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The Barbarous Years

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Bailyn starts with an overview of the native communities in the Northeast. Without being either sentimental or woo-woo, he depicts a native society well adapted to its surroundings, moving to the right places at the right seasons, sensitive to the need for space, finely attuned to the roles of reciprocity, seeking balance, touching anima, and with as many foibles as any of us. If you need to smirk, then smirk. In Bailyn's hands, the portrait convinces.
Then Bailyn covers the traceable, toxic threads that disrupted the aspirations and sensibilities as they played out between colonials and native populations, the clashing social relations, the fur trade's ruinous consequences, and the calamitous miscommunications regarding land use and ownership. And it has always been about the land, from the Pequot War to Metacom to way past these barbarous years. You range freely across some terrain, and you need a significant piece to support your way of life. Then people come who take that land from your use and threaten your survival. They may be Europeans; they may be neighboring people with whom you don't see eye to eye. But the Europeans brought with them a strange notion of property rights. "It shaped the structure of social and political relations; it was the basis of the economy; and it was 'the chief measure of wealth, prestige, and political influence.' "

Little surprise, then, that "increasingly the natives came to see that the fur traders' deepening forays into their hunting grounds and the constant expansion of farms and pastureland would drive them from their homeland and destroy the basis of their lives. They grew wary, then resentful, then hostile." Trespass? Come again? When the stakes are this high, what's not to kill for?

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