Without counting Irish and Scots, who were directly
under the English heel, we should consider miserable
over a period of, say, 1400 to 1850,
most of the English people themselves.
Plague, famine, warfare, misrule, technological
backwardness, overpopulation, and other processes
continuously and contrapuntally composed a
concerted oppressiveness. The new Norman elite
of 1066 took centuries to acquire a taste for
the populace, mostly stubbornly Saxon by culture.
Parliament, a nest of indifferent lords and
bishops in one House, plus another
nest of servitors of the landed and town rich
in the other House, abetted the
afflictions of the common people.
The English elite was not ready for the Age of Discovery.
Bubonic plague had killed a third of the people and
the population was only 2.5 million for England and Wales
as the 1400's began. Death scythed
new crops from time to time until the plague -
this plague, not smallpox and others -
ceased with the Plague Year of 1665.
We are talking about four million people
when we speak of England and Wales in the 1600's,
about the same as the Netherlands or Portugal in number, and
catching up with their higher culture and technology.
At the same time, Scots numbered less than a million,
the Irish 1.25 millions.
Europe all told held 100 millions.
The English were disillusioned over their
One Hundred Years' War with their French cousins.
They would not be able to hold onto a French domain.
Having, with the help of the Church,
burned Joan of Arc at the stake,
they had pocketed their history of victories
and defeats and retired.
So had gone much of the 1300's and 1400's.
The Catholic Church came to own one-third of the land, but,
unlike the feudal lords, was loath to use the
lash and the sword upon its dependent peasants.
The tiny secular elite held title to much of the rest
of the land, and even more when King Henry VIII
disowned the Roman Catholic Church. The monasteries were
dissolved and large-scale evictions of long-time tenants
took place. There were created in abundance vagabonds,
beggars, prostitutes, criminals, and paupers, who would provide
one solution to problems of manning growing fleets and
settling foreign parts of the world. Hanging was still
preferred as a way of coping with disorderly conduct,
such that in the reign of Henry VIII,
a long political generation,
2% of the English people, who then numbered in
all 2.8 millions, were so despatched.
The Crown had been consolidating an inner empire
that consisted of Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and the islands about.
In the process, not at all completed when America was discovered,
it had been gaining experience with difficult populations.
In the early 1600's the Crown thought it might punish
Irish independence fighters by transferring bodily
a hundred thousand hungry Scots to the North of
Ireland, creating the Ulster enclave of the Scots-Irish,
a fateful move, both for Britain and America, as we
shall see. From time to time, well-connected families and destitute
colonists also settled themselves upon the hapless Irish indigenes. Irish
insurrectionists massacred 15,000 of the newcomers in 1641, but
revenge fell upon them with the savage depredations of
Dictator Oliver Cromwell's republican army.
Waves of consolidation of lands into pastures for
sheep surged over the peasantry and village folk.
Each century saw more of them.
Greed and misanthropy were the commonest motives:
sheep were more profitable than people.
(Continental demand for wool was steadily increasing.)
A larger-scale agriculture was continually developing as well.
Probably British cottage industry would have lasted much longer
had the peoples' cottages not been burned, and the industrial
revolution turned in another direction, a better one possibly, that
would reconcile high technology with
decentralized production and life.
As America came into the news, King Henry VII,
the first by the name of Tudor, was occupied with insurrections in
Cornwall and Scotland, working his way toward despotism.
When explorers returned practically empty-handed from the West,
he could see little to gain from lands without gold or spices;
he owned such wretched properties next door.
Englishmen of 1516 could, however, read a
future classic work, Sir Thomas More's Utopia, that
purported to describe a country well-governed and
prosperous under a set of institutions and with
customs that he of course imagined might work;
its people were ethically reasonable, economically communist, and
politically in a state of liberty.
The narrator of the book is supposed to have sailed on three of
Amerigo's voyages. The model was surely drawn from
Amerigo's writings and the general European dream of a
happy state of nature. A considerable literature
familiarized Anglo literati with America.
Toward the end of the century, one would recognize in
William Shakespeare's drama, The Tempest, a wacky setting
inspired by stories of the New World.
England was technologically under-developed in 1500,
not as progressive as France and Spain:
ideas, science, materials, and personnel of the Italian
Renaissance had not been crossing the Channel in
abundance. These would have included technical innovations,
methods of ship construction, accounting and trade
practices, improved firearms, and cartography. The exploratory
attitude of derring-do was only moderately excited. Nevertheless
there were those among the elite who thought something must be
done about the open West.
So the ever-present Italian navigator came to the fore,
Giovanni Cabotto, a much traveled merchant prince
who had settled in Bristol in the 1490's.
After fruitless despatches of other men to the far West in
search of tropical products, himself he captained an
expedition that cruised the Northeast Atlantic Coast
before returning. He set out again, 1498,
this time with his brother Sebastian, and
retraced the route, reaching farther to the South,
probably to Delaware Bay. Exaggerated claims in the
Crown's name were filed away for later use.
John stayed back, but Sebastian adventured once more,
this time to explore the Rio de la Plata for merchants of Seville.
Ultimately the brothers disappeared elsewhere
than into history books with the
Anglicized names of John and Sebastian Cabot,
sending, some say, descendants to New England.
The 1500's brought Englishmen to America to seek a
Northwest Passage, which would have been a marvelous discovery,
unless permanent ice overlay it; but,
failing, they drafted maps to be useful later on.
Meanwhile buccaneers ventured upon the Southern seas -
John Hawkins, Francis Drake, and Thomas Cavendish, to name three
of the most famous. Drake and Cavendish rendered the world a
service by duplicating Magellan's circumglobal trip, collecting
treasures from unlucky Spanish boats en route.
Drake also landed at San Francisco,
claiming the region as New Albion, notwithstanding that the
Spanish had been exploring the area for some time
now and had long ago put in their claim.
Voyages to the East Coast of North America
ensued to small effect, but an urge toward faraway lands arose.
One of its propellants was an anthology of accounts of
English voyages everywhere, the publication of a traveler and
scholar named Hakluyt. The volumes of Hakluyt amounted to
consciousness-raising and morale-building for the
still second-rate power.
Other events helped even more, as the century closed.
The Spanish, betting against the mischievous weather,
sent a huge armada to land upon and
conquer the country, and lost. Nor could all the precious
jewels and ores of the Indies buy back the huge
fleet and army that scattered before the furious storm
and was set upon by English craft.
On North Carolina's coast, in the late sixteenth century,
happened the worst drought in 800 years,
measurable now on the tree rings of bald cypresses.
Spanish colonists debarked in the region,
but their survivors had to sail off shortly.
An English group was deposited on Roanoke Island
by Walter Raleigh, but left after a bad year.
They were replaced by another group in 1587
that disappeared before the return of their supply vessel.
In May of 1607, 127 Englishmen and 3 Germans
waded ashore at what was to be Jamestown, Virginia,
and the beginnings of a profitable and glorious future.
Captain John Smith became their undisputed leader
for a time, not without incredible trouble from the ill-assorted and
incompetent group, including the "damned Dutch" as the
Captain called them. He saved some of them from dying at the
hands of the Indians, or by starvation, or by disease
during the first winter. He kept with him always his
copy of Machiavelli's Art of War. Like General
Eisenhower and other commanders, the Captain wrote a
memoir of the experience, an incomparably more valuable historical
(and literary) document than most such, including "Ike's."
All might have gone for naught, but for outside help:
Indians taught the squatters to grow potatoes and corn.
Large reinforcements of settlers arrived. Tobacco was
discovered and shipped to the Old Country,
which took to the weed with great pleasure;
and so began endemic lung cancer.
Better, the first lot of African slaves arrived,
transhipped by a helpful Dutch packet. Since it came from
the West Indies, it must have been anticipated.
Who needed hi-tech machines now?
For over two centuries to come, the South would be able to
get along largely with manpower and horsepower,
at a cost to compete in world markets; never mind the
new-fangled contraptions of the industrial revolution.
The first charter of Virginia, granted to enterprising favorites
by King James in 1606, was fantastic.
It gave them exclusive title and total rule over a
hundred-mile-wide belt of land running from the
Hudson River to South Carolina; it prohibited any group
from settling behind them without their permission, and
they were given full governmental powers,
including the right to a private army and navy,
and were invited to repel any trespassers by force.
All natural resources were theirs. They were tax-exempt.
In the year 1619, the Virginians set up
a kind of representative assembly, the first in
America, to which each plantation, a small village
in effect, could elect and send two delegates.
Like practically all colonial institutional devices,
it copied an English practice, giving it a special twist,
a single chamber; there were no lords for a House of
Lords. It is notable that this score -
a Governor, Council of State, and Assembly of Burgesses -
was orchestrated by the board of directors of a
corporation for profit, the London Company.
King James I - he of the Divine Right of Kings and
pronounced to be the Senior Direct Descendent of
the first man, Adam - was furious with his own Parliament just then,
and aborted the Virginia embryo in 1624.
He made Virginia a royal colony and imposed upon it
his Governor and his Council of State.
But the thoughtful corporate headquarters also rounded up
a load of "marriageable" women and 100 London
slum children and shipped them to the aid of the men of the colony.
The women brought about 120 pounds of tobacco each, when
sold on the dock. This was in the fateful year of 1619, and in
1627 additional shipments of about 1500
kids were taken into custody or kidnaped and the survivors
sold to settlers upon arrival. The word "kidnapper"
(kid-nabbing) originated in the 1670's to denote
one who snatched up children to be transported to the
With some frequency, various lots of males were transported,
some of whom were free to sell their services -
the deluded and the hornswoggled among them.
Convicts came early to serve out their sentences,
lightened by allowances for the miseries of the voyage,
through which half survived. Some 20,000 of these
arrived in the latter 1600's in Virginia alone,
about the same number as then arrived in Massachusetts.
Even a hundred years later, Benjamin Franklin could
complain to the authorities of the practice of settling convicted
criminals in America - it gave the place a bad name -
but it took a Revolution to conclude the practice,
and turn the flow to Australia.
Still the temptation erupted continuously. One colony,
later one state, would dump its convicts upon another,
even one county upon another, and one town upon another.
(In the 1970's Dictator Fidel Castro
of Cuba opened his jails to let his convicts take refuge
in Florida. In the 1990's Albanian jails were opened
by the bankrupt communist government and the
convicts let to escape into Italy and Greece.)
Then there were sailors enticed from their frightful hulls,
wanderers or escapees from the West Indies, and petty clerks who
struck a bit of luck and never made it back to Old Blighty. This would
be a common pattern for the settlement of most colonies.
In the main, the arrivals were impoverished persons
under contracts of indentured service, severely enforced.
A man did not know his master until he landed
in most instances, and went into the keep of whoever
bought his contract on arrival, much as it was with slaves.
Masters came to prefer slaves, for various reasons,
among them that slaves on the average were more docile
and performed more work.
When their contracts were done, the men were hired on the
plantations, or settled outside the plantations in villages, or they
picked up promised packets of land, or moved West to squat upon
vacant or Indian land, or joined a crew to return to England.
They were an unruly lot, and not a minority in the colony.
Many deserted before their time was up,
though they would be whipped and jailed if caught.
In a memoir of the year 1676,
Governor Sir William Berkeley wrote,
"How miserable that man is that Governs a People when six
parts of seven at least are Poor Indebted Discontented and
Armed." (Correct spelling was not a qualification for governor or
most other personages until the nineteenth century.)
They kept coming, more and more of them from Northern Ireland, the
Scots-Irish. They were already settling in the hills and would pervade
the Appalachian Mountains, where their descendants would remain,
sending out workers into the mines and factories, farther and farther
West, too, but rooting here until the war mobilization of the
1940's, whereupon they exited in a great flood.
Yet never had a motley crowd shaped so fast an aristocracy.
Partly this occurred with the corporate opportunists;
they came and got stuck; or they promoted themselves into big fish
when they might have stayed small fry at home;
there were those of the families of Anglican priests
who could breed and climb the economic ladder;
there were also Puritans and Huguenots among them,
self-disciplined and print-oriented;
there were purchasers of large lands with little cash, too.
There were also, out of the many bums and wastrels and
war veterans, who called themselves Cavaliers
and had been thrown out of England by the victorious Cromwellians,
some clever and worthy characters,
even a few who escaped with modest material means.
Within three political generations a few families came to own and
control most of Virginia. They lived rudely, but began to buy avidly
whatever was offered from abroad. They appeared to have been there
forever, with their slaves, liquor, tobacco, and plantation complexes.
Far from being devout, they took their Anglican rites cavalierly.
By the third biological generation they were
rewriting their genealogy and history.
Perhaps one should stress the inadequacies of the Anglican clergy,
having mentioned earlier how helpless were the Spanish priests in the
face of massive greed and brutal force. The English Church was
morally and organizationally depressed when de-Catholicized. At a
time when the Jesuits were proselytizing the world, the English
Court's Anglicized clergy, land profiteers, royal favorites, and younger
sons were still splitting the swag from Henry VIII's
divestiture of Roman Catholicism, and seeking preference.
Ill-managed multi-national companies, little more than several
cronies of the Crown and Court, made deals with the most unreliable
elements - cavaliers, marginal religious sects, soldiers of fortune - to
go forth and find gold, collect furs, cut timber, set up fishing stations,
grow silk, rob foreigners - and do whatever else came to mind.
The situation in the North in what became New England was
markedly different from the South and Middle Colonies.
The Pilgrims, too, had a corporate patent to settle
on lands claimed by the Crown of England,
but, with corporate reorganizations and altering boundaries,
no one quite knew where they were and
whether they had any kind of right to be there,
quite aside from claims of the Spanish, French and Indians.
Their license was "to plant the first colonie in the
Northerne parts of Virginia." They were not the best of navigators,
the officers of the Mayflower of 1620.
They were an unprepossessing lot overall:
crew and passengers came to over a hundred.
Two matters worked well for them:
Most of them believed that God was their co-pilot. The
leaders among these divines had the foresight to get
the men to sign a contract, the famous Pilgrim Compact,
that they would behave properly and accept authority upon landing:
this was to keep the party from quarreling and
sundering into vanishing fragments.
The second advantage in their situation was
that they had women among them.
These kept the men from quarreling violently,
bucked up the frightened souls,
reduced the incidence of drunkenness,
took care of details,
made the Indians whom they met feel less threatened.
They could be blamed when things went wrong,
provided the men with home-cooking, and
managed other bodily comfort over the cold months.
Tied to their skirts, men were less likely to desert.
Doubtless almost no women would have been so foolish
as to venture into the New World were they not
in the permanent condition of indentured servants,
brainwashed by Old Testament admonitions
on the role of womankind.
The Pilgrims stood offshore by Cape Cod.
After a month of casting about, they landed and
settled down far to the North near
what is called Plymouth Rock today;
the day was December 21, shortest
day of the year, hardly the time to plant -
not that they knew what to plant.
They would have starved to death had not the proverbial angel
for all subsequent immigrants, an English-speaking native,
appeared like Bugs Bunny out of the dunes brush.
Squanto he was called, and he explained the lay of the land, and
introduced them to Massasoit, the local Chief,
who saw to it that they could last out the winter.
The culture shock was too much, however, and
they never did learn to be comfortable around Indians.
They thought all good luck came from Divine Providence
and fantasized that they were an honest-to-God
replay of the Children of Israel in the Wilderness.
Most of the Mayflower party were not along
out of religious motive, and certainly not from
religious conviction alone, which should surprise no one
who has studied the history and sociology of religion.
The core group had, of course, angered many and
suffered much in England - where, as a breakaway
sect from the Dissenters, who had themselves renounced the
Anglican ministry, they were regarded as dangerous radicals.
Holland gave them surcease from religious persecution, but
they were still a caste apart. What they heard there of
America made them think in Utopian (read Exodus) terms, and
when they returned to England they were able to muster the
requisite funds and personnel for the journey. Probably a
third of the little party were continuously in a state of
religious exaltation. Then there were the crew, the
dutiful wives (not all devout), children,
indentured servants, a few Francophone Flemings,
even a Danziger, and security guards, with
Captain Miles Standish in charge.
The most decisive European disembarkations in the
"USA" were those of the 15,000 or so
Puritans of the years 1630 to 1645
who landed in Massachusetts.
They came to avoid persecution (leaving most of their
brethren behind to destroy monarchy and behead the King)
and to run a polity in their own way. Or because their
family made them emigrate. Indentured servants were
numerous. (One of these "White serfs" was a Samuel Lincoln,
possibly grandparent of Abraham Lincoln, six times removed.
If so, America was hardly the land of opportunity
for the Lincolns. It would be no more accurate to say,
"From Log Cabin to White House in one generation," than
"From indenture to the presidency in seven generations."
And perhaps less meaningful.)
On the whole the Northerners' qualifications for survival were
superior to those of people who hopped ashore in the
Southern colonies. It can be pointed out,
as it often is, that 140 of this large number were
college-educated (which meant a certain social
cohesion and presumptuous leadership more than
high technical, intellectual or material qualities).
Ninety were theologically trained, which allowed them
a valid basis for a theocracy, if they could
figure out a proper way of covenanting
among themselves - which they did.
Governor Winthrop had a ship of 60 tons
built by July 1631, and a sawmill was
built at Portsmouth (N.H.) in 1635;
the rivers and streams flowing toward the Atlantic Ocean would
provide many sources of water power,
from Maine to Georgia.
An invidious comparison is invited with the unfortunates who had
gone and continued to go to the Chesapeake Bay area.
So many died in Virginia or returned home.
One remains aghast at the awful poverty
or compulsion that let them face a likelihood of
death by drowning, disease, hunger, or hostilities with
Indians, or maltreatment and a wretched subservience to
an unknown master for half a dozen years
or until maturity, and a prolonged or absolute separation from the
joys of domesticity, such as family,
mate, or children afforded.
But, then, too, possibly the lucky, beloved, strong, skilled, or quick
might survive, with a spread of land in fee simple, a tract stolen from
dispossessed Indians, a possible escape into the forests, rumored gold
mines, envisioned settlements free from the abominations of harsh
authority. Better than suffering in England, begging, starving,
wandering, prison, whipping, sexual exploitation for woman or boy, a
grudging reception wherever given precarious employment, arbitrary
imprisonment, forced service in a barbarous army, impressment into
a buggering navy, or a life at sea.
Over half the immigrant arrivals in America from Britain in colonial
times were indentured servants or convicts. Historians, try as they
might for three centuries to prettify the picture of the early settlers,
have come around to granting it authenticity. It is well, because you
cannot write a prescription for a country's problems without a true
case history; observing symptoms is not enough, especially when
obscured by a false history.
In the years from 1630 to 1700, an estimated 100,000 persons entered
the English mainland colonies, the large majority from England, with
some French, German, Scots, Welsh and Scots-Irish. About three-
quarters of them would be considered of the underclass, as the term has
come to be applied today to some 20% of Americans.
With descendants and some 30,000 Blacks and 200,000 Indians,
they constituted a population of about 500,000.
Comparably, the English-controlled Caribbean Islands
contained 50,000 Europeans and 150,000 Africans.
The wretched conditions of travel and living often killed
en route and upon arrival as many as half of those
who had begun the journey, that is, a 50% mortality rate
(the Spanish death rate seems to have been much lower.)
The outflow from England amounted to about 10,000 a
year from a population pool of perhaps 5 millions,
a higher rate than that of other nations
sending people to the Americas. This may be a
measure of the excitement for adventure, or of greed, but it more
likely is correlated with higher degrees of poverty and
social disorder within the English inner empire.
There were Englishmen who expressed alarm at the outward flow, but
the elite was glad to be rid of practically all of them. The Kings and
Bishops had a strong distaste for Dissenters; the local authorities
couldn't get rid of the poor and criminal elements fast enough. Even
when the Dissenters turned out the monarchy for two decades, they
were pleased not only to see cavaliers take to the sea but also the
Puritans and Levellers who were pressing for too radical a republic.
Sir Josiah Child, a vastly successful London businessman, large
landholder, and despotic Governor of the East India Company,
invented various schemes for putting the poor to work in England, but
when it came to the discharge of people to America, he waxed
eloquent at the opportunity this had been affording for getting rid of
the dregs of the population, people, he said, who would have had to
be supported all their lives, or crowded into jails. This was 1688.
History begs conversion into irony. Would the French and Spaniards,
with their better organized, more rational schemes of settlement, have
been capable of denying ingress to English boats had not the English
lower middle class turned partly into a class of religious fanatics and
had not the lower classes been miserable and brutalized and banished?
Does America owe much of its character even today to England's
insane criminal laws, the casting out of the poor, and the
Was it not of this same large class, perhaps one-fourth of the
population, the underclass, without hope in life, that England also
bludgeoned together the crews of its rapidly growing navy in the
1600's and 1700's? How could the navy sail the seven seas with this
tortured humanity? Slave-driving officers with powers of life and
death over them, for one answer. As High Lord of the Admiralty
frustrated by his admirals, Winston Churchill once jested: "Traditions
of the Royal Navy, bah! Rum, prayers, sodomy and the lash!"
It is neither exaggerated nor partial to say that, for a person
to go to America as an indentured servant meant that
hope for a decent existence had been abandoned.
He and she were the bottom of the very large base of
the English, Welsh, Irish Catholic, Scots-Irish,
Cornish, Manx, and Scottish peoples of Greater Britain.
A gluttonous, selfish, inconscient, stupid and quarrelsome ruling class,
stinking of nepotism, continuously engaged in war or civil strife or
feuds, or about to so engage, could not attend to the direst needs of
its people. Yet such was the helplessness of the people, and the
character of their exploitation, that they could not escape, nor help
themselves, nor revolt except to risk horrible retaliation.
The idea that America was spared the religious strife of Europe is
common but delusive. By the time that Americans became
"reasonably" (never fully) tolerant, Europe, in fact and in law, had
already arrived at the same stage. Every colony had its prejudices and
all the colonies were intent upon destroying the religion of the
Indians: is it not religious warfare to kidnap, bribe, dispossess, and kill
a people whenever possible, all the while proclaiming their inferiority,
wickedness, and savagery and blaming it upon their religious beliefs?
With major precedents in the Florida region under Spanish control
and the Spanish missionary pushes into the great Southwest of the
USA-to-be, and with the French priests hard at work alongside
gunslingers and traders in Canada and the Midwest,
Puritan onslaughts in New England,
coordinated with assaults along the line moving Southwards,
can be regarded as part of a three-pronged attack
against Indian religion and culture.
Amongst themselves, the Europeans were equally uncharitable.
We have mentioned near exceptions - in Rhode Island and
Pennsylvania - in persecution of differing Christians.
Catholics and Jews had to be on the qui vive everywhere.
the Presbyterian Ulster Irish were unwelcome in most places;
Anglicans in New England.
It truly never ceased, from the center to the outermost
reaches of Empire - to the Philippines, to Hawaii,
to Samoa, to Alaska:
Christians, it seems, at least of the Americanized type, could
never let another cult rest in peace. Nor could they
let the non-religious alone.
Beyond New England were cool acquaintances in the colonies of New
York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and points South. The New
Yorkers, I have already indicated, were Dutch and then English and a
variety of others in the more tolerant ports of New York City and
Newark. It had rulers from London for most of the time, no one of
note for the good. One Governor, not content with the usual bribes,
let his wife confiscate the clothing of any ladies dressed to her taste
and himself was a transvestite who walked the ramparts of the town in
the evening dressed in women's clothing. The peasants under the
patrons and the English land-grabbers grew more and
more restless, at one point taking up arms under a
German named Jacob Leisler, to no avail.
Pennsylvania, to modern tastes, would be the best of the lot of
colonies. Founded by William Penn, a radical and Quaker
(a sect contemned by English Church and Court alike
even more than the Puritans) managed to get permissions
from the Crown for land and a free constitution.
Penn journeyed to America, took charge of affairs,
founded the "City of Brotherly Love,"
made fair treaties with the Indians,
drafted democratic constitutions and laws right and left,
and let his weight be felt in affairs of Jersey and Delaware.
For a century the Quakers, from a highly
effective government, ran the colony. By admitting on a
not-quite-equal footing practically all Christians,
even Jews and Catholics, and non-Anglophones as well,
they were able to generate a first-class democracy
with a well-functioning assembly.
New Jersey began as a typical racket, 1664 variety.
The Duke of York obtained a Crown grant to a
huge section of the coastal region (including
Dutch holdings); he gave what is now New Jersey to
two cronies; these expected large profits from land sales.
However, following a politically correct trend,
they set up a representative assembly and promised
religious tolerance. Squabbling over boundaries, possessions, and
jurisdictions took up most of the century.
The area of now-Maryland attracted Lord Baltimore and a band of
Catholics, the first legitimately to settle in English possessions.
They ran Maryland until outnumbered and displaced by Protestants in
a coup d'état, and underwent a mild persecution thereafter.
Delaware came into William Penn's hands.
With slaves and Virginians, Maryland, and for a time Delaware,
both situated on Chesapeake Bay, fell within
the orbit of Virginian plantation culture.
Charles II, in 1663, called back to the Stuart throne upon the death of
Cromwell, granted eight noblemen who had survived the Cromwell
republican dictatorship the whole region from Virginia to Spanish
Florida, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean to own and rule.
Shortly they hired the best political consultant they could find, the
philosopher John Locke, to draw up a constitution for the Carolinas.
This turned out to be, contrary to Locke's progressive reputation, a
prescription for a noble house, a popular house with limited suffrage,
and a governor appointed from England. It did not work well;
it read insanely in light of settlement conditions.
To the South of Wilmington and other settlements of (now) North
Carolina, in 1670, a group of West Indian planters from British
Barbados squatted at the mouth of the largest river system of now
South Carolina, there founding Charlestown, where, before long, they
were joined by sundry French Huguenots, Scots, and Germans. The
Huguenot role, in the North (the Hudson Valley and Boston) as well
as the South (New Bern, N.C., and Charleston, S.C.) was large
relative to numbers, as was the Jewish part, only 3500, by the time
of the Revolution, in Newport, R.I., Philadelphia, in the North and in
Charleston and Savannah in the South.
(Charleston's was a culturally superior mixture from the start and the
town developed into the outstanding cultural center of the ante-bellum
[Civil War] South, perhaps sharing honors with New Orleans, which
fell into the Union a century and a half later with the Louisiana
Purchase, and overlaid the slave culture with a
The colony of Georgia had its piquant story, too, but it was delayed
until the early 1700's. Here, once it appeared that the Spaniards would
not insist upon destroying any settlement, the initiative was taken by a
group of English philanthropists, led by James Edward Oglethorpe. A
first party of settlers was landed at the mouth of the
now Savannah River in 1733,
126 years after the first Virginia settlement.
The same year these were reinforced by
40 Jews whose ship happened in and
who were granted permission to settle. The trustees of the
foundation for Georgia, for that was its form of organization,
promised to defend the territory and Empire
against the Spanish to the South, if needs be.
Their colonists were to be restricted to penniless and homeless
Londoners of promising character. Thus the persistent problem
of the impoverished English underclass was to be solved.
As to what they would do upon arrival,
they were to grow silkworms on mulberry trees
and send the silk back to Britain where it would
command a fortune upon sale there and abroad.
The town of the settlers was planned in every regard,
with the command post, or one could hopefully say,
the civic center, in the middle of the rectangular set of blocks.
An allotment of land would go to each settler as he earned it,
the system of inheritance was to be closely regulated.
No alcohol was to be permitted within Georgia,
there were to be no slaves, and
no religious fanatics were to be permitted entry.
What a noble scheme!
Everything went wrong.
Only some timber, pitch, and plants went out.
The mulberry trees proved to be of wrong species.
An Italian silk expert who was sent in tried his hand at
production and processing, then disappeared into the wilds.
A set of designs of equipment and processes
for silk-making that an Englishman had stolen
in Venice could not be materialized. The men often refused to
work. Many deserted long before their time was up.
Alcohol was soon appearing out of home-made distilleries.
Slaves were sneaked in from South Carolina.
Year after year, more that was novel was abandoned,
the settlements fell into a state of disrepair, and
neared abandonment. The trustees gave back all their rights
to the Crown, having spent more than they
felt they could afford out of pocket, and a new regime, with the
typical vices of the age, came into being.
Early Georgia was a tragedy.
What was not? - one inclines to say.
Not only there, but in most of America,
a great many Americans were in today's parlance
"engaged in the drug trade:" as drug producers,
drug distributors, drug dealers, and drug users.
We can hardly guess at the incidence of trade and use,
as there were no restrictions on the carriage of drugs
like cocaine and opium into the country,
or the hallucinogenic drugs. People were trying
everything that the natives and travelers said might cure
what ailed them or contribute to the meager pleasures of life.
The country was not excited about the problem,
as it is today, but accepted the burden of needed controls
on an individual basis.
The major drugs (and the largest causes of death unto this day) were
alcohol and tobacco. Tied in with these was sugar, used to make vast
amounts of rum, and also employed in the highest degree possible by
every sort of person and culture. Corn whiskey was invented early by
a man named Thorpe, and before long the Southern wilderness was
studded in a thousand places by personal stills.
Coffee, known for the first time,
was soon heavily traded and consumed.
In fact, if one were to journey down the coast
from Maine to Florida, ranging into the western hills,
one would find that half the population
was living from and on drugs: alcohol and tobacco, and
in the occupations concerned with these:
dealing, transporting, slave-trading, slave-holding,
piracy and smuggling, Indian hunting, and all other
criminal activities that could be added to the picture
of a huge social system on the make.
It is a forbidding lesson: between
1607 and 1700, roughly,
starting from a broad spectrum of desires -
the whole of human values one could say --
stretched over nearly two thousand miles and hundreds of
miles in depth, there occurred a consolidation of societies into
oligarchies. The colonies had each its own type of madmen and
fanatics, idealists, who wished and worked for a new world,
but it was all settled into oligarchies
by the end of the century and would
become more so until the Revolution,
which, in one way, was an attempt
to return to the restless womb of the 1600's.
The colony of Georgia was last of the string of experiments in
colonization to be credited to the English.
The seventeenth century was an anthropological
renaissance in North America. Running down
from the St. Lawrence French, the Algonquin, the Iroquois, the
Puritans, the Rhode Island and Connecticut Dissenters, the New York
Anglo-Dutch, the Pennsylvania Quakers, the Virginians, the
Carolinians North and South, the Cherokee, the Seminoles,
ending with the Florida Spaniards: there was a
fifteen-hundred mile series of novel, busy,
crazy, interlocked, interrelated, but autonomous ventures.
Never again would this happen.
With the passage of the 1600's into the 1700's,
cultural uniformity and crystallization would set in.
Cultural differences between early eighteenth century
America and post-Revolution America were,
in important regards, less than those between
seventeenth and eighteenth century America.
For those who like the new and exciting,
injustices on a grand scale and
opportunities to match, changes galore, the
seventeenth would be their preferred century.
It may not be coincidence that the culture
of eighteenth century England, too, was duller
and more conventional than the culture of the preceding century.
One exceptional force began in the second half
of the eighteenth century to play upon the scene,
however, an elite movement, "the Enlightenment,"
more in America than in England.
The mind of Englishmen, no more than any other mind,
could hardly revolutionize itself in the face
of the New World's challenge. The cry to be different
from the old is the most agonized of the age.
Yet ordinary men knew not then, any more than
now, how to be different except by becoming wilder.
Many of the customs, practices and ideas of the settlers
from North to South were medieval, not late medieval,
but early medieval for that matter.
Still virtues of Americans in the 1600's
were the considerable virtues proceeding from the
miserable and mad, the raging peasantry, the
holier-than-thou, the misfits.
Ms Lazarus' inscription carved upon the Statue of Liberty
in New York Harbor, erected in 1886,
inviting in the wretched, yearning, huddled masses,
suits the earliest immigrants better, much better,
than it does the immigrants of the late nineteenth century,
when Bartholdi the Alsatian, using his mother as a model,
was sculpting it. What it does not say
about all of them is more important.
Indeed, it would be well to erase the inscription and
let the Statue speak for herself.