N. Y. State Mus., Bull.


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When the Iroquois took possession of the territory which we now know as New York State, they carried on corn culture on a large scale and so important an article of food and commerce was it that most of the European invaders of their territory burned their cornfields and destroyed their corncribs instead of shooting the Iroquois themselves but, as one writer says, the power of the Confederacy remained unbroken. . . .

"I deemed it our best policy [says the French commander Denonville in 1687] to employ ourselves laying the Indian corn which was in vast abundance in the fields, rather than to follow a flying enemy to a distance and excite our troops to catch only some straggling fugitives. . . . We remained at the four Seneca villages until the 24th; the two larger distant four leagues and the others two. All that time was spent in destroying the corn which was in such great abundance that the loss including old corn which was in cache which we burnt and that which was standing, was computed according to the estimate afterwards made at 400 thousand minots (about 1,200,000 bushels) of Indian corn. . . . "

The quantity of corn here destroyed by Denonville is claimed by some authorities to be overestimated and perhaps this is true. . . .

In the journal of Maj. John Burrowes, as in other journals covering the Sullivan campaign [1779], there are many references to the Indian fields. Some instances follow:

"Friday, August 27, 1779. Observations. We got this night at a large flat three miles distant from Chemung where corn grows such as can not be equalled in Jersey. The field contains about 100 acres, beans, cucumbers, simblens, watermelons and pumpkins in such quantities (were it represented in the manner it should be) would be almost incredible to a civilized people. We sat up until between one and two o’clock feasting on these rarities.

"Monday, Middletown, 30th Aug. The army dont march this day but are employed cutting down the corn at this place which being about one hundred and fifty acres, and superior to any I ever saw. . . . (Observations): The land exceeds any I have ever seen. Some corn stalks measured eighteen feet and a cob one foot and a half long. Beans, cucumbers, watermelons, muskmelons, simblens are in great plenty. . . .

"Camp on the Large Flats 6 Miles from Chenesse 15th Sep. Wednesday morning. The whole army employed till 11 o’clock destroying corn, there being the greatest quantity destroyed at this town than any of the former. It is judged that we have burnt and destroyed about sixty thousand bushels of corn and two or three thousand of beans on this expedition."

In his letter to John Jay under date of September 30, 1779, General Sullivan reported among other things:

"Colonel Butler destroyed in the Cayuga country five principal towns and a number of scattering houses, the whole making about one hundred in number exceedingly large and well built. He also destroyed two hundred acres of excellent corn with a number of orchards one of which had in it 1,500 fruit trees. Another Indian settlement was discovered near Newtown by a party, consisting of 39 houses, which were also destroyed. The number of towns destroyed by this army amounted to 40 besides scattering houses. The quantity of corn destroyed, at a moderate computation, must amount to 160,000 bushels, with a vast quantity of vegetables of every kind. . . . I flatter myself that the orders with which I was entrusted are fully executed, as we have not left a single settlement or a field of corn in the country of the Five Nations. . . . "

In his report of Sept. 16, 1779, to General Washington concerning his raid against the Seneca on the Allegany, Daniel Brodhead said:

"The troops remained on the ground three whole days destroying the Towns & Corn Fields. I never saw finer corn altho’ it was planted much thicker than is common with our Farmers. The quantity of Corn and other vegetables destroyed at the several Towns, from the best accounts I can collect from the officers employed to destroy it must certainly exceed five hundred acres which is a low estimate and the plunder is estimated at 30m Dollars" [meaning probably $30,000].1

It is certain that the Indian women produced this material culture. The great ears of corn mentioned above had been developing for centuries in the hands of Indian squaws from its origin as a Central American spike of grass. Hunting can never produce rich material culture or sustain a settled population. The purely hunting tribes of North America required about three square miles of territory for each individual. The weak point in the position of the Indian man with reference to the control of the struc-turalization of his society was that he kept no cattle with which to compete with the agriculture of the women. In these circumstances the civil government at some points, as noted above for the Wyandots, passed almost completely into the hands of the women. But if Indian men had developed cattle-keeping (impossible because there were no cattle), it is probable that matrilineal descent wherever found would have been converted gradually into patrilineal.

At any rate, a conversion of this kind has long been going on, and is going on at present, in parts of Africa. The black women developed a considerable "hoe culture," and whether from an indeterminate basis or as superseding patrilineal organization lived in matrilineal groups. The order of development and distribution of the two practices have not been adequately studied. But we find localities in which the cattle-keeping activities of the men have become norm-determining and the organization patrilocal and patrilineal. Girls are the "cattle of the family" whose function is to "multiply the spoon of the father." They are bought out of their groups dearly, by partial payments over considerable periods of time.

While the above data indicate that there has been no fixed order of development from one type of residence and lineage to another it will be noticed that on the hunting and gathering level of culture the husband tends to dwell with and serve the parents-in-law for a time and then takes the wife to his own group. With more settled life, agriculture, and increased numbers, and agriculture in the hands of the women maternal residence and descent may prevail, and with cattle-keeping, continued agriculture, political heads, and organized war the tendency is toward patrilineal descent and patrilocal residence.

As far as stages are observable we may say that the first stage tends to be temporary-matrilocal, the second patrilocal, the third matrilocal, the fourth patrilocal-matrilineal, the fifth patrilocal and patrilineal. Counting the first stage as no more than a visit and a courtesy, changes from female to male reckoning are frequently observable, while there are very few changes in the opposite direction. At the same time there is no reason to suppose that all tribes have once passed through a matrilineal-matrilocal period.

The passage of individuals from one group to another in marriage has some psychological, social, and legal aspects which will be considered in the following chapter.

1Parker, A.C.n/an/an/an/a, "Iroquois Uses of Maize and Other Food Plants," , 144: 17–20.


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Chicago: "N. Y. State Mus., Bull.," N. Y. State Mus., Bull. in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed July 22, 2024, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KNQXMASZWUAIVDL.

MLA: . "N. Y. State Mus., Bull." N. Y. State Mus., Bull., Vol. 144, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 22 Jul. 2024. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KNQXMASZWUAIVDL.

Harvard: , 'N. Y. State Mus., Bull.' in N. Y. State Mus., Bull.. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 22 July 2024, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KNQXMASZWUAIVDL.