Creatures of Empire: How Domestic Animals Transformed Early America

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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.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This is not a work just for woud-be specialists. By emphasizing contingency and the role of livestock as actors in specific historical events, Anderson has demonstrated that animals should concern all historians of early America."--Geoffrey Plank, The William and Mary Quarterly

"This fine book delivers on all counts. Anderson deftly moves beyond standard environmental histories into new and richer territory. This book is a well-researched, well-written, and powerfully synthetic study of an intriguing facet of early American history."--The Journal of Southern History

"Anderson's book is necessary reading for anyone who wants to understand colonial history. She has, in my estimation, read all the relevant original sources, assessed them wisely and written her opinions in clear and sometimes eloquent prose."--American Historical Review

Library Journal
Anderson (history, Univ. of Colorado, Boulder) here joins scholars such as Jeffrey Lockwood (Locust) and Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel) in demonstrating that key animals and plants crucially shaped human history. According to Anderson, livestock specifically cattle, pigs, and sheep deserve a place in any account of American history, having "produced changes in the land [and] in the hearts and minds and behavior of" Native Americans and English colonists. With this provocative thesis, Anderson argues that livestock were pivotal historical actors that continually altered Native American-English settler relationships in 17th-century southern New England and tidewater Virginia. Drawing extensively from historical sources to illuminate English beliefs that livestock husbandry epitomized civilization, Anderson richly details Native Americans' and colonists' competing conceptions of nature, land use, and property rights and settlers' domesticated and feral livestock, which provided the pretext for lethal conflicts between the English and Native Americans. Though the thesis is debatable, scholars and interested lay readers will enjoy Anderson's lively, readable narrative. Recommended for academic and public libraries. Charles L. Lumpkins, Pennsylvania State Univ., State Coll., PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195304466
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 1/19/2006
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 431,308
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Virginia DeJohn Anderson is Associate Professor of History at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She is the author of New England's Generation and co-author (with David Goldfield, et al.) of The American Journey: A History of the United States.

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Table of Contents

Prologue : seeing Banquo's ghost 1
Pt. I Thinking about animals
1 Chickwallop and the strange beast : Indians and animals in early America 15
2 The deer with the red collar : English ideas about animals 43
Pt. II Settling with animals
3 The company of cattle : domestication and colonization 75
4 The wild gangs of the Chesapeake : livestock husbandry in the south 107
5 A world of pastures and pounds : raising livestock in early New England 141
Pt. III Contending with animals
6 Forgiving trespasses : living with livestock in early America 175
7 A prophecy fulfilled : from cooperation to the displacement of Indians 209
Epilogue : full circle 243
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