Sunday, March 17, 2013

Environmental History Timeline July, 1721

Pierre de Charlevoix reports catastrophic epidemic mortality among Native American groups, abandoned anthropogenic landscapes

Pierre de Charlevoix*, French Jesuit priest touring New France in the early 18th century, authored a dispassionate record of conditions he observed during his continent-spanning travels. Charlevoix described forests, lakes, rivers, geography, travel routes, communities among the French and among Native Americans, and the successes and failures of groups and efforts to prosper in New France. Charlevoix repeatedly comments on epidemics among Native American groups. While riding a bark canoe and camping along the west shore of Lake Michigan, Charlevoix estimated epidemic mortality in New France while writing of the...
...depopulation of all the Indian nations, who are at present reduced to less than the twentieth part of what they were one hundred and fifty years ago. If this continues we shall certainly see them entirely disappear. [vol. II page 78]
Charlevoix described fallow abandoned villages and entire landscapes left to nature by lost peoples. Late in December of 1721, near present day Baton Rouge, LA, Charlevoix discovers the ruins of an ancient village in transition to a successful plantation growing mulberry, indigo, and tobacco...
The next day, we advanced eleven leagues, and encamped a little below the Bayagoulas, which we left upon our right, after having visited the ruins of an ancient village... This was very well peopled about twenty years ago; the small pox destroyed part of the inhabitants, and the rest have dispersed in such a manner, that no accounts have been heard of them for several years, and it is doubted if so much as one single family of them is now remaining. Its situation is very magnificent, and the Messrs. Paris have now a grant here, which they planted with white mulberries, and have already raised very fine silk. They have likewise begun to cultivate tobacco and indigo with success. If the proprietors of the grants were every-where as industrious, they would soon be reimbursed their expenses. [vol. II, page 284]
Close examination of documented Contact Period conditions in North America reveal the importance and real value of Native American landscape management practices preceding and facilitating pioneer settlement and successes. Many anthropogenically managed landscapes, later found in various stages of succession, predated European settlement.

*Charlevoix, Pierre-Francois-Xavier De. Journal of a Voyage to North America. London: Dodsley., 1761.

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