26 November 2014

Early Virginians, Cannibalism, and Chemical Warfare

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen, 1995, Excerpts

Profit was the primary reason most Mayflower colonist made the trip. As Robert Moore has pointed out, “Textbooks neglect to analyze the profit motive underlying much of our history.”

In 1623 the British indulged in the first use of chemical warfare in the colonies when negotiating a treaty with tribes near the Potomac River. The British offered a toast “symbolizing eternal friendship,” whereupon the chief, his family, advisors, and two hundred followers dropped dead of poison.

Textbooks omit the facts about grave robbing, Indian enslavement, the plague, and so on, even though they were common knowledge in colonial New England. The Early Virginians engaged in bickering, sloth, even cannibalism. They spent their early days digging random holes in the ground, haplessly looking for gold instead of planting crops. Soon they were starving and digging up putrid Indian corpses to eat or renting themselves out to Indian families as servants – hardly heroic founders that a great nation requires.

Pocahontas [Disney], The Virginia Company Song, 1995
On the beaches of Virginy
There's diamonds like debris
There's silver rivers flow
And gold you pick right off a tree
With a nugget for my Winnie
And another one for me
And all the rest'll go
To The Virginia Company
It's glory, God, and gold
And The Virginia Company

25 November 2014

Squanto, Hobomok, and the Pilgrims

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen, 1995, Excerpts

In 1614 a British slave raider seized Squanto and two dozen fellow Indians and sold them into slavery in Malaga, Spain. What happened next makes Ulysses look like a homebody. Squanto escaped from slavery; escaped from Spain, and made his way back to England. After trying to get home via Newfoundland, in 1619 he talked Thomas Dermer into taking him along on his next trip to Cape Cod.

Squanto set foot again on Massachusetts soil and walked to his home village of Patuxet, only to make the horrifying discovery that he was the sole member of his village still alive. All the others had perished in the epidemic two years before. Squanto threw in his lot with the Pilgrims.

As translator, ambassador, and technical advisor, Squanto was essential to the survival of Plymouth in its first two years. Like other Europeans in America, the Pilgrims had no idea what to eat or how to raise or find it until Indians showed them. William Bradford called Squanto a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectation.” He directed them how to set their corn, where to take fish, and to procure other commodities, and was also their pilot to bring them to unknown places for their profit.” Squanto’s travels acquainted him with more of the world than any Pilgrim encountered. He had crossed the Atlantic perhaps six times, twice as a British captive, and had lived in Maine, Newfoundland, Spain, and England, as well as Massachusetts.

Squanto was not the Pilgrims’ only aide: in the summer of 1621 another Indian, Hobomok, lived among the Pilgrims for several years as guide and ambassador. Hobomok helped Plymouth set up fur trading posts in Maine, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Europeans had neither the skill nor the desire to “go boldly where none dared go before.” They went to the Indians.

23 November 2014

The Pilgrims Arrive

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen, 1995, Excerpts

“Their profit” was the primary reason most Mayflower colonist made the trip. As Robert Moore has pointed out, “Textbooks neglect to analyze the profit motive underlying much of our history.” The Pilgrims hardly “started from scratch” in a “wilderness.” Throughout New England, Native Americans had repeatedly burned the underbrush, creating a park like environment. They chose Plymouth because of its beautiful cleared fields, recently planted in corn, and its useful harbor and “brook of fresh water.”

Throughout New England, colonist appropriated Indian corn fields for their initial settlements, avoiding the backbreaking labor of clearing the land of forest and rock. This explains why, to this day, the names of so many towns throughout the region – Marshfield, Springfield, Deerfield – end in field.

In their first year the Pilgrims, like the Indians, suffered from diseases, including scurvy and pneumonia; half of them died. They did not cause the plague and were as baffled as to its origin as the stricken Indian villagers. For at least a century Puritan ministers thundered their interpretation of the meaning of the plague for New England pulpits.

Henry A. Bacon 1877: The Landing of the Pilgrims

22 November 2014

The New England Plague - Early 1600s

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen, 1995, Excerpts

The inhabitants of North and South America were “a remarkably healthy race” before Columbus. Ironically, their very health proved their undoing, for they had built up no resistance, genetically or through childhood diseases, to the microbes that Europeans and Africans would bring to them.

In 1617, just before the Pilgrims landed, the plague started in southern New England. For decades, British and French fisherman had fished off the Massachusetts coast. It is likely that these fishermen transmitted some illness to the people they met. The plague that ensued made the Black Death pale in comparison. Within three years the plague wiped out between 90 percent and 96 percent of the inhabitants of coastal New England. The Indian societies lay devastated.

Unable to cope with so many corpses, the survivors abandoned their villages and fled, often to a neighboring tribe. Because they carried the infestation with them, Indians died who had never encountered a white person. The ground was strewn with the skulls and the bones of thousands of Indians who had died and none was left to bury them.

During the next fifteen years, additional epidemics, mostly smallpox, struck repeatedly. These epidemics probably constituted the most important geopolitical event of the early seventeenth century. Their net result was that the British, for their first fifty years in New England, would face no real Indian challenge. Indeed the plague helped prompt the legendarily warm reception Plymouth enjoyed from the Wampanoag Indians.