The difference in how Indians and Englishmen used land lead to a controversy in their definitions of property and subsequently a difference in how each group viewed prosperity; Indians viewed prosperity as having the most political influence while English saw it as having more available commodities but both took on the same attitude in order to achieve it. From the very beginning it was evident how different Native Americans were from English settlers. One particular difference, land use, indirectly caused a huge divide in how each group obtained fortune.
This difference lead to a difference in how each defined property which finally lead to a difference in how one used that property to obtain wealth. The way each group used land directly relates to their culture and is thus expressed in how they characterized property. Property then lead to disagreement in how one should seek personal wealth. Yet, despite their conflicts, both groups developed similar attitudes in respect to achieving what their personal ideas of accomplishment. Land use is a reason why Indian’s and English Settler’s views on prosperity were so different.
Indians believed in usufruct rights; the ability of more than one group or person to own the same piece of land based on how it is used (Cronon 62-63). For example, while one tribe might use a certain piece of land for hunting, another tribe could have used it for agriculture. Hence, each piece of land was thus used for a plethora of reasons. Indians also based how certain lands were used off of the changing seasons. They often changed were they settled in accordance to what foods were abundant at the time.
Due to their nomadic behaviors, Indians did not set up permanent settlements so land was never used for houses like the English. Even the places where Indians grew crops were abandoned after a certain amount of time. On the other hand, the English used land in a very private manor in order to grow crops. In some colonies, land was seen as an exclusive commodity to grow tobacco which was the money making crop of the time period. In the beginning of colonial history, almost every man was growing crops, a few exceptions being indentured servants, non-land owning whites and ministers.
Land was also used to build permanent settlements and public buildings. As America progressed the Northern colonies grew less crops while the Southern colonies grew more. Despite this transition, the ways colonist used the land stayed the same. Each piece of land had to be owned by an individual and that individual had to make changes to the land. The difference between the acquisitions of wealth is attributed to the difference in the definition of property between the two. The English settlers believed Indians were savages because they did not cultivate their land (Cronon 55).
They firmly believed that one must improve the land in order to own it. This idea that land was a thing to own and use privately had been transferred over from England to the New World (Cronon 58). Settlers also believed that land was a commodity that could be traded and sold and its only true value was its ability to grow crops (Cronon 74-75). By growing crops, you were able to prosper and become a respected individual in the community: that was the goal of every English settler. It can also be said that one’s worth in the community was attributed to the amount of property you owned (Breen and Innes 53-54).
In Northampton County, Virginia, a single man was able to influence the county court to split Northampton into two separate counties just to benefit himself (Breen and Innes 51). This gentleman class, classified by rich white land owners, were at the top of the social and political hierarchy because they were also at the top of the economic hierarchy. These facts all contributed to the idea that wealth equates to happiness and the only way to achieve this wealth is through the exploitation of the land.
Indians, on the other hand, had a very different definition of property that lead them to achieve wealth by other means such as political power. They believed that no one owned the land itself but rather what was on the land. Even the land owned by a tribe belonged to the group rather than a particular individual. Each tribe appointed a leader that would speak on behalf of their collective group and try to amass political power (Cronon 58-59). This idea is what allowed usufruct rights to work (Cronon 62-63).
Tribes would regularly hand out these usufruct rights in order to gain alliances with other tribes. However, these rights were never written or had exclusive rules in how it was conducted like the English. Crops were exclusive to who was growing them but everything else was open. Hunters could cross any boundaries in the pursuit of game. Rivers and lakes were open to use for many different tribes but nets and fishing wires belonged to whoever made them. Tribes would hand out gifts or invite other tribes to hunt and gather on their land if certain game was plentiful.
These gifts were what tribes used to gain the political favor they desired (Cronon 64). The only case where Indian’s definition of property matched that of the English was the idea that a particular good or item belonged to whoever made it. Hence, the goal of obtaining and distributing land was seen as a way of politics rather than a way to gain wealth (Cronon 61). These definitions of property led to a schism in how each group obtained wealth. While Indians viewed prosperity as having the most political influence, English saw it as having more available commodities in their possession.
Hence, Indians regularly gave away the rights to lands they saw no need for or did not use for specific purposes (Cronon 61). They traded only on a local bias because they saw no need to gain wealth from intercontinental trade since it could not help them politically (Cronon 92-93). Originally, Indians only traded so heavily with English settlers to gain useful items to make everyday tasks more efficient like copper and brass pots. Later on they traded extensively for wampum, a type of necklace that represented Indian power. These wampum were used to gain and maintain political alliances that the Indians desired (Cronon 95).
English settlers obtained wealth through private ownership of land, the ability to sell commodities and through other various jobs. New England settlers found that by trading fur, tobacco and alternative cash crops, one could attain a certain degree of wealth. When settlers first arrived, they traded heavily with Indians in order to gain fur that was in high demand in the Old World (Cronon 94). Later it became evident that cash crops like tobacco was the easiest way to obtain wealth because of its popularity round the world. They traded internationally as well as locally in order to make the most money.
Even in court records one can imply that an individual’s worth was based off of his assets (Breen and Innes 53-54). It was also seen as a good business opportunity to sell other things as well as grow crops. Rich white planters, the Gentlemen of the New World, often took on the role of merchants and sold land as well as commodities necessary to everyday life (Breen and Innes 48). By doing so they were leisurely able to amass a fortune. Despite their differences, English Settlers and Indians did have similar attitudes about the acquisition of wealth.
In Benjamin Franklin’s Advice to a Young Tradesman and The Way to Wealth, he describes how one should want little until he has amassed a fortune. Franklin talks about how one should try his hardest at his chosen profession and not to spend hours you could be working on useless activities. Franklin also described how one should obtain what is necessary in order to gain wealth. Despite the fact settlers never acknowledged the similarity of the two groups, Indians also believed in only owning what was necessary and little more (Cronon 61).
They spent their time wisely between hunting, fishing and growing crops and moving settlements during different season according to what was plentiful (Cronon 53). Indians were careful to keep the landscape in order so that when one means of finding food failed they had other reliable sources. Like the English, Indians grew crops and traded in order to gain what they could not make themselves (Cronon 53-92). Both groups believed that by constantly working hard without wants, one could eventually gain the prosperity they desired.
In conclusion, the ways the two groups defined and sought prosperity were different but the attitudes about how to gain such wealth was similar. Native Americans saw land as a public object that could be used by various tribes. How each tribe used the land helped shape how wealthy they would become. By sharing land with other tribes, one could profit from alliances. In order to accomplish this goal, Indians would only own items they felt were necessary to their work or that would gain them political favors.
Trade also helped achieve this goal through gift exchange with other tribes and commerce with settlers in order to gain items that would give them the upper hand politically. The English on the other hand saw land as a private commodity to be sold. Each individual settler sought to grow crops and trade goods in order to expand the assets in their possession. They traded internationally and locally in order to receive the most profits possible. They also ventured into other forms of commerce as well as crop growing in order to gain capital. Settlers spent many hours working and without much possessions in order to gain the wealth they sought.