Friday, January 9, 2009

USH3: Finding a New World

A lot of American History textbooks begin with the stupid question of 'Who Discovered America?'

I'll give you a clue: it wasn't Christopher Columbus, or Leif Erikson or lost Irish voyager. As Kenneth Davis puts it: "The true 'discoverers' of America were the people whose culture and societies were well established here while Europe was still in the Dark Ages, the so-called Indians."

Columbus, for example, was met by members of the Arawak tribe when he first landed in the 'New World' (on the one of Bahama Islands). They brought him gifts. He wrote: "They would make fine servants..." He took some of them prisoners and sailed off to more islands (Cuba, Hispaniola) where he took more prisoners--all the while searching for gold, which he was led to in the rivers of Hispainola. He was amazed by their willingness to share whatever they had and told the court in Madrid they could have " much gold as they need... and as many slaves as they ask." In fact, the ongoing enslavement of the native peoples is one of the dirty little secrets of American history.

The colonists at Jamestown and Plymouth and other places carried out what amounts to a genocidal war against the natives without whom they would have never survived their first years in the new world. Yes, there were atrocities by the Indians, but there is no doubt that the settlers went after them with a vengence. Estimates are that there were 10 million Indians living "north of Mexico when Columbus came"--over time that would be reduced to less than a million, an eradication rate of 90%.

One exception to this was William Penn and the Quakers who believed in and respected the rights of the Indians. Before he even came to the new world, he sent them a letter offering them justice and friendship, and he signed it, "I am your loving friend, William Penn." The Quakers apparently kept peace with the Indians and when warfare did break out between the local colonists and the nearby tribes in the mid1700s, Quaker families were spared.

Slavery of the Africans also started during this period. Apparently the Portuguese took slaves from Africa a good fifty years before Columbus came to the Bahamas. In 1619, the first slaves arrived at Jamestown.

This was how it all began. Studying early American history quickly makes it clear that whatever oppression the colonists were fleeing from, the colonization of America was for the benefit of the Europeans and the Europeans only.

Quote of the Day: "Why will you take by force what you may have quietly by love? Why will you destroy us who supply you with food? What can you get by war?..." - Powhatan

Kenneth Davis, Don't Know Much About History
Russ Kirk, 50 Things You're Not Supposed to Know 2
Staughton Lynd, Nonviolence in America
Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States


CrackerLilo said...

I love that quote by Powhatan. I wish he'd have been listened to, though I know that would have made my life and many others completely different. I'd still like to see what happens when a government decides to ask rather than grab.

I remember a very kind and sensitive boy in my fifth grade class raising his hand and saying, "But the Indians were in America already, so *they* must have discovered it first!" Oh, how our teacher hemmed and hawed! I found it amusing to watch her in class. I ruminated on his comment for weeks afterwards. He was so right, and nobody seemed to see that.

Columbus was an asshole. I could say it more elegantly, but damn it, I'm not in school anymore, and I don't have to.

I wish someone would say that in school, though. I wish a lot of things.

Excellent post.

MoonRaven said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Your fifth-grade classmate was quite smart.

I liked your thought about a government asking rather than grabbing. Unfortunately, when I read the news, I still see governments (including ours) grabbing.

Maybe they will teach history differently in school some day. Maybe.

SoapBoxTech said...

I have read some expedition journals from the early colonial times and it is truly amazing, the diversity that existed in the aboriginal population in North America.

MoonRaven said...

A diversity our governments--mine at least--worked hard to destroy.

Thanks for the reminder of what was here once.

SoapBoxTech said...

Oh I would say our French/British and then Canadian governments worked pretty hard to destroy it here too. I think it has happened everywhere once continental populations grew to a certain point (those populations then needing to spread elsewhere)...and it still happens. This is why I so admire Mark Davis and his quest to have us leave aboriginal populations THE HELL ALONE.