Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Boat or A Horse?

The common perception is that Chesapeake colonists traveled primarily by boat, a generalization that is probably valid for the earliest days of settlement, when anyone who needed to travel any distance wouldn't have had much of an alternative.

A person who didn't have access to some form of water transportation – whether a canoe, skiff, raft, or small boat like a shallop – would most likely have had to walk to travel anywhere beyond his own plantation.

Nevertheless, there were practical incentives to acquire a horse as soon as possible to carry one to court, to a neighbor's, to church. Horses were expensive, but so were boats. Horses were uncommon, but so were boats. Roads may have been poor, bisected by creeks and rivers, impassable in periods of bad weather, but rivers and the Chesapeake Bay could be dangerous in storms or impassable because of unfavorable winds or tides, and require circuitous routes to move from one neck of land to another.

Although horses were not widely owned until the second half of the seventeenth century, boat ownership was not common either. Moreover, boat ownership remained limited to a small segment of the population, while ownership of horses became more widely dispersed over the seventeenth century, as the following table shows [all estates inventoried in Anne Arundel County, 1660-1699; not corrected for gender, age, wealth, or householder status]:

Thus, in a later-settled county like Anne Arundel, residents had widespread access to horses for transportation and other purposes within just a decade after the first settlers arrived to take up land.

The most thoughtful and evidence-based consideration of the "boats v. horses" question appears in a study of All Hallow's Parish (the settlement of London Town and the surrounding area) by geographer Carville Earle. Earle noted the oft-quoted statement of the Reverend Hugh Jones, that "the number of navigable rivers, creeks, and inletts, render it soe convenient for exporting and importing goods into any part thereof by water carriage."

But Jones also recognized what less clear-eyed observers have not, that what was useful for transporting heavy cargoes was not necessarily equally suited to personal movement. Earle found that the adaptations colonists made to their new-world environment included adopting "the horse and the road as the main means of travel" and a willingness to travel longer distances on horseback, in a region of dispersed settlement, than was the practice in England. [1]

Earle's analysis documented the low incidence of boat ownership compared with access to horses and identified their disadvantages in contrast to horses. As settlement spread away from the estuaries, fewer and fewer plantations had direct access to water; boats required more skill and more work in the absence of favorable winds or tides; and maintenance costs were greater.

Initially boats were cheaper to acquire – £1.5 to £3 for an 8-to-12 foot boat with sails and oars versus £5.5 to £7 for a horse – but by the 1690s purchase prices were comparable, giving the horse a decided advantage overall.

"Horseback riding became the main way of getting about in the parish and in tidewater Maryland." Jones, whose observation about the use of boats applied to imports and exports, not people, had a different assessment when it came to his own movements: "Our soil is generally sandy, free from stone, which makes itt verry convenient for travelling. And we have noe occasion for shoeing our horses except in frosty weather. And what with the goodnesse of our little horses and with the smoothnesse of the roads, we can travell upon occasion fifty miles in a summer afternoon, and sometimes a hundred miles in a day." [2]

[1] Carville V. Earle, The Evolution of a Tidewater Settlement System: All Hallow's Parish, Maryland, 1650-1783, (1975), 23, 142.

[2] Earle, Tidewater Settlement, 143-144.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

The First Modern Horses in the Chesapeake Region

Modern horses arrived in the Chesapeake region with the first Virginia colonists. Although scenes of Indians mounted on horseback attacking a wagon train or battling cavalry troops are a staple of westerns, these were nineteenth-century experiences. Native Americans in this area did not raise or have access to horses.

As was the case with many of the new human arrivals, the horses brought in as part of the earliest expeditions did not survive the "starving time" of 1609-1610.[1] Archaeological evidence indicates that all were consumed as food by the desperate colonists. The ships that arrived in subsequent years to resupply the Jamestown colonists carried more horses; these horses survived, and as they reproduced horses became a permanent part of the Chesapeake landscape.[2]

S. D. Rager

It is interesting to note that the lists of needed supplies, prepared both for the Virginia Company and for Maryland settlers, never mentioned livestock of any kind. Ships making ocean passages carried live animals as a source of food during the voyage, and successful settlement required domesticated animals for food, transportation, and labor. But the few accounts that we have of the early years of colonization make no mention of horses.

Father Andrew White notes in his journal that the first Maryland colonists bought cattle and hogs when they stopped in Virginia before sailing up the Potomac River to their landing at St. Clement's Island, but he doesn't say anything about horses. Nor is there any indication that the Ark and the Dove carried horses, something that was a possibility but very unlikely. Nevertheless, the first settlers must have purchased horses in Virginia within a short time of arriving in Maryland and later-arriving ships may well have carried at least a few horses.

Both artifacts recovered on archaeological digs and a variety of documents provide evidence about the presence of horses in early Virginia. Archaeologists working on the site of Martin's Hundred, first settled in 1618, recovered both horse shoes and a stirrup during their excavations of the site. The "Lawes Divine, Morall and Martiall", promulgated in 1612 to bring order and discipline to the Virginia colony, included the following order:

Now know yee therefore, these promises carefully considered, that it is our will and pleasure, that every one, of what quality or condition soever hee bee, in this present Colony, to take due notice of this our Edict, whereby wee do strictly charge and command, that no man shall dare to kill, or destroy any Bull, Cow, Calfe, Mare, Horse, Colt, Goate, Swine, Cocke, Henne, Chicken, Dogge, Turkie, or any tame Cattel, or Poultry, of what condition soever; whether his owne, or appertaining to another man, without leave from the Generall, upon paine of death in the Principall, and in the accessary, burning in the Hand, and losse of his eares, and unto the concealer of the same foure and twenty houres whipping, with addition of further punishment, as shall be thought fitte by the censure, and verdict of a Martiall Court.

Later Virginia records include a report made in 1616 that noted only six horses in the colony; a request that twenty mares be shipped in 1620 (but no evidence either way about their arrival), and the notation of only one horse in the 1625 muster for Martin's Hundred.

On the other hand, the Virginia Council in June 1620 described the colony's horses as "more beautifull, and fuller of courage" than the English horses from which they descended. The massacre that occurred in 1622 may well have wiped out many of those horses, resulting in the low number reported in 1625.

A proclamation issued in 1622 imposing the death penalty for anyone convicted of stealing "beasts & Birds of Domesticall & tame nature," placed horses, mares, and colts at the top of the list of protected animals, indicating both their importance and the fact that there were horses that might be stolen.[3]

While this evidence is mixed as to the presence of horses in Virginia's first decades, it is unambiguous about the value attached to them.[4]

[1] A recent study of colonial diet, based on archaeological investigations of early Virginia sites, notes that fish, wild fowl, turtles, and small mammals represented the "mainstay" of the early Virginia settlers' diet. Faunal remains from the winter of 1609 reveal the extent of the colonists' hunger, as they included vipers, black rats, dogs, cats, and horses. Archaeologists do not normally find horse bones in kitchen middens -- only the very poor ate horse meat, and then only when they had access to it, horses normally being too valuable and too scarce to be butchered for food. Yet the biomass recovered from early deposits at Jamestown included heavily butchered horse bones from heads and feet as well as carcasses. Cary Carson, Joanne Bowen, Willie Graham, Martha McCartney, and Lorena Walsh, "New World, Real World: Improvising English Culture in Seventeenth-Century Virginia," The Journal of Southern History, LXXIV (February 2008), 40.

[2] Nor was their adaptation to the Chesapeake in any way unusual. The Narragansett sachem Miantonomi, speaking to a local tribe on Long Island in 1642, despaired that "these English have gotten our land, they with scythes cut down the grass and with axes fell the trees; their cows and horses eat the grass, and their hogs spoil our clam banks, and we shall all be starved." Sarah Vowell, The Wordy Shipmates, (2008), 203.

[3] Ivor Noël Hume, Martin's Hundred, (1982), 147-48.

[4] Equally signficant, perhaps, is the choice of a cover illustration for Hume's book: Gerard Terborch's "Cavalier in the Saddle."


Friday, August 7, 2009

Why Horses? Why Anne Arundel?

Until fairly recently, both of these questions would have been unnecessary. But most 21st-century residents of Anne Arundel County probably don't encounter living horses very often.

Children may enjoy an occasional pony ride; families may attend the annual joust at St. Margaret's Church; or horses may be seen grazing in the fields along Route 2 in south county or up in the Pasadena area.

Photo from St. Margaret's Joust.

Photographs, paintings, and television shows might be the closest contact with horses that most of us have today -- even the westerns that were once a common experience for movie-goers are now a dwindling part of our culture. But for three hundred years after the settlement of Maryland, horses would have been an integral part of everyday life for most county residents.

Horse power provided a major source of energy and one of the primary means of transportation. Racing and riding were more than entertainment, recreation, and exercise; breeding and racing have been economically important since the 18th century. Armies relied on mounted cavalry as an important element of their fighting power and law enforcement used horses for mobility and crowd control.

As we begin to look around us and to look back at our past, we can see that although their role has changed over the last four centuries, horses have always been a vital part of life in Anne Arundel, across the state, and in our region.

Because this blog is appearing on the Four Rivers Heritage Area website, our focus necessarily will be on local history and local activities. But because the subject is so vast, with tentacles stretching in all directions, temporally and spatially, the subjects that we talk about and the evidence that we use will be drawn from Maryland and occasionally from Virginia, our Chesapeake neighbor, with whom we share a common heritage.