Posts Tagged With: 1492

Founding of America: The Story You Weren’t Taught

Tony Horwitz wrote in his revealing book, A Voyage Long and Strange, “Expensively educated at a private school and university — a history major, no less! — I’d matriculated to middle age with a third grader’s grasp of early America.” Horwitz would remedy this problem by beginning a cross-country adventure. He would uncover this missing history from first contact with the Vikings, to the forgotten era between Columbus’ landing in 1492, and the founding of Jamestown in 1607. Even those humanity-changing events have been reduced to mere sentences in our history lessons, as Horwitz discovered.

An artifact of our education system, history has long been neglected. Arguably, it’s the most important field once you realize how much our ancestors can teach us. There is little we experience or endure they didn’t experience first. In our hubris, we ignore the answers to the test they have handed us. By reducing our study to names and dates, they seem like myths. Many would be surprised how much we do know about the people who came before us. The best teachers and writers of history re-discover this past and allow us to time travel through the eyes of our ancestors. In Horwitz’s case, he found a “dramatic tale of conquistadors, castaways, French voyageurs, Moorish slaves, and many others who roamed and rampaged across half [of the continent of North America], long before the Mayflower landed.”

In Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower, he finds while there is “a surprising amount of truth in the tired, threadbare story of the First Thanksgiving,” it was only the beginning of the story. That event was followed by “fifty-five years of struggle and compromise — a dynamic, often harrowing process of give an take. As long as both sides recognized that they needed each other, there was peace.” War eventually came, but “there was nothing inevitable about King Phillip’s War” which “caught almost everyone by surprise.” It’s a story with a powerful and relevant message for our time: “When violence and fear grips a society, there is an almost overpowering temptation to demonize the enemy.”

How could the settlement of Jamestown, its tenuous survival through famine and conflict, pushed to the edge of extinction many times, produce a transformative country a century and a half later? Benjamin Woolley’s Savage Kingdom, peels back the mythos often centered on John Smith and Pocahontas, and finds a motley but determined group who were “deposited…in America…ill prepared, badly equipped and poorly financed.” Where Plymouth was founded for religious freedom, Jamestown was a wholly economic enterprise. Yet even that doesn’t tell the whole story. This attempt to colonize America was “…about flawed, dispossessed, desperate people trying to reinvent themselves. It is about being caught in a dirty struggle to survive, haunted by failure, hungering for escape, dreaming of riches an hoping for redemption.”

These, then, are timeless stories of humanity’s struggles. Perhaps we should pause and listen to what our ancestors have to say.

Contact and connect with Darrick here. Get your copy of Among the Shadows and choose a side. Will it be on the side of Light? Or Darkness? Book 2, Awakening, coming soon.

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1492

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…

That little rhyme was once taught to all kids. Now, the name Columbus isn’t uttered much, and people just know the mail isn’t delivered today, the banks are closed, and they might have they day off.

However, for a historical perspective on the man who rediscovered America, check out my post from last year.

And, perhaps, we can look forward to the day that mankind rediscovers its spirit of exploration.

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Discovering Columbus

Last year I asked, Should Columbus be Celebrated? It is a controversial question, since that day in 1492 meant the eventual end of many cultures in the Western Hemisphere. The other side of the sword is that new cultures arose from those escaping the Old World. In all likelihood, using Columbus as the poster child for all that did go wrong is not fair.

One has to dig deep into many studies of the man to even begin to unravel his mind. He was secretive, put himself in the middle of politics and was the target of his enemies. All of this, and the distance of time, have made any study of the explorer a difficult one.

As Carol Delaney argues in Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem, acquiring wealth for the Spanish crown was not his primary goal. He sought allies and money for one more Crusade to the Holy Lands. Religious motivation has been suggested before, but by writers couching everything in esoteric conspiracies. It has also been suggested he knew the New World existed. As plausible as that is, most of what we know seems to point elsewhere. Beyond that:

…Delaney depicts her subject as a thoughtful interpreter of the native cultures that he and his men encountered, and tells the tragic story of how his initial attempts to establish good relations with the natives turned badly sour. Showing Columbus in the context of his times rather than through the prism of present-day perspectives on colonial conquests reveals a man who was neither a greedy imperialist nor a quixotic adventurer, but a man driven by an abiding religious passion.

Contrast this to the later Conquistadors who were made up of mercenaries and those looking to set up their own little kingdoms of wealth. In Kim MacQuarrie’s The Last Days of the Incas, we get the distinct impression that most of these men cared little about religion other than some unconvincing attempts to use it to justify their actions.

Columbus’ life didn’t begin and end on his first voyage to the new world. It was his fourth that would unfold like an epic film and perhaps best give insight into his motivations. Martin Dugard’s The Last Voyage chronicles mutiny, shipwreck, storms and war. A far different tale than the simple one told in schools. Only by going beyond the simple tales, do we actually begin to peel away the misconceptions and mystery. That curtain will probably never be completely pulled away and certainly Columbus is imperfect and flawed like us all. And maybe that’s the lesson this Columbus Day.

Anyone can change the world, for better, or for worse.

colum

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