Pigs, Indians and Human Settlement Patterns

Dedicated readers of this blog know that I have a special place in my heart for pigs. As one might imagine, the Bacons have adopted the pig as a family totem. Today’s debased popular culture, as I have blogged on occasion, does not accord the porcine species the affection and respect that it deserves. Regular readers also know that I am fascinated as well by the original Bacon’s Rebellion, one of the first expressions of popular sovereignty in colonial America — and inspiration for this blog.

At long last, these two divergent obsessions have intersected. Pigs, it turns out, played a significant role in the historic Bacon’s Rebellion! (Even better: the conflict was driven by dysfunctional human settlement patterns!!)

In “Creatures of Empire” University of Colorado historian Virginia DeJohn Anderson focuses on the critical role played by domesticated mammals — cows, pigs, horses — in the Chesapeake colonies and New England. Not only did these animals provide a means of subsistence, as they did in England, but they became a leading cause of conflict between settlers and native Indians. It was an Indian war that sparked Bacon’s Rebellion.

The story begins in England. In a country where land was scarce and labor abundant, English animal husbandry favored the input of labor over land. Traditional farming practices called for the close human supervision of animals and considerable investment in barns, sties and, above all, fencing to keep the animals from wandering onto a neighbor’s property. In the American colonies, the situation was the reverse: Land was abundant but labor scarce. As a practical matter, the colonials turned the animals loose and let them forage in the woods.

The colonials’ pattern of agriculture in the New World required more land than English farmers needed back home: four or five acres of woodland for the animals to forage in for every acre of land put under cultivation. The land-intensive pattern of settlement acted as a multiplier for the growing number of settlers: Land-hungry Englishmen pushed deeper into the frontier and came into conflict with the native Indians.

Conflict, when it occurred, most frequently centered on animals. The Indians, who had no concept of animals as private property, captured pigs that ran loose and unsupervised in the woods. Englishmen, who considered that theft, often retaliated. Eventually, Indians came to understand that English concept of animals as property, but that did not resolve the tension. In the Chesapeake particularly, English settlers let their animals rove great distances for weeks and months at a time. Turning feral, the pigs proved a great nuisance to the Indians. The prolific, fast-breeding beasts found unfenced Indian corn plots a tempting source of food. When Indians killed the marauding hogs, their English owners sought retribution. Later in the century, as the pressure of the English settlers and their unsupervised animals became unbearable, Indians lashed back by killing cows and pigs for no immediate cause.

A treaty establishing peace between the English and the Pamunkey Indians articulated the problem quite clearly. Writes Anderson:

Article 4 claimed that the “Violent Intrusions of diverse English” onto native lands had forced Indians “by way of Revenge, to kill the Cattel and Hogs of the English,” helping to spark “the late unhappy Rebellion.”

I will let others draw conclusions regarding the baleful consequences of dysfunctional, land-intensive human settlement patterns in the 17th century and their implications for today. As for me, I will simply note that it is high time that scholars acknowledge the pivotal role of pigs in early American history.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Does this mean that when it comes to swine, Native Americans were the first NIMBYs?

    Peter Galuszka

  2. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse


    Mr. Bacon, welcome back. I see you got in some good reading.

    Check out the pig bookend at Levenger.com with a quote from Winston Churchill. If you do not have one by that time, we will leave ours to you.

    What you say re animals in the early colonies all fits into the larger picture of functional and dysfunctional human settlement patterns.

    Later, west of the Appalachians and onto the plains and in the valleys of the West, the same scenario was repeated with variations on the theme.

    When the Industrial Revolution lowered the population pressure on the Countryside in Europe they retained the historic settlement pattern.

    Farmers to this day ‘commute’ from hamlets (Alpha Cluster and Alpha Neighborhood scale) and Villages to the fields.

    In North America (US of A and Canada) the Native Americans were herded onto reservations and since there were no “outside” threats from other ‘advanced’ societies, the dwellings were scattered across the Countryside.

    (Yes, dwellings were closer to the work until 95 percent of all work became urban work.)

    As will be noted in THE PROBLEM WITH CARS, PART IV, subsidy for electricity, phone, mail service and ‘farm to market’ roads – and later all the other urban services – resulted in the scatteration of urban dwellings across the Countryside.

    The long term result without a fair allocation of cost and a rational application of technology – e.g. providing electricity for agricultural applications without long, wasteful low voltage distribution systems?

    The Next Slum.


  3. Groveton Avatar

    Bacon may like pigs but, I’d have to guess, pigs would rather see a world without bacon.

    Welcome home.

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    geeze Groveton.. do you have to be so obvious in kissing up to Bacon just so he’ll help you with your project?


    p.s. welcome back Bacon. Given the events in the financial markets and the VA GA especially with the TAs, et all …there should be shortage of content for BR.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I don’t have the patience to read a whole book on domesticated animals (I had enough trouble with Guns, Germs & Steel) … but I _was_ motivated to go read some reviews of the book along with a interview with the author ….that pretty much laid out the premise of the book.

    The basic deal.. seemed to be that Colonist’s domesticated animals needed to “wander” but my take was that it was more of a calculated/pedmeditated excuse to justify claimed ownership of the land.

    The colonists knew that the Native Americans did not view land as “ownable” by individuals and referred to the land as “vacant”.

    see the interview:

    but there are some inconsistencies …. how did the Colonists themselves decide who owned what land such that their respective animals did not wander on others property?

    and I have to wonder if mere “settlers” owned land in early Virginia to start with.. as many native Virginians _are_ familiar with the term “King’s Grant”…

    (The king “owned” the English colonial claims in North America until he specifically granted rights to others,…)


    so .. I’m having a bit of trouble with the premise…

    It appears to me that the King of England and venture capitalists already had a “plan” for the division of land in Virginia as opposed to a sort of a happenstance tactic of white settlers using domesticated animals as squatter surrogates…

    There is land to this day in Virgnia’s that can trace it’s ownership to an original King’s Grant .. which.. implies specific boundaries .. which means if the owner had domesticated animals.. then he would NOT want those animals wandering off of HIS property.


  6. Groveton Avatar


    Times have been interesting since you left for vacation. You popular column “The Inscruitable Meaning of teh Trade Deficit” has been ringing in my ears as I read columns like this:


    You are quite correct in asserting that the weakness in the dollar (caused, in large part, by lower interest rates in the US) makes imports into the US look more expensive and makes exports from the US look less expensive. This stimulates jobs in places like Virginia making products targeted at the export market or in replacement of products that had previously been imported. Unfortunately, one of the imports that gets more expensive (in dollars) is oil. And how many Virginians will suffer from high fuel bills (oil is $111 per barrel today) vs. the number who will benefit from more export related employment?

    There has also been much talk on this blog about “Bailouts for Evrryone”. The general tenor is that it is wrong for teh federal government to bail out companies that have made mistakes (based in greed) that have caused them financial problems. I have steadfastly maintained that the US government must keep the US banking system running or we will all suffer. During the time that bailouts fell mainly on subprime lenders my comments fell on deaf ears (blind eyes?). However, the inevitable spread of economic decay took a big step closer to home last night. This morning Bear Stearns was sold for $2 / share to prevent bankruptcy. As this contagion spreads, “main stream banks” will start to falter. This will put the stock accounts and deposits of the participants on this blog at risk. It will be interesting to see if the “no bailouts” crowd is still singing that song when the bailout is from the FDIC and the accounts being bailed out are the savings accounts of the pundits on this site. Something tells me that we crossed a dividing line this morning as a mainline stock brokerage had to be bailed out. It will also be interesting to see if Ray Hyde sticks to his “no recession” beliefs as the economy tumbles further. Ray – are you still confident of that recession radar software that you had been touting. Recession radar doesn’t work very well in the Bermuda Triangle of today’s economic environment.


  7. Anonymous Avatar

    If it is really a bailout for all, then what’s the problem?

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    “Ray – are you still confident of that recession radar software that you had been touting?”

    It’s not my software. The software reports that the maximum risk of a rececession WITHIN ONE YEAR was just about a year ago, and has been declining since, then.

    Therefore, according to the software, we are not out of the woods yet. If we have arecession (and it appears we are) then the software was accurate.

    If we slide past our current troubles with nothing more than some major corrections, then the software suggests lesser chance of trouble going forward. Not none, but lesser.

    Anyway, the bank that bought Bear Stearns got a bargain. The headquarters builing alone was worth more than they paid. There are plenty of other bargains out there for those intrepid enough to invest in the future.

    There is very little to gain by investing in no future.

    At the same time, I’m not stupid. I calculate it will cost me over $6000 just to put fuel in my tractors this year. It may not be worth it. Might be time to plant a tree farm, then sit back and wait. or, considering food prices, maybe I work more on produce and chickens.

    We are either going to have businesses doing business or we won’t, in which case massive overconsumption will screech to a halt. Environmentalists ought to applaud this, but we’ll see what happens when it wrecks their portfolio.


  9. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Groveton, You and I do not disagree on the fundamentals, only on emphasis. I would much prefer a strong dollar to a weak dollar. A weak dollar breeds inflation and impoverishes everyone. My only point in my previous post is that there are countervailing influences (as you acknowledge) when U.S. manufacturing becomes more price competitive and foreigners are incentivized to move manufacturing operations to the U.S. But that positive influence works only so long as foreigners feel confident enough to invest and expand — no sure thing in the current environment.

    I’ve long maintained that the global imbalances in trade and payments could not sustain themselves indefinitely. The global trading system would have to correct these imbalances sooner or later. It looks like sooner. It’s going to get ugly, I’m afraid. While the restructuring of global trading patterns reflects itself in the U.S. as a weaker dollar and higher prices for oil and other imported products, it will manifest itself in other countries as declining markets in the U.S. (the buyer of last resort) for their exports. We’ll see massive layoffs in other countries, followed by civil disorders in politically unstable countries. In particular, watch China. If China experiences widespread unrest, global supply chains could be impacted. We could see a domino effect of disruption.

  10. Groveton Avatar


    Excellent point on the domino effect and China. That’s a huge concern. In fact, I’d add a bigger concern than the disruption of global supply chains. What do totalitarian regimes do when they are confronted by domestic setbacks? What did the Argentian junta do when faced with economic turmoil in 1982? They invaded the Falkland Islands to take attention away from their failings at home. With 28% of Chinese GDP being created through foreign investment, what will the Chinese government do if there is an economic meltdown in China? Invade Taiwan? I hope not but diverting attention from eonomic problems through military action is a tried and true technique. And if China attacks Taiwan what should / would the US respons be? Hmmmm……

    This is not a pretty picture.

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    And part of the Bear Stearns story was that a chinese investment bank elected to “defer” a billion dollar investment in favor of more study.

    Billions of Saudi dollars are invested here, too. Foreign countries have an interest in the best interests of the U.S.

    We should discriminate between necessay supply chains and supply chains for cheap, lead infested toys.


  12. Anonymous Avatar

    Last time I was in St. Martin a Euro cost 90 cents. Now a dollar buys you 0.56 Euro.

    I won’t be going back to St. Martin soon, but more French and Europeans will be coming here.

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “If it is really a bailout for all, then what’s the problem?”

    you mean EVERYONE pays extra taxes to generate refunds for THEMSELVES?

    this sound a bit silly to me…

    are you really SURE that EVERYONE pays and everyone gets back what they pay?

    what kind of sense does THAT make?

  14. Anonymous Avatar

    More sense than letting everyone suffer, whether they are part of the cause or not.

  15. Anonymous Avatar

    “How does a community change when its police officers start checking citizenship?”

    Ever been in a shtetl?

  16. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    methinks you be disconnected as usual from some realities.

    we don’t have everyone bailing everyone out.. that concept is downright dimwitted…

    why should I pay the government $100 extra in taxes so the government can turn around and give it back to be.

    what we REALLY have is an advocacy to have some folks bail out others.

    And the irony/scandal is – that the folks who pay are Namely the folks who WERE careful and WERE prudent in their financial affairs …
    Their “just” reward for being “conservative” in THEIR financial affairs is that
    we “steal money” (using YOUR phrase) from them to give to others who did not exercise prudence in their financial affairs.

    this is why we have a huge deficit and a weak dollar.. because we have created system that invites folks to game the system and we provide a full-featured safety net for the ones that screw up..

  17. Anonymous Avatar

    I didn’t come up with the title, “Bailouts for Everyone”. I think it is dimwitted, too.

    now we have to figure out who is bailing out whom, and it turns out the answer is eerybody is bailing out nearly everybody.

    The vast majority of homeowners CAN afford their mortgage. So where is the panic coming from?

    Borrowers that UNKNOWINGLY signed for Option ARMs or regular ARMs, over extended investors and plain old mortgage fraud account for the vast majority of foreclosures right now.

    Folks who WERE careful and WERE prudent in their financial affairs are getting hammered over property values because of bad decisions by lenders and financiers.

    folks who wer carefula nd prudent will get hammered even worse if the wheels stop turning. You should pay the extra hundred dollars because not paying may cost you $30,000. I agree it is extortion, but there it is. When you talk about “choice” it is sometimes not what it is cracked up to be.

    We don’t hear much about thaose who were careful adn prudent and whoa re still getting screwed. What we hear about is people who have good jobs, can make their mortgage, but simply walk away when the value drops, because they can now get a better home cheaper. It might be a good strategy in some cases, but I doubt it actually happens much because the credit repercussions would be fierce.

    Nevertheless,this story gets played up because the financial community can use it to make THEM look like the victims, (of people who were not carfuland prudent in their financial affairs).

    Which means that the ones not financial and prudent were the financial institutions themselves, which should have known enough to protect themselves from their own clients.

    The ones gaming the system are the ones that deliberately sold mortgages without dislosing the terms, and other, larger financial interests up the line. These are publicly held and almost everyone has a stake, one way or another. Shareholders didn’t complain a peep when Wells Fargo and Citibank were making record profits.

    They are still gaming the system and the advetising thereof, to make it look like this is the result of individuals who were not careful and prudent.

    The people who lose this game will be whoever believes this slanted version of the story. At this point, it no longer matters: we are all in this voyage together; we can all bail or we can all sink in a ship overladen with a cargo of dogma.



  18. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “now we have to figure out who is bailing out whom, and it turns out the answer is eerybody is bailing out nearly everybody.”

    No we don’t.

    90-95% are NOT being bailed out and you know why?

    not because of dumb luck – but quite the opposite. They planned carefully and prudently and they conducted their financial affairs prudently.

    and their reward?….

    they will have their savings stolen from them and given to people who were totally Irresponsible their financial dealings.

    and I’m not talking about individuals with sub-primes, I’m talking about large companies run by loan-shark types ..who made profits by selling mortgages to those who did not qualify and speculating on the price of housing.

    Now we get to bail out those scum.

    and here’s a news flash: truly prudent people INCLUDE bad luck as one of the possible future scenarios…

    It’s called savings.. a reserve fund… a rainy day fund…

    The standards have not changed.

    The mortgage payment should not exceed 1/4 of your net or 1/3 or your gross income.

    You should have 10-20% EQUITY in the home and if you do not, you should have Mortgage Insurance.

    You should have 4-6 months of equivalent salary in savings for “emergencies”.

    And you should have adequate insurance to cover other losses that seriously damage you financially.

    If you don’t do these things and bad stuff happens to you.. it is NOT bad luck..

    ….it is, instead, risk and irresponsible ..behavior…

    You might get away with it or you might not -but in neither case does anyone else owe you one thin dime… it’s up to you.

    Now the folks in life that are TRULY vulnerable and truly unable to fend for themselves – we do take care of…

    but these other smucks.. need to get with the program.

    Be responsible for yourself.

    don’t expect others to take care of you.

    and if you are REALLY good at what you do – you have enough left over to help those who truly cannot help themselves.

  19. Anonymous Avatar

    “90-95% are NOT being bailed out and you know why?”

    You don’t think that your 401k holdings and your home value are not at further risk if the government does nothing?

    Mortgage forclosures are a small part of the subprime market which is a small part of the total mortgage market. This situation has been blown all out of proportion by uncertainty and fear.

    I suggest that Groveton is right. There are people out there who have been reasonable and prudent. Maybe they only have five years of equity instead of 25. They could get economically killed by this, just because some fat head says “Hey, I didn’t cause the boat to leak, so I’m not manning the pumps.”

    (fat head not directed at you personally)

    “Now the folks in life that are TRULY vulnerable and truly unable to fend for themselves – we do take care of…”

    Where is the department of truth that decides who is TRULY vulnerable? I’ve known fine upstanding people who were wiped out in a matter of weeks, through no fault of their own. Nobody helped them out: not the police, not the courts, not their insurance company. Sure, neighbors did what they could……..

  20. Michael Ryan Avatar
    Michael Ryan

    Free roaming swine not only annoyed the Indians. It almost led to war between the US and UK in 1859.

  21. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: 401ks and home value

    I know this comes as a shock – but you are not ENTITLED to assured value of either.

    One should NEVER count on the value of ANYTHING you own as only ever trending in a way that benefits you much less quickly.

    but if you do.. then you certainly are not entitled to expect that others will bail you out.

  22. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Free roaming swine not only annoyed the Indians. It almost led to war between the US and UK in 1859.”


    this was NOT a unique aspect of settling in the new or old world.

    wandering swine in the ABSENCE of defined boundaries and branding of the animals raises all kinds of questions about who owns what swine… or ANY livestock…for that matter.

    But WITH Boundaries.. what kind of sense does it make anyhow to have something you own OFF of your property and susceptible to conflicting claims of ownership even among your own fellow landowners?

    That’s why I feel that the “wandering” domesticated animal .. issue.. was a pretext with regard to native people.

    Without branding.. WHO would be the aggrieved party?

    It seems clear that since the native people did not have a concept of land ownership nor had their own livestock that the “crime” would be against ALL the white settlers.. since there would be no way to look at a pig -dead or alive and figure out who the aggrieved party was…

    so.. it was.. in my mind.. at best .. a flimsy pretext to take land from the native people..

    but.. not unique by any stretch of the imagination..

    anytime you have two or more representatives of different kings on the same parcel of land. making the statement “I claim this land in the name of the King” -you have the makings of a conflict.

    for more information, Read the “Fairfax Grant”


  23. Anonymous Avatar

    “re: 401ks and home value

    I know this comes as a shock – but you are not ENTITLED to assured value of either.

    you certainly are not entitled to expect that others will bail you out.”


    When I go to sea, I don’t EXPECT anyone else will bail me out.

    I do expect to know when I am sinking, whether it is my fault or not.

    If others are on the same boat, then I EXPECT that they will be wise enough to see where their true interest lie, regardless of their political persuasion.

    Even EMR can see this much.


    On the other hand, the law of the sea says that if someone is available to bail bme out, then they have an obligation to do so.

    The reason for this is obvious.


Leave a Reply