History & Psychology CH. 2: Where did the perimeter fence come from?
As the great English agriculturist Arthur Young said commenting on eighteenth century French peasants’ toil on their small patrimonies, “Give a man the secure possession of a bleak rock and he will turn it into a garden. Give him a nine years' lease of a garden and he will convert it into a desert." Being instrumental in the culture of property, the fence fostered long-term thinking and constructive effort.
Land ownership demanded lasting commitment and care that were beyond the capacity of a single individual, so since very early on land was attached not to the individual but to a family. In early Hindu and Greek law, land could not be sold or transferred to another family, either by bequest or as a dower. A father who had land was compelled to leave it to his sons. If he had no sons he must pass it to the nearest relation. Since no one could take away family land upon marriage, the fence was associated with native home and was helped facilitate inferred communication in a domestic context.
Having a strong visibility bias, the fence is an open declaration of intention. It says on the part of an occupant "I am here and planning to stay." This makes it an appropriate device to be associated with law.
Numa, the second king of Rome laid down in 7th century B.C. that each man should surround his land with a boundary and set up landmarks of stone or modern day bollards. He dedicated these landmarks to the god Terminus, and ordained that sacrifices should be offered up to him every year, appointing the Festival of the Terminalia. This worship of boundaries was meant to celebrate the conquest of the land of Rome from the Latinians and the Sabines originally occupying the region. Victory would not have been possible without the will of the gods and the fence being a symbol of this triumph had to be honored in appreciation. Thus the fence was invested with meaning and gained value.
Further, in 7th century England, the King of Wessex added a new function for private peremiter boundaries: Responsibility. The business of protecting crops from cattle, was on the land-owner. The king proclaimed that a homestead must be fenced winter and summer. If it is not fenced and his neighbor's cattle get in through his own gap, he has no right to anything from that cattle or the the owner of the property it wandered onto.
In New America, John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony even passed a policy stating: "That which lies common, and hath never been replenished or subdued, is free to any that possess and improve it."
Pictured Above: A Worm Fence in Gettysburg Pennsylvania circa 1600.
Circa 1600 A.D., Jamestown Virginians were amazed to discover a fence structure that they'd not seen before. A worm fence is a pereimeter fence that lays logs atop each other at an angle eliminating the need for posts of any kind. The early settlers used their spare logs while yielded and clearing the residential land they forged.