Cole Peterson

Date of Award


First Advisor

Chris Coggins

Second Advisor

Justin Jackson

Third Advisor

Dan Neilson


In Connecticut, between 1600 and 1700, a series of transitions occurred in and around the environment of the salt marsh. The indigenous peoples of Connecticut’s coast had long been dependent on estuarine resources and the richly productive marsh. Beginning with the arrival of Europeans, certain indigenous groups were able to gain considerable wealth and power with the production of wampum, a bead made of shellfish that thrived in and near salt marshes. This power enabled tribes like the Pequot and Narragansett to become the most powerful geopolitical actors in New England. Even Europeans became deeply intertwined with the use of wampum. As colonists displaced indigenous groups, the salt marsh remained valuable even as wampum declined in relevancy. Colonists sought to settle near salt marshes whenever possible, as the valuable grass species S. patens could feed livestock, the key to English colonial economy and culture. Colonists began making changes to the salt marsh after their initial arrival, damming, ditching, and diking marshland in order to improve the yield of valuable S. patens. Thus, between 1600 and 1700, the salt marsh changed from being valuable for food, to economically valuable because of its shellfish, to economically valuable because of its grasses.

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