"The Further Improvement
of the Wildernes"
THE transit of European civilization to the New World in the seventeenth century inevitably affected both the transplanted culture and the wilderness environment of America. While the forest influenced New England thought in covert ways, the Puritans radically altered the appearance of the untamed continent which confronted them. Despite the implicit threats to an organic society, the settlers of New England stressed the importance of subjugating the wilderness, and, in the course of the century, Puritan commentators extolled the process of transforming the virgin forest into habitable areas. Within one generation of the founding of Massachusetts, however, the physical changes wrought by the colonists challenged the Puritans' self-image and compelled them to adjust their attitudes toward their wilderness settlements.
Supporters of the Winthrop expedition of 1630 had emphasized the value of subduing the earth in justification of the migration to New England. Francis Higginson, to promote the settlement of Massachusetts, lamented the sparsity of good Christians "to make use of this fruitful land." It is sad, he informed his friends in England, "to see so much good ground . . . lie altogether unoccupied." "Colonies," asserted John White, "have their warrant from