"By goodly rivers uninhabited": Waterways and Plymouth Colony

Jordan Coulombe, University of Rhode Island


The colonists of Plymouth were dependent on aquatic environments for the dispersal and acquisition of ideas, goods, and people. This thesis will build off of the work of Donald Worster and Michael Rawson amongst others to examine the importance of water in Plymouth Colony. Ultimately this study will utilize primary documents to argue that the abundance of aquatic environments in the colonies played a crucial role in allowing for the establishment of a permanent colony in New England. The rise of environmental history over the past several decades presents a natural tool for analyzing the experiences of Plymouth's earliest settlers. Between the years of 1620 and 1640, Plymouth colony was little more than a struggling outpost who's future success was far from granted. Lack of food, isolation, low populations, challenging environmental conditions and threats from Amerindians and other Europeans were incessant obstacles to the establishment of a stable colony. The Pilgrims were able to overcome these challenges largely because of the abundance of aquatic environments that New England held. Plymouth's settlers implemented these waterways for a variety of uses ranging from obtaining food and profit to fertilizing fields, establishing land ownership and maintaining their connections to England. While Plymouth's citizens intended to establish themselves on the terrestrial environments of New England, this process was invariably tied to the aquatic environments surrounding them. These waterways allowed the colony to survive and flourish and in the process Plymouth created a deep reliance on their aquatic resources that lingers on in modern New England. Placing colonial Plymouth under this environmental lens adds a degree of complexity to historical understandings of Plymouth by moving beyond the solely human elements of the colony's establishment and survival. Accepting the environment as a historical actor is imperative to fully understanding the experiences of the earliest European colonists in the Americas. By reinterpreting Plymouth's history it is possible to gain a deeper understanding of human experience in New England while simultaneously reinforcing the interconnected nature of human and natural histories.^

Subject Area

History, United States

Recommended Citation

Jordan Coulombe, ""By goodly rivers uninhabited": Waterways and Plymouth Colony" (2014). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI1562210.