Crèvecoeur and the “great woods”

According to Crèvecoeur, the “great woods” appear to have extreme complexity. Even though the vast amount of unsettled land proved to be beneficial to the American society, it was not a perfect utopia. The settlers in these regions were not a part of the American society. “There, remote from the power of example and check of shame, many families exhibit the most hideous parts of our society,” (Crèvecoeur 47). Even though many Europeans immigrated to America to escape persecution and own land, the complete alienation from government appears to be frowned upon. However, Crèvecoeur never said these settlers were a detriment to the society. He writes, “They are a kind of forlorn hope, preceding by ten or twelve years the most respectable army of veterans which come after them,” (Crèvecoeur 47). We have to understand how important the early settlers were to America. They were the building block and even though they were rough around the edges, and ate mostly meat, Crèvecoeur understands the purpose they served in creating the American society.

Crèvecoeur also details the benefits of scattering settlers. Because of the scattered farmers, America does not become a copy of Europe. Crèvecoeur sees a society of vast amounts of land where everyone is welcome and not confined to living on top of each other. He writes, “He [European] does not find, as in Europe, a crowded society, where every place is overstocked; …There is room for everybody in America;” (Crèvecoeur 57). However, this “room” described by Crèvecoeur, does not exclude the woods. They are pivotal in the development of America. Granted, Crèvecoeur did warn against the men who made their lives in the woods, who resorted to hunting as means to survive, he knew we could not discard the benefits of the woods. They offered so much to the American society, but Crèvecoeur warns against exclusion. There must be a harmony between the “great woods” and industry so America can flourish.


St. John de Crèvecoeur, J. Hector. “What is an American?” Letters from an American Farmer. New York: Dutton, 1877. 39-68. Print.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by al002 on September 7, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    I agree with your post, “Crèvecoeur and the “great woods,” that those who settled in the “great woods” were frowned upon by Crèvecoeur but were irreplaceable to the advancement of the United States. Crèvecoeur’s concern over those who chose to settle in the “great woods” may have been a result of the isolation and the fear that they would not receive culture. With the absence of culture I think Crèvecoeur would feel that the colonies would not have been able to function properly by lacking in commerce and expansion. With this fear the negative connotation for those who live in the “great woods” is expected referring to them as “barbarians” or animalistic because they are lacking culture. In contrast, Crèvecoeur describes those living closer to the coast or settlements as being more intelligent with a positive connotation because they are receiving culture.

  2. The way Crevecoeur describes these hunters, he seems to view them as a part of nature in its most raw, wild form. He even says that they’re “no better than carnivorous animals of superior rank” (46). The way you describe the importance of these hunters and their part in the whole ecosystem of humans, this reminds me of pioneer plants and animals to make way for the “higher” beings. And as the person above said, those “higher” beings are ones with culture.

  3. Reading this perspective made me realize how similarly Crèvecoeur views both men and nature when it comes to being polished and refined. Crèvecoeur details his preference for more controlled and ordered nature regarding the “pleasing meadow” as a better choice than the “howling swamp” (65). This preference seems to parallel his feelings toward men as well—preferring the polished, industrial farmers to the seemingly idle hunters that live in the rogue woods. I enjoyed your perspective as it helped me understand that perhaps Crèvecoeur does appreciate the role that the great woods and the men that inhabit the woods play in early America. Although they may have a lower, less invested role in his eyes, Crèvecoeur truly believes there “is room for everybody in America” (57).

  4. Posted by etrotta on September 9, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    I also realized how there’s a connection between Crèvecoeur’s ideal human and ideal nature. His view of perfect nature is a piece of land that has been cultivated to be productive farmland. He also see’s the ideal human as being a hard-working farmer.

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