By James A. Henretta, Rebecca Edwards, Robert O. Self
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Additional resources for America's History, Volume 1: To 1877
European Peasant Society In 1450, most Europeans were peasants who lived in small, compact agricultural villages surrounded by open ﬁelds. Because the ﬁelds were divided into narrow strips cultivated by different families, cooperative farming was a necessity. The community decided which crops to grow, and every family followed the community’s dictates. On manorial lands, tillage rights came in exchange for weekly labor on the lord’s estate, an arrangement that turned peasants into serfs. Gradually, obligatory manorial services gave way to paying rent; or, as in France, customary tillage rights became, for practical purposes, land ownership.
Summer was the healthiest season, with the fewest deaths and the most successful conceptions (as measured by births nine months later). A value of 100 indicates an equal number of deaths and conceptions. 17 18 PART 1 THE CREATION OF AMERICAN SOCIETY, 1450–1763 The Peasant’s Fate For most peasants, survival meant constant labor, breaking the soil with primitive wooden plows and harvesting hay and grain with small hand sickles. In the absence of today’s high-quality seeds, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides, output was pitifully small — less than onetwelfth of present-day yields.
Around eight thousand years ago, a second movement of peoples, traveling by water across the narrow strait, brought the ancestors of the Navajos and the Apaches to North America. The forebears of the Aleut and Inuit peoples, the “Eskimos,” came in a third migration around ﬁve thousand years ago. Then, for three hundred generations, the peoples of the Western Hemisphere were largely cut off from the rest of the world. During this long era, hunting and gathering became the economic basis for a remarkably variegated and complex tribal world.