“From a review of these different species of settlers, it appears that there are certain regular stages, which mark the progress from the savage to civilized life.”
Benjamin Rush, 1786
Sequent Occupancy is a philosophy about changes that occur in any populated region due to the passage of time and, as Benjamin Rush put it in 1786, “the progress of Population, Agriculture, Manners and Government.” It wasn’t until a century later that regional change became very popular, due mostly to the works of such geographers as Derwent Whittlesey, Preston James, Stanley Dodge, Robert Platt, and Charles Colby. This philosophy states that particular regions and social systems undergo certain forms of change due to development. To many geography professors active twenty or more years ago, this was a reminder of the philosophy of determinism once popular during earlier years, a philosophy which stated that certain aspects of life and existence, and in the case of my studies health, were due to one’s “fate”, by-products of our biological or genetic make-up and our cultural heritage.
Over the years, the philosophy of determinism has been associated with eugenics as well. This movement itself, before it was called “eugenics” or “true genes” developed as a consequence of the early nineteenth century medical climatology and medical topography writers. Once the Civil War was over and slavery became a piece of our past, at least in theory, those who used the arguments behind Charles Darwin’s natural selection and his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin’s interpretation of early Lamarckian thing, never forgot their original arguments. A number of British and American writers continued to preach the philosophy that we are products of our place and the number of generations of we have spent adapting to that place. This philosophy resurfaced following the war in some of the early race-focused writings, and continued to develop as the research of racial differences continued in many academic environments.
By the 1880s, a number of individuals who studied health and geography believed that sometimes “superiority” existed in terms of race and place. Meanwhile, those focused on longevity and better health continued to add to their teachings in increasing one’s lifespan, building a stronger body, and becoming more productive an individual. As the movement with the term “eugenics” developed between 1900 and 1920, many of these beliefs out there solidified and geography became an asset as much as it was a hindrance.
The philosophy that United States geographers like Derwent Whittlesey and others developed during the late 1890s and early 1900s went through their periods of popularity followed by lack of support. Eugenics related activities engaged in by Americans were accompanied by anti-eugenics thinkers, and over the next two or three decades witnessed some of the worst movements related to racism, people and place develop in this country. Were it not for World War II, and our ability to turn this movement in a direction that was not laying all of the blame on Anglican and American traditions is what enabled American geographers, economists, and other researchers to once again apply the construct of place to how a society and its people develop.
Sequent occupancy experienced a revival during the 1950s and 1960s, eliciting responses from critics in the fields of sociology and science. One of the problems with this theory at the time appeared to relate to the changes in technology, industry and economic development. If we tried to define a specific dividing time in terms of when one technology an industrial phase was turned into another, this made the timelines being proposed seem fairly subjective. This problem with interpretations prevailed during the 1980s and 1990s, and were it not for the significant changes that took place due to the post-modern movement, we might have never had that next stage to add to the sequent occupancy model.
Anthropology and culture are the main way we relate to Whittlesey’s sequent occupancy model. An important part of anthropology and culture is health, which is why I revived the use of this model on my own and included it as a part of my thesis between 1997 and 2000.
Evidence has not been found indicating that late 19th century political and economic geographers like Whittlesey were familiar with any earlier writings on this topic, such as Benjamin Rush’s essay on the health and economy of Philadelphia. It seems likely that geographers came to this conclusion on their own, by rereading many of the same old stories that were told before, recapitulating old findings in order to generate some new philosophy, to which a new and novel way of analysis and new and novel name can be assigned.
Excluding certain parts of the post-modernist movement of the 1990s, and the revival of this philosophy occurred during the mid- to late 1950s and early 1960s–the cold war era– sequent occupancy theory has numerous applications to better understanding the geography of medicine, or more directly stated, the field of spatio-temporal epidemiology. In some ways sequent occupancy resembles the epidemiological transition theory, but the two are not the same. Epidemiological transition theory used to define the similarities and differences different populations experience due to the different stages of social and economic development. The disease states and conditions that are discussed tend to very broad-based, something akin to the old World Health Organization way of differentiating countries from each other by labeling one as “developed” and the other “developing” or “underdeveloped” or “not developed”, whatever is most politically correct for the time.
Sequent occupancy interprets a place by its size, population density, stage in economic development, sociocultural make up, natural resource availability, typical climate patterns, place of the earth’s surface relative to major climatic regions, hydrological features, and numerous natural, human and social ecological features. By combining some of the epidemiological theory concept with interpretations of place, economy and work, and in turn relate these to the domestic, social, occupation and recreation related medical states that can result from these settings, we can place these theories and underlying arguments into one paradigm, producing an innovative and geographical or spatial method for researching poverty and disease, social inequality, epidemic geography, sociological disease patterns, natural history and medicine, and human and natural ecology of health and well-being, not to mention disease itself.
Like many political leaders for his time, Benjamin Rush was actively observing changes in population size, industrial development, and land use as often as he observed the local people and their epidemiological and public health concerns. As cities continued to grow in size, and yellow fever and other epidemics began to strike the denser population settings, the well-spaced farming communities experienced their own unique forms of diseases and disease geography. As these farming communities began to supply urban settings with important food stores, fabric materials, leather goods, domestic goods, raw minerals, and medicines, the cities in turn gave little back except for the market by which to sell these wares.
Dr. Rush wrote this article following his observations on the social changes that took place in the United States, by then a rapidly developing country. His focus was on the evolving population and the growing “economy” of Philadelphia, a city that prospered greatly due to numerous rural communities. Rush’s work was on the health and productivity of these countryside labourers, and how they had evolved into a new type of people and society. They were more than just farming families that supplied all of Philadelphia and other rapidly growing cities with healthy food and drinks. The health of the city very much depended upon the health of people residing in the countryside. Ruch acknowledges this by noting how much prosperity came to the countryside as farmers sold their produce to the city.
In just a few years, the yellow fever epidemic would make its way into the city, forcing thousands to seek refuge and care in the alms houses and tens of thousands to flee the plague-ridden urban setting. To care for these people, there had to be enough food, thus the importance of Rush’s observations at this time in American history. Between 1797 and 1800, these country farmers so provided, from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.
This article details 3 of the 4 stages in sequent occupancy that existed during these early Nationalist, Federalist years. Rush details the healthiness of life in the wilderness setting, as an independent family sized farmer residing solitarily or as part of some very small community, and as the “FARMERS” that Rush attributed them to be in his presentation. These farmers were more or less the factory from which all foods were obtained, a population just as important as those who were employed in the local industrial complexes then being built as a result of intrernational economic growth. This writing preceded George Washington’s suggestion of retaining our national independence politically and at times even industrially. Such a philosophy was further perpetrated by the Monroe Doctrine, which essentially stated that the Americas consituted a single independent hemisphere that should remain separated from the rest of the world and therefore which should possess little political connectivity with Europe and Asia.
As the population in Europe and in the United States underwent their continued growth, at times testing the claims published in Thomas Robert Malthus’s work to their fullest extent, the coutrnyside was always there to assist the city during its periods of dire needs.
The following is a presentation of Rush’s article in sections, intertwined with notes on the Sequent Occupancy model. There are a lot of “cultural bias” and personal judgments expressed in his writings, at times even bordering on ethnocentricity. Since this presentation was targeted towards to the Philosophical Society of Manchester, it is also very pro-British in its wording. But this did not really matter. Following the War, the two large urban settings in this part of the the new States, New York and Philadelphia, were full of entrepreneurs who descended directly from loyalist families. Their British habits and techniques were often quite intact in spite of their claims to patriotism.
Ultimately, commercial activities changed significantly during the years ahead, and some of Rush’s lines shared with England did little to really result in any new events taking place in American history. This political stance that Rush seemed to display distanced some of the administrators and professionals in New York City area as well, although the sharing of knowledge in medicine continued between these two cities to some extent. In the end, for those most devoted to New York philosophy and tradition, Rush’s work was of limited importance to the New York setting when it came to medical topography and medical geography. Samuel Mitchell’s work and its ability to match, if not surpass the value to profession of some of Rush’s writings, did little to help New York physicians develop a respect for Rush’s writings.
Rush’s writings on the sequential living patterns in the Philadelphia region and nearby farm communities is unique in some ways, status quo in others. Still, Rush’s speech is important to contemporary medical geographers in that it demonstrates a common them resurfacing periodically in medical geography studies and history–the notion that diseases and lifestyles occurring within a single space are better understood if we interpret them as stages of regional settlement and economic development.
Alfred Meyer’s rendering of indigenous culture with an “Indian Winter Camp” and “Bayou”
Rush’s ”The first settler in the woods . . . “
Alfred Meyer’s Stage 2 – Pioneers with “Trapper’s Shanty”
Rush’s “second species of settler”
Alfred Meyer’s Stage 3 – Farming Industry or Ranches are nearby, with “Sportsmen’s Clubhouse” in wooded setting
“Third and last species of settler . . .” in the country, according to Rush
Alfred Meyer’s Stage 4 – “Reclamationists” with signs of land form change, bridges, heavy land use
Food, from Farms to Cities
Meyer, Alfred H. 1935. “The Kankakee ‘Marsh’ of Northern Indiana and Illinois.” Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters 21 : 359-396.
________. 1945. “Toponomy in Sequent Occupance Geography, Calumet Region, Indiana-Illinois.” Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science 54 : 142-159.
________. 1950. “Fundament Vegetation of the Calumet Region, Northwest Indiana-Northeast Illinois.” Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters 36 : 177-182.
________. 1952. “Circulation and Settlement Patterns of the Calumet–South Chicago Region of Northwest Indiana and Northeast Illinois (A Sequent Occupance Study in Historical Geography).” Proceedings, VIIIth General Assembly and XVIIth Congress of the International Geographical Union (Washington, D.C.), 538-544.
________. 1954. “Circulation and Settlement Patterns of the Calumet Region of Northwestern Indiana and Northeastern Illinois (The First Stage of Occupance–The Pottawatamie and the Fur Trader).” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 44 : 245-275.
________. 1956. “Circulation and Settlement Patterns of the Calumet Region of Northwestern Indiana and Northeastern Illinois (The Second Stage of Occupance–Pioneer Settler and Subsistence Economy).” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 46 : 312-356.
________. 1959. “The Kankakee ‘Marsh’ of Northern Indiana and Illinois.” In Field Study in American Geography: The Development of Theory and Method Exemplified by Selections, by Robert S. Platt, pp. 202-216. University of Chicago, Department of Geography, Research Paper No. 61.
Mikesell, Marvin W. 1976. “The Rise and Decline of ‘Sequent Occupance’: A Chapter in the History of American Geography.” In Geographies of the Mind: Essays in Historical Geosophy, eds. David Lowenthal and Martyn J. Bowden, pp. 149-169. New York: Oxford University Press.
Whittlesey, Derwent. Major Agricultural Regions of the Earth. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 26: 199–240, 1936.