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Clearly the lifestyle of the native peoples of North America was less intensive than that of the European settlers and thus required more land per person. However, theirs was not exclusively a hunter-gatherer culture -- some peoples practiced agriculture fairly extensively. I'd like to know estimates for both the native peoples and the European settlers, especially those on the East Coast of the United States -- how big was the disparity?

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2 Answers 2

This is a great question, since many middle school text books are using this framing. I'm partial to NC: Who own's the land?

The traditional view of European-Indian land deals is that Europeans tricked the Indians, who failed to understand the consequences of their actions....English colonists rarely, if ever, forcibly displaced an Indian village or took land currently being used for agriculture. In fact, in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, some colonists encouraged Indians to convert to Christianity, and farm for a living in permanent settlements, and welcomed those who did. Conflicts typically arose when Europeans wanted to settle and farm land on which Indians hunted or that they reserved for future agricultural use.

But yet I checked many online resources and none seem to give figures for the disparity of the intensity of land use, which is being blamed for the conflict. From what I recall, the 17th century Cherokee compared to the Appalachian settlers used about 20 times more land.

Please understand, this figure won't apply to Cherokee in the 18th century onward, due to acculturation of the tribe and a smallpox epidemic that killed roughly half of the population, according to Wikipedia. It also doesn't apply to other tribes or American settler populations. As Duncan points some settlers may have lived in cities, some were yeomen farmers, and some were commercial farmers. For this reasons, it would be interesting to get more figures from more areas and time periods.

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Interesting question! I can't say for actual averages and all, but I can explain how this worked and the factors affecting both people.

I do know that with livestock, open grazing was done, taking them out to what pasture you can find. So probably lots of communal grazing too. But you probably want to know how much land they owned for themselves to crop. That depends. If only supporting your own family, very little is, needed. Say, ten or twenty acres would be plenty, and you can graze where you like. But to produce for the market, it could be anything. However much land they either bought or managed to select, probably based on how much manpower they had to run the farm. That's the Europeans. The settling natives would be in some ways similar, or else the difference would be in their diets. The Europeans brought the old world vegetables and cereals they were used to, as well as many domestic animals (cattle, pigs, sheep, poultry). If you compare maize to wheat, maize is higher yielding in a small area. You need more space to grow wheat for flour. And then there's the matter of supplement animal fodder. Still more land is needed for that. The natives kept few useful domestic animals originally (mostly dogs and some birds), but hunted to supply their meat which eliminates the need for fodder. While Europeans aimed to get most of their variety from their farm itself, the natives tended to mix farming, hunting and gathering to achieve a varied diet. Over time, both people took ideas from each other.

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