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date: 09 December 2023

Environmental History of New Englandlocked

Environmental History of New Englandlocked

  • Richard JuddRichard JuddDepartment of History, University of Maine


New England’s first human inhabitants arrived around 12,000 years ago and adopted a nomadic life in response to a rapidly changing postglacial environment. They were followed by Archaic and Woodland cultures, the latter innovating a form of corn-beans-squash cultivation called “three sisters.” European colonists appeared first in small fishing and fur-trading posts and then in larger numbers at Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay. The nascent fur-trading farming, fishing, and logging economies disrupted regional ecosystems. Colonization weakened Native society through epidemics, ecological disruptions, enslavement, and wars, and yet Indigenous people persevered in family bands and small communities and sustained their identity through extended kinship ties. English husbandry shifted gradually to market production after the American Revolution, which brought further ecological disruptions. The early 19th century saw the rise of equally intrusive fishing and logging practices, which were exaggerated at century’s end by the introduction of pulp and paper production, marine engines, and new trawling equipment.

New England’s Industrial Revolution began in the 1790s in the Blackstone Valley and spread from there into central New England, where more forceful rivers gave rise to gigantic textile mills. The cultural disorientation brought on by industrialization triggered the Romantic movement, epitomized by Transcendentalist discourse on the truths intuited through the contemplation of nature. The Romantic recasting of nature provided intellectual impetus for pioneering fisheries- and forest-conservation efforts. In cities, conservation brought, among other things, landscaped parks such as Boston’s Emerald Necklace. Mirroring its approach to conservation, New England pioneered several forms of environmental activism, including private land trusts, cultural landscape preservation, heritage parks, and environmental justice movements. New England “re-wilded” several of its rivers by removing dams to renew migratory fish runs.


  • Environmental History

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