â€‹Native American societies of the Eastern Seaboard of what is now the United States were chiefdoms in what is called a “prestige-goods economy.” In such a society, political advantage was gained through exercising control over access to resources that could only be obtained through external trade. These were not basic utilitarian items. Instead, they were “wealth items” needed in social transactions. They might be crafted items ready-made from geographically distant places or things valued in their natural, unworked form as inherently endowed with qualitative worth—animal pelts, shells, feathers, beads, copper, etc. In either case, they constituted a type of “inalienable wealth,” meaning that they were goods which could not be conceptually separated from their place or condition of origin, and always related whoever possessed them to that place or condition. Their social power always came from their association with their source, often described as ancestral beings, creator deities, cultural heroes, or primordial powers, which were credited with having created or crafted the world, its people, and their cultural skills. As such, these inalienable goods never fully belonged to those to whom they had been given; they always remained in some sense the property of the giver. Those who controlled such prestige goods wielded power because of their connection to-and control over-power at the goods’ source.
Marriage and family life:
â–ª Customs varied widely, but strict rules always applied to marriage.
â–ª Most married in their teens, after initiation and generally after a period of sexual experimentation. Women chose their husbands.
â–ª Indian manners and customs reinforced the impression of sexual passion. Hospitality that included sexual privileges, for instance sending “a woman fresh painted red with Poconesand oile” to be the “bedfellow” of a guest.
â–ª Polygamy was practiced at least by werowances or mamanatowicks (see below). Given that women did the farming, such multiple marriages increased the food wealth of the chief, which he was then able to share with his people in times of need.
â–ª Bridewealth, a husband’s payment to his bride’s kinfolk, functioning something like a bond posted for his good behavior.
â–ª The nuclear family existed within a wider network of extended family—the clan—which was far more important.
â–ª Thus, Indians readily accepted divorce without fear of destruction of the social fabric. If a woman chose to divorce her husband, she simply put his things outside the door.
â–ª The societies of the Iroquois and southern Algonquians were matrilineal: lineage, property, and political power passed through the female line. When a man married, he went to live with the people of his wife. In New England, the societies were patrilineal and men continued to dominate political and religious life.
â–ª The autonomous individual, loyal to the group but independent and aloof, was the ideal. Men were not respected if they were dependent, submissive, or cowed by authority. They were trained early in life “to think for themselves and act for others.” Thus, parents were permissive toward their children.
â–ª Indians valued consensus.
â–ª Custom was law.
â–ª In some societies, like the Iroquois, women selected the chiefs. In clan meetings, the senior women attended, caucusing behind the circle of men who did the public speaking and lobbying with them.
â–ª Chiefs were called a werowance, a term which translated roughly as “he is wealthy,” or a mamanatowick, a word which incorporated the term Manitou or “spiritual power.” Thus, the material, the spiritual, and the political were inseparable in the person of the mamanatowick and people for whom he acted. Weowances and particularly the mamanatowick owed their status in part to kinship, through their own matrilineages and through marriage alliances with multiple spouses to which apparently only the elite were entitled. The power of chiefs rested mainly on personal dignity and prestige. They could, as English trader James Adair said, “only persuade or dissuade the people, either by the force of good-nature and clear reasoning, or colouring things, so as to suit their prevailing passion.”
â–ª Werowances to some extent also controlled food surpluses through tribute from subordinates as well as produced by their multiple wives. They also seem to have controlled the granaries where the surplus produce of their people was stored against hard times. Distributing gifts was a way of establishing and maintaining leadership and good will. Reciprocity involved mutual give and take, but its aim was not equality. Rather, it aimed at maintaining equilibrium and interdependence between individuals of unequal power and prestige. But most important, the power of a werowance rested on his control of such goods as copper from the continental interior and pearls from the Atlantic Coast, that is, prestige goods. Gift-giving and external trade solidified such bonds. Long-distance trade, tribute, and the ethic of gift-giving merged almost seamlessly into diplomacy. The Native peoples of the Chesapeake expected the exchange of goods between chiefs to take the form of mutual generosity rather than competitive bargaining, especially when the diplomatic stakes were high.
â–ª Property rights were also subject to reciprocity. People of one area might agree to share with others the right to use land for different but complimentary purposes.
â–ª Even in military matters, women played an important role. Because they provided the moccasins and food for warring expeditions, their withholding of these items was tantamount to a veto of a military foray.
â–ª Though priding themselves on the autonomous individual, Indians maintained a strict sense of right and wrong, enforced through the inculcation of a strong sense of tradition and attachment to the group by communally performed rituals. This sense of duty, bolstered by a fear of gossip and a strongly held belief in the power of evil spirits to punish wrongdoers, that curbed antisocial behavior. Those who stole food or displayed cowardice were shamed and shunned until they atoned for their actions and demonstrated that they had morally purified themselves.
â–ª Indians believed that all nature was alive, pulsating with a spiritual power—Manitou in the Algonquian language—a mysterious, awe-inspiring force that could affect human life for both good and evil. Such power united all nature in an unbroken web. For instance, if one overfished or destroyed game beyond one’s needs, the spiritual power inherent in fish and game would revenge because humans had broken the mutual trust and reciprocity that governed relations of all beings, human and non-human. This belief led them to seek constantly to conciliate all the spiritual forces in nature.
â–ª Indians also believed in a supreme, benevolent, Good Spirit, who had created all things.
â–ª Shamans, or medicine men, were healers and intermediaries with the spirit world.
Work and land
â–ª Indians did not vie with one another for conspicuous consumption; their lifestyle was one that generated a minimum of earthly goods and a maximum of leisure time.
â–ª Men did the hunting, fishing, canoe-building, and ground clearing (using the “slash and burn” method of girdling trees and burning the brush around them).
â–ª Women planted and harvested the corn, beans, and squash in the ash-enriched soil. They made heaps like molehills each about two and a half feet from the next. They planted corn and beans in the mound. Then they planted squash in the same field. The corn stalk acted as a bean pole, while the squash sent tendrils and leaves out everywhere. The entire field became a dense tangle of food plants, keeping the weeds down and moisture in. One acre supported one person for a year. After several years, the Indians moved to a new spot and repeated the process, allowing the old field to lie fallow and eventually returning to it.
â–ª Women were also responsible for building the dwellings, which they owned. Although a given tribe might have only a small acreage under cultivation at a given time, a substantial acreage had to be left in long-term fallow to renew its fertility. And much more was needed for hunting, fishing, and the gather of fruits and nuts.
â–ª What looked like empty forest to the English did not necessarily look that way to the Indians.
West Africans Encountered by Englishmen
Marriage and family life:
â–ª Africans had an encouraging attitude toward premarital sexual experimentation.
â–ª Marriages were exogamous and adultery was strictly forbidden.
â–ª Polygamy was practiced especially among the wealthy.
â–ª Bridewealth, a husband’s payment to his bride’s kinfolk
â–ª The nuclear family existed within a wider network of extended family—the clan—which was far more important.
â–ª African grassland emperors claimed semi-godlike status that they only thinly disguised when converted to Islam.
â–ª Stateless societies were common in West Africa. Warfare and slavery, however, led villages and kin groups to increase their dependence on kingdoms, whose rulers exacted taxes and tribute but could guarantee peace and encourage commerce.
â–ª Family and clan leaders exercised authority in the collective leadership of villages and larger political confederations.
â–ª Religious beliefs varied from place to place, but most West Africans believed that they were tied to a larger spirit world shaped by the cycles of nature, the legacy of ancestors, and an all-knowing Creator.
Work and land
â–ª Family and kinship groups owned land communally. They had an inalienable right to the soil cultivated by their ancestors along with the obligation to honor their ancestors by cultivating the soil properly. Land was not a commodity that could be bought and sold.
â–ª Men raised livestock and hunted.
â–ª For the most part, women dominated food production: tubers, bananas, millet, and rice. Households often cooperated in the effort.
Marriage and Family
â–ª Monogamous marriage
â–ª By the common law of coverture, the woman’s property became that of her husband at the time of marriage.
â–ª The nuclear family was the building block, the inner circle of concentric circles of a society based on patriarchal authority. The father was king in his household. The authority of men over women rested on ownership of property.
â–ª Women were to dress modestly and be submissive to their husbands.
â–ª Society was patrilineal: lineage, property, and power passed through the male line.
â–ª Children were reared to obedience and submission to patriarchal authority both in the family and in the larger society.
â–ª Monarch, nobles, and gentry (wealthy landowners)
â–ª Though the nobles had come increasingly under the monarch's dominion, they still retained considerable power over their people and formed the nucleus of the army in times of war or rebellion. The monarch tried to keep nobles as close as possible at court. They also helped him rule by sitting in the upper house of Parliament.
â–ª The gentry, perhaps 5 to 10 percent of the adult male population, were wealthy men with vast holdings in land. They saw that the laws of Parliament were enforced in their neighborhoods. Together with smaller landowners, perhaps another 5 to 10 percent of the population, they elected representatives to the House of Commons, which belied its name by the rank of those who sat in it.
â–ª Parliament, rather than the monarch, had the power to tax and to make laws. This was the price the monarch had to pay for the help of the nobility and people in running the country.
â–ª At the head of the English church was the monarch, who ruled it through the bishops, spiritual nobles who sat both in the upper house of Parliament and also in the upper house of the Convocation.
â–ª Beneath the bishops were priests who presided over a parish. Each parish had a set of local officers, vestrymen and church wardens, who looked after church property and helped the priest supervise the daily lives of his parishioners.
â–ª God had commanded humans to subdue the earth and gave them power over all the animals. Nature was a resource to be exploited for human gain.
Work and Land
â–ª With the advent of the enclosure, medieval land usage gave way to private property typically owned by males.
â–ª Men’s work was outside the home: they plowed, planted, and tended crops.
â–ª Women’s work was within the home: they processed agricultural products: they made butter and cheese from milk, they brewed and baked with grain products, they manufactured linens and clothes from flax, hemp, and wool. Women also maintained and reproduced the household labor force. They cared for children, trained daughters to perform household tasks, fed family and farm laborers, and did laundry.
â–ª Idleness had always been a vice in Christian teaching, one that the Reformers denounced with special force.
â–ª The Statute for Artificers (1563), which reenacted similar provisions from the Statute of Laborers (1495), required all laborers to work from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. from mid-March to mid-September and from daybreak to nightfall during the rest of the year. Time for food and rest during the day was not to exceed two and a half hours.
â–ª The above law aimed at curbing a relaxed attitude toward work, for the 1495 statute stated that laborers “waste much . . . of the day . . . in late coming unto their work, early departing therefrom, long sitting at their breakfast, at their dinner and their noon-meat, and long time of sleeping after noon.”
â–ª Gentlemen, however, were not expected to work; they were exempt from the law.
â–ª Farmers in the South and East of England worked hard and expected their hired laborers to do so too, but farming was seasonal labor and was often interrupted by bad weather.
â–ª Farmers in the North and West, where the terrain lent itself less to agriculture, grew gardens, gathered nuts and berries, and tended livestock. This style of farming took scarcely half their time. The farm folk of these regions were not in good repute with their countrymen precisely because their way of life required so little work.
â–ª The ranks of the unemployed were swelled by the population explosion and the practice of enclosure.
â–ª Parliament responded in the Statute for Artificers by making it illegal for a man to practice a trade until he had served for seven years as an apprentice to a master. Employers in most trades, moreover, were required to hire laborers by the year, not by the day or hour. The intention was to see that men were under the control of a master and that more men had jobs. The downside was that whether or not a master had work enough to occupy his laborers, they had to stay with him and he had to keep them. Men who learned to work under these conditions learned to work not very hard.
â–ª The woolen industry was the only one that furnished England with exports sizeable enough to pay for the imports she needed. Dependence on this single export, however, made thecountry peculiarly vulnerable to economic depression.
â–ª After 1550, far-sighted men began to see that the way to increase the number of jobs for the burgeoning population was to increase the variety of exports. Such men began to think of establishing colonies in America where Englishmen and natives could work together to produce articles of trade that Englishmen could not or would not produce at home.