Bill Howard

Bill Howard

As we celebrate Independence Day weekend, it may be a good time to discuss a few things in which our country survived due to the outdoorsmanship of our founding fathers and early settlers. Without this ability, our United States would not have made it through the early was with England or on its own afterwards.

Most of us will remember from history class the episode of Valley Forge, in which our first President, George Washington, commandeered his army and was on the verge of death. It was a brutal winter, so much so that outside help was not possible, and food became scarce. Washington had warned that without obtaining rations, his men were soon going to starve, disperse, or dissolve.

The outlook was very bleak. The winter took its toll, killing nearly 1500 horses that would be used to navigate the supply trails. Without the supplies, nearly 2000 soldiers perished from disease, which many historians attribute to malnutrition which caused the soldiers to be in a weakened state. Approximately 1/5th of Washington’s winter settlement died.

Then, further east, an unexpected ‘false spring’ occurred, with several weeks of nicer weather. This false spring caused an early spawning of hickory and American shad. For those unfamiliar with the shad spawn, the fish leave the coastal waters and swim upstream amongst rivers as far as they can in order to lay eggs.

Valley Forge is set along Valley Creek and Schuylkill River. The early spawn caused an overflow of the shad on the main rivers, in which the fish began to seek opportunities amongst tributaries and branches from the main. The Schuylkill River was one of those branches.

Where the Schuylkill borders Valley Forge, the river is only about knee deep. As the fish gathered there, it became easy to catch and the soldiers were able to take thousands of pounds of the fish, even salting the excess down for the coming months.

Without the early shad run during the ‘false spring’, Washington’s army would have likely disbanded or perished and Philadelphia would have been lost to the Brits for good.

After the end of the Revolutionary War, America still needed to find a stage amongst the world. The United States was far from the civilized world at the time, and imports were expensive, and exports were not as in demand due to the cost of shipping across the Atlantic.

While many of our founding fathers were merchants, one particular resource from America resonated with Europe. The fur trade had officially begun, and the U.S. had plenty of in-demand furs. America had officially found the need of world trade.

By having a resource that the rest of the world wanted, trade became more affordable. As ships brought in imports from Europe, they could now return with full exports from America, cheapening the costs of shipping for both parties, thereby reducing the overall costs and making both more affordable and more in demand.

The fur trade could be argued as one of the key experiments of an open economy that set the United States on its path of becoming a world leader. The influx of foreign money from the fur demand bought the United States its early station upon the world stage allowing the country to survive and prosper.

Our independence was more than just a battle for sovereignty from England. It relied heavily upon so many other factors as well.

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