Indian old field
Indian Old Field, or simply Old Field, was a common term used in Colonial American times and up until the early nineteenth century United States, by white explorers, surveyors, cartographers and settlers, in reference to land formerly cleared and utilized by Indians for farming (corn fields or vegetable patches) or occupation. The term appears in many old maps and land documents, often persisting for many decades. It also remains in a number of present-day place names of the Eastern US.
Infectious disease epidemics among Native Americans took place in many areas prior to expanded European settlement, as diseases were spread by early contact with traders and explorers, and then were transmitted within Native American populations. These outbreaks killed in excess of 90% of the population in the hardest-hit areas of North America in the wake of initial European contact.
Pioneer settlers, in applying for their land grants, exhibited a strong preference for sites located along major trails and particularly those coinciding with these Old Fields, as the Native Americans had often prepared land for settlement. Thus, early land survey plats emphasized these features and many place names from New England south to Florida represent vestiges of these places.
The earliest white settlers of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, which had been vacated by the Indians, noted “Indian old fields”. On the earliest Virginia map to show the upper Chesapeake watershed and Allegheny Mountains in any detail (the Jefferson-Fry map of 1751) an extensive area of “old fields” known as “Shawno Fields” was designated at the mouth of the South Branch of the Upper Potomac River. (About nine miles upstream further extensive clearings were noted by the first settlers. A post office and community, "Old Fields", exists at this site to the present day.)
In the 1750s, the explorer and surveyor Christopher Gist, traveling near the Ohio River in what later became western West Virginia, wrote in his journal of "Indian old fields." He described "large meadows, fine clover Bottoms & spacious Plains covered with wild Rye".
A 1761 visitor to the colony of South Carolina noted:
"There are dispersed up and down the country several large Indian old fields, which are lands that have been cleared by the Indians, and now remain just as they left them. There arise in many places fine savannahs, or wide extended plains, which do not produce any trees; these are a kind of natural lawns, and some of them as beautiful as those made by art."
As recently as 1912, a genealogist in northern West Virginia published the following definition:
"Old Field" place names
- Old Field, New York
- Old Fields, Hardy County
- Old Field Branch, Greenbrier County
- Old Field Mountain, Greenbrier County
- Old Field Fork, Lewis County
- Old Field Fork, Pocahontas County
- Old Field Ridge, Pocohontas County
- Ocmulgee Old Fields, Georgia
- Old Fields, Wilson County, North Carolina
The name of Clearfield County, Pennsylvania is also thought to be related to Indian old fields.
- Core, Earl L. (1974), The Monongalia Story: A Bicentennial History, Vol. I: Prelude (1984), Parsons, West Virginia: McClain Printing Co., page 55.
- Mitchell, Robert D., Warren R. Hofstra and Edward F. Connor, "Reconstructing the Colonial Environment of the Upper Chesapeake Watershed”, pp 167-190 of Curtin, Philip D., Grace Somers Brush, and George Wescott Fisher (editors), Discovering the Chesapeake: The History of an Ecosystem (2001); Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Core, Earl L. (1949), "Original Treeless Areas in West Virginia", J. Elisha Mitchell Sci. Soc., 65:306-310.
- Darlington, William M. (1893), Christopher Gist's Journals, with Historical, Geographical and Ethnological Notes and Biographies of his Contemporaries, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: J.H. Weldin & Co., page 296.
- Glen, James (1761). A Description of South Carolina; containing many curious and interesting particulars relating to the civil, natural, and commercial history of that colony, London, R. & J. Dodsley; Reprinted in Chapman J. Milling (ed.), Colonial South Carolina: Two Contemporary Descriptions by Governor James Glen and Doctor George Milligen-Johnston (South Carolina Sesquicentennial Series, No. I, Columbia, S.C.: 1951).
- Butcher, Bernard L. (1912), Geneaological and Personal History of the Upper Monongahela Valley, pg 203.