however, was not in a very good harbour, and did not have access to a very extensive river system, so the settlers’ leaders had to look further afield, to the north and to the west, for better locations.  Within fifteen years, however, Plymouth had only two remote trading stations, one of which was threatened by others moving in to its territory.  Bradford complained of men who came to fish but turned to trading for furs.  Thomas Weston himself set up a rival outpost in 1622.  When this new outpost failed, Thomas Morton started another, and angered the colonists by trading guns for furs.

    The demand for pelts led to overhunting, and the population of beaver and otter decreased dramatically; this also ended Plymouth colony’s chance to make a profit.  Within twenty five years of its start, the fur trade in Plymouth colony had ended, as a result of competition, conflict and poor resource management.

  • 17 Jun 2021 3:35 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Trading

    There were two significant difficulties that the Pilgrims encountered in trying to organise trade.  As soon as Massasoit and Plymouth established an alliance, the settlers received a continual flow of visitors who came to check out the new settlement, and trade.  This stream of prospective traders, as we have seen, proved disruptive and expensive: that is why, next month, the Pilgrims asked Massasoit to put an end to it (as we shall see).  Instead of receiving one or two furs at a time, the Pilgrims wanted to negotiate a single price for the lot.  This plan, however, assumed a level of organisation in the Native communities that did not exist.  Hunting for the natives was an individual activity, and the mechanisms for collecting numerous pelts and trading for a bulk shipment did not conform to native practises.

    Another challenge was settling on an item that could be given in exchange for the furs that the Pilgrims sought.  At first, hunters accepted novelty items of European manufacture, valuable to them because they were rare: beads or other trinkets.  As the trade grew, however, and hunters grew used to having European goods, they demanded more: metal tools, European cloth, even firearms.  Competitors for trade  began arriving soon after the Mayflower, so that Plymouth found itself vying not only with the French to the north and the Dutch to the west, but with other Englishmen in their immediate area.  More traders gave the local hunters power to pick their partners, which in turn placed demands on Plymouth to supply increasingly appealing trade items.  Plymouth’s traders quickly found local people engaging with increasing sophistication in this burgeoning market economy.

  • 16 Jun 2021 3:33 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Furs

    Furs were the one locally available item that could be readily turned into money.  Even before the Pilgrims arrived in New England, John Smith had identified the two principal products which could provide prosperity for New England as furs and fish.  Fish were well known, and available in abundance: as we have mentioned already, there seems to have been a desire on the party of the financial backers of the Virginia Company and the Plymouth Company to link Jamestown and the prospective colony in “northern Virginia” (the Pilgrims’ original destination) by having the northern settlement supply fish for the southern colony.  The English were already quite active in the fish market, but Smith also saw the use of furs.  He advised the English to drive the French out of the New England region in order to crush the competition, since “their rivals often afford better trading terms” (Smith, A Description of New England [London, 1616], in Barbour, ed., Complete Works of Captain John Smith [Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press, 1986], 1:323-324, 336).  When the settlers -- finally, after months of glimpses and one hostile encounter -- met the Natives, they carefully noted what furs the natives wore.  They distributed a few trinkets and asked to start up a fur trade.  Plymouth needed to generate income: they either had to extract or to grow something that could find a market in England.  The Spanish had found mineral wealth in Central and South America, but the English never really found any mines, although that did not stop them from looking.  The first major cash crop the English found, in Virginia, was tobacco.  The second, suited to the colder climates further north, were beaver and otter pelts, along with other forest products, of which England, and particularly its navy, was in great need.  In order to obtain fish, the settlers would need equipment, boats, tools, barrels, salt, and a lot of luck (and skill, of which they had almost none at the start).  All they needed for furs was trading partners.  This proved somewhat difficult to organise, as we shall see tomorrow, although not as difficult as getting fish, at which the Pilgrims failed miserably.

  • 15 Jun 2021 3:45 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Clothing

    All clothing and shoes had to be imported into the colony at first.  Without a shoemaker, a tanner to process the leather, and herds of cattle to slaughter for hides, shoes could only come from England -- and we have already noted the large amount of footwear brought over by William Mullins.  Once that was gone, there was none other to be obtained on this side of the Atlantic.  Clothing, for the first decade at least, was in perpetually short supply.  In response to repeated requests for more clothes and more cloth, the merchant adventurers wrote in 1624 that they were sending cloth, socks, shoes, and leather.  When a French ship foundered on the shore two years later, Plymouth got a share of what was salvaged from the wreck, but the one thing that was mentioned in the report was “clothing for the people.”  Clearly, Plymouth lacked ready access to even the most basic articles of attire.

    This was particularly problematic for indentured servants, since their contracts frequently included a legal obligation for the master to supply the servants with clothing during their term of employment.  At the end of the time, the master was not infrequently required to supply suits of clothing.  Clothes as payment for years of labour might seem rather stingy to us today, but the scarcity of clothing and the distance new clothing had to travel to come to the colony made these hard to obtain articles essential and quite valuable.  In one court case, Web Adey, having been placed in service as a punishment for “disorderly living in idleness & nastiness,” was ordered to sell or lease his house in order to pay for proper clothing (PCR 1:87, 91, 5 Jun 1638).

  • 14 Jun 2021 3:59 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Tobacco

    Tobacco is an American plant, growing as far north as New England and as far south as South America.  Natives used it for ceremonial purposes; Massasoit shared it with the Pilgrims as a way of cementing their alliance.  The English observed at that time that Massasoit carried some in a pouch, and that his people awaited his permission before they smoked.  Smoking thus was not casual -- one had to be invited by a superior.  On other occasions, it could be used as a way of making amends.  Mourt’s Relation told of a party of Englishmen journeying through the country when they encountered a former guide who had previously abandoned them.  The native tried to mend the relationship by sharing tobacco.  The English declined, believing the tobacco had been stolen, but this incident showed the use of this gesture as a means of reconciliation or emerging friendship.  It is likely that many, if not most, of the Pilgrims had smoked tobacco before coming to America; it may also have been useful for its appetite suppressing qualities.

    By 1620, smoking (or “drinking tobacco,” as the English idiom of the time had it) was well known in England, as well.  By 1604, King James I and VI authored a pamphlet against the “loathsome custom,” entitled A Counterblaste to Tobacco.  But in the decade that followed, tobacco use skyrocketed, and the Virginia Company hit on tobacco as a major export crop from Virginia, so that by 1620 and thereafter, Virginia planters shipped massive amounts of the plant to be consumed in England.

  • 13 Jun 2021 3:58 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Why did the chicken cross the Atlantic?

    Much has been made of the two dogs that came on the Mayflower, but it would appear that there were also chickens brought, as well.  When Massasoit became ill in 1623, Edward Winslow came and -- I am not making this up -- wanted to bring him chicken soup.  Winslow was with Massasoit at his winter encampment, and when the chief began to fail, Winslow sent a messenger back to Plymouth to get some chickens, STAT!  By the time the messenger returned with the fowl, Massasoit had recovered sufficiently that he asked to be able to keep and breed the chickens rather than eat them.  The natives did not have farm animals: this was very much a part of European diet.  Whether Massasoit wanted them to eat, or just to have an exotic European bird as a status symbol, is unknown.

    Although cows, pigs, and sheep came over several years later, having only chicken and dogs to start out with (as mentioned by John Smith) got me to think about what else they did not have.  As far as drinks go, there was no beer after it ran out (as we have mentioned several times), nor milk (as there were no cows or goats) or wine.  There was no bread for quite some time, as the barley they brought over really did not take.  Livestock as a source of food were a first priority; sheep (also as a source of wool for clothing) came several decades later.  There was wildfowl, of course, as well as fish (once they got the hang of it, which was not for some time).  But the diet was simple and extremely limited.

  • 12 Jun 2021 3:49 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Travel by Water

    Young Master Billington may have reached the Nausets by now, and word would have been sent to Massasoit about this new prize capture.

    Although the natives had not yet developed such “technology” as the wheel, the arch, the sail, the rudder, or the firearm, they were able to use the natural resources around them to great effect.  One example is the use of trees: in building houses, the bark supplied the shingles to place over a simple frame of bent green saplings.  Walnut bark was especially good.  A canoe could be built at the same time.  Mud would be packed around the tree, leaving the lower part exposed; a fire would be lit around the bottom, until the tree fell over.  It was much quicker, much less strenuous, and more efficient than using an axe.  The fire could then be applied to hollow out the interior of the tree, and stone tools would be used to finish.  The larger canoes were over forty feet long, and could hold more than forty men.

  • 11 Jun 2021 3:10 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Search parties

    John Billington had now been gone for about five days, and the Pilgrims had looked as far as they could without getting too far from home.  Today they sent Squanto out to see what he could find, but he, too, returned without any clue.

  • 10 Jun 2021 2:54 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Native Government

    The government of the various Indian tribes displayed a highly structured and rigid class structure.  A chief, known as a sachem, was usually the largest property owner and the supreme ruler.  The position of sachem (among the Pokanoket, this was Massasoit when the Mayflower arrived, and later his son, Metacom, who called himself King Philip) was inherited, usually passed on from father to son.  In the absence of a son, a daughter could inherit the position -- which was exactly the same provision for succession as in most European monarchies.  The sachem, once in place, had to prove himself: he could be replaced, or just ousted, for cowardice, poor judgement, ignorance, or a lack of leadership.  The sachem ruled with a council, not unlike a parliament.  The Manomet sachem Canacum had to show himself decisive, but also subordinate to his more powerful neighbours, and young John Billington was the perfect bargaining chip to show both of those things.  The sachem had both a civil and a religious role (no separation of church and state here, either): as Glenn Cheney rather breezily notes, “To remain worthy of his title, [the sachem] had to keep the tribe in harmony with the spirits of nature.  If the relationship between the tribe and nature went sour, it was his fault.  The consequences could be anything from hunger to invasion.  But as long as things went well, he was king” (Thanksgiving, p. 211).  The sachem exacted an annual tax in kind or in service from all members of the tribe, as well as any others dependant on his authority; this was a series of interconnections not unlike the feudal system in Europe in the Middle Ages.

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