Creatures of Empire: How Domestic Animals Transformed Early America
Virginia DeJohn Anderson
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When we think of the key figures of early American history, we think of explorers, or pilgrims, or Native Americans--not cattle, or goats, or swine. But as Virginia DeJohn Anderson reveals in this brilliantly original account of colonists in New England and the Chesapeake region, livestock played a vitally important role in the settling of the New World.
Livestock, Anderson writes, were a central factor in the cultural clash between colonists and Indians as well as a driving force in the expansion west. By bringing livestock across the Atlantic, colonists believed that they provided the means to realize America's potential. It was thought that if the Native Americans learned to keep livestock as well, they would be that much closer to assimilating the colonists' culture, especially their Christian faith. But colonists failed to anticipate the problems that would arise as Indians began encountering free-ranging livestock at almost every turn, often trespassing in their cornfields. Moreover, when growing populations and an expansive style of husbandry required far more space than they had expected, colonists could see no alternative but to appropriate Indian land. This created tensions that reached the boiling point with King Philip's War and Bacon's Rebellion. And it established a pattern that would repeat time and again over the next two centuries.
A stunning account that presents our history in a truly new light, Creatures of Empire restores a vital element of our past, illuminating one of the great forces of colonization and the expansion westward.
Oxford is a registered trademark of Oxford University Press All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of Oxford University Press. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Anderson, Virginia DeJohn. Creatures of Empire : how domestic animals transformed early America / Virginia DeJohn
south of the James River pilfered his and fellow Virginians’ hogs on a daily basis. Marylanders were convinced that, “under pretence of killing wild Hoggs,” local Indians habitually made off with tame creatures. In Massachusetts, colonists felt equally certain that they had “just reason to suspect the Indians to have stolne” their animal property even though “it be very difficult to proove such thefts.” Plymouth’s inhabitants joined in the chorus of complaint.42 As if filching animals were not
were formed in God’s own image. The divine “breath of life” that animated Adam and his descendants transformed them into “living souls” greater than any animal on earth. And only humans could hope to achieve eternal salvation. The mere suggestion that animals might experience immortality was, as one seventeenth-century English preacher put it, an “offensive absurdity.” Christ suffered, died, and rose again for the sake of humankind, not for any other creatures. God’s promise of salvation thus
human dominion over animals remained in force. After the Flood, God renewed His promise of dominion to Noah and his descendants, announcing that all living creatures would have “the fear of you and the dread of you.” Thus scripture not only established human uniqueness with regard to other creatures, but also sanctioned humankind’s ascendancy over animals.27 Neither of these ideas was uniquely Christian—Aristotle, for instance, argued for human precedence over animals on the grounds that only
constituents, but colonists remained at liberty to kill wild pigs. A Connecticut law, designed to prevent colonists from hunting tame swine on the “pretence” that they were “Wild Hoggs,” similarly implied that feral beasts were free for the taking.78 Unlike in the Chesapeake region, no legislature in New England debated whether feral livestock were royal property, and no governor required hunters of wild swine to obtain licenses. No one seemed to worry whether the beasts could be considered