Date of Award

Spring 1999

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Charles E Clark


This work examines the relationship between New England's maritime industries and the coastal ecotone, from Massachusetts Bay to Penobscot Bay and occasionally beyond, between 1630 and 1850. It begins with the early English use of the littoral ecosystem, and describes the effects of expanding maritime development and related industries---shipbuilding, fishing, farming and forestry---on that ecosystem until the late ante-bellum era. It also investigates the role of the coastal ecosystem in the development of New England's colonial and early Federal political structure and economies, and describes in some detail the role of strategic coastal resources in the wars of the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as the effects of those wars on the ecosystem.

The principal conclusions are these: First, that the ecosystem played a crucial role in the development of New England. Second, that the topography was instrumental in determining the nature of regional economy and social structure for two centuries. Third, that a century of intermittent pre-industrial warfare was actually beneficial for the natural resources, allowing them time to recover from early depredations. Fourth, that the topography and technology led to the formation of a communitarian capitalism that was peculiar to the New England coast, that lasted into the 19th century, and that contributed, consciously or not, to the maintenance of a sustainable relationship between harvest and regeneration of the natural resources until it was overcome by the corporate capitalism of the burgeoning industrial revolution. In the second quarter of the 19th century, this communitarian capitalism was overwhelmed by a larger and more sophisticated corporate capitalism, and its disappearance led to unbalanced depletion of the near-coastal resources, and perhaps irreversible changes in the landscape.