With the exception of Florida, which was administered by the Spanish and experiences a climate similar to the Caribbean (although its marshy south and flat, forested north were quite different in appearance from the Caribbean islands), the Atlantic seaboard of North America bore the closest resemblance, in both climate and flora, to Western Europe. The climate ranged from temperate to continental and included abundant precipitation, although temperatures at the same latitude tended to be colder in North America than in Western Europe. And while individual species varied, both areas had thick forests of deciduous and evergreen trees. The topography was also not all that different.
Again, while the specifics varied, the general contours were recognizable. Numerous rivers ran from interior, relatively low mountain ranges to the sea. In Pennsylvania, New York, and southern New England, there were wide river valleys, surrounded by low-lying mountains.
To the south, the many rivers flowed from the interior Appalachian Mountains, across the Piedmont, a wide flat plateau, to the coastal plain, or tidewater, region. There were, however, significant differences. For one thing, North America is much colder than most of Western Europe, since it does not enjoy the warming effect that the tropical waters of the Gulf Stream bring to the eastern North Atlantic.
Latitude for latitude, temperatures differ enormously between Western Europe and the eastern part of North America. The Pilgrims, for example, were shocked by, and unprepared for, the severity of their first New England winter. They had expected milder weather, since Plymouth, Massachusetts, where they first settled, is at the same latitude as northern Spain, which enjoys an almost subtropical climate and is more than 600 miles south of the region around Plymouth, England, from which they originally hailed.
While the thick forests of eastern North America appeared similar to those of Europe, their extensiveness awed the newcomers. Over the millennia, and particularly since the late Middle Ages, Western Europeans had cut down much of their forests, leaving large patches here and there but nothing like the blanket of trees that stretched endlessly from the sea to the mountains and beyond in the New World. Gradually, the settlers cut back the forests of the Atlantic seaboard, but the task was so daunting that early farmers merely girdled the trees, stripping them of bark so that they would die and their leaves would fall off, allowing sunlight to reach the crops planted amid the dead trunks.
Canada was even more extreme. While the St. Lawrence Valley of Quebec, where the French first settled in the early seventeenth century, was well watered and enjoyed summers long enough for European-style agriculture, its climate was colder than any experienced in Western Europe outside of Scandinavia.
It was also thickly covered in forests of maple and evergreen. As a result, the French were occupied largely in fur trapping and trading with the natives. Settlers in the area did not engage in widespread agriculture until well into the eighteenth century.
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