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letters | new england’s animals return

Farming predated European settlers

A turkey ambled down a street in Dorchester in April.

David L. Ryan/Globe staff/file

A turkey ambled down a street in Dorchester in April.

THE GLOBE’S front-page article about the gradual reforestation of New England (“These woods are lovely, dark, and back,” Page A1, Sept. 1) portrays the return of many animal species to the region, along with the disappearance of farmland, as a return of sorts to the “ sheer forest broken only by waterways and Native America trails” that European settlers first encountered in the 1600s.

That description perpetuates a misconception. It is well documented that the Native Americans in New England cleared forest to grow food. The “Historical Atlas of Massachusetts” says, “The Pilgrims found the abandoned village of Plimouth with the fields already cleared, discrediting the European myth of discovering a land of trackless forests.” The same source notes, “Agriculture accounted for from 65 to 85 percent of the average daily food intake.”

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In fact the first thing the Pilgrims did upon arrival was break into caches of corn stored by the indigenous inhabitants.

Philip Mahler


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