Stonewalls of New England are rich with history and archeologists are still trying to determine who may have built the first stonewalls or if our concept of when North America was first settled is wrong. Items of stone and metal lead archeologists to believe that the archaic period is when the Northern New England portion of America was first inhabited. There have been many different types of fences built in New England, natural debris, wood, and stone included. Stemming from these different fence types American ingenuity flourished and inventions arose.
Agriculture was a big part of the fencing of America; the cultural differences of the colonists and the Indians also played a big role in the ideas of fencing and laws. Stonewalls are important to our culture as not only North Americans but also as humankind in general. Overview of the ancient history of New England The Wisconsin continental ice sheet retreated about 15,000 BC, causing the climate to warm, sea level to rise, and the habitat was changed from tundra to spruce-lichen.
The Pleistocene mammals (mastodons, mammoths, and caribou) were attracted to the new habitat, this caused the Paleo-Indians or Big Game hunters to arrive armed with Clovis fluted point projectiles (Salisbury, 1982). Many sites have been found in New England that shows evidence of tool-making, ritualized inter-band exchanges and other non-hunting activities. By around 8,000 BC, the spruce-lichen forest was mostly replaced by pine and hardwoods, this evolved into other types of food causing the Paleo-Indian era to give way to the early archaic.
In New England, early Archaic projectile points were found, these differ from the Paleo-Indian points because the archaic points are generally stemmed and notched for more effective specialized hunting (Salisbury, 1982). Salvatore Trento tells of one point found in Monhegan, Maine: A tiny arrowhead or possibly a small dagger was recovered from an excavation of a rubbish heap by the island archeologist. A C14 test of the organic material associated with the deposited metal artifact gave an approximate date of 1800 BC.
During the summer of 1975, William Nisbet of the Early Sites Research Society submitted a tiny fragment of the artifact to a laboratory for analysis. The results were shocking. The seemingly insignificant arrowhead was composed of copper in tin. There are no tin deposits in either the eastern of middle states of America. The closest mines are in Bolivia, but these were not worked in 1500 BC. The artifact was found in a trash pile that had lain undisturbed for perhaps over three thousand seven hundred and fifty years.
There have been cairns found in Northern New England that have been dated some two to seven thousand years ago by some unknown prehistoric people. (Trento, 1978). Four miles south of the Merrimack River just outside the town of Andover, Massachusetts, the late archeologist Frank Glynn carried out a detailed examination of a large stone mound complex. Four test trenches were sunk two along the outer margin of the stones and two within the chambers. One of the outer pits had telltale evidence of an occupation site.
A thick layer of black, greasy soil with lots of fired stone present was found beneath an undisturbed layer of dark brown and gray white earth. In essence, what Glynn found was the trash of a group of people who had been living and cooking at the site a long time ago. The other two trenches revealed a combination of stone artifacts and the remains of a chambered burial. All but two of the artifacts were excavated in the burial chamber. They were all made of stone.
Included among them were a javelin point, axeheads, an octagonal ball, hammerstones, mauls, a pestle, rectangular pendants, and a polished celt (a hafted axelike stone commonly known as a tomahawk head. ). Polished celts are almost invariably more than six thousand years old. In fact, all of the stone material found within the burial chamber points to a date as early as 3000BC. By 3,000 BC the populations in the Eastern Woodlands had reached levels that would not be reached again until after 1200 AD.
The people of this area became dependent on deer, nuts, and wild grains; fishing also became popular for the eastern residents. The presence of Europeans in the Eastern Woodlands dates from at least 1000 AD, when colonists from Iceland tried to settle in Newfoundland (Pettennude, 1999). Native Americans were used to relocating when local game, fish and especially firewood gave out. When the Europeans arrived to stay in the 1600’s the Indians were perplexed at the Europeans need to build permanent structures of wood and stone, precluding movement (Pettennude, 1999).
Thus began the fencing of the New World. Agriculture The Indians of New England lived by the seasons, spring fishing, summer fruit and forage plants, and fall hunting. They needed to be mobile and transient. They would plant cornfields and abandon them when they lost their fertility, their villages and hunting and fishing camps where seasonally abandoned. (Salisbury, 1982) Unlike the natives of the New World, the settlers were determined to use the same agriculture techniques they used in the old.
They used a mixed husbandry of both crops and livestock, they brought with them the needs of this system, the seeds, plants, sheep, goats, oxen, pigs and cattle. But where this mixture is practiced, crops must be protected from the livestock, so with the introduction of this form of farming, came also the introduction of fencing (Allport, 1990). Almost from the beginning, conflicts between the Indians and settlers arose, taking place in the fields, forests, towns and courts. English grazing animals did extensive damage to Indian planting fields and colonial livestock were often hurt in Indian hunting traps.
Ultimately, Indians were forced to adopt the European method of protecting crops from livestock even though they had none of their own. It was only a matter of time before the native Americans, having lost their lands and way of life would be building fences and stone walls for the colonists (Allport, 1990). Different Types of Fences The farmers first erected very crude brush or deadwood fences, these would just be made from the clearing of the land and the farmers would lay the debris along their property lines.
Some farmers made wicket fences, driving stakes into the ground, then weaving in willow or other tree saplings. (Allport, 1990) In order to protect gardens from dogs, tight pale fences, a type of fence made of pointed stakes (or pales) driven deep into the ground held together with on top with a rail to which each stake was attached. This was the predecessor of the picket fence. In areas where timber was abundant, many settlers used log fences, which were constructed by stacking trunks of trees on top of each other. Enclosures built for protection from the Indians were also made in this way.
In 1645, the entire town of Milford, Connecticut was enclosed in a stockade (Allport, 1990). These fences were put together with expedience not longevity in mind, and eventually they rotted, this led to the second generation of fence types to be built. Stump fences were the next type of clearing fence that was used. Stumps were often the product of clearing a field and after extracted (it could take up to 10 years before the stump was loosened up enough to remove) were put on the edge of the field with the roots sticking out.
The zigzag or worm fence was another type of fence used. This worm fence however, also used a maximum amount of lumber and took up a great amount of land that could be used for farming (Five acres of land for every square mile of land fenced) and rotted very quickly. (Allport, 1990) The colonists quickly began depleting the natural resources available to them, seeing the seemingly vast amount of timber available to them they did not think that the resources would ever run out by the seventeenth century wood shortages began to occur (Salisbury, 1982).
With timber shortages occurring and the wooden fences rotting with the harsh climate the colonists had to revert to the other items found during land clearing, as so began the making of the stone walls. Stone Walls The amount of stonewalls in the back woods of New England is overwhelming, a person can not walk in the woods with out running into stone wall remains and boundary markers. Today there is no record of the amount of stonewalls there is in New England.
But in 1871, the Department of Agriculture did a survey of the fences, approximately one-third of the fences in Connecticut were made of stone, amounting to 20,505 miles- this is almost enough to extend around the equator. Rhode Island had 14,030 miles of stone walls, Massachusetts had 32,960 miles of stone, a staggering 95,364 miles, more miles than there are in the coastline of the entire United States. Together, the states of New England had more miles of stone walls than the United States had miles of railroad track today. The work that went into them according to one estimate would have built the pyramids of Egypt one hundred times over.
Allport tells of agricultural journals The Cultivator, The Farmer’s Monthly Visitor, and the Farmer’s Companion. These journals offered advice in all aspects of farming including fence-building antidotes such as: Land which is not worth fencing is not worth having. If a poor farmer happens to have a good fence it is good luck, but it is considered an indispensable item for a good farmer to have a good fence. Most of the publications also advised their readers to replace their wooden fences with stone walls and to build them well.
Allport also states that the journals all seemed to disagree on the building of stonewalls. Some thought every wall should have a foundation that extends to the frost line, another states that if your ground is level there is not further preparation needed, and yet a third recommends digging as far as the unbroken ground and laying a foundation several inches deep. They all concur that flat stones are the easiest to lay and that rectangular slabs withstand frost heaves better than rounded fieldstones. Although a good portion of the stonewalls were built by the hard working New England farmer they also used slave labors.
The slaves not only came from the southern colonies, but Indian slaves and indentured servants were also used. Economics was the primary reason slaves were not used abundantly in the Northern States. It was not economical feasible for a farmer to maintain slaves, the harsh climates and rocky terrain caused enough difficulties to the economical sustainability of the farmland. Inventions stemming from stonewalls With all of the livestock and agriculture it soon became apparent that the towns needed someone to manage the disputes that would arise because of the fences.
The fence viewer would (and still do today see Present Day Law Section) literally walk the property lines and determine if the fences needed repairs or not. The property owner had to ensure that he followed what the fence viewer recommended, consequently the fence viewer would be held liable if he neglected the fences in his jurisdiction. (M. G. L. – Chapter 179, sec 31) The office of fence viewer is not the only American Invention to arise because of livestock and crops; one of the other inventions was the town pound.
Even with the fences some livestock especially swine and goats would cause problems. By 1635, the court of Massachusetts had ordered the towns to construct pounds to house any swine found within one mile of a farm. Not many wanted to be the poundskeeper, he would have to run down the pigs, confront bulls and wrestle loose rams. He had to pay for the food and upkeep of the animals out of his own pocket and sometimes would not be repaid. This position was usually forced upon the man who had most recently married as of that year’s town meeting. (Allport, 1990)
Although both of these traditions began at the same time their longevity was different. There are still fence viewers today with much of the same responsibility that was enacted with the old laws. The town pounds only lasted until the animals were no longer pastured in common fields and as soon as the common lands were divided and fenced the pounds disappeared, surviving only in the modified form of today’s dog pounds. Present Day Regulations The fence viewers are still used in many New England states to settle disputes with regard to boundaries and viability of the fence.
Chapter 179 section 31 of the Massachusetts General Law states: If the part of the fence apportioned to a proprietor becomes deficient and he does not repair it within three days after notice of such deficiency has been given to him by a fence viewer of the town; it may be repaired by any other proprietor. Two or more fence viewers may examine such repairs, and if the adjudge them sufficient, may ascertain and determine the cost of the same and make a signed statement thereof and of the amount of their fees. Chapter 179: Section33.
Emergency repair of fence: recovery of cost of repairs: If a part of the fence is suddenly blown down or carried away by a flood or tempest at a time when the crops of grain and grass in the field are thereby exposed to immediate destruction or injury, the proprietor to whom such part of the fence was assigned shall repair it within twenty four hours after notice thereof given to him by a fence viewer; and if he fails to do so, the fence may be repaired by any other proprietor, who may recover double the cost of the repairs and fees.
The Federal Regulatory Energy Commission addressed the importance of stone wall restoration with regards to any construction of a project that may disturb the historical structures. RM 98-3. 00 states that stone walls shall be restored. In a letter to the Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline, Kevin Madden Director of the Office of Pipeline Regulation reiterated the fact that the stonewalls will be rebuilt with the original stones, said stones are to be renumbered and before and after photos will be taken on the wall.
It was required that the rock piles from walls were flagged so they would not by disturbed by the clean-up crews. (Docket CP 97-238) The Federal Regulatory Energy Commission also awarded damages to landowners who complained that the stonewall on their property was improperly restored. It was required for the company to either restore the wall to pre-project conditions or provide the funds for the landowner to have the wall restored.
Bill Brett of PAL wrote a treatment plan for stonewalls which is attached as Appendix B). Conclusion Stonewalls have been part of our American culture since the beginning of time. Because of the history involved with the rock and the possible clues these artifacts still need to provide it is only natural that we should ensure the protection of these walls. Who knows what the ancient ruins may someday lead archeologists to discover about the origins of America.