The fur traders’ hot market for beaver pelts in colonial New England soon reduced beaver populations, and fewer beavers meant fewer beaver ponds, an important source of the local Native diet, including roots and waterfowl.
That was followed by the construction of mills, which were powered by water, and that meant dams. Some impounded incoming tides for release a few hours later. These were tricky to operate, though, and changed speeds depending on the strength of the incoming tide or the level of the water during its release.
Dams at the waterfalls became more common.
Either way, dams impeded upstream migrations of fish trying to return from the sea to their spawning grounds. These included salmon, sturgeons, eels, and river herring. Their reduced stocks afflicted both the Natives and the English inland fishing industry.
The mills also produced copious amounts of sawdust that choked river bottoms, reducing and killing off additional species.
The demand for timber itself cleared land all the way back eight to ten miles from the riverbanks, further eliminating wild game. The wood was needed not only for the sawmills but also as fuel for brickmaking, domestic cooking, and warmth through winter. Heating a house commonly required 40 cords of wood a year – no small feat of labor.
And runoff muddied and silted the streams.
Let’s not get too sentimental about the bucolic nature of the era, OK?
Welcome to Dover’s upcoming 400th anniversary.