Notes on Richard White, _The Middle Ground_ and William Cronon, _Changes in the Land_.

White begins his discussion of the fur trade between the French and the Algonquians by saying that “the exchange of goods is not so easily fenced off into an economic realm whose rules are at once distinct from other aspects of life and present in all societies. After all, goods changed hands virtually every time Frenchmen and Algonquians struggled to unite against common enemies; or met to resolve the murders between them; or asked for aid in surviving hunger, disease, droughts, and blizzards; or made love or married. Such exchanges are excluded from considerations of the fur trade or are reduced to a purely economic relation.” (94.)

“Reconstructing the fur trade (…) necessitates discovering what meaning these goods and their exchange had for both the Algonquians and the French.” (96.) Between the French and the Algonquians “foods changed hands” every time “Indians provided their labor, their service as warriors, or sexual favors” to the French.” (97.)

White describes an exchange of furs for European-made metal goods between Crees and Ottawas, noting that “both sides framed the exchange in terms of gifts rather than trade.” (98.)

Goods traded were not only “objects of everyday use, but they were also ritual objects which, when given as gifts, created special bonds between societies. With European commodities Algonquians could transform potential enemies into friends and prepare the way for intermarriage that would solidify this tentative connection into one of kinspeople and allies.” (100.)

White quotes the Frenchman Nicolas Perrot saying that when an Algonquian was dying “he was decked out with all the ornaments owned by the family,” family defined as “his kindred and his connections by marriage.” (102.)

“Like the model for the alliance, the model for exchange was familial. The French were fathers and the Algonquians their children. From this central metaphor certain consequences flowed.” (112.) Namely, Algonquian claims upon the French to support their “children” in a benevolent manner. “The Algonquians did not confine the familial metaphor to” French officials, but extended it to individual French traders. “Traders who came to their villages also had to give gifts which the Indians reciprocated. The gifts given by such traders either established the symbolic ties of kinship or fortified ties so that further exchange could proceed. In the turmoil of the 1680s, Frenchmen in the West learned that the absence of such ties could cost them their lives. To avoid being greedy strangers, traders gave gifts, but they did not abandon their overarching search for profit.” (114.) That is, French “fathers” sought to profit from their Indian “children.”

“Intermarriage created bonds of kinship and obligation.” (15.)

“Except for the Huron-Petuns, who were matrilineal, and the Ojibwas and Ottawas, who seem to have originally lacked clans, [the Indians in the Middle Ground] were all patrilineal village peoples”. (16.)

“This strong conceptual patrilineal emphasis is not, however, much of a guide to practice. These people reckoned descent patrilineally, but they were not patrilocal; that is, when a man married, he did not necessarily live with his own lineage. He often moved in with hs wife’s lineage; in practice, these peoples were bilocal. This bilocality takes on great significance given the prevalence of intertribal marriages. Intertribal marriages (…) created a larger community of interest among the refugees [who populated the Middle Ground]. Intermarriage solidified ties with outsiders who could assist a people in times of war and hunger, but the price paid was the weakening of the patrilineages – adult men left their own patrilineages and their own villages to reside in villages where they had only affinal relatives.” (17.)

White quotes a Father Hennepin that the calumet, the pipe smoked ceremonially and often used to offer and declare piece, was decorated “with feathers of all colors, interlaced with locks of women’s hair.” (21.) While this might have any number of meanings, it is not implausible that the women’s hair knitting together the other decorations on the calumet formed a symbolic link between women and the knitting together of peaceful relationships.

“increasingly in the eighteenth century, the political benefits of the trade outweighed its revenues. The trade of the pay d’en haut supported Canada not through its profits, but because it was part of the glue holding the Algonquians to the alliance. Royal officials accepted Algonquian restrictions on the trade because the very survival of Canada seemed to depend on subordinating trade to the alliance. (…) The limited economic and considerable political importance of the trade was apparent to strategists by the end of the period. In 1755 one French strategist admitted that the fur trade of the Great Lakes and the Ohio Valley was not worth 1 percent of the expense that it had cost the Crown.” (127.)

Women “were a major force in exchange in the villages.” (130.)

White quotes the French commander Duboisson describing a delegation of Fox leaders as including “seven female slaves.” (158.) White doesn’t comment on whether this slavery is real or perceived. White mentions a battle in 1730 when French troops and allied Indians “trapped over a thousand Fox in the Ilinois country. The Fox were attempting to flee to the Iroquois for refuge. In the ensuing slaughter somewhere between two hundred and three hundred Fox warriors died along with two hundren women and children. Another four hundred to five hundred women and children were taken prisoners and distributed among the victors.” (168.)


In _Changes In The Land_ William Cronon writes that in the non-winter months the food “which women and children gathered [served] as a steady base for the village diet” among Indians in New England. (39.) This gathering included shellfish, bird’s eggs, and small game. In the winter months, most food came from male hunters, but “women maintained the campsite and did all the hauling and processing of the slaughtered meat.” (40.)

In nonagricultural areas, “women’s work involved gathering shellfish and birds on the shore, collecting wild plants, trapping small rodents, making garments, keeping amp, and the whole range of food-processing activities; but meat gathered by men probably supplied half or more of a village’s food.” (44.)

In agricultural areas, “[e]xcept for tobacco, crops were primarily the responsibility of women,” and this agricultural work was combined with childcare. “[T]his sexual division (…) made women much more important than men in providing food. A single Indian woman could raise anywhere from twenty-five to sixty bushels of corn by working an acre or two, enough to provide half or more of the annual caloric requirements for a family of five. When corn was combined with other foods for which they were responsible, women may have contributed as much as three-fourths of a family’s total subsistence needs.” (44.)

“Once crops were planted and weeded, they needed less attention for two or three months, until the ripening corn had to be guarded against marauding birds before being harvested. During these months, villages tended to disperse and families moved their individual wigwams to other planting and gathering sites. Women, who owned the wigwams and most household goods, moved their camps from field to field as necessary, and then to points along the coast where they gathered seafood and the cattails used in making mats for wigwams. (…) Men fanned out from these bases for extended fishing and hunting trips” of up to ten days at a time. (45.)

The harvest season in the fall marked the end of the part of the year where women’s work predominated in supplying subsistence needs, after which came the hunting season where men procured more of the needed food. “Autumn saw the harvesting of corn in addition to the gathering of acorns, chetnuts, groundnutes, and other wild plants. It was a time of extensive festivals when many hundreds of people gathered in dense settlements and consumed much of this surplus food. Gambling, dancing, and eating were combined with rituals – similar to the potlatch cermonies of the Pacific Northwest – in which wealthy individuals gave away much of what they owned to establish reciprocal relations of obligations with potentials followers or allies.” (46.) This may be over-interpreting, but it strikes me that again here there is a link between women’s work and its products and the building or solidifying of peaceful ties between people.

Women’s work remained important during hunting season, as “women hauled dead game back to camp. There they butched and processed it, preparing the hides for clothing, cooking the meat, and smoking some of it for use later in the winter. By later December, when the snows finally came, the villages had probably reassembled in heavily wooded areas protected from the weather, where fuel for campfires was easy to obtain. For the rest of the winter, men continued to hunt and fish the surrounding areas on snowshoes, while women remained in camp making garments and living on meat and stored grain.” (47.)

“To the colonists, only Indian women appeared to do legitimate work; the men idled away their time in hunting, fishing, and wantonly burning the woods, none of which seemed like genuinely productive activities to Europeans. English observers often commented about how hard Indian women worked. “It is almost incredible,” Williams wrote, “what burthens the poore women carry of Corne, of Fish, of Beanes, of Mats, and a childe besides.” The criticism of Indian males in such remarks was usually explicit. “Their wives are their slaves,” wrote Christopher Levett, “and do all the work; the men will do nothing but kill beasts, fish, etc.” For their part, Indian men seemed to acknowledge that their wives were a principal source of wealth and mocked Englishmen for not working their wives harder. According to the lawyer Thomas Lechford, “They say Englisman much foole, for spoiling good working creatures, meaning women: And when they see any of our English women sewing with their needles, or working coifes, or such things, they will cry out, Lazie squaes.” (…) Indian men, seeing Englishmen working in the fields, could not understand why English women were not doing such work. At the same time, they failed to see the contributions colonial women were actually making: gardening, cooking, spinning and weaving textiles, sewing clothing, tending milch cows, making butter and cheese, caring for children and so on. The English, for their part, had trouble seeing hunting and fishing – which most regarded as leisure activities – as involving real labor, and so tended to brand Indian men as lazy. (…) It is quite possible that Indian women – like women in many cultures – did indeed bare a disproportionate share of the work burden.” (52.)

Nonetheless, and despite changes involving agriculture, “the annual subsistence cycle still saw Indian communities giving considerable attention to hunting meat, the traditionally more masculine activity. (…) the English used this Indian reliance on hunting” – defined as a leisure and not a productive activity – “not only to condemn Indian men as lazy savages but to deny that Indians had a rightful claim to the land they hunted.” (52-53.) This is due to the Lockean justification of property, whereby one who mixes labor with something has a claim to own the resultant mixed thing, while one who doesn’t so mix labor with something has no claim to own that thing. Though he doesn’t frame this in relation to the Lockean notion of proprty, Cronon emphasizes that Indian hunting practices – as well as food gathering and agricultural practices like field burning – did shape animal populations in important ways, such that the Indians could be said to have mixed their labor with the animal populations and the lands they hunted. “Indians who hunted game animals were not just taking the “unplanted bounties of nature”; in an important sense, they were harvesting a foodstuff they had consciously been instrumental in creating.” (51.) (Cronon briefly discusses Locke on 78-79 and 95, and on 56 mentions what is in some ways an unnamed Lockean justification on the colonists for expropriating the Indians.)

Cronon notes that the Indian sachems, in whom were vested “[a] village’s rights to the territory which it used during the various seasons of the year,” were not just males but “could be eiher male or female.” These “sachems derived their power in many ways” including “by marrying (if male) several wives to proliferate wealth and kin obligations.” “[K]in relations undoubteldy cemented networks both of economic exchange and of political obligation, and it was on these rather than more formal state institutions that sachems based their authority.” (59.)

Cronon isn’t entirely sure but speculates that “women owned baskets, mats, kettles, hoes, and so on, while men owned bows, arrows, hatchets, fishing nets, canoes, and other tools.” (61.) More than owning items, however, Indians emphasized rights of use. (62.)