A Patriot's History® of the United States
From Columbus's Great Discovery to the War on Terror
For at least thirty years, high school and college students have been taught to be embarrassed by American history. Required readings have become skewed toward a relentless focus on our country’s darkest moments, from slavery to McCarthyism. As a result, many history books devote more space to Harriet Tubman than to Abraham Lincoln; more to My Lai than to the American Revolution; more to the internment of Japanese Americans than to the liberation of Europe in World War II.CHAPTER ONE:
Now, finally, there is an antidote to this biased approach to our history. Two veteran history professors have written a sweeping, well-researched book that puts the spotlight back on America’s role as a beacon of liberty to the rest of the world.
Schweikart and Allen are careful to tell their story straight, from Columbus’s voyage to the capture of Saddam Hussein. They do not ignore America’s mistakes through the years, but they put them back in their proper perspective. And they conclude that America’s place as a world leader derived largely from the virtues of our own leaders— the men and women who cleared the wilderness, abolished slavery, and rid the world of fascism and communism.
The authors write in a clear and enjoyable style that makes history a pleasure, not just for students but also for adults who want to learn what their teachers skipped over.
The City on the Hill, 1492–1707
The Age of European Discovery
God, Glory, and gold—not necessarily in that order—took post-Renaissance Europeans to parts of the globe they had never before seen. The opportunity to gain materially while bringing the Gospel to non- Christians offered powerful incentives to explorers from Portugal, Spain, England, and France to embark on dangerous voyages of discovery in the 1400s. Certainly they were not the first to sail to the Western Hemisphere: Norse sailors reached the coasts of Iceland in 874 and Greenland a century later, and legends recorded Leif Erickson’s establishment of a colony in Vinland, somewhere on the northern Canadian coast.1 Whatever the fate of Vinland, its historical impact was minimal, and significant voyages of discovery did not occur for more than five hundred years, when trade with the Orient beckoned.
Marco Polo and other travelers to Cathay (China) had brought exaggerated tales of wealth in the East and returned with unusual spices, dyes, rugs, silks, and other goods. But this was a difficult, long journey. Land routes crossed dangerous territories, including imposing mountains and vast deserts of modern-day Afghanistan, northern India, Iran, and Iraq, and required expensive and well-protected caravans to reach Europe from Asia. Merchants encountered bandits who threatened transportation lanes, kings and potentates who demanded tribute, and bloodthirsty killers who pillaged for pleasure. Trade routes from Bombay and Goa reached Europe via Persia or Arabia, crossing the Ottoman Empire with its internal taxes. Cargo had to be unloaded at seaports, then reloaded at Alexandria or Antioch for water transport across the Mediterranean, or continued on land before crossing the Dardanelles Strait into modern-day Bulgaria to the Danube River. European demand for such goods seemed endless, enticing merchants and their investors to engage in a relentless search for lower costs brought by safer and cheaper routes. Gradually, Europeans concluded that more direct water routes to the Far East must exist.
The search for Cathay’s treasure coincided with three factors that made long ocean voyages possible. First, sailing and shipbuilding technology had advanced rapidly after the ninth century, thanks in part to the Arabs’ development of the astrolabe, a device with a pivoted limb that established the sun’s altitude above the horizon. By the late tenth century, astrolabe technology had made its way to Spain.2 Farther north, Vikings pioneered new methods of hull construction, among them the use of overlapping planks for internal support that enabled vessels to withstand violent ocean storms. Sailors of the Hanseatic League states on the Baltic coast experimented with larger ship designs that incorporated sternpost rudders for better control. Yet improved ships alone were not enough: explorers needed the accurate maps generated by Italian seamen and sparked by the new inquisitive impulse of the Renaissance. Thus a wide range of technologies coalesced to encourage long-range voyages of discovery.
Political changes, a second factor giving birth to the age of discovery, resulted from the efforts of several ambitious European monarchs to consolidate their possessions into larger, cohesive dynastic states. This unification of lands, which increased the taxable base within the kingdoms, greatly increased the funding available to expeditions and provided better military protection (in the form of warships) at no cost to investors. By the time a combined Venetian-Spanish fleet defeated a much larger Ottoman force at Lepanto in 1571, the vessels of Christian nations could essentially sail with impunity anywhere in the Mediterranean. Then, in control of the Mediterranean, Europeans could consider voyages of much longer duration (and cost) than they ever had in the past. A new generation of explorers found that monarchs could support even more expensive undertakings that integrated the monarch’s interests with the merchants’.
Third, the Protestant Reformation of 1517 fostered a fierce and bloody competition for power and territory between Catholic and Protestant nations that reinforced national concerns. England competed for land with Spain, not merely for economic and political reasons, but because the English feared the possibility that Spain might catholicize numbers of non-Christians in new lands, whereas Catholics trembled at the thought of subjecting natives to Protestant heresies. Therefore, even when economic or political gains for discovery and colonization may have been marginal, monarchs had strong religious incentives to open their royal treasuries to support such missions.
A true Renaissance man, Henry immersed himself in mapmaking and exploration from a coastal center he established at Sagres, on the southern point of Portugal. There he trained navigators and mapmakers, dispatched ships to probe the African coast, and evaluated the reports of sailors who returned from the Azores.4 Portuguese captains made contact with Arabs and Africans in coastal areas and established trading centers, from which they brought ivory and gold to Portugal, then transported slaves to a variety of Mediterranean estates. This early slave trade was conducted through Arab middlemen or African traders who carried out slaving expeditions in the interior and exchanged captive men, women, and children for fish, wine, or salt on the coast.
Henry saw these relatively small trading outposts as only the first step in developing reliable water routes to the East. Daring sailors trained at Henry’s school soon pushed farther southward, finally rounding the Cape of Storms in l486, when Bartholomeu Dias was blown off course by fantastic winds. King John II eventually changed the name of the cape to the Cape of Good Hope, reflecting the promise of a new route to India offered by Dias’s discovery. That promise became reality in 1498, after Vasco de Gama sailed to Calicut, India. An abrupt decline in Portuguese fortunes led to her eclipse by the larger Spain, reducing the resources available for investment in exploration and limiting Portuguese voyages to the Indian Ocean to an occasional “boatload of convicts.”5 Moreover, the prize for which Portuguese explorers had risked so much now seemed small in comparison to that discovered by their rivals the Spanish under the bold seamanship of Christopher Columbus, a man the king of Portugal had once refused to fund.
Columbus departed from Spain in August 1492, laying in a course due west and ultimately in a direct line to Japan, although he never mentioned Cathay prior to 1493.6 A native of Genoa, Columbus embodied the best of the new generation of navigators: resilient, courageous, and confident. To be sure, Columbus wanted glory, and a motivation born of desperation fueled his vision. At the same time, Columbus was “earnestly desirous of taking Christianity to heathen lands.”7 He did not, as is popularly believed, originate the idea that the earth is round. As early as 1480, for example, he read works proclaiming the sphericity of the planet. But knowing intellectually that the earth is round and demonstrating it physically are two different things.
Columbus’s fleet consisted of only three vessels, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, and a crew of ninety men. Leaving port in August 1492, the expedition eventually passed the point where the sailors expected to find Japan, generating no small degree of anxiety, whereupon Columbus used every managerial skill he possessed to maintain discipline and encourage hope. The voyage had stretched to ten weeks when the crew bordered on mutiny, and only the captain’s reassurance and exhortations persuaded the sailors to continue a few more days. Finally, on October 11, 1492, they started to see signs of land: pieces of wood loaded with barnacles, green bulrushes, and other vegetation.8 A lookout spotted land, and on October 12, 1492, the courageous band waded ashore on Watling Island in the Bahamas, where his men begged his pardon for doubting him.
Columbus continued to Cuba, which he called Hispaniola. At the time he thought he had reached the Far East, and referred to the dark-skinned people he found in Hispaniola as Indians. He found these Indians “very well formed, with handsome bodies and good faces,” and hoped to convert them “to our Holy Faith by love rather than by force” by giving them red caps and glass beads “and many other things of small value.”10 Dispatching emissaries into the interior to contact the Great Khan, Columbus’s scouts returned with no reports of the spices, jewels, silks, or other evidence of Cathay; nor did the khan send his regards. Nevertheless, Columbus returned to Spain confident he had found an ocean passage to the Orient.
Reality gradually forced Columbus to a new conclusion: he had not reached India or China, and after a second voyage in 1493—still convinced he was in the Pacific Ocean—Columbus admitted he had stumbled on a new land mass, perhaps even a new continent of astounding natural resources and wealth. In February 1493, he wrote his Spanish patrons that Hispaniola and other islands like it were “fertile to a limitless degree,” possessing mountains covered by “trees of a thousand kinds and tall, so that they seem to touch the sky.”12 He confidently promised gold, cotton, spices—as much as Their Highnesses should command—in return for only minimal continued support. Meanwhile, he continued to probe the Mundus Novus south and west. After returning to Spain yet again, Columbus made two more voyages to the New World in 1498 and 1502.
Whether Columbus had found parts of the Far East or an entirely new land was irrelevant to most Europeans at the time. Political distractions abounded in Europe. Spain had barely evicted the Muslims after the long Reconquista, and England’s Wars of the Roses had scarcely ended. News of Columbus’s discoveries excited only a few merchants, explorers, and dreamers. Still, the prospect of finding a waterway to Asia infatuated sailors; and in 1501 a Florentine passenger on a Portuguese voyage, Amerigo Vespucci, wrote letters to his friends in which he described the New World. His self-promoting dispatches circulated sooner than Columbus’s own written accounts, and as a result the term “America” soon was attached by geographers to the continents in the Western Hemisphere that should by right have been named Columbia. But if Columbus did not receive the honor of having the New World named for him, and if he acquired only temporary wealth and fame in Spain (receiving from the Crown the title Admiral of the Ocean Sea), his place in history was never in doubt. Historian Samuel Eliot Morison, a worthy seaman in his own right who reenacted the Columbian voyages in 1939 and 1940, described Columbus as “the sign and symbol [the] new age of hope, glory and accomplishment.”
Once Columbus blazed the trail, other Spanish explorers had less trouble obtaining financial backing for expeditions. Vasco Núñez de Balboa (1513) crossed the Isthmus of Panama to the Pacific Ocean (as he named it). Ferdinand Magellan (1519–22) circumnavigated the globe, lending his name to the Strait of Magellan. Other expeditions explored the interior of the newly discovered lands. Juan Ponce de León, traversing an area along the Florida’s coast, attempted unsuccessfully to plant a colony there. Pánfilo de Narváez’s subsequent expedition to conquer Tampa Bay proved even more disastrous. Narváez himself drowned, and natives killed members of his expedition until only four of them reached a Spanish settlement in Mexico.
Spaniards traversed modern-day Mexico, probing interior areas under Hernando Cortés, who in 1518 led a force of 1,000 soldiers to Tenochtitlán, the site of present-day Mexico City. Cortés encountered powerful Indians called Aztecs, led by their emperor Montezuma. The Aztecs had established a brutal regime that oppressed other natives of the region, capturing large numbers of them for ritual sacrifices in which Aztec priests cut out the beating hearts of living victims. Such barbarity enabled the Spanish to easily enlist other tribes, especially the Tlaxcalans, in their efforts to defeat the Aztecs.
Tenochtitlán sat on an island in the middle of a lake, connected to the outlying areas by three huge causeways. It was a monstrously large city (for the time) of at least 200,000, rigidly divided into nobles and commoner groups.14 Aztec culture created impressive pyramid-shaped temple structures, but Aztec science lacked the simple wheel and the wide range of pulleys and gears that it enabled. But it was sacrifice, not science, that defined Aztec society, whose pyramids, after all, were execution sites. A four-day sacrifice in 1487 by the Aztec king Ahuitzotl involved the butchery of 80,400 prisoners by shifts of priests working four at a time at convex killing tables who kicked lifeless, heartless bodies down the side of the pyramid temple. This worked out to a “killing rate of fourteen victims a minute over the ninety-six-hour bloodbath.”15 In addition to the abominable sacrifice system, crime and street carnage were commonplace. More intriguing to the Spanish than the buildings, or even the sacrifices, however, were the legends of gold, silver, and other riches Tenochtitlán contained, protected by the powerful Aztec army.
Cortés first attempted a direct assault on the city and fell back with heavy losses, narrowly escaping extermination. Desperate Spanish fought their way out on Noche Triste (the Sad Night), when hundreds of them fell on the causeway. Cortés’s men piled human bodies—Aztec and European alike—in heaps to block Aztec pursuers, then staggered back to Vera Cruz. In 1521 Cortez returned with a new Spanish army, supported by more than 75,000 Indian allies.16 This time, he found a weakened enemy who had been ravaged by smallpox, or as the Aztecs called it, “the great leprosy.” Starvation killed those Aztecs whom the disease did not: “They died in heaps, like bedbugs,” wrote one historian.17 Even so, neither disease nor starvation accounted for the Spaniards’ stunning victory over the vastly larger Aztec forces, which can be credited to the Spanish use of European-style disciplined shock combat and the employment of modern firepower. Severing the causeways, stationing huge units to guard each, Cortez assaulted the city walls from thirteen brigantines the Spaniards had hauled overland, sealing off the city. These brigantines proved “far more ingeniously engineered for fighting on the Aztecs’ native waters than any boat constructed in Mexico during the entire history of its civilization.”18 When it came to the final battle, it was not the brigantines, but Cortés’s use of cannons, muskets, harquebuses, crossbows, and pikes in deadly discipline, firing in order, and standing in mass against a murderous mass of Aztecs who fought as individuals rather than a cohesive force that proved decisive.
Spanish technology, including the wheel-related ratchet gears on muskets, constituted only one element of European military superiority. They fought as other European land armies fought, in formation, with their officers open to new ideas based on practicality, not theology. Where no Aztec would dare approach the godlike Montezuma with a military strategy, Cortés debated tactics with his lieutenants routinely, and the European way of war endowed each Castilian soldier with a sense of individual rights, civic duty, and personal freedom nonexistent in the Aztec kingdom. Moreover, the Europeans sought to kill their enemy and force his permanent surrender, not forge an arrangement for a steady supply of sacrifice victims. Thus Cortés captured the Aztec capital in 1521 at a cost of more than 100,000 Aztec dead, many from disease resulting from Cortés’s cutting the city’s water supply.19 But not all diseases came from the Old World to the New, and syphilis appears to have been retransmitted back from Brazil to Portugal.
If Europeans resembled other cultures in their attitude toward conquest, they differed substantially in their practice and effectiveness. The Spanish, especially, proved adept at defeating native peoples for three reasons. First, they were mobile. Horses and ships endowed the Spanish with vast advantages in mobility over the natives. Second, the burgeoning economic power of Europe enabled quantum leaps over Middle Eastern, Asian, and Mesoamerican cultures. This economic wealth made possible the shipping and equipping of large, trained, well-armed forces. Nonmilitary technological advances such as the iron-tipped plow, the windmill, and the waterwheel all had spread through Europe and allowed monarchs to employ fewer resources in the farming sector and more in science, engineering, writing, and the military. A natural outgrowth of this economic wealth was improved military technology, including guns, which made any single Spanish soldier the equal of several poorly armed natives, offsetting the latter’s numerical advantage. But these two factors were magnified by a third element—the glue that held it all together—which was a western way of combat that emphasized group cohesion of free citizens. Like the ancient Greeks and Romans, Cortés’s Castilians fought from a long tradition of tactical adaptation based on individual freedom, civic rights, and a “preference for shock battle of heavy infantry” that “grew out of consensual government, equality among the middling classes,” and other distinctly Western traits that gave numerically inferior European armies a decisive edge.21 That made it possible for tiny expeditions such as Ponce de León’s, with only 200 men and 50 horses, or Narváez’s, with a force of 600, including cooks, colonists, and women, to overcome native Mexican armies outnumbering them two, three, and even ten times at any particular time.
More to the point, no native culture could have conceived of maintaining expeditions of thousands of men in the field for months at a time. Virtually all of the natives lived off the land and took slaves back to their home, as opposed to colonizing new territory with their own settlers. Indeed, only the European industrial engine could have provided the material wherewithal to maintain such armies, and only the European political constructs of liberty, property rights, and nationalism kept men in combat for abstract political causes. European combat style produced yet another advantage in that firearms showed no favoritism on the battlefield. Spanish gunfire destroyed the hierarchy of the enemy, including the aristocratic dominant political class. Aztec chiefs and Moor sultans alike were completely vulnerable to massed firepower, yet without the legal framework of republicanism and civic virtue like Europe’s to replace its leadership cadre, a native army could be decapitated at the head with one volley, whereas the Spanish forces could see lieutenants fall and seamlessly replace them with sergeants.
Even then, the guesstimates involve such things as accounting for the effects of epidemics—which other researchers, using the same data, dispute ever occurred—or expanding the sample area to all of North and Central America. However, estimating the number of people alive in a region five hundred years ago has proven difficult, and recently several researchers have called into question most early estimates. For example, one method many scholars have used to arrive at population numbers—extrapolating from early explorers’ estimates of populations they could count—has been challenged by archeological studies of the Amazon basin, where dense settlements once were thought to exist. Work in the area by Betty Meggers concludes that the early explorers’ estimates were exaggerated and that no evidence of large populations in that region exists. N. D. Cook’s demographic research on the Inca in Peru showed that the population could have been as high as 15 million or as low as 4 million, suggesting that the measurement mechanisms have a “plus or minus reliability factor” of 400 percent! Such “minor” exaggerations as the tendencies of some explorers to overestimate their opponents’ numbers, which, when factored throughout numerous villages, then into entire populations, had led to overestimates of millions.
2. Native populations had epidemics long before Europeans arrived. A recent study of more than 12,500 skeletons from sixty-five sites found that native health was on a “downward trajectory long before Columbus arrived.” Some suggest that Indians may have had a nonvenereal form of syphilis, and almost all agree that a variety of infections were widespread. Tuberculosis existed in Central and North America long before the Spanish appeared, as did herpes, polio, tick-borne fevers, giardiasis, and amebic dysentery. One admittedly controversial study by Henry Dobyns in Current Anthropology in 1966 later fleshed out over the years into his book, argued that extensive epidemics swept North America before Europeans arrived. As one authority summed up the research, “Though the Old World was to contribute to its diseases, the New World certainly was not the Garden of Eden some have depicted.” As one might expect, others challenged Dobyns and the “early epidemic” school, but the point remains that experts are divided. Many now discount the notion that huge epidemics swept through Central and North America; smallpox, in particular, did not seem to spread as a pandemic.
3. There is little evidence available for estimating the numbers of people lost in warfare prior to the Europeans because in general natives did not keep written records. Later, when whites could document oral histories during the Indian wars on the western frontier, they found that different tribes exaggerated their accounts of battles in totally different ways, depending on tribal custom. Some, who preferred to emphasize bravery over brains, inflated casualty numbers. Others, viewing large body counts as a sign of weakness, de-emphasized their losses. What is certain is that vast numbers of natives were killed by other natives, and that only technological backwardness—the absence of guns, for example—prevented the numbers of natives killed by other natives from growing even higher.
4. Large areas of Mexico and the Southwest were depopulated more than a hundred years before the arrival of Columbus. According to a recent source, “The majority of Southwesternists ... believe that many areas of the Greater Southwest were abandoned or largely depopulated over a century before Columbus’s fateful discovery, as a result of climatic shifts, warfare, resource mismanagement, and other causes.” Indeed, a new generation of scholars puts more credence in early Spanish explorers’ observations of widespread ruins and decaying “great houses” that they contended had been abandoned for years.
5. European scholars have long appreciated the dynamic of small-state diplomacy, such as was involved in the Italian or German small states in the nineteenth century. What has been missing from the discussions about native populations has been a recognition that in many ways the tribes resembled the small states in Europe: they concerned themselves more with traditional enemies (other tribes) than with new ones (whites).
By the time the Aztecs fell, the news that silver existed in large quantities in Mexico had reached Spain, attracting still other conquistadores. Hernando de Soto explored Florida (1539–1541), succeeding where Juan Ponce de León had failed, and ultimately crossed the Mississippi River, dying there in 1542. Meanwhile, marching northward from Mexico, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado pursued other Indian legends of riches in the Seven Cities of Cibola. Supposedly, gold and silver existed in abundance there, but Coronado’s 270–man expedition found none of the fabled cities, and in 1541 he returned to Spain, having mapped much of the American Southwest. By the 1570s enough was known about Mexico and the Southwest to attract settlers, and some two hundred Spanish settlements existed, containing in all more than 160,000 Europeans.
Traveling with every expedition were priests and friars, and the first permanent building erected by Spaniards was often a church. Conquistadores genuinely believed that converting the heathen ranked near—or even above—the acquisition of riches. Even as the Dominican friar and Bishop of Chiapas, Bartolomé de Las Casas, sharply criticized his countrymen in his writings for making “bloody, unjust, and cruel wars” against the Indians—the so-called Black Legend—a second army of mercy, Spanish missionaries, labored selflessly under harsh conditions to bring the Gospel to the Indians. In some cases, as with the Pueblo Indians, large numbers of Indians converted to Christianity, albeit a mixture of traditional Catholic teachings and their own religious practices, which, of course, the Roman Church deplored. Attempts to suppress such distortions led to uprisings such as the 1680 Pueblo revolt that killed twenty-one priests and hundreds of Spanish colonists, although even the rebellious Pueblos eventually rejoined the Spanish as allies.
Explorers had to receive from the king a license that entitled the grantee to large estates and a percentage of returns from the expedition. From the estates, explorers carved out ranches that provided an agricultural base and encouraged other settlers to immigrate. Then, after the colonists had founded a mission, the Spanish government established formal forts (presidios). The most prominent of the presidios dotted the California coast, with the largest at San Diego. Royal governors and local bureaucrats maintained the empire in Mexico and the Southwest with considerable autonomy from Spain. Distance alone made it difficult for the Crown to control activities in the New World.
A new culture accompanied the Spanish occupation. With intermarriage between Europeans and Indians, a large mestizo population (today, referred to as Mexican or Hispanic people) resulted. It generally adopted Spanish culture and values.
Other discouraging reports dampened Spanish excitement for settling in the New World. In 1591, twenty- nine of seventy-five ships in a single convoy went down trying to return to Spain from Cuba; in 1600 a sixty-ship fleet from Cádiz to Mexico encountered two separate storms that sank seventeen ships and took down more than a thousand people; and in 1656 two galleons collided in the Bahamas, killing all but fifty- six of the seven hundred passengers. Such gloomy news combined with reports of piracy to cause more than a few potential Spanish settlers to reconsider their plans to relocate in Mexico.
Another factor that retarded Spain’s success in the New World was its rigid adherence to mercantilism, an economic theory that had started to dominate Europe. Mercantilism held that wealth was fixed (because it consisted of gold and silver), and that for one nation to get richer, another must get poorer.
Spain thoroughly embraced the aspects of mercantilism that emphasized acquiring gold and silver. Spanish mines in the New World eventually turned out untold amounts of riches. Francisco Pizarro transported 13,000 pounds of gold and 26,000 pounds of silver in just his first shipment home. Total bullion shipped from Mexico and Peru between 1500 and 1650 exceeded 180 tons. Yet Spain did not view the New World as land to be developed, and rather than using the wealth as a base from which to create a thriving commercial sector, Spain allowed its gold to sit in royal vaults, unemployed in the formation of new capital.
Spanish attitudes weighed heavily upon the settlers of New Spain, who quickly were outpaced by the more commercially oriented English outposts.29 Put another way, Spain remained wedded to the simplest form of mercantilism, whereas the English and Dutch advanced in the direction of a freer and more lucrative system in which business was less subordinated to the needs of the state. Since the state lacked the information possessed by the collective buyers and sellers in the marketplace, governments inevitably were at a disadvantage in measuring supply and demand. England thus began to shoot ahead of Spain and Portugal, whose entrepreneurs found themselves increasingly in enmeshed in the snares of bureaucratic mercantilism.
Samuel de Champlain, a pious cartographer considered one of the greatest inland explorers of all time, searched for a series of lakes that would link the Atlantic and Pacific, and in 1608 established a fort on a rocky point called Quebec (from the Algonquin word “kebec,” or “where the river narrows”). Roughly twenty years later, France chartered the Company of New France, a trading firm designed to populate French holdings in North America. Compared to English colonial efforts, however, New France was a disappointment, in no small part because one of the most enthusiastic French groups settled in the southeastern part of the United States, not Canada, placing them in direct contact with the powerful Spanish. The French government, starting a trend that continued to the time of the Puritans, answered requests by religious dissidents to plant a colony in the southernmost reaches of North America. Many dissenters born of the Protestant Reformation sought religious freedom from Catholic governments. These included French Protestants known as Huguenots. Violent anti-Protestant prejudices in France served as a powerful inducement for the Huguenots to emigrate.
Huguenots managed to land a handful of volunteers in Port Royal Sound (present-day South Carolina) in 1562, but the colony failed. Two years later, another expedition successfully settled at Fort Caroline in Florida, which came under attack from the Spanish, who slaughtered the unprepared inhabitants, ending French challenges to Spanish power in the southern parts of North America. From that point on, France concentrated its efforts on the northern reaches of North America—Canada—where Catholicism, not Protestantism, played a significant role in French Canadian expansion alongside the economics of the fur trade.
French colonization trailed that of the English for several reasons. Quebec was much colder than most of the English colonial sites, making it a much less attractive destination for emigrants. Also, the conditions of French peasants in the 1600s were better than that of their English counterparts, so they were less interested in leaving their mother country. Finally, the French government, concerned with maintaining a large base of domestic military recruits, did not encourage migration to New France. As a result, by 1700, English colonists in North America outnumbered French settlers six to one. Despite controlling the St. Lawrence and Mississippi rivers, New France, deprived by its inland character of many of the advantages available to the coastal English settlements, saw only a “meagre trickle” to the region.31 As few as twenty-seven thousand French came to Canada in 150 years, and two-thirds of those departed without leaving descendants there.
Even so, New France had substantial economic appeal. Explorers had not found gold or silver, but northern expeditions discovered riches of another sort: furs. Vast Canadian forests offered an abundance of highly valued deer, elk, rabbit, and beaver skins and pelts, harvested by an indigenous population eager to trade. Trapping required deep penetration into forests controlled by Indians, and the French found that they could obtain furs far more easily through barter than they could by deploying their own army of trappers with soldiers to protect them. Thus, French traders ventured deep into the interior of Canada to exchange knives, blankets, cups, and, when necessary, guns with the Indians for pelts. At the end of a trading journey, the coureurs de bois (runners of the woods) returned to Montreal, where they sold the furs to merchants who shipped them back to Europe. That strategy demanded that France limit the number of its colonists and discourage settlement, particularly in Indian territories. France attempted to deal with natives as friends and trading partners, but quickly realized that the Indians harbored as much enmity for each other as they did for the Europeans. If not careful, France could find itself on the wrong end of an alliance, so where possible, the French government restrained colonial intrusions into Indian land, with the exception of missionaries, such as Jacques Marquette (1673) and René de La Salle (1681).
In 1578, Elizabeth granted him rights to plant an English colony in America, but he died in an attempt to colonize Newfoundland. Walter Raleigh, Gilbert’s half brother, inherited the grant and sent vessels to explore the coast of North America before determining where to locate a settlement. That expedition reached North Carolina in the summer of 1584. After spending two months traversing the land, commenting on its vegetation and natural beauty, the explorers returned to England with glowing reports. Raleigh supported a second expedition in 1585, at which time one hundred settlers landed at Roanoke on the Carolina coast. When the transports had sailed for England, leaving the colony alone, it nearly starved, and only the fortunate arrival of Drake, fresh from new raiding, provided it with supplies. Raleigh, undeterred by the near disaster, planned another settlement for Roanoke, by which time Richard Haklupt’s Discourse on Western Planting (1584) further ginned up enthusiasm for settling in the region.
Settlers received stock in Raleigh’s company, which attracted 133 men and 17 women who set sail on three ships. They reached Roanoke Island in 1587, and a child born on that island, Virginia Dare, technically became the first European born in America. As with the previous English expedition, the ships, under the command of the governor, John White, returned to England for more supplies, only to arrive under the impending threat of a Spanish invasion of England—a failed invasion that would result in the spectacular defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, leaving England as the predominant sea power in the world. Delays prohibited the supply ships from returning to Roanoke until 1591, when John White found the Roanoke houses standing, but no settlers. A mysterious clue—the word croatoan carved on a tree—remains the only evidence of their fate. Croatoan Indians lived somewhat nearby, but they were considered friendly, and neither White nor generations of historians have solved the puzzle of the Lost Colony of Roanoke. Whatever the fate of the Roanoke settlers, the result for England was that by 1600 there still were no permanent English colonies in America.
It is conceivable that English colonies prospered simply by luck, but the dominance of Europe in general and England in particular—a tiny island with few natural resources—suggests that specific factors can be identified as the reasons for the rise of an English-Atlantic civilization: the appearance of new business practices, a culture of technological inquisitiveness, and a climate receptive to political and economic risk taking.
One of the most obvious areas in which England surpassed other nations was in its business practices. English merchants had eclipsed their Spanish and French rivals in preparing for successful colonization through adoption of the joint-stock company as a form of business. One of the earliest of these joint-stock companies, the Company of the Staple, was founded in 1356 to secure control over the English wool trade from Italian competitors. By the 1500s, the Moscovy Company (1555), the Levant Company (1592), and the East India Company (1600) fused the exploration of distant regions with the pursuit of profit. Joint- stock companies had two important advantages over other businesses. One advantage was that the company did not dissolve with the death of the primary owner (and thus was permanent). Second, it featured limited liability, in which a stockholder could lose only what he invested, in contrast to previous business forms that held owners liable for all of a company’s debts. Those two features made investing in an exciting venture in the New World attractive, especially when coupled with the exaggerated claims of the returning explorers. Equally important, however, the joint-stock feature allowed a rising group of middle-class merchants to support overseas ventures on an ever-expanding basis.
In an even more significant development, a climate receptive to risk taking and innovation, which had flourished throughout the West, reached its most advanced state in England. It is crucial to realize that key inventions or technologies appeared in non-Western countries first; yet they were seldom, if ever, employed in such a way as to change society dramatically until the Western societies applied them. The stirrup, for example, was known as early as a.d. 400–500 in the Middle East, but it took until 730, when Charles Martel’s mounted knights adopted cavalry charges that combat changed on a permanent basis.35 Indeed, something other than invention was at work. As sociologist Jack Goldstone put it, “The West did not overtake the East merely by becoming more efficient at making bridles and stirrups, but by developing steam engines... [and] by taking unknown risks on novelty.”36 Stability of the state, the rule of law, and a willingness to accept new or foreign ideas, rather than ruthlessly suppress them, proved vital to entrepreneurship, invention, technical creativity, and innovation. In societies dominated by the state, scientists risked their lives if they arrived at unacceptable answers.
Still another factor, little appreciated at the time, worked in favor of English ascendancy: labor scarcity ensured a greater respect for new immigrants, whatever their origins, than had existed in Europe. With the demand for labor came property rights, and with such property rights came political rights unheard of in Europe.
Indeed, the English respect for property rights soon eclipsed other factors accounting for England’s New World dominance. Born out of the fierce struggles by English landowners to protect their estates from seizure by the state, by the 1600s, property rights had become so firmly established as a basis for English economic activities that its rules permeated even the lowest classes in society. English colonists found land so abundant that anyone could own it. When combined with freedom from royal retribution in science and technological fields, the right to retain the fruit of one’s labor—even intellectual property—gave England a substantial advantage in the colonization process over rivals that had more than a century’s head start.37 These advantages would be further enhanced by a growing religious toleration brought about by religious dissenters from the Church of England called Puritans.
Seeking to “propagate the Christian religion” in the Chesapeake and to produce a profit for the investors, the London Company owned the land and appointed the governor. Colonists were considered “employees.” However, as with Raleigh’s employees, the colonists enjoyed, as the king proclaimed, “all Liberties, Franchises, and Immunities ... as if they had been abiding and born, within this our Realm of England.”39 Most colonists lacked any concept of what awaited them: the company adopted a military model based on the Irish campaigns, and the migrants included few farmers or men skilled in construction trades. After a four-month voyage, in April 1607, twenty-six-year old Captain John Smith piloted ships fifty miles up the James River, well removed from eyesight of passing Spanish vessels. It was a site remarkable for its defensive position, but it sat on a malarial swamp surrounded by thick forests that would prove difficult to clear. Tiny triangle-shaped James Forte, as Jamestown was called, featured firing parapets at each comer and contained fewer than two dozen buildings. Whereas defending the fort might have appeared possible, stocking the fort with provisions proved more difficult: not many of the colonists wanted to work, and none found gold. Some discovered pitch, tar, lumber, and iron for export, but many of the emigrants were gentleman adventurers who disdained physical labor as had their Spanish counterparts to the Southwest. Smith implored the London Company to send “30 carpenters, husbandmen, gardeners, fishermen, blacksmiths, masons and diggers up of trees ... [instead of] a thousand of such as we have”40 Local Indians, such as the Monacan and Chickahominy, traded with the colonists, but the English could neither hire Indian laborers nor did Indian males express any interest in agriculture themselves. Reaping what they had (not) sown, the settlers of James Forte starved, with fewer than one third of the 120 colonists surviving a year. So few remained that the living, Smith noted, were scarcely able to bury the dead.”
Disease also decimated the colony. Jamestown settlers were leveled by New World diseases for which they had no resistance. Malaria, in particular, proved a dreaded killer, and malnutrition lowered the immunity of the colonists. The brackish water at that point of the James River also fostered mosquitoes and parasites. Virginia was hardly a “disease-free paradise” before the arrival of the Jamestown English.41 New microbes transported by the Europeans generated a much higher level of infection than previously experienced by the Indians; then, in a vicious circle, warring Indian tribes spread the diseases among one another when they attacked enemy tribes and carried off infected prisoners.
Thanks to the efforts of Smith, who as council president simply assumed control in 1608, the colony was saved. Smith imposed military discipline and order and issued the famous biblical edict, “He who will not work will not eat.” He stabilized the colony, and in the second winter, less than 15 percent of the population died, compared to the more than 60 percent who died just a year earlier. Smith also organized raids on Indian villages. These brought immediate returns of food and animals, but fostered long-term retribution from the natives, who harassed the colonists when they ventured outside their walls. But Smith was not anti-Indian per se, and even proposed a plan of placing white males in Indian villages to intermarry—hardly the suggestion of a racist. Subsequent settlers developed schools to educate Indians, including William and Mary. Smith ran the colony like an army unit until 1609, when confident of its survival, the colonists tired of his tyrannical methods and deposed him.
At that point he returned to England, whereupon the London Company (by then calling itself the Virginia Company) obtained a new charter from the king, and it sought to raise capital in England by selling stock and by offering additional stock to anyone willing to migrate to Virginia. The company provided free passage to Jamestown for indentures, or servants willing to work for the Virginia Company for seven years. A new fleet of nine ships containing six hundred men and some women left England in 1609. One of the ships sank in a hurricane, and another ran aground in Bermuda, where it remained until May 1610. The other vessels arrived at Jamestown only to experience the “starving time” in the winter of 1609–10. English colonists, barricaded within James Forte, ate dogs, cats, rats, toadstools, and horse hides— ultimately eating from the corpses of the dead. When the remnants of the fleet that had been stuck in Bermuda finally reached Virginia in the late spring of 1610, all the colonists boarded for a return to England. At the mouth of the James River, however, the ships encountered an English vessel bringing supplies. The settlers returned to James Forte, and shortly thereafter a new influx of settlers revived the colony.
Like Smith, subsequent governors, including the first official governor, Lord De La Warr, attempted to operate the colony on a socialist model: settlers worked in forced-labor gangs; shirkers were flogged and some even hanged. Still, negative incentives only went so far because ultimately the communal storehouse would sustain anyone in danger of starving, regardless of individual work effort. Administrators realized that personal incentives would succeed where force would not, and they permitted private ownership of land. The application of private enterprise, combined with the introduction of tobacco farming, helped Jamestown survive and prosper—an experience later replicated in Georgia.
During the early critical years, Indians were too divided to coordinate their attacks against the English. The powerful Chief Powhatan, who led a confederation of more than twenty tribes, enlisted the support of the Jamestown settlers—who he assumed were there for the express purpose of stealing Indian land—to defeat other enemy Indian tribes. Both sides played balance-of-power politics. Thomas Dale, the deputy governor, proved resourceful in keeping the Indians off balance, at one point kidnapping Powhatan’s daughter, Pocahontas (Matoaka), and holding her captive at Jamestown. There she met and eventually married planter John Rolfe, in 1614. Their marriage made permanent the uneasy truce that existed between Powatan and Jamestown. Rolfe and Pocahontas returned to England, where the Indian princess, as a convert to Christianity, proved a popular dinner guest. She epitomized the view that Indians could be evangelized and “Europeanized.”
Substantial change in the production of tobacco only occurred, however, after the Virginia Company allowed individual settlers to own land. In 1617, any freeman who migrated to Virginia could obtain a grant of one hundred acres of land. Grants were increased for most colonists through the headright policy, under which every head of a household could receive fifty acres for himself and an additional fifty acres for every adult family member or servant who came to America with him. The combination of available land and the growing popularity of tobacco in England resulted in a string of plantations stretching to Failing Creek, well up the James River and as far west as Dale’s Gift on Cape Charles. Virtually all of the plantations had riverfronts, allowing ships’ captains to dock directly at the plantation, and their influence extended as far as the lands of the Piedmont Indians, who traded with the planters.
Tobacco cultivation encouraged expansion. The crop demanded large areas of farmland, and the methods of cultivation depleted the soil quickly. Growers steadily moved to interior areas of Virginia, opening still more settlements and requiring additional forts. But the recurring problem in Virginia was obtaining labor, which headright could not provide—quite the contrary, it encouraged new tree farms. Instead, the colony placed new emphasis on indentures, including “20 and odd Negroes” brought to Virginia by a Dutch ship in 1619.
The status of the first blacks in the New World remains somewhat mysterious, and any thesis about the change in black status generates sharp controversy. Historian Edmund Morgan, in American Slavery, American Freedom, contended that the first blacks had the same legal status as white indentured servants.45 Other recent research confirms that the lines blurred between indentures of all colors and slaves, and that establishing clear definitions of exactly who was likely to become a slave proved difficult.46 At least some white colonists apparently did not distinguish blacks from other servants in their minds, and some early black indentured servants were released at the end of their indentures. Rather than viewing Africa as a source of unlimited labor, English colonists preferred European indentured servants well into the 1670s, even when they came from the ranks of criminals from English jails. But by the 1660s, the southern colonists had slowly altered their attitudes toward Africans. Increasingly, the southerners viewed them as permanent servants, and in 1664 some southern colonies declared slavery hereditary, as it had been in ancient Athens and still was throughout the Muslim world.
Perhaps the greatest irony surrounding the introduction of black servants was the timing—if the 1619 date is accurate. That year, the first elected legislative assembly convened at Jamestown. Members consisted of the governor and his council and representatives (or burgesses) from each of the eleven plantations. The assembly gradually split into an upper house, the governor and council, and the lower house, made up of the burgesses. This meant that the early forms of slavery and democracy in America were “twin-born at Jamestown, and in their infancy ... were rocked in the Cradle of the Republic.”
Each of the colonists already had the rights of Englishmen, but the scarcity of labor forced the Virginia Company to grant new equal political rights within the colony to new migrants in the form of the privileges that land conferred. In that way, land and liberty became intertwined in the minds and attitudes of the Virginia founders. Virginia’s founders may have believed in “natural law” concepts, but it was the cold reality of the endless labor shortages that put teeth in the colony’s political rights. Still, the early colonial government was relatively inefficient and inept in carrying out its primary mission of turning a profit. London Company stockholders failed to resupply the colony adequately, and had instead placed their hope in sending ever-growing numbers of settlers to Jamestown. Adding to the colony’s miseries, the new arrivals soon encroached on Indian lands, eliciting hostile reaction. Powhatan’s death in 1618 resulted in leadership of the Chesapeake tribes falling to his brother, Opechancanough, who conceived a shrewd plan to destroy the English. Feigning friendship, the Indians encouraged a false sense of security among the careless colonists. Then, in 1622, Opechancanough’s followers launched simultaneous attacks on the settlements surrounding Jamestown, killing more than three hundred settlers. The English retaliated by destroying Indian cornfields, a response that kept the Indians in check until 1644. Though blind, Opechancanough remained the chief and, still wanting vengeance, ordered a new wave of attacks that killed another three hundred English in two days. Again the settlers retaliated. They captured Opechancanough, shot him, and forced the Indians from the region between the York and James rivers.
By that time, the Virginia Company had attracted considerable attention in England, none of it good. The king appointed a committee to look into the company’s affairs and its perceived mismanagement, reflecting the fact that English investors—by then experiencing the fruits of commercial success at home— expected even more substantial returns from their successful operations abroad than they had received. Opechancanough’s raids seemed to reinforce the assessment that the London directors could not make prudent decisions about the colony’s safety, and in 1624 the Court of King’s Bench annulled the Virginia Company’s charter and the king assumed control of the colony as a royal province.
Virginians became embroiled in English politics, particularly the struggle between the Cavaliers (supporters of the king) and the Puritans. In 1649 the Puritans executed Charles I, whose forces had surrendered three years earlier. When Charles was executed, Governor William Berkeley and the Assembly supported Charles II as the rightful ruler of England (earning for Virginia the nickname Old Dominion). Parliament, however, was in control in England, and dispatched warships to bring the rebellious pro- Charles Virginians in line. After flirting with resistance, Berkeley and his Cavalier supporters ultimately yielded to the Puritan English Parliamentarians. Then Parliament began to ignore the colony, allowing Virginia to assume a great deal of self-government.
The new king, Charles II, the son of the executed Charles I, rewarded Berkeley and the Virginia Cavaliers for their loyalty. Berkeley was reappointed governor in 1660, but when he returned to his position, he was out of touch with the people and the assembly, which had grown more irascible, and was more intolerant than ever of religious minorities, including Quakers. At the same time, the colony’s population had risen to forty thousand, producing tensions with the governor that erupted in 1676 with the influx of settlers into territories reserved for the Indians. All that was needed for the underrepresented backcountry counties to rise against Berkeley and the tidewater gentry was a leader.
Meanwhile, small raids by both Indians and whites started to escalate into larger attacks. In 1676, Bacon, despite his lack of official approval, led a march to track hostiles. Instead, he encountered and killed friendly Indians, which threatened to drag the entire region into war. From a sense of betrayal, he then turned his 500 men on the government at Jamestown. Berkeley maneuvered to stave off a coup by Bacon when he appointed him general, in charge of the Indian campaign. Satisfied, Bacon departed, whereupon Berkeley rescinded his support and attempted to raise an army loyal to himself. Bacon returned, and finding the ragtag militia, scattered Berkeley’s hastily organized force, whereupon Bacon burned most of the buildings at Jamestown.
No sooner had Bacon conquered Jamestown than he contracted a virus and died. Leaderless, Bacon’s troops lacked the ability to resist Berkeley and his forces, who, bolstered by the arrival of 1,100 British troops, regained control of the colony. Berkeley promptly hanged 23 of the rebels and confiscated the property of others—actions that violated English property law and resulted in the governor’s being summoned back to England to explain his behavior. Reprimanded by King Charles, Berkeley died before he could return to the colony.
Calvert’s grant gave him full proprietary control over the land, freeing him from many of the constraints that had limited the Virginia Company. As proprietor, Calvert acted rex in abstentia (as the king in his absence), and as long as the proprietor acted in accordance with the laws of England, he spoke with the authority of the Crown. Calvert never visited his colony, though, governing the province through his brother, Leonard, who held the office of governor until 1647. Like Virginia, Maryland had an assembly (created in 1635) elected by all freeholders.
In March 1634 approximately three hundred passengers arrived at one of the eastern tributaries of the Potomac and established the village of St. Mary’s. Located on a high cliff, St. Mary’s had a good natural harbor, fresh water, and abundant vegetation. Father Andrew White, a priest who accompanied the settlers, observed of the region that “we cannot set down a foot without but tread on strawberries, raspberries, fallen mulberry vines, acorns, walnuts, [and] sassafras.”52 The Maryland colony was planned better than Jamestown. It possessed a large proportion of laborers—and fewer adventurers, country gentlemen, and gold seekers—and the settlers planted corn as soon as they had cleared the fields.
Calvert, while not unaware of the monetary returns of a well-run colony, had another motive for creating a settlement in the New World. Catholics had faced severe persecution in England, and so Lord Baltimore expected that a large number of Catholics would welcome an opportunity to immigrate to Maryland, when he enacted the Toleration Act of 1649, which permitted any Christian faith to be practiced in the colony.53 The Act provided that “no person ... professing to believe in Jesus Christ, shall from henceforth be in any ways troubled, molested, or discountenanced.”54 Yet the English Catholics simply did not respond the way Calvert hoped. Thus, he had to welcome Protestant immigrants at the outset. Once the news of religious toleration spread, other religious immigrants came from Virginia, including a group of persecuted Puritans who established Annapolis. The Puritans proved a thorn in Baltimore’s side, however, especially after the English Civil War put the Puritans in control there and they suspended the Toleration Act. After a brief period in which the Calvert family was deprived of all rights to govern, Lord Baltimore was supported, ironically, by the Puritan Lord Protector of England, Oliver Cromwell, and he was reinstated as governor in 1657. Religious conflict had not disappeared, however; an early wave of Jesuits worked to convert all of the colonies, antagonizing the Protestant majority. Thus, in many ways, the attempt to permit religious toleration resulted in conflict and, frequently, bloodshed.
Nor did the immigration of Protestants into Maryland allay the nagging labor shortage. In 1640, Maryland established its own headright system, and still the demands for labor exceeded the supply. As in Virginia, Maryland planters solved the shortage through the use of indentured servants and, at the end of the 1600s, African slaves. Maryland enacted a law “concerning Negroes and Other Slaves” in 1664, which not only perpetuated the slave status of those already in bondage, but expanded slave status to “whosoever freeborn woman shall intermarry with any slave.”55 Maryland, therefore, with its large estates and black slaves, looked very much like Virginia.
From its outset, Carolina society was triracial: blacks eventually constituted a majority of Carolinians, followed by a mix of Indians and Europeans. White Carolinians allied with Cherokee Indians to soundly defeat the rival Yamasees and Creeks and pushed them westward. Planters failed in their attempts to enslave defeated Indians, turning instead to black slaves to cultivate the hot, humid rice fields. A 1712 South Carolina statute made slavery essentially permanent: “All negroes, mulattoes, mustizoes, or Indians, which at any time heretofore have been sold ... and their children, are hereby made and declared slaves.”56 Slave life in the Carolinas differed from Virginia because the rice plantation system initially depended almost exclusively on an all-male workforce. Life in the rice and indigo fields was incredibly harsh, resembling the conditions in Barbados. The crops demanded full-time attention at harvest, requiring exhausting physical labor in the Carolina sun.
Yet colonial slave revolts (like the 1739 Stono revolt, which sent shock waves through the planter community) were exceptions because language barriers among the slaves, close and brutal supervision, a climate of repression, and a culture of subservience all combined to keep rebellions infrequent. The perceived threat of slave rebellions, nevertheless, hung over the southern coastal areas of Carolina, where slaves often outnumbered whites nine to one. Many planters literally removed themselves from the site of possible revolts by fleeing to the port cities in the summer. Charles Town soon became an island where planter families spent the “hot season” free from the plantations, swamps, and malaria of the lowlands. By mid-eighteenth century, Charles Town, with a population of eight thousand and major commercial connections, a lively social calendar of balls and cotillions, and even a paid symphony orchestra, was the leading city of the South.
Northern Carolinians differed socially, politically, economically, and culturally from their neighbors to the south. In 1729 disputes forced a split into two separate colonies. The northern part of the colonies was geographically and economically more isolated, and it developed more slowly than South Carolina. In the northeastern lowlands and Piedmont, North Carolina’s economy turned immediately to tobacco, while a new ethnic and cultural wave trekked south from Pennsylvania into North Carolina via Virginia’s Great Valley. German and Celtic (Scots-Irish) farmers added flavor to the Anglo and African stew of Carolina society. Germans who arrived were pious Quaker and Moravian farmers in search of opportunities to farm and market wood, leather, and iron handicrafts, whereas Celts (or Crackers, as they came to be known) were the wild and woolly frontiersmen who had fast worn out their welcome in the “civilized” areas of Pennsylvania and Virginia. Crackers answered their detractors by moving on, deeper and deeper into the forests of the Appalachian foothills and, eventually, the trans-Appalachian West. Such a jambalaya of humankind immediately made for political strife as eastern and western North Carolinians squared off time and again in disputes that often boiled down to planter-versus-small-farmer rivalries.
Americans grew their own food and ate a great deal of corn—roasted, boiled, and cooked into cornmeal bread and pancakes. Hearty vegetables like squash and beans joined apples, jam, and syrup on the dinner table. Men and boys hunted and fished; rabbit, squirrel, bear, and deer (venison) were common entrees. Pig raising became important, but beef cows (and milk) were scarce until the eighteenth century and beyond. Given the poor quality of water, many colonials drank cider, beer, and corn whiskey—even the children! As cities sprang up, the lack of convenient watering holes led owners to “water” their cattle with the runoff of breweries, yielding a disgusting variant of milk known as swill milk, which propagated childhood illnesses.
Even without swill milk, infant mortality was high, and any sickness usually meant suffering and, often, death. Colonials relied on folk medicine and Indian cures, including herbs, teas, honey, bark, and roots, supplemented with store-bought medicines. Doctors were few and far between. The American colonies had no medical school until the eve of the American Revolution, and veterinarians usually doubled as the town doctor, or vice versa. Into the vacuum of this absence of professional doctors stepped folk healers and midwives, “bone crackers” and bleeders. Going to a physician was usually the absolute last resort, since without anesthesia, any serious procedures would involve excruciating pain and extensive recovery. Women, especially, suffered during childbirth, and infants often had such high mortality rates that babies were not named until age two. Instead, mothers and fathers referred to the child as “the little visitor” or even “it.” Despite the reality of this difficult life, it is worth noting that by 1774 American colonists already had attained a standard of living that far surpassed that found in most of the civilized parts of the modern world.
Far more than today, though, politics—and not the family—absorbed the attention of colonial men. Virtually anyone who either paid taxes or owned a minimum of property could vote for representation in both the upper and lower houses of the legislature, although in some colonies (Pennsylvania and New York) there was a higher property qualification required for the upper house than for the lower house. When it came to holding office, most districts required a candidate to have at least one hundred pounds in wealth or one hundred acres, but several colonies had no requirements for holding office. Put another way, American colonials took politics seriously and believed that virtually everyone could participate. Two colonies stand out as examples of the trends in North American politics by the late 1700s—Virginia and Maryland.
The growth and maturation of the societies in Virginia and Maryland established five important trends that would be repeated throughout much of America’s colonial era. First, the sheer distance between the ruler and the governed—between the king and the colonies—made possible an extraordinary amount of independence among the Americans. In the case of Bacon’s Rebellion, for example, the Virginia rebels acted on the principle that it is “easier to ask forgiveness than to seek permission,” and were confident that the Crown would approve of their actions. Turmoil in England made communication even more difficult, and the instability in the English government—the temporary victory of Cromwell’s Puritans, followed by the restoration of the Stuarts—merely made the colonial governments more self-reliant than ever.
Second, while the colonists gained a measure of independence through distance, they also gained political confidence and status through the acquisition of land. For immigrants who came from a nation where the scarcity of land marked those who owned it as gentlemen and placed them among the political elites, the abundance of soil in Virginia and Maryland made them the equals of the owners of manorial estates in England. It steadily but subtly became every citizen’s job to ensure the protection of property rights for all citizens, undercutting from the outset the widespread and entrenched class system that characterized Europe. Although not universal—Virginia had a powerful “cousinocracy”—nothing of the rigid French or English aristocracies constrained most Americans. To be sure, Virginia possessed a more pronounced social strata than Maryland (and certainly Massachusetts). Yet compared to Europe, there was more equality and less class distinction in America, even in the South.
Third, the precedent of rebellion against a government that did not carry out the most basic mandates— protecting life, property, and a certain degree of religious freedom (at least from the Church of England)— was established and supported by large numbers, if not the vast majority, of colonists. That view was tempered by the assumption that, again, such rebellion would not be necessary against an informed government. This explains, in part, Thomas Jefferson’s inclusion in the Declaration of Independence the references to the fact that the colonists had petitioned not only the king, but Parliament as well, to no avail. Fourth, a measure of religious toleration developed, although it was neither as broad as is often claimed nor did it originate in the charity of church leaders. Although Virginia Anglicans and Maryland Catholics built the skeleton of state-supported churches, labor problems forced each colony to abandon sectarian purity at an early stage to attract immigrants. Underlying presuppositions about religious freedom were narrowly focused on Christians and, in most colonies, usually Protestants. Had the colonists ever anticipated that Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or members of other non-Christian groups would constitute even a small minority in their region, even the most fiercely independent Protestants would have agreed to the establishment of a state church, as Massachusetts did from 1630 to 1830.
America’s vast size contributed to a tendency toward “Live and let live” when it came to religion.57 Dissidents always could move to uninhabited areas: certainly none of the denominations were open to evangelizing from their counterparts. Rather, the colonists embraced toleration, even if narrowly defined, because it affected a relatively cohesive group of Christian sects. Where differences that were potentially deeply divisive did exist, the separation caused by distance prevented one group from posing a threat to others.
Finally, the experiences in Virginia and Maryland foreshadowed events elsewhere when it came to interaction with the Indians. The survival of a poorly armed, ineptly organized colony in Jamestown surrounded by hostile natives requires more of an explanation than “white greed” provides. Just as Europeans practiced balance-of-power politics, so too the Indians found that the presence of several potential enemies on many sides required that they treat the whites as friends when necessary to balance the power of other Indians. To the Doeg Indians, for example, the English were no more of a threat than the Susquehannock. Likewise, English settlers had as much to fear from the French as they did the natives. Characterizing the struggle as one of whites versus Indians does not reflect the balance-of-power politics that every group in the New World struggled to maintain among its enemies.
In 1608 a group of 125 Separatists from Scrooby, in Nottinghamshire, slipped out of England for Holland. Among the most respected leaders of these “Pilgrims,” as they later came to be known, was a sixteen-year- old boy named William Bradford. In Holland they faced no religious persecution, but as foreigners they found little work, and worse, Puritan children were exposed to the “great licentiousness” of Dutch youth. When few other English Separatists joined them, the prospects for establishing a strong Puritan community in Holland seemed remote. After receiving assurances from the king that they could exercise their religious views freely, they opened negotiations with one of the proprietors of the Virginia Company, Sir Edwin Sandys, about obtaining a grant in Virginia. Sandys cared little for Puritanism, but he needed colonists in the New World. Certainly the Pilgrims already had displayed courage and resourcefulness. He therefore allowed them a tract near the mouth of the Hudson River, which was located on the northernmost boundary of the Virginia grant. To raise capital, the Pilgrims employed the joint-stock company structure, which brought several non-Separatists into the original band of settlers. Sailing on the Mayflower, 35 of the original Pilgrims and 65 other colonists left the English harbor of Plymouth in September 1620, bound for the Hudson River. Blown off course, the Pilgrims reached the New World in November, some five hundred miles north of their intended location. They dropped anchor at Cape Cod Bay, at an area called Plymouth by John Smith.
Arriving at the wrong place, the colonists remained aboard their vessel while they considered their situation. They were not in Virginia, and had no charter to Plymouth. Any settlement could be perceived in England as defiance of the Crown. Bradford and the forty other adult men thus devised a document, before they even went ashore, to emphasize their allegiance to King James, to renounce any intention to create an independent republic, and to establish a civil government. It stated clearly that their purpose in sailing to Virginia was not for the purposes of rebellion but “for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our king and country....”60 And while the Mayflower Compact provided for laws and the administration of the colony, it constituted more than a mere civil code. It pledged each of them “solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one another” to “covenant and combine ourselves under a civil Body Politick” under “just and equal laws ... [for the] furtherance of” the glory of God. To the Pilgrims, a just and equal society had to be grounded in religious faith. Developing along a parallel path to the concepts of government emerging in Virginia, the Mayflower Compact underscored the idea that government came from the governed—under God—and that the law treated all equally. But it also extended into civil affairs the concept of a church contact (or covenant), reinforcing the close connection between the role of the church and the state. Finally, it started to lay a foundation for future action against both the king of England and, eighty years after that, slavery by establishing basic principles in the contract. This constituted a critical development in an Anglo-European culture that increasingly emphasized written rights.
As one of the first acts of their new democracy, the colonists selected Bradford as governor. Then, having taken care of administrative matters, in late December 1620, the Pilgrims climbed out of their boats at Plymouth and settled at cleared land that may have been an Indian village years earlier. They had arrived too late in the year to plant, and like their countrymen farther south, the Pilgrims suffered during their first winter, with half the colony perishing. They survived with assistance from the local Indians, especially one named Squanto—“a spetiall instrument sent from God,” as Bradford called him.61 For all this they gave thanks to God, establishing what would become a national tradition.
The Pilgrims, despite their fame in the traditional Thanksgiving celebration and their Mayflower Compact, never achieved the material success of the Virginia colonists or their Massachusetts successors at Massachusetts Bay. Indeed, the Plymouth colony’s population stagnated. Since the Separatists’ religious views continued to meet a poor reception in England, no new infusions of people or ideas came from the Old World. Having settled in a relatively poor region, and lacking the excellent natural harbor of Boston, the Pilgrims never developed the fishing or trading business of their counterparts. But the Pilgrims rightly hold a place of high esteem in America history, largely because unlike the Virginia settlers, the Separatists braved the dangers and uncertainties of the voyage and settlement in the New World solely in the name of their Christian faith.
Other Puritans, though certainly not all of them Separatists, saw opportunities to establish their own settlements. They had particular incentives to do so after the ascension to the throne of England of Charles I in 1625. He was determined to restore Catholicism and eradicate religious dissidents. By that time, the Puritans had emerged as a powerful merchant group in English society, with their economic power translating into seats in Parliament. Charles reacted by dissolving Parliament in 1629. Meanwhile, a group of Dorchester businessmen had provided the perfect vehicle for the Puritans to undertake an experiment in the New World.
In 1623 the Dorchester group established a small fishing post at Cape Ann, near present-day Gloucester, Massachusetts. After the colony proved a dismal economic failure, the few settlers who had lived at Cape Ann moved inland to Salem, and a new patent, granted in 1628, provided incentives for a new group of emigrants, including John Endicott, to settle in Salem. Ultimately, the New England Company, as it was called, obtained a royal charter in 1629. Stockholders in the company elected a General Court, which chose the governor and his eighteen assistants. Those prominent in founding the company saw the Salem and Cape Ann areas as opportunities for establishing Christian missions.
The 1629 charter did not require the company’s headquarters to be in London, as the Virginia Company’s had. Several Puritans, including John Winthrop, expressed their willingness to move to the trading colony if they could also move the colony’s administration to Massachusetts. Stockholders unwilling to move to the New World resigned, and the Puritans gained control of the company, whereupon they chose John Winthrop as the governor.62 Called the Moses of the great Puritan exodus, Winthrop was Cambridge educated and, because he was an attorney, relatively wealthy. He was also deeply committed to the Puritan variant of Christianity. Winthrop suffered from the Puritan dilemma, in that he knew that all things came from God, and therefore had to be good. Therefore all things were made for man to enjoy, except that man could not enjoy things too much lest he risk putting material things above God. In short, Puritans had to be “in the world but not of it.”
Puritans, far from wearing drab clothes and avoiding pleasure, enjoyed all things. Winthrop himself loved pipe smoking and shooting. Moreover, Puritan ministers “were the leaders in every field of intellectual advance in New England.”63 Their moral codes in many ways were not far from modern standards.64 A substantial number of settlers joined Winthrop, with eleven ships leaving for Massachusetts that year. When the Puritans finally arrived, Winthrop delivered a sermon before the colonists disembarked. It resounded with many of the sentiments of the Plymouth Pilgrims: “Wee must Consider that wee shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.” Winthrop wanted the Puritans to see themselves as examples and, somewhat typical of his day, made dire predictions of their fate if they failed to live up to God’s standard.
The Massachusetts Bay colony benefited from changes in the religious situation in England, where a new policy of forcing Puritans to comply with Anglican ceremonies was in effect. Many Puritans decided to leave England rather than tolerate such persecution, and they emigrated to Massachusetts in what was called the Great Migration, pulled by reports of “a store of blessings.”65 This constant arrival of new groups of relatively prosperous colonists kept the colony well funded and its labor force full (unlike the southern colonies). By 1640, the population of Massachusetts Bay and its inland settlements numbered more than ten thousand.
Puritan migrants brought with them an antipathy and distrust of the Stuart monarchy (and governmental power in general) that would have great impact in both the long and short term. Government in the colony, as elsewhere in most of English America, assumed a democratic bent. Originally, the General Court, created as Massachusetts Bay’s first governing body, was limited to freemen, but after 1629, when only the Puritan stockholders remained, that meant Puritan male church members. Clergymen were not allowed to hold public office, but through the voting of the church members, the clergy gained exceptional influence. A Puritan hierarchy ran the administrative posts, and although non-Puritan immigrant freemen obtained property and other rights, only the church members received voting privileges. In 1632, however, the increasing pressure of additional settlers forced changes in the minority-run General Court. The right to elect the governor and deputy governor was expanded to all freemen, turning the governor and his assistants into a colonial parliament.
Political tensions in Massachusetts reflected the close interrelationship Puritans felt between civil and religious life. Rigorous tests existed for admission to a Puritan church congregation: individuals had to show evidence of a changed life, relate in an interview process their conversion experience, and display knowledge of scripture. On the surface, this appeared to place extraordinary power in the hands of the authorities, giving them (if one was a believer) the final word on who was, and was not, saved. But in reality, church bodies proved extremely lenient in accepting members. After all, who could deny another’s face-to-face meeting with the Almighty? Local records showed a wide range of opinions on the answer.67 One solution, the “Halfway Covenant,” allowed third-generation Puritan children to be baptized if their parents were baptized.
Before long, of course, many insincere or more worldly colonists had gained membership, and with the expansion of church membership, the right to participate in the polity soon spread, and by 1640 almost all families could count one adult male church member (and therefore a voter) in their number. The very fact that so many people came, however tangentially, under the rubric of local—but not centralized—church authority reinforced civic behavior with a Christian moral code, although increasingly the laity tended to be more spiritually conservative than the clergy.
Local autonomy of churches was maintained through the congregational system of organization. Each church constituted the ultimate authority in scriptural doctrine. That occasionally led to unorthodox or even heretical positions developing, but usually the doctrinal agreement between Puritans on big issues was so widespread that few serious problems arose. When troublemakers did appear, as when Roger Williams arrived in Massachusetts in 1631, or when Anne Hutchinson challenged the hierarchy in 1636, Winthrop and the General Court usually dispatched them in short order.70 Moreover, the very toleration often (though certainly not universally) exhibited by the Puritans served to reinforce and confirm “the colonists in their belief that New England was a place apart, a bastion of consistency.”
There were limits to toleration, of course. In 1692, when several young Salem girls displayed physical “fits” and complained of being hexed by witches, Salem village was thrown into an uproar. A special court convened to try the witches. Although the girls initially accused only one as a witch (Tituba, a black slave woman), the accusations and charges multiplied, with 150 Salemites eventually standing accused. Finally, religious and secular leaders expressed objections, and the trials ceased as quickly as they had begun. Historians have subsequently ascribed the hysteria of the Salem witch trials to sexism, religious rigidity, and even the fungus of a local plant, but few have admitted that to the Puritans of Massachusetts, the devil and witchcraft were quite real, and physical manifestations of evil spirits were viewed as commonplace occurrences.
Initial contacts led to cross-acculturation and exchange, but struggles over land ensued, ending in extermination, extirpation, or assimilation of the Indians. Sparked by the murder of a trader, the Pequot War commenced in July of 1636. In the assault on the Pequot fort on the Mystic River in 1637, troops from Connecticut and Massachusetts, along with Mohican and Narragansett Indian allies, attacked and destroyed a stronghold surrounded by a wooden palisade, killing some four hundred Pequots in what was, to that time, one of the most stunning victories of English settlers over Indians ever witnessed.
One important result of the Pequot War was the Indians’ realization that, in the future, they would have to unify to fight the Englishmen. This would ultimately culminate in the 1675–76 war led by Metacomet— known in New England history as King Philip’s War—which resulted in a staggering defeat for northeastern coastal tribes. A far-reaching result of these conflicts was the creation of the New England militia system.
The Puritan—indeed, English—distrust of the mighty Stuart kings manifested itself in a fear of standing armies. Under the colonial militia system, much of the population armed itself and prepared to fight on short notice. All men aged sixteen to sixty served without pay in village militia companies; they brought their own weapons and supplies and met irregularly to train and drill. One advantage of the militia companies was that some of their members were crack shots: As an eighteenth-century American later wrote a British friend,
The American soldier was an amateur, an irregular combatant who despised the professional military. Even 140 years after the Pequot War, the Continental Congress still was suspicious of a professional military, “however necessary it may be, is always dangerous to the liberties of the people. ... Standing armies in time of peace are inconsistent with the principles of republican government.”73
Where muskets and powder could handle—or, at least, suppress—most of the difficulties with Indians, there were other, more complex issues raised by a rogue minister and an independent-minded woman. Taken together, the threats posed by Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson may have presented as serious a menace to Massachusetts as the Pequots and other tribes put together.
Chapter One: The City on the Hill, 1492-1707
Chapter Two: Colonial Adolescence, 1707-63
Chapter Three: Colonies No More, 1763-83
Chapter Four: A Nation of Law, 1776-89
Chapter Five: Small Republic, Big Shoulders, 1789-1815
Chapter Six: The First Era of Big Central Government, 1815-36
Chapter Seven: Red Foxes and Bear Flags, 1836-48
Chapter Eight: The House Dividing, 1848-60
Chapter Nine: The Crisis of the Union, 1860-65
Chapter Ten: Ideals and Realities of Reconstruction, 1865-76
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