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The Collected Complete Works of Jacob Abbott
Alexander the Great
Caleb in the Country
Cyrus the Great
Darius the Great
Gentle Measures in the Management and Training of the Young
History of Julius Caesar
History of King Charles II of England
Jonas on a Farm in Winter
King Alfred of England
Margaret of Anjou
Peter the Great
Pyrrhus, King of Epirus
Queen of Scots
Rollo at Play
Rollo at Work
Rollo in Geneva
Rollo in Holland
Rollo in London
Rollo in Naples
Rollo in Paris
Rollo in Rome
Rollo in Scotland
Rollo in Switzerland
Rollo in the Woods
Rollo on the Atlantic
Rollo on the Rhine
Romulus, the Founder of Rome
William the Conqueror
(American History, Vol. I)
by Jacob Abbott
New York: Sheldon & Company. Boston: Gould & Lincoln.
It is the design of this work to narrate, in a clear, simple, and intelligible manner, the leading events connected with the history of our country, from the earliest periods, down, as nearly as practicable, to the present time. The several volumes will be illustrated with all necessary maps and with numerous engravings, and the work is intended to comprise, in a distinct and connected narrative, all that it is essential for the general reader to understand in respect to the subject of it, while for those who have time for more extended studies, it may serve as an introduction to other and more copious sources of information.
The author hopes also that the work may be found useful to the young, in awakening in their minds an interest in the history of their country, and a desire for further instruction in respect to it. While it is doubtless true that such a subject can be really grasped only by minds in some degree mature, still the author believes that many young persons, especially such as are intelligent and thoughtful in disposition and character, may derive both entertainment and instruction from a perusal of these pages.
Types of Life in America.
Subject of the Volume
The first step to be taken in studying the history of our country is to form some clear and proper conception of the characteristics and condition of the territory which is now occupied by the American people, as it existed when first discovered and explored by Europeans. The aboriginal condition of the country, therefore, anterior to its occupation by white men, and the character and condition of the native tribes which then inhabited it, will be the subject of this volume.
Origin of Vegetable and Animal Life in America
When the new world was first discovered it was found to be, like the old, well stocked with plants and animals, and inhabited by a great many tribes and nations of men; and yet the plants and animals, if not the men, were all essentially different from those known in the old world. This was unexpected; it was thought to be quite remarkable, and it added greatly to the difficulty of deciding the question, which, of course, at once arose, in respect to the origin of these plants and animals and men, and to the manner in which they came in possession of a continent thus cut off apparently from all intercourse and connection with the rest of the world.
For the American continent is entirely separated from the old. The nearest approach which it makes to it in any part is at Behring's Straits, on the north-west, where it is divided form the Asiatic continent by a channel about forty miles wide.
Means of Communication With the Old World.
Some animals and perhaps some plants, and most certainly man, may be supposed to have been transported across such a channel of water as this of Behring's Straits, either by boats made by the savages living on the coasts, or possibly by means of ice, either upon moving fields driven by the wind, or upon the solid surface, at some time when the whole channel was entirely frozen over.
There is also at some distance south of Behring's Straits a remarkable chain of islands, called the Aleutian Islands, which extend in a regular and continuous line from the American to the Asiatic shore. These islands are nearly all inhabited, and the natives navigate the seas around them in boats made of a frame-work of wood or bone, covered externally with seal skins.
These islands are volcanic. They contain now numerous volcanoes, some active and some extinct, and also hot springs and other indications of subterranean fire. They bear no trees, but they produce a great variety of animals. They look, upon the map, like a row of stepping stones, placed on purpose to enable men and animals from the old world to make their way to the new.
It is perhaps possible to imagine also that a company of men might have been forced accidentally to sea in some large canoe from the coast of Africa, or on the other side from some of the islands of the Pacific, and so driven across the intervening water, and landed upon the American shores. It is true that it would be exceedingly improbable that any such combination of circumstances would occur as could lead to such a result. The canoe or boat must have been very large, the stock of provisions very great, and the wind, while it must not have been violent enough to engulf the boat, must still have blown very long. and very steadily to have carried a company of men so far before they all perished of hunger and thirst. All this would have been very improbable. Still it would be difficult to show that it could not occur. From the hundreds and perhaps thousands of boats full of savages that have been blown off to sea from the coasts of Africa, or from the South Sea Islands, it would be impossible to prove positively that there could never have been one that by any chance could have reached the American shores.
There is still another mode by which we can imagine the animal and vegetable life of America to have been communicated to it from other regions, and that is, by supposing that there was in former ages some direct connection between the two continents by a tract of land which has since become submerged. It is well known now that the crust of the earth is not in a stable condition. It is subject to changes and movements of various kinds, which are now going forward all the time, and have probably always been going forward. In some places the land is slowly rising; in others it is slowly subsiding. There are many places in the world where towns and cities which formerly stood high and dry on the land are now under water. The land has slowly subsided, so that the sea at the present time flows over it, and people passing in boats now look down and see the old foundations, and fragments of the fallen walls and columns, at the bottom.
The rising and sinking of the land in this way can only be directly and positively proved in places which lie along the sea shore, for nowhere else is there any exact standard of comparison by which the rising or falling may be measured. But it is now generally believed by geologists and philosophers that a state of gradual motion, rising in some places and sinking in others, is the natural and constant condition, or, as it is more scientifically expressed, the normal condition of the strata which form the crust of the globe. Of the causes which lead to this state of things it would be out of place to speak here, but there is no doubt of the fact; and this action is in no part of the world going on so actively and with so sensible an effect as on some of the coasts of America.
Now, although these changes of level proceed in an extremely gradual manner, so that the inhabitants that dwell upon the territory thus slowly rising or falling are, in most cases, wholly unconscious of the motion, still the effect might be sufficient, in the course of forty or fifty centuries, to submerge a very extensive tract of land, which in remote ages may have formed a connection between the American continent and other lands lying to the eastward or westward of it.
The Plants and Animals of America Generally New.
These and various other similar theories were devised in former times in endeavors to contrive some way of bringing plants and animals from other countries to America; but they have been generally considered unsatisfactory, since on coming fully to examine the plants and animals living here, they were found to be, as it seemed, essentially different from those found in other countries, so different as to render it very improbable, according to the ideas on this subject that have hitherto generally prevailed, that they could ever be descended from the same stock, at least by ordinary generation. The fauna and the flora were both found to be in general essentially dissimilar.
We say in general, for there are some animals, such as birds, that might easily fly across the ocean, and sea-weeds, that might drift across, and polar animals, such as bears, seals, foxes and dogs, and the like, which go and come as they will, all over the Arctic seas, that were found common to both worlds. With a moderate number of exceptions such as these, however, the plants and animals found in America proved on examination to be entirely new.
By the fauna of a country is meant the system of animals that inhabit it. The flora is its system of plants. Now, inasmuch as both the fauna and the flora of America were so essentially different from those of the old world, that, so far as could be judged from all that was known of the propagation of plants and animals, and of the changes which they may undergo from the influence of climate and soil, and other conditions, the one system, in the opinion of naturalists, could not have been produced from the other, it seemed to be wholly useless to attempt to contrive means by which the progenitors of the present races in America could have been wafted across the ocean, or could have migrated by means of countries and territories which once existed, but are now submerged.
Man Admitted to be an Exception
This reasoning, however, applied only to plants and to inferior animals, but not to man; for the races of men found upon this continent were deemed by naturalists to be of the same species with all the other races now existing in the world: that is, too difference between the different races of men were judged to be not specific differences, that is, not such as to preclude the possibility of their all being deduced from one original pair. This has always been the general opinion among naturalists, and in their systems of classification all the various races of men are classed as one species. Man, therefore, it has always been admitted, may have been brought to America over the ice at Behring's Straits, or by boats blown off from the coast of Africa, or from the islands in the Pacific; but the general stocking of the country with its countless thousands of species, both of animals and vegetable life, it was thought could not be thus explained.
What is a Species?
The degree of probability that the present plants and animals of America could not have been derived, within a modern period, and by direct descent, from those of the old world, depends, of course, upon the degree of difference there is between them, because there is a certain degree of difference, and that not small, which changes of climate and soil, and of other conditions of that kind will account for; but the difference in question was found to be very great indeed. It is a specific difference, that is, a difference in the species.
A species of plants or animals, as the term has been generally used by naturalists, comprises all such individuals as are so similar to each other that we may suppose them all to have proceeded from one common parentage, and so dissimilar from all others that they could not have been reproduced from the others, nor the others produced from them, by ordinary generation.
Whether there be or not some extraordinary mode by which at rare and distant intervals, and under conditions seldom occurring, and which have not occurred under the observation of men, by which a new species can arise, having its origin, in some way or other, in a former species, in the same sense as now a new individual, of the same species, has it origin in a former individual of the same species, by the production of a seed or an egg, for example; or whether it may not be possible that in an exceedingly great length of time, and by means of a very long-continued accumulation of minute and almost imperceptible changes, one species should be transformed into another, or, by branching, give origin to several others, adapted to new and peculiar circumstances arising in the world's history, are questions which are now greatly agitated among the learned, and may not soon be settled. All we know is, that the plants and animals throughout the world exist in species, each one of which stands at present distinct and isolated wholly apart from all the rest, and one cannot be transformed into another by ordinary generation, through changes of soil and climate, or any other causes whatever known to man, within so short a period as six thousand years.
The apple, for instance, is one species, and the pear is another. In many respects they are similar to each other, and each may be changed by cultivation and by the operation of other causes a great deal, but by no possibility can one be derived from the other. By different modes of cultivation, by different selections of seeds, by changes in soil, and by other such means, a horticulturist may vary the character of his apples very much. He may produce large apples and small apples, sweet apples and sour apples, apples with a skin red, green, yellow, or brown, but he can never produce a pear. The apple, under all it modifications, will remain an apple still. It is a species by itself, separated from all other species whatever by a fixed and permanent bound, which it is impossible, as has always been supposed, that it can ever pass.
It is the same with animals. Each one is subject to a great many modifications in respect to its form, its size, its color, and even it faculties, but through all these changes each on remains entirely within its own bounds, as it were. The distinguishing characteristics of the species remain distinguishing characteristics of the species remain unchanged. Take for instance, any species of the dog. We may, perhaps, by means of differences of treatment, of food, of climate, or of immediate parentage, procure big dogs and little dogs, weak dogs and strong dogs, gentle dogs and fierce dogs, all proceeding from the same original stock, but we can have no cats, nor anything that shall bear the least specific resemblance to a cat.
The Distinction of Species Very Permanent
It may, perhaps, be said that although in the comparatively short periods of time that have been covered by the experiments and observations which have been made by man, the transformation of one species into another may have been impossible, still such changes may have been effected in longer periods, and that the various forms of animal and vegetable life which now exist upon the earth may have proceeded from some common origin, or at least from some moderate number of original types existing in former ages. And, indeed, this may possibly be so. But there seems to be quite satisfactory evidence to prove that the distinction of species is as permanent in respect to the past and the future, at least for very long periods, as it is decisive at the present time.
Evidence of Ancient Records
In the first place, we have in Egyptian and Assyrian monuments, which go back with their records several thousand years -- much more than half the time, according to the usually received opinion, since the earth was stocked with the present races of animals -- many drawings and other representations of plants and animals as they existed then, and even seeds, in some cases, found in the wrappings of Egyptian mummies, all of which show that these plants and animals, and even the races of men, were specifically the same then as now. There have been no changes whatever that encroach at all upon the limits and bounds by which the different species are separated from each other at the present day, or confuse the lines of demarcation in any degree. There is no approach of one type toward another, nor any tendency to such an approach. Now, is a change could be effected in the specific character of a plant or of an animal, in any limited series of generations, we should be very likely to find evidences of it in a period of three or four thousand years, especially in the case of such animals as arrive at maturity in a short time, and thus in any given period reckon as many generations as years. Between the bird carved upon an Egyptian or Assyrian slab, and its representative at the present day, probably three thousand generations may have intervened, and yet the present living specimen is specifically identical with the delineation of its ancestor. The great comparative anatomist Cuvier examined the mummy of an ibis, from three to four thousand years old, comparing it minutely with a living bird of the present day, and found the two specimens in all respects identically the same.
There is also a bass-relief from the ruins of Babylon, with a dog represented upon it, which is found by naturalists to be identical with a species of the dog existing in Asia at the present day.
Evidence of Fossil Remains
But we have still more conclusive evidence than this derived from ancient monuments of the very great permanence of the characteristics by which different species of plants and animals are distinguished from each other, in the fossil remains which exist in the strata of the earth. By means of these our observations upon the forms of vegetable and animal life which have existed upon our globe may be carried back to an immense antiquity, and extended over so vast a number and variety of species as to furnish us, as it has always been supposed, with all the means of information on this subject that can be desired. It has been thought to be fully proved by these observations that every species which exists upon the earth remains unchanged so long as it exists. When at length its period has expired, it disappears from the field, while new ones are continually arising to take the place of those that are gone. But no one passes, by gradations, into any other; and the lines of distinction by which each is separated from all the rest remain sharp and well-defined from the beginning to the end.
Opinions of Naturalists and Philosophers
At least, this has been hitherto the view which naturalists and philosophers have almost unanimously taken of this subject, though there have not been wanting writers who have maintained the contrary opinion. Notwithstanding the evidence furnished by the appearance of fossil remains, that the lines of demarcation separating the different species are absolutely and forever impassable, there have been some advocates of the theory that all the present races of animals may have been derived by insensible gradations from a few primordial types. This theory has very recently been brought forward anew in a form to attract general attention. Still, so unanimous and so decisive has been the testimony of geologists in respect to the evidence furnished by the fossil remains, and so inconsistent is it with the development theory, as it is called, that very great changes must take place in the opinion of naturalists in respect to the true import of the geological records before this opinion can be generally received.
But however the great question in respect to the absolute and perpetual permanence of the distinction of species may be ultimately decided, there is no doubt that all naturalists fully concur in the opinion that this permanence is, at all events, so great as entirely to preclude the possibility that the American species of plants and animals can have descended from the stocks of the old world within so short a period as six thousand years. Some other supposition must, therefore, be made than that the forms of life existing here could have been derived, within that period, by ordinary generation from those prevailing in other portions of the world. Some of the principal suppositions which have been made will be presently alluded to.
Examples of Diversity
Some of the American plants and animals attracted great attention in Europe when they were first made known there, being recognized as entirely new, and found to be quite peculiar in character. The potato was one; the turkey was another. No turkey was ever known to exist in Europe, Asia, or Africa before that time, and no fossil remains of such an animal have ever been discovered there. The tobacco plant was another species that was originally first found in America, though it has since become extensively diffused throughout the world. A more particular account of some of these plants and animals will be given in future chapter. They are only mentioned here as illustrations of the great truth, that when this country was first explored by European visitors an entirely new series of forms of vegetable and animal life was found to prevail here, and such as could not have resulted from any of the forms that prevail in the old world, within the period of six thousand years, through the operation of any laws that are known to us, in respect to the relation of parent and offspring.
The General Types the Same
And yet, though the plants and animals that are found in America are all different, and seem to be essentially different, so far as relates to derivation from the same parentage within any moderate period, from those of the old world, it is a very curious and a very significant fact, that there is a very close analogy between the two great stocks -- an analogy so close as to furnish very strong reason to believe that they must have had a common origin, or at least have derived their existence from some common law. All, or nearly all, the great types of animal and vegetable life which are known in the old world, have their representatives in the new, and yet no particular species are so represented. While there is a generic similarity, there is also a specific difference. We scarcely knew which excites most our wonder and curiosity, the analogy in the great types, or the total, or almost total diversity in individual species. We say almost total, for, in addition to the exceptions already referred to, by the time that the fauna and flora of America came to be fully examined, great numbers of animals had been brought over, either by accident or design, from Europe, and mingled with the animals in America; and there are many plants which are now found growing wild in various parts of the country, and seem to be natives, but which are identical in species with those growing in Europe. It is inferred in such cases that the seeds were originally brought from the old world, though perhaps it cannot in all cases be positively proved that they were. It may however be said with certainty, that, as a general rule, of
Lammergeyer of the Alps
the hundreds and thousands of plants and animals, natives of America, that have been examined and described, all or nearly all are essentially different from those of corresponding type produced by the old world.
The accompanying engravings, which represent the gigantic vultures which inhabit the mountain summits respectively of the new world and the old, strikingly illustrated this principle. While they are generically similar, both in their structure and in
Condor of the Andes
their habits, still, in respect to what the naturalists call specific characters, they are entirely distinct.
The Mystery General
The mystery which attends the origin of these different and peculiar species of plants and animals inhabiting the new continent, has been found, since America was discovered, to be general, for it is now known that not merely America, but also every part of the globe, so far as the different zones and districts of the earth are separated from each other by seas, or mountains, or other great natural boundaries, has each its own fauna and flora different from those of every other region. These differences of species, too, exist not in space only, but in time. From the evidence that an examination of the strata of the earth affords, we find that every different period of the earth's history, going back to very remote ages, had its own system of plants and animals, so that thousands of species that existed once do not exist now, and those which exist now did not exist then. Thus it is established by evidence that seems to be conclusive, that just as in the history of any one species, there is a succession of individuals, each of which is born, grows, flourishes, declines, and dies, to be succeeded by others which rise into being, and come forward to maturity, while their predecessors decline; in the same manner, in the history of the world, there has been a succession of species. each of which has come into being in its own time, increased in numbers, become widely extended, and then has gradually diminished and finally. disappeared, to be succeeded by other species that arise in the same manner, and go through in the same manner the successive periods of youth, maturity, and decay. Thus it would appear that, of the vast congeries of animal and vegetable creations which the history of the globe presents to view, each separate period of its existence, and also every different district on its surface, has received its own peculiar and exclusive forms. There are several different opinions in regard to the proper explanation of this remarkable fact. Of these opinions only two are now seriously entertained by naturalists and philosophers, and the question between these two is, at the present time, a subject of earnest discussion throughout the whole scientific world.
The Two Principal Theories
The first opinion is, that each species is, in its essential nature, and has been throughout its whole history, entirely distinct from every other one, and that it was called into being in its own appointed time, either by a special act of creation exerted for this end, or else by the operation of some general laws to us wholly unknown, by which, when certain conditions are combined, a new species is derived in some mysterious way from one or more other species existing before it, just as individuals of any given species are known to proceed from other individuals of the same. This opinion has been hitherto a prevailing one among naturalists and philosophers, and a great desire has been felt to discover the general conditions and laws, if such there are within the reach of human observation, under which new species arise.
The second opinion is, that life, in all its manifestations, throughout the whole vegetable and animal world, is one, and that all organizations that now exist, or have ever existed, have been produced, by a succession of exceedingly gradual and long-continued changes, from one, or at most a very few, primordial forms.
These changes, it is supposed, result from a constitution of vegetable and animal life such that very slight modifications of structure occur in all cases in the descent from parent to offspring; that these modifications, which are insignificant, and sometimes scarcely perceptible in the first generation, become very great by being accumulated in a long series of years, and that changes thus resulting, branching off in different directions, as it were, according as the conditions and influences to which different races are exposed, vary, in different places and time, and acting through immensely long periods of time, have given rise to all the countless forms of animal and vegetable life with which the world now teems.
Inquiries Into This Subject Right and Proper
This is not the place to discuss, nor even to explain these opinions. They are only briefly alluded to here, on account of the bearing of this general question on the origin of life in America. Some persons feel a degree of hesitation in following the guidance of naturalists in their inquiries in respect to the laws of life, as if the object of those engages in these studies was to discover some way of accounting for the works of creation without acknowledging the hand of a creator. But this is not so. Scientific inquiries into the causes of what we see are not attempts to dispense with a divine agency in nature, but to discover the manner in which this agency is exercised, and the laws by which it regulates it action. When Franklin, and the other philosophers of his time, made known to the world that they had discovered the cause which produced thunder and lightning, many people thought it was impious for them to pretend to have done so. For the philosophers to attribute a phenomenon which had always been regarded as produced directly by the power of God to petty secondary causes, which they had themselves discovered, was, in the opinion of these persons, atheistical and profane.
But it is now universally admitted that such a discovery does not limit or control the power of God at all. It only enables us to see somewhat further into his ways. No one detracts from the honor due to an engineer for any grand result that he produces, by explaining the mystery of the secret mechanism that he has contrived by which to produce it.
It is so with all the works of nature. We may push our inquiries in every direction with the utmost diligence and vigor, and carry them to any extent, without the least fear of ever making any discoveries which will tend in the smallest degree to supersede the agency of a supreme and all-pervading power, either in the original constitution of nature, or in the constant control of all that takes place under the operation of its laws.
The Testimony of Scriptures
There is another source of apprehension, of a religious nature, by which the mind is sometimes restricted and hampered in studying the laws of nature and the past history of the globe, and that is the fear that something will be found which may conflict, or at least appear to conflict, with the testimony of Scripture, and thus shake the foundation of our Christian faith. But we must consider that the book of revelation is intended to instruct us solely in moral and spiritual truths, while the book of nature has been opened before us to teach us science and philosophy. They are both equally from God. In one as much as in the other, it is his voice that we hear, and his instructions that we receive; and we must not allow our ears to be closed, or our reason to be trammeled, in respect to what he teaches us directly in one, by too literal interpretations of what is said incidentally and indirectly in the other. Since the great mistake which was made in the time of Galileo, when it was attempted to shut out from mankind the evidences presented by mathematics and astronomy, in respect to the laws of the solar system, by inferences ignorantly drawn from incidental allusions in the Scriptures to the motions of the heavenly bodies, all wise and good men have come to the conclusion that we must look to the word of God for instruction in moral and religious truth alone, while for science and philosophy we must go to that other volume -- the great system of creation and providence -- which the same infallible teacher has spread open before us. Each comes from the same hand, and each in its own sphere it, in a certain sense, equally, for us, the word of God.
Means of Transportation for Animals and Plants
A great many very curious modes by which plants and animals may be transported from one country to another, even across wide and deep seas, have recently been brought to light, which very much diminish the difficulty of supposing that America might have been stocked from the old -- provided always, we grant that plants and animals are subject to extensive modifications in the course of long periods of time, by which the species is finally changed, and new forms adapted to new situations and conditions are developed.
In the first place, the sea, instead of lying motionless, except so far as it is agitated by winds, as is often supposed, is subject to a great number and variety of currents, flowing in all directions, many of them at the rate of from twenty to sixty miles a day. These currents convey fields of ice, masses of drift wood, branches of trees with nuts, fruits, or other capsules containing seeds attached to them, and the bodies of dead birds, with seeds in their crops. There are many savage nations, living in countries that produce no trees, that depend on drift wood altogether for all the material of this sort that they use in making utensils and weapons, and even sometimes for building and for fuel. Now, the trunk of a single tree might contain the seeds and eggs of a hundred different species of minute plants and animals, and though great numbers would doubtless perish, many would probably be preserved.
Experiments have recently been made to ascertain how long seeds can remain submerged in sea water without losing their power of germination, and it was found that out of many hundreds subjected to the trial quite a large number grew after being in the water from twenty to ninety days. This would give them time to be conveyed a great distance by a current of the sea flowing at the rate even of twenty-five miles a day.
A certain philosopher wishing to ascertain how far aquatic birds might convey seeds from one lake or pond of fresh water to another, in the mud adhering to their feet, took out a portion of such mud, in order to ascertain how far it might be supplied with the germs of vegetable life. The quantity which he took was about a tea-cup full. This mud he placed in a situation to allow the seeds which it contained to germinate, and as fast as little plants appeared he pulled them out and counted them. He obtained from this single tea-cup full of soil more than two hundred living plants ! Thus great numbers of transfers of plants from one region to another are doubtless made, merely by the feet of aquatic birds.
In a somewhat similar manner the young of many small animals are conveyed from lake to lake and from river to river, by attaching themselves to the feet and legs of birds, floating or wading in the water.
A great many other curious examples like these of the manner in which nature has provided for the wide dissemination of the minuter forms of animal and vegetable life might be given if time and space would allow.
Whenever the temperature of a country, either from its great elevation or from its high latitude, is such that the summer cannot thaw the snow and ice which the winter produces, what are called glaciers are formed. These glaciers are beds of solid ice, of many hundred feet in thickness, which are formed in valleys or upon broad slopes of land, and which all the time slowly move down the descent upon which they lie, as if there were a certain slight and imperfect fluidity in the constitution of the ice. When such a glacier has it lower termination in a valley it sometimes ploughs up the ground before it, and deposits stones, which it has brought down upon its surface, in a particular way, and produces other curious effect, the results of the glacial action, by which the geologists feel confident that they can determine, upon a proper examination of any district or valley, whether or not a glacier has ever been at work there.
When these glaciers terminate upon the shore of the sea, the lower edge is forced out over the water by the pressure of a mass above and behind, until the projecting mass, sometimes many hundred feet in thickness, is broken off, falls over, and is borne away by the current or the wind, This is the way in which the immense icebergs that are seen floating about even in the middle of the ocean are formed.
The Glacial Period of North America
It is alleged by geologists that there are abundant evidences of former glacial action throughout all the northern and central parts of North America, and also of Europe and Asia, indicating that at some remote period the climate in all the northern latitudes was very much colder than it is now. Indeed, some astronomical arguments have recently been advanced showing that the earth, by the laws of its motion round the sun, which lead to a change in the position of its axis in relation to the sun, is subject to certain grand oscillations of temperature, in which the regions of the north and of the south poles are alternately made warmer and colder, and that at the present time the condition of the north pole is intermediate between the two extremes. However this may be, there are undoubted geological proofs that in former ages the northern countries, both of the old continent and the new, have been at one period much colder, and at another much warmer, than at present. When the climate was colder the reign of ice in all the northern regions, and the influence of it in connecting continents and transporting animals and men, would be of course greatly increased. If now we suppose that at such a time great numbers of the then existing species of animals were transported across the intervening seas, and then gradually spread themselves southward, undergoing slow modifications as they advance, to fit them for the new conditions to which the changes of the climate or their own changes of habitation exposed them, we should have very nearly the result which is now observed to exist.
These ideas, however, are, after all, at present only the speculations of naturalists and philosophers, ingenious and interesting as they are.
Face of the Country
The map on the adjoining page represents the portion of the North American continent which is at the present time occupied by the people of the United States. It will assist very much in reading intelligently the history of the country if we first obtain a clear and comprehensive view of the great and leading features of its geography.
These features are very marked and striking -- more so, perhaps, than those of any other country on the globe. This will clearly appear by an inspection of the map, and by filling out, in imagination, the outline which the map presents, with the details which will be given in this description.
As you look upon the map imagine that you are in the air, looking down upon it as from a balloon, and take notice of what you see. On the east and on the west are the shores of two oceans, That on the east is the Atlantic. The Pacific is on the west.
The Lake Country.
Toward the north is an immense tract of nearly level land, covered with forests, but containing a vast number of depressions in the surface of the land, all of which are filled with water and form lakes, some large and others small. This land, though level, is high, so that there is a very considerable though gradual descent from the lakes to the ocean. The lakes are kept constantly full by the rains and by the melting of the snows, and the surplus waters flow off in one vast channel, northward and eastward to the sea.
One of the large lakes, though still much higher than the sea, is marked as a low lake, for it is two or three hundred feet below the level of the others, and the water flowing from the upper lakes into it, in descending from one level to the other, passes over a high precipice, thus producing an immense fall, which is the celebrated Niagara.
The surplus waters of all the large lakes flow off finally in a northeasterly direction, almost exactly parallel to the coast until they reach the sea. The river thus formed is now known as the St. Lawrence. Observe, that between the river and the coast there is a long and somewhat narrow strip of land, which will be spoken of more particularly under another head.
All this region of the lakes is inhabited -- during the summer season by immense numbers of beasts upon the land, of birds in the regions of the air, and of fishes in the water. In the winter it is buried deep in ice and snow. The birds at that season have all flown. The animals have retired to dens and holes, where some sleep, torpid, till the spring returns, and others burrowing beneath the frosty covering which clothes the ground, gain their livelihood there by digging for roots, or gnawing the bark of trees, or catching the fish that are still swimming in the imprisoned waters.
Almost all the land animals that inhabit these regions -- being exposed for six months in the year to intense cold -- are protected by a thick and warm coat of hair and fur. In the larger animals the hair is coarse, but thick and warm, though much less so than in the case of the smaller animals; for the smaller the body is that is exposed, the more perfect the protection that it requires, one large mass being more easily kept warm than a multitude of small ones.
The region of these lakes, and of the country north of it, which, for many hundreds of miles, maintains the same character, is one of the most extensive and most celebrated fur-bearing districts in the world. The shores of the lakes, and the banks of all the millions of little brooks and streams, are full of minks, otter, beavers, sables, and multitudes of other swimming and burrowing animals of that kind, whose fur is softer than silk and warmer than wool. When, therefore, you look upon the map and imagine that your eyes are surveying the real country, you must picture it to your mind as swarming with all this life, winter and summer.
In the summer these animals ramble about in the forests, or along the borders of the lakes and streams, amid a profusion of the most luxuriant and most beautiful flowers. Some climb the trees, and run along upon the branches in search of nuts for their winter stores. Some burrow in the ground, at the margin of the water, with the orifices of their dwelling convenient either for foraging upon the land, or for fishing and swimming in the ponds and streams.
The Indian Inhabitants
There is one thing more to be brought to mind in order to complete the picture, and that is, the presence of many wandering tribes of Indians roaming over the country. The smokes from their scattered wigwams rise among the trees both in summer and in winter. They build their habitations of the bark of trees. They hunt and trap the land animals, and snare the fish. They eat the flesh for food, and clothe themselves with the skins and furs. Each tribe preserves in a measure its own range, and yet sometimes they become involved in dreadful quarrels, in which the ordinary repose of the silent and solitary forests is broken by the frightful yells of a troop of maddened savages breaking at midnight into the encampment of their foes, or by the piercing cries of women and children whom they massacre in their fury.
Influence of the Moral Instincts
These scenes of war and devastation are, however, only incidental and occasional interruptions to the ordinarily peaceful flow with which the current of life here, as in all other countries and climes, flows on. The Creator has implanted in the human mind a natural sense of justice, a love of what is right in the dealings between man and man, and a disapproval of what is wrong, the influence of which, in all human communities, is ordinarily sufficient to preserve peace, even in the most rude and savage states of society. Thus, in picturing to our imaginations the scenes that were presented in this lake country, while in its aboriginal condition, we must conceive of the inhabitants as ordinarily employed in their various industrial pursuits of hunting and fishing, of fabricating implements and clothing, of building wigwams and making encampments, and of rearing their children. The scenes of violence and war that occurred to disturb the usual quite of their lives, through very serious in their results, were exceptional, and comparatively rare. It is very doubtful, indeed, whether they were more frequent, or more destructive, in proportion to the numbers affected by them, than the similar quarrels which have occurred among Christian and civilized nations, as shown by the history of Europe during the last five hundred years.
The Great Central Valley
South of the lake country, and occupying a very large portion of the whole interior of the continent, is a broad though shallow valley, bounded both on the east and on the west by ranges of mountains. The extent of the valley is marked on the map, not only by the mountains which bound it on the east and on the west, but also by the ramifications of the great river which drains, it. These ramifications are seen spreading in every direction, like the branches of a mighty tree, and terminating in the south in one great trunk, through which the united volume of waters is poured out into the great gulf which is seen delineated there. This is the great river Mississippi, with its thousand tributaries. If is were the real scene, instead of a mere map that we were looking upon, we should see all the branches of this immense system glistening in the sun between banks loaded with luxuriant forests, and adorned with fruits and flowers of every conceivable character and form.
The Soil of the Great Valley
The soil of the whole valley, which, however, is so broad and so shallow that, seen as we have imagined from above, it would have more the appearance of an extended plain than of a valley, is extremely fertile. It is what is called an alluvial formation; that is, a very large portion of the territory has been covered with deposits from the rivers themselves, left after overflows and inundations. These deposits have accumulated, in the course of ages, to a great depth, and they form an exceedingly rich and fertile soil. The rivers twist and turn this way and that in meandering through these plains; and when swollen by rain or by the melting snows, they undermine the banks, and bring down great masses of earth, and great numbers of immense trees into the water. The earth thus washed in is carried down by the flood, and after being mingled with a great variety of animal and vegetable remains, is distributed over widely extended districts below, when the water has overflowed the banks, and thus adds, throughout all the country so covered, a new layer of fertility to the soil.
Formation of Islands in the River
The trees float on, too, upon the current. Some drag by the roots and get lodged along the banks or upon shoals, in the bed of the stream. In this latter case they intercept others coming down, and so create an obstruction, around which sand and sediment collect, until an island is formed. When this new formation becomes consolidated, it turns the current of the steam, and perhaps in the end is the means of deflecting the river into a new channel.
There is another way by which islands are formed. The river wearing continually upon its banks, and making immense convolutions in its course, sometimes cuts through a narrow neck, where previously it flowed around in a great circuit. A new channel is thus made for a part of the water, while the rest flows on round the circuit in the old course. By this means an island is formed, which may, perhaps, continue for centuries to divide the stream.
At length, perhaps in the case of such an island, the old channel becomes choked up and closed at the opening, having previously become half filled with the floating trunks of trees, and all manner of brush and rubbish. Henceforward it remains a stagnant pool, a mile perhaps wide, and fifty miles long, filled with aquatic plants of every kind, and with decaying and half sunken trunks of trees, all covered and adorned, where they emerge into the atmosphere, with rich mosses, green and brown, and with graceful ferns, which hang drooping like tufts of feathers along the bands, or clinging, wherever they can get a foothold, to the trunks of the decaying trees.
The lagoons and morasses formed in this manner, in ancient times, became the peaceful and happy abode of vast numbers of animals adapted to such a habitation. Alligators, lizards, serpents, and reptiles of all kinds, crawled along the banks or slept in the sun upon the logs that line the shore; while long-legged birds waded in the water fishing for their food among the sedges, and flocks of ducks and other wild fowl, some of them resplendent in plumage, and adorned with the most gorgeous hues or orange, crimson, blue and gold, lay floating on the surface, or flew in flocks hither and thither through the air. The lagoons and morasses were inhabited by these animals in millions.
the Old Forsaken Channels
In other parts of this great valley swamps and morasses were formed in another way. The river, when it overflowed its banks, carried over with it, upon the land, immense quantities of sand, gravel, and driftwood, and other such substances, whether floating upon the water or suspended in it. These substances would, of course, be caught and retained, or, if heavier than the water, would subside in greater quantities near the bank than further inland; that is, the largest and heaviest would become lodged, while the water itself, carrying with it the finer sediment, would flow further into the interior. Thus the land would become built up, so to speak, faster near the river than further inland, and consequently would rise higher; and the water which was carried over into the plains beyond could not flow back into the river again. Instead of this, it would find its way into every
low and sunken tract, which would, of course, in this way become half submerged, and long before the water could be evaporated by the sun a new supply would come in from another inundation.
The result is, that throughout the whole extent of the valley, especially in the southern and lower portions of it, great tracts of land have become half submerged, and continue permanently in that condition, and thus, though teeming with animal and vegetable life, are wholly unfit, in their present state, for the abode of man.
The Mouth of the Mississippi
The mouth of the river, as might be expected from the prevailing character which it bears throughout its course, presents a very extraordinary spectacle. The torrents that come down in the great floods bring with them vast numbers of trees and immense quantities of brush and drift wood, and also of sand and mud held in suspension by the water, all of which are swept out in every direction around the mouth of the river and deposited there. In this way, in process of time, a delta, or projection of the land has been formed, which is so large as to be plainly perceptible upon the map. This land rises scarcely above the level of the sea, and the water of the river makes its way through it in every direction, in many different and devious channels. The whole tract is, in fact, an entangled mass of trees and brushwood, matted together and gone to decay, and covered with mud and slime; and so unfit for the habitation of man that when, on the coming of the Europeans, a landing-place was required on the bank of the river; it was found necessary to ascend more than one hundred miles before a site suitable for a town could be found. And even at that spot the surface of the river is now often higher than the streets of the town which has been build there, and in digging a foot or two anywhere in the soil we come to the water.
In the northern part of this great fertile basin, watered by the Mississippi and its branches, there is a vast extent of country void of forests, or nearly void of them, there being no wood upon it except narrow belts of trees growing along the margins of the rivers. This country consists of boundless plains of grass land, called prairies. The soil is very fertile, and the grass grows high; and when from any small elevation the traveler takes a survey of the scene, looking out, as he may, to an unobstructed horizon on every side, and seeing the grass waving in the wind throughout the whole expanse around him, he might well imagine himself in the midst of an ocean -- only that the billows that roll over it are green instead of blue. These plains, in aboriginal times, furnished food for buffaloes, elks, antelopes, and other animals that feed on herbage, the whole mass moving continually to and fro over the vast expanse as the season changed, or as the state of the pasturage invited them to new fields.
The Northern Atlantic Slope
The most important part of the whole territory represented on the map, in a historical point of view, is the Atlantic slope, as it is called -- that is, the portion of the country between the mountains bordering the valley of the Mississippi, on the east, and the sea. You will see by the map that this is a long and narrow strip of land. It is divided naturally into two portions. The stormy cape which is seen projecting into the sea about midway of the coast marks this division. To the northward of this there is a tract of land lying between the sea on the one hand, and the river which carries off the surplus water of the great lakes on the other. This is the northern part of the Atlantic slope, and it was the scene of many of the most interesting events connected with the history of the country.
The country in this district is mountainous or hilly in every part. In former times it was covered with forests, except where the Indians had cleared small patches of ground, by burning down the trees, to make fields for the cultivation of maize. This tract of land was exactly adapted by nature for producing the grasses and other herbaceous plants, which form the food of the sheep, the horse, the ox, and other such grazing animals -- the most useful of all to man. But no such animals were produced in this region. It would be impossible, indeed, that they should live here, in a state of nature, on account of the fact that, though in summer everything is favorable for the production of their food, in the winter, which season here lasts from four to six months in the year, the whole country is buried under the snow, and, of course, all such animals, if any there were, would perish.
Such animals are now, however, raised in great numbers in all this region. Indeed, they are the great staple of production. They feed themselves during the summer season from the grass that grows upon the hill-sides and upon the mountain slopes; while such as grows on the more smooth and level lands below is husbanded for them by the farmer, by being cut, and dried, and stored in barns, and so fed out to them under shelter during the winter season, when the fields and hill-sides are all alike buried under four or five feet under the snow.
Thus, in its native state, there were no animals in this region except such as could provide themselves with food, or live without it during the protracted winters. The moose, with his long legs to wade through the snow, and his long neck and head to reach up to the branches of the trees and underwood, could live by browsing upon the buds and the tender bark which grows upon them. The squirrels and other such smaller animals were endowed with instincts which led them to lay up food for the winter in hollow logs or holes in the ground. The bears went into a torpid sleep in which they remained insensible and without food for months at a time, and the minks and other burrowing creatures of that kind continued their operations under the ice and snow all winter long, feeding on roots or on fish; and whatever might be the severity of the cold above, finding it always warm and comfortable for them below.
This northeastern region had its human inhabitants, too, notwithstanding the depth of the snow which covered it, and the intensity of the cold which prevailed during so large a part of the year. These inhabitants easily provided themselves with food during the summer season, partly by hunting and fishing, and partly by cultivating the ground in such spots as they had been able to clear of trees. They had a double resource in winter, too. In the first place there were the stores of provisions which, like the squirrels, they had laid up in the season of abundance, and then, even in the winter, the supplies which nature afforded them were not wholly cut off. For, although all above the surface of the earth, both of land and water, formed one lifeless and desolate expanse of frost and ice and snow, and was enveloped in an atmosphere so intensely cold that no active vegetable or animal life could endure exposure to it, still beneath this surface, both upon the land and upon the water, there was a protected stratum teeming with life in every form, and there were a thousand ways which their savage ingenuity devised of penetrating to this stratum, and drawing from it at least a portion of their needed supplies.
All this, however, will be more fully explained in a subsequent chapter.
The Southern Atlantic Slope