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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersBecoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Theme: GrowthTheme: PeoplesTheme: EconomiesTheme: IdeasTheme: American
Theme: Growth

Raccoon, Peter Kalm, Travels in North America
The Land
- The animals, plants, and natural resources of British America, commentary and drawings, 1692-1760 (PDF)

Some people in England are startled at the very Name of the Rattle-Snake, and fancy every corner of that Province so much pester'd with them, that a Man goes in constant danger of his Life, that walks abroad in the Woods. But this is as gross a Mistake, as most of the other ill reports of this Country. For in the first place, this Snake is very rarely seen; and when that happens, it never do's the least Mischief, unless you offer to disturb it.

Robert Beverley, The History and
Present State of Virginia
, 1705
Rattlesnakes fascinated European settlers and visitors in America—as did hummingbirds, raccoons, skunks, possums, beaver, flying squirrels, bald eagles, buffalo, mosquitoes, dung beetles, palmetto trees, and a myriad of other native animals and plants. Of direct economic interest were the continent's natural resources of woods and minerals (especially silver and gold), lucrative stimulants to the colonial economy and, therefore, to the British empire.

We have two groups of writings to draw from: (1) "natural histories" published as organized collections of precisely drawn and annotated illustrations; and (2) casual commentary and drawings in travel journals, memoirs, almanacs, promotional works, sketchbooks, poems, and similar works. Selections from both groups are included here; you will read about fauna and flora from rattlesnakes to rattlesnake root, and view illustrations drawn by settlers, mapmakers, and renowned "natural historians" of the day.

Be sure to compare the illustrations of animals and plants with those by earlier observers (1492-1690) in the toolbox American Beginnings, in sections titled New World (I) and New World (II). What do European observers find most significant to record and illustrate about the animals, plants, and natural resources of British America? Why? (13 pages.)

Discussion questions
  1. Overall, what impressions do you get of the animals, plants, and natural resources of British America from these writings and drawings?
  2. Overall, what impressions do you get of the observers? What motivates them to record and draw the natural world of America?
  3. What do the observers find most significant and worthy of recording? Why?
  4. What misinformation is included in the descriptions and drawings? How do the errors occur?
  5. What impressions do you get of the human-animal relationships in America?
  6. What economic interest do the plants, animals, and minerals hold? What aesthetic and literary interest?
  7. What mystery and promise do they hold? What dread or threat?
  8. Read the selections on the rattlesnake. Which features are most fascinating and evocative to observers? Which are most repellent?
  9. What do the hummingbird, rattlesnake, and other oft-noted animals come to signify about America for European observers?
  10. How do the "natural histories" from the 1700s compare with similar compilations from the 1500s and 1600s?

Framing Questions
  •  What factors fostered or hindered the growth of the British Atlantic colonies (that later became the United States of America) from 1690 to 1763?
  •  How did the European colonists respond to the growing diversity among them—by religion, ethnicity, economic status, and country of origin?
  •  How did the colonies’ growth affect Native Americans and enslaved Africans?
  •  How were the inhabitants’ concepts of liberty and rights affected by the colonies’ growth?
  •  List the power relationships that influenced the colonies in this period, e.g., between the colonies and England, the colonies and the French and Spanish on their borders, the settlers and the Native Americans, the clergy and their congregants, the southern planters and their servants and slaves, etc. How did the totality of these power relationships affect the colonies’ growth and self-perception?

The animals, plants, and natural resources of British America: 13 pages

Supplemental Sites

- Raccoon, in Peter Kalm, Travels in North America (1750-51), first English edition, 1771. Digital image: Wisconsin Historical Society; permission pending.
- Rattlesnake, Owl, Nighthawk ("Goat-Sucker" with insect), Buffalo (against tree), in Mark Catesby, The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, 1747 (details). Digital images: University of Wisconsin Digital Images; permission pending.
- "Buffelo," in John Brickell, The Natural History of North Carolina, 1737. Digital image: American Philosophical Society; permission pending.
- Alligator (detail) and Watermelon, in Philip George Friedrich von Reck, sketchbook completed in Georgia, 1736. Digital images: Royal Library (Det Kongelige Bibliotek), Copenhagen, Denmark; reproduced by permission.

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

1. The Colonies: 1690-1715   2. Cities & Towns   3. Coming to America
4. New Settlers   5. Servants & Slaves   6. New Colonies
7. Indian Lands   8. The Land   9. The Colonies: 1720-1763

TOOLBOX: Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Growth | Peoples | Economies | Ideas | American

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