Wednesday, October 27, 2021

NEW NARRATIVE #12: The Lenape, William Penn and 'Culture Clashes'

The southern Lenni Lenape lived in the watershed of the large river flowing into a major bay, both now called the Delaware. Several other rivers, now called the Schuylkill and the Lehigh, were tributaries flowing into the Delaware river not far from the Bay. 'Lenni Lenape,' in their own language, had a double meaning, both 'common people' and 'original people.' It made sense since study has shown they had been there for a very long time, perhaps migrating there some 10,000 years ago, until they reached the end of the land and the Atlantic seacoast.
They called the entire area 'Lenapehoking' , or homeland of the Lenape, after themselves. They resided in small settled villages all along the main river and its tributaries. At the confluence of the Delaware and the Schuylkill were six villages, the two main ones named Pèmikpeka and Nitapèkunk, inside what is now Philadelphia. The villages were matrilineal, each with a male sachem. They cultivated gardens, but also hunted wild game, and gathered fish and other seafood.
Life was not always easy. The Lenape had traditional native rivals, mainly the Susquehannock, encompassing an area from the Chesapeake to the south up through what is now central Pennsylvania and New York to the west. The Susquehannock were related to the 'five nations' of the powerful Haudenosaunee. Our last installment mentioned the Lenape contact with 'New Sweden', but they had also been visited earlier by the 'great canoe' sailed by Henry Hudson, who also probed about Delaware Bay looking for the illusory 'Northwest Passage.' Several families of Swedes, Finns and Dutch had settled among them along the main river.
More trouble was brewing with the Europeans. The 'Zwaanendael Colony' founded by the Dutch West India Company, along the bay in what is now Delaware, simply staked out a claim and nailed a tin sign to a tree to assert ownership. Lenape who had come to trade, not knowing what it was, took it down and made pipes out of it to smoke tobacco. One of the Dutch settlers slew a Lenape chief as a punishment, and all hell broke loose. It ended with all the settlers dead, save for two small boys who lived to tell the tale.
Other troubles were connected with events far away. Charles II had been restored to King of England but found himself in great debt to Sir William Penn the Elder, who had died recently, but the debt was still due to his rebel son, William Penn, who had joined the radical 'Society of Friends,' the Quakers. Very tight for cash, the King took pen to paper and ceded a huge tract of land to settle the debt. It started with lower New Jersey and allegedly stretched all the way westward to the Pacific, but at least to the Appalachians and beyond. With Quaker simplicity, Penn wanted to call it 'Sylvania,' or 'land of the woods.' But the King insisted Penn's name be attached, hence 'Pennsylvania.' John Cabot's little 'Law of Discovery' ceremony in Newfoundland in 1497 had a long reach across space and time, the Lenape's 10,000 years notwithstanding.
The Quakers, as radical democrats with zero deference to hierarchy, even with their pacifism, were having a tough time in monarchist 'high church' England. Even before Penn, some had already sought relief on Turtle Island, but found themselves purged out of the Massachusetts theocracy as heretics, driven into Rhode Island and further southward. Others, in one of Lord Baltimore's more tolerant phases in Maryland, found some refuge along the Chesapeake Bay and even further into what is now North Carolina.
The young Penn, however, was determined to find a solution for the many Quakers still in England. He decided, in effect, to become a settler colonialist 'of a new type' on his benevolent principles. In 1682, Penn landed at an older Dutch settlement of New Castle on Delaware Bay. The area was also ceded to him by the Duke of York, even though York was challenged by Lord Baltimore for the turf. Penn left them the quarrel and headed further up the Bay to where the Schuylkill met the Delaware. He decided this was the spot, gathered up some Lenape, and proceeded to 'purchase' it from them.
It was a 'culture clash' that proved troublesome. Penn proceeded on English notions of private property and the laws of real estate. These were foreign to the Lenape, who saw Penn's 'payment' as traditional gift-giving to establish respect and allowance for joint access to the area and its bounty. They understood tribal boundaries, but permanent and personal private ownership of land made no sense to them.
In any case, Penn marked out the area between the rivers in a grid, named the streets with numbers and tree names, and called it Philadelphia, for 'brotherly love.' Thousands of Quakers made their way to it, along with German Anabaptists and others. The Quakers soon were thriving, and even more diverse Europeans came, pushing the Lenape further westward. And before long even a few Quakers had bought themselves African slaves, as did others with wealth, unleashing a new knot of contradictions. More to come.
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Friday, October 22, 2021

New Narrative #11: The Lenape, New Sweden, and a Socialist Experiment

'Poutaxat' is what the southernmost Lenape people called the large Mid-Atlantic estuary where they lived, and 'Lenape Wihittuck' is the name they gave the large river that flowed into it. They lived much as their northern cousins, the Mohicans. They were a largely settled agricultural and matrilineal society, with longhouses and gardens, but still gathered from the forests and hunted wild game.

The area, which we now call Delaware Bay, after Baron Del A Warr, aka Thomas West, a great-grandson of Mary Boleyn, sister to Ann, the consort of Henry VIII. West was assigned a number of posts in Turtle Island but didn't fare well in any of them. Sickness got the better of him, and he returned to England, not leaving behind much more than his royal name.

The English were far from the first visitors to the Lenape. In 1521, Francisco Gordillo and a slave trader Captain Pedro de Quejo (de Quexo), representing Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Fifth (King of Spain and Austria), toured the area but left little than a new name, 'St. Christopher's Bay.' They were followed by a Dutch explorer, Cornelius Jacobsen May, who left his name on Cape May, the seaward edge of the bay. He actually managed some trade with the Lenape there but moved north to New Amsterdam and the Hudson River.

Next, it's Sweden's turn. The Kingdom of Sweden, recently expanded after success in a few European wars, decided to try its hand in taking a piece of the New World. Two ships, Kalmar Nyckel and Fogel Grip, set sail and landed in 1638 in Delaware Bay. They set up Fort Christiana, named for their Queen, near to what is now Wilmington, DE. They unloaded both Swedish and Finnish families in the area, and also further up the Jersey side to the river, staking out Fort Elfsborg.

Despite the forts, the settlers in New Sweden were far from militarized. In a way, it worked to their advantage. They were compelled simply to trade with the Lenape, and come to agreements about land use amicably. The Finns built their homes as log cabins, much as they had back in Finland, and it is sometimes claimed they were responsible for 'inventing' them for the New World. Perhaps a good many settlers copied them, but the Cherokee and other native peoples had log cabins far from New Sweden.

In any case, New Sweden was thriving and growing. But from the beginning, the Dutch were annoyed by the Swedish colony on land they assumed belonged to them. In 1655 Peter Stuyvesant sent several ships with militia to take them over. Given the settler's weakness and lack of powder, the skirmishing ended quickly, and New Sweden was absorbed into New Netherlands. On the ground, though, it meant little, as Swedes and Finns continued to arrive and settle all around the eastern edge of the bay and up the Delaware River. But Sweden decided to let it go, as not worth another war.

Our story wouldn't be complete, however, without a mention of Pieter Cornelisz Plockhoy, a Dutchman, some claim as 'the father of modern socialism.' Plockhoy had devised a plan for a cooperative settlement near Ft Christiana, where worker-members would divide their labor according to their skills, run the project themselves, establish a six-hour day, and equally divide the profits each year. It was set up at Hoorn Kill on the Delaware River, near Swannendaal (New Castle). It reportedly did rather well until 1664, when the English took over New Netherland, including the former New Sweden, changed the name to New York and New Jersey, plundered and looted the coop settlement, and sent Plockhoy off live with Quakers, in what is now Philadelphia. More to come.
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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

NEW NARRATIVE #10 The Mohicans, Henry Hudson, and New Netherlands

Around the turn of the millennial, 1600, the 'Muh-he-ka-neew' people (Or 'Mohican', which translates "people of the continually flowing waters"), had been living and thriving for centuries along the long river valley flowing into the Atlantic. They had a string of small settlements, comprised of small-to-medium-sized longhouses, each with gardens of corn, beans, and squash. Game and fish were plentiful, as were a wide variety of nuts and berries. They also knew how to tap the sap from Maple trees and render it into syrup and maple sugar. They traveled and traded along the river with canoes, which could hold up to 14 people, along with a cargo of goods.
They named the river 'Mahicanituck' after themselves, although it would soon become known as 'the Hudson' after Henry Hudson, an English navigator with a mixed crew working for the Dutch Republic and their Dutch West India Company. Living on the west side of the river were the Munsee, their close cousins and a subset of the Lepape, whose territory stretched down into what is now called the Delaware Valley. The Mohicans stretched northward to their main concentration, 'Pempotowwuthut-Muhhcanneuw,' or what is now called the Albany area. It was also a border zone where the Mohican bumped into the domains of the Mohawk to the West and the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) to the North.
The Mohicans were a matrilineal society, with each village run by a council of female elders. The councils chose a male Sachem, both a spiritual and military leader, but whose position could be revoked if he didn't work out well. There had been conflicts with both the Mohawks and the Iroquois, but at this time, relations were peaceful.
The Mohicans knew about the 'Great Canoes' and bearded men from across the Ocean, men who were willing to trade goods with near-magical qualities--metal axes, knives and pots, fine cloth of bright colors--for provisions and animal skins they considered rather commonplace. They heard about one version, the French, from the Iroquois, and another, the English, from the peoples around Cape Cod. The French may even have had a small trading post near Albany, deserted at 1590.
In 1609 Henry Hudson encountered the Mohicans all along the river he was exploring. In his ship's log are numerous accounts of the natives paddling out to his ship, the Half Moon, eager to trade. They mainly brought Maize, called 'Indian Wheat' by Hudson, along with furs and other foods. Hudson gave them what he called 'trifles' and 'trinkets' for the food and provisions, but the harder goods of metal for the furs. Most of the exchanges went well, but Hudson noted that one armed boat he sent out came back with one dead Englishman with an arrow through his neck. They buried him ashore and had a few more clashes with canoes of Mohicans letting their arrows fly at the Half Moon. Hudson returned with gunfire and won those rounds. With a load of furs, he made his way back to Europe, landed in England, and immediately reported to his Dutch sponsors, the Dutch West India Company (DWI).
The DWI had been active in the New World for some time as slavers and traders in and around the Caribbean and had resources at hand. In 1614, they sent several ships back up the Hudson, and created Fort Nassau near present-day Albany, staking out the entire Hudson Valley, along with Long Island to the north and what is now New Jersey to the south, as 'New Netherland.' Thus the Dutch, too, took a slice of 'Turtle Island.'
Where the Hudson opened to the sea, the Dutch set up a fort on 'Nut Island,' what is today's Governor's Island. In 1625, however, Peter Minuit, the third governor, decided Manhattan (also the Lenape name for the island) was a better spot, and 'bought' it for the legendary $24 worth of trinkets. (Actually, it was 80 guilders, and worth several thousands of dollars in today's money).
The Dutch tried their hand at setting up feudal estates along the Hudson. As well as Hollanders, They dropped off shiploads of Walloons and French Huguenots to be the farmers and lower classes for wealthy landed 'patroons.' They also brought African slaves to Manhattan, both to sell them and put them to work building a walled encampment (where its northern edge, Wall Street, got its name). It's also how what is now New York City got a polyglot, mixed population from the beginning.
As the Dutch expanded, they pushed the Mohicans eastward into Connecticut, and some westward, to be killed or absorbed into the Mohawks, who then became the main fur traders. The battles and defeats are sketchily and romantically depicted in 'The Last of the Mohicans,' both the novel and ensuing films. The remnants of the tribe wound up in a reservation in Wisconsin, although new claims are being made in New York state in current times. In the end, the British took over and 'New Netherland' became New York. But that gets us ahead of the story. More to come.
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Saturday, October 16, 2021

NEW NARRATIVE #9: Squanto, the Plymouth Colony and King Phillips War

The story of Plymouth Colony in the ‘New England’ sector of ‘Turtle Island’ is an odd case where history really gets weird. Not only does it move in switchbacks and spirals, but some parts also seem like the creations of Hollywood screenwriters of spy yarns, romances, and costumed adventure stories. Some of parts of the story we learned as children are even true, but at the expense of a context ‘for adults only.’
The story begins in 1600 with a young man, named Tisquantum of the Patuxet tribe, living near what is now Plymouth and Cape Cod. The Patuxet were a subset of the Wampanoag people, who covered a wider area in what is now Rhode Island and Massachusetts. If you think ‘Tisquantum’ sounds like ‘Squanto’ of our elementary school Thanksgiving tales, you’re right. It’s the same guy.
One tale has Tisquantum captured in 1605, along with four other young men, by an English adventurer, Captain George Weymouth. ‘Squanto’ is taken to Spain and traded off to Sir Ferdinando Gorge, where he works a short time, escapes to England, learns the language, at gets a job on a fishing ship headed for Newfoundland. Once there, he heads back to his people near Cape Cod. There is no hard evidence to prove this story, save for a claim by Gorge, who did hold several natives traded to him by Weymouth.
What is true is in 1614, an English ‘explorer,’ Captain Thomas Hunt, attacked the Patuxet tribe. He ravaged and looted them, taking several captives, including Tisquantum, back to Spain and selling them. Tisquantum managed to escape to England, where he did learn the language and some sailing skills, and in 1619, got on a crew headed back to the New England area.
When he did reach home, however, he found his Patuxet tribe entirely wiped out by diseases that followed Hunt’s attack. Tisquantum was a member of the priestly-warrior strata of his tribe, and mourned their loss as the ‘last of my people.’ He went to live with the nearby Wampanoags.
The story now flips back across the Atlantic to Holland. A large number of English religious dissenters, known as the “Brownists,” had taken refuge in Leiden, but given their intolerant and cantankerous ways--militant opposition to all things Catholic--they had worn out their welcome. They bought two ships, the Speedwell and the Mayflower, to take them to Virginia. The Speedwell proved unable to make the voyage, so ‘the Saints’ as they called themselves, gathered a smaller contingent, and joined a more secular grouping called ‘the Strangers,’ and took sail.
The trip was horrific. The Mayflower was designed for cargo, not people, and the hold became squalid and disease-ridden. Several died along the way, but one was born. Driven far off course by storms, they wound up far from the extreme northern reach of 'Virginia' (what is now New York harbor), and were required to disembark at Cape Cod and build shelters of the ruins of the old Patuxet village. They barely survived by finding and looting Indian cornfields near to them, as well as fish and game.
But the ‘Saints’ were still in a very bad way, and dying off. Just at this point, straight from central casting, entered Squanto, who proclaimed ‘Welcome, Englishmen!’ in a clear version of their own tongue. The saints and strangers were amazed and divided as to whether he was an angel or the devil, but what followed is partly well known. Squanto took pity and helped them to survive, and at very early spring, taught them how to use fish to grow the ‘three sisters’--corn, beans, and squash--along with other survival skills. The next year they held a ‘thanksgiving’ feast. So without this tangled tale, there would have been no Plymouth colony.
Squanto’s main role soon became interpreter and diplomat between the Saints and other Native tribes. There was mixed Native opinion as to what to do about the steady trickle of English settlers. Some wanted to wipe them out altogether, correctly assessing they would soon want everything. Others including Massasoit, a major sachem of the Wampanoag, were willing to consider coexistence and trade. The English kept pressing for more land after Squanto died of an illness, and by 1649, Massasoit agreed to a ‘last straw’ concession of some 14 square miles to Myles Standish.
Massasoit soon died, and by 1662, his second son, Metacom, took charge. Metacom either took or was given the name ‘King Phillip', and he eventually tired of English encroachments and began an all-round resistance, known as ‘King Phillip’s War.’ But by this time, the English numbers and resources were too great, and the Native peoples retreated to distant areas, Metacom set up camp and held out for a number of years in the great Assowamset Swamp in southern Massachusetts. He was finally killed by the English forces in 1676. His body was quartered and hung from the trees. More to come.
(Note: one 'source' used here was the National Geographic two-part film, 'Saints and Strangers.' Despite some bias and Hollywoodisms, it gets many things right, and is worth watching.)
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NEW NARRATIVE #8: Powhattan, Jamestown and Tobacco

In 1607, three English ships-- the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery—made landfall in a country called Tsenacommacah. They picked a spot on a river, now called the James, that flowed into a bay, now called the Chesapeake.

Tsenacommacah was about 100 miles by one hundred miles areawise, and the home to six tightly united indigenous tribes, loosely aligned with about 30 more tribes. Collectively, they were called the Powhatan, and their chief leader also went by that name. (His given name was Wahunsenacawh). They numbered around 15,000 in 1607 and were a subset of eastern-Algonquian speakers.

They had been visited earlier by the Spaniards, who called them the ‘Ajacan.‘ The Spaniards staked out a claim for the Chesapeake area they called the ‘Province of Axacan,’ from 1560-70, but the Spanish effort failed to take root.

Coastal Native peoples left few records of what they thought about the Europeans on early encounters. One thing fairly common is their noting that the Europeans smelled very bad. The Native peoples were in the habit of bathing regularly, sometimes daily.

(The Europeans for some reason thought bathing ‘unhealthy’ and only did it two or three times a year). The Natives also found them rather ugly, with unruly facial hair and beards, with sickly wan skin. They were also puzzled by the seeming inability of some of them to work, while others had few skills about how to provide proper food for themselves.

No matter. They also had an upside view. They admired the ‘great canoes,’ one tribe even naming their builders ‘the wood-eating people’ for the amount of timber that went into a ship. They desired nearly everything made of European metal. Even teapots could be cut up for arrowheads. Brightly colored cloth and bead wares were also big pluses, as was alcohol. Guns and horses were awe-inspiring. Since all groupings of Native peoples had both friends and adversaries in other groups, the weapons, and the Europeans themselves, were often viewed as a ‘new tribe’ one might use in alliances against others.

From the English viewpoint, all of the Chesapeake area belonged to them, due to their 1606 Royal Charter for the Virginia Company. The peoples already living there were to be made royal subjects, removed or killed. The problem was the English only numbered 100 or so, and were on the verge of starvation much of the time. Captain John Smith had to put a gun to the head of the ‘gentlemen’ among them thinking work was beneath them, unless they worked at least six hours a day growing food. The ‘gentlemen’ assumed their main task was to stroll about gathering up gold and enslaving natives as servants. What food the settlers couldn't buy from the Natives, they simply stole. A few times, the Natives helped them out of pity.

In the early years of Jamestown, Powhattan could have readily wiped them out. Instead, he opted for an on-and-off-again war of accommodation, called the First English Powhattan war. He would fight in self-defense and punish the English for killing his people when they encroached on Native lands. But he wanted to keep them as a source of rare goods and as a potential ally. This is the context of the famous half-myth, half-truth story of Powhattan’s daughter or granddaughter, Pocahontas, taking pity on Capitan John Smith and later marriage to John Rolfe. Powhattan saw this as a linkage of two tribes and ended the state of war. At Rolfe’s instruction, Pocahontas converted to Christianity, changed her name to Rebecca, and moved to England, where she born him a son, Thomas Rolfe, in 1615. She died of disease and never returned to Virginia, but her son did.

John Rolfe’s main contribution, however, was the colony’s economy. Always near collapse since its main crop was a lousy version of tobacco, Rolfe stole some seeds of a premium, sweeter variety from Trinidad. It thrived in the Virginia soil and was quickly in high demand back in Europe. But growing it took some care, and hence there was a high demand for labor.

We’re now at 1619. Powhattan has died the year before, and an English privateer ship has arrived with ’20 and odd’ Angolans stolen from a Portuguese slave ship. The Angolans were purchased and put to work in the tobacco fields with the indentured servants. The next decades are fairly well known. With more slave and indentured labor, the tobacco economy boomed. Two more wars were fought with the Powhattan tribes (often including Jamestown alliances with other rival tribes) pushing them back from all the shore areas and fertile land. ‘War capitalism' was giving birth to more advanced and even more deadly versions. More to come.
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NEW NARRATIVE #7: New Albion, Roanoke and the Queen's Pirates

It's time to bring England back into our story, or as it was called after 1707, Great Britain. As noted, John Cabot landed on Turtle Island back in 1497, but nothing much came of it.

When it came to empires as the 1600s began, England was a minor league team compared to the Spanish and the Portuguese. Their only big conquest back then was the Kingdom of Ireland, which became a client state in 1542. But England was an island nation, skilled at building boats and sailing the seas. And Queen Elizabeth was determined to expand her domains, especially at the expense of Spain.

Francis Drake became her chief instrument. Drake was the first of twelve sons born to a commoner, a religious-minded farmer, who became a clergyman attached to the Navy. Drake grew up working on ships, plying the trade between England and the European mainland. He soon got a small ship of his own, and set out on a more profitable career, robbing slaves and other booty from Spanish and Portuguese ships, and selling the goods at a tidy profit. He thus became a slave-trader and a pirate or, to use the polite term given to pirates who stole from the Queen’s rivals, a ‘privateer.’ The deal was the Queen got a 50% cut.

Drake and his various crews had quite a time in the Caribbean. They engaged what some have come to call ‘war capitalism,’ raiding ships and towns for the gold and silver the Spanish had stolen from the Native Empires or mined with slave and indigenous labor.

Sometimes they had so much loot it was too much for their ships, and then buried it on various hidden beaches, giving rise to many tales. (Elizabeth’s cut on one load was half as much as her entire income for the year from all other sources.) Drake raided towns on the Isthmus of Panama, since the stolen treasure from the Incas was brought overland there for reshipment to Spain. One story has Drake climbing a tall tree on a high hill so he could see the Pacific, spurring his desire to go beyond the Caribbean.

In 1577 the Queen sent Drake to make trouble with the Spaniards along the Pacific coast. So he followed Magellan's path and made his way down the coast of South America, around the Cape, then up the other side, raiding Spanish settlements in Chile, Peru, and Mexico. In need of supplies and a good harbor to repair his ship, the Golden Hind, he decided to skip Southern California and go further north. In 1579, he stopped in Coos Bay, Oregon, but finally settled on Point Reyes, just north of what is now the Bay Area. There he could turn his ship on its side and make repairs. He liked the place and met with a few of the Miwok people living there. He decided to claim it for the Queen, read his ‘discovery’ speech, nailed an inscribed brass plate to a tree, and called the area ‘New Albion.’ It didn't count for much since he left no settlers. The Brits still used it later for their arguments for possession of Oregon.

Drake made it to the Spice Islands in the East Indies, around Africa and back to his home port of Plymouth, England in 1580, loaded with spices and Spanish treasure. The Queen was quite pleased, and in April 1581, made him a knight, hence Sir Francis Drake. Now rather wealthy as well as a lesser noble, he settled into an estate, Buckland Abbey. Who says crime doesn’t pay?

The Queen wanted more than treasure. She wanted her own settled colonies in the New World. She pushed another of her courtiers, Sir Walter Raleigh, who got his cousin, Sir Richard Grenville and a partner, Sir Ralph Lane, to set one up on Roanoke Island, North Carolina, in 1585. She also sent Drake back to the Caribbean to make more raids, and on his way back, he attacked and burned the Spanish settlement of St Augustine in Florida, before making a final stop at Roanoke. Drake replenished the 100 or so colonists, but took most of them back to England. Signals were crossed with Grenville, who soon arrived with more colonists and supplies. John White was in charge of Roanoke, but he too returned to England for more supplies. White managed to return in 1590, but found the settlement deserted, save for the carving of ‘Croatoan’ on a tree, the name of a nearby island and Indian tribe. Hence the Queen’s first effort became the renowned ‘Lost Colony.’ But it was soon to be followed by Jamestown and Plymouth. More to come. Read more!

NEW NARRATIVE #6: New France and the Fur Trade

It's time to turn to other European powers, starting with France. We've established St Augustine, Florida, and Santa Fe, New Mexico as the first permanent European settlements in what is now the USAmerican part of 'Turtle Island' or North America.

Jacques Cartier is the explorer who gets the main credit for carving out 'New France' in 1534 for King Francis I. But we should also mention Giovanni da Verrazzano, who made the trip in 1527, also for Francis I. Verrazzano cruised the coast from Cape Fear in North Carolina up to Newfoundland, making a few stops to talk with the Lenape, Wampanoag, and Narragansett peoples before heading back. He was mainly looking for a route to China and thought it might be the Pamlico Sound in North Carolina.

Jacques Cartier efforts were more serious. He made three voyages, extensively taking stock of the entire region from Newfoundland to New England, but especially the St Lawrence River and Quebec, which the native peoples also called the area. At the bay into the St Lawrence, he also stopped and planted the proper French banners, erected a tall cross, and read the pompous speech claiming all the river's lands and lands of the minor rivers that flowed into it for the French King.

During his three voyages, Cartier largely ignored what would become the main wealth the French took out of the region, the fur trade. He was obsessed with two things: the route to China and ‘cities of gold' along the way. He was also likely impressed with the strength of the St. Lawrence Iroquoians. A subset of the Haudenosaunee, which translates into ‘People of the Long Houses,’ who held sway in much of what is now Eastern Canada and New York state.

Cartier’s ships were icebound for the winter months at one point in his second voyage, and his crew nearly died of scurvy. They were saved when the Iroquoians taught them to use the bark of the aneda evergreen tree to make a concoction with vitamin C.
With Cartier’s prodding, the Native people started telling him a tall rale about the ‘Kingdom of Saguenay’, a city to the north and west loaded with gold, diamonds, and ‘people who can fly.’ (It seems Native peoples throughout North America, whenever they wanted to get rid of explorers, told them stories of ‘cities of gold’ if they just kept going further to the northwest. The Europeans always seemed to fall for it.) Cartier had to show something for his efforts, so he kidnapped a number of Natives to take back to France, along with a batch of iron pyrite and quartz, supposed ‘gold and diamonds,’ but worthless.

Cartier can be credited with the first French settlement in North America, Fort Charlesbourg Royal near today’s Quebec City, in 1541. But it failed in two years, due to the resistance of the St. Lawrence Iroquoians.

The Native peoples around the St Lawrence had pretty much figured out what the French were up to with their cross and flag-planting ceremonies. They wanted no part of it, and at one point, amassed 1000 or more warriors on the river bank to greet the newcomers, giving them an idea of what they were up against. On the other hand, they were drawn to the goods offered from trade, especially colored cloth and anything made of metal. Later, weapons, gunpowder, horses, and alcohol became important. So they were willing to deal.

Thus the first permanent French port town was a trading post, Tadoussac, at the confluence of the Saguenay and Saint Lawrence rivers, in 1599. A naval officer, Pierre de Chauvin de Tonnetuit, and a merchant, François Gravé Du Pont, got the credit. This site remains today, mainly as a tourist attraction.

The major work of developing New France, however, fell to Samuel de Champlain, the nephew of Du Pont. Champlain founded the colony of Acadia, with the town of Port Royal, and today’s Quebec City. He explored the Great Lakes, and made extensive studies of the various indigenous people. It was his work that set the stage for what was a bit different about the French. They became more interested in extractivist colonialism than the settler variety. They wanted an ongoing subaltern relationship with the Indians as the source of furs, rather than extermination to grab land for massive immigration from France and elsewhere in Europe.

Champaign was governor of New France in all but name, but since he wasn’t a noble, Louis XIII never assigned it to him officially. But he carried out the work of setting up the fur trade in Quebec until he died in 1635. More to come. Read more!

NEW NARRATIVE #5: Cortez, Mexico and the Enslaved Proletariat Mining Silver

The mark left on the New World, or Turtle Island, by Hernan Cortez, left Ponce de Leon in the dust. Born a lesser noble with dim prospects, he headed to Hispaniola and then Cuba as a young man. Bogarting and elbowing his way upward, he received what was called an encomienda, a designated area of land with the command of all to non-Christian labor upon it. This was typical of all the nobility and many of the military who had migrated, and they put it to use to make their fortunes. Cortez used his allotment to work himself into a position to make a military invasion of what was the Aztec empire against the orders of Cuba's governor.

We all know the next part fairly well. Cortez impressed the first two native peoples with his horses and guns and thought they might use Cortez against the local rivals. So Cortez defeated one group after another, until he had gathered a considerable force, fought his way into Tenochtitlan, got Montezuma to agree to meet him, then put the Aztec ruler under house arrest. Cortez proceeded to take over the region and killed Montezuma along with his two chief underlings. This made Cortez head honcho, more or less, of what he called 'New Spain' with many subordinate states. But the Spanish king made Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar the governor of New Spain, with Cortez in a secondary position.

No matter. Cortez maneuvered his way back to the top. But what is interesting to us is how did, apart from looting Aztec royalty, Cortez and others like him make their money? The answer is silver, much more so than gold. Central Mexico had lots of it in the hills, in ore seams that reached the surface. Unlike gold, silver ore had to be treated and processed several times to leach out the silver. Moreover, the seams went downwards, requiring long shafts up to 600 feet.

This required a lot of labor. All was done by hand tools, wooden ladders, ropes, and headbands. It required a class of miners, made up of drafted Indians, enslaved Africans, and when they weren't enough of these, more Indians were recruited paid a wage. Cortez himself owned dozens of mines and hundreds more by other Spaniard settler-colonizers. Up to 5000 miners were forming the mixed slave and wage proletariat of New Spain. And as workers often do, they waged battles and strikes to improve their conditions. Sometimes they were killed and replaced. But since the work required some skill, sometimes they won a few actions. If you want to write our labor history, this is one good starting point.

The key point is there was constant pressure to find more slaves. This was made difficult because the successor to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, the young King Charles II, and Marianna, his regent mother, were trying to outlaw slavery in the Caribbean and New Spain, to make new 'Catholic vassals' of the peoples. Only about 10% were actually freed. But excuses had to be concocted to enslave new peoples.

So next we find one Juan de Oñate y Salazar, a young conquistador of the late 1500s who married Cortez's granddaughter. He gathered up a small army and headed northward, to subdue a new area, the 'New Kingdom of León y Castilla,' later known as New Mexico in what is now the United States. In 1598, he crossed the Rio Grande and pressed on until he ran into a relatively large collection of Pueblos, the adobe city of the Acoma peoples. Oñate raids them for food and tries to capture slaves but meets resistance. It turned into a full-scale war, and the Acoma, only 500 left, surrendered. To punish any who won't be enslaved and work, he gathers dozens of young men and chops off one foot (some reports say he chopped off their toes).

Oñate took his troops far beyond Santa Fe, exploring and capturing native peoples into what is now Oklahoma and Texas. Eventually, news of his cruelties caught up with him, and in 1608, he went back to Mexico. But he's still remembered. When Hispanic New Mexicans recently tried to commemorate him with a statue, indigenous New Mexicans wanted it removed. Someone cut off one foot of the statue's horse where he was seated. Some memories stick around.

Some 80 years later, the Pueblo people's organized a general uprising and drove the Spaniards out for 12 years. Its leader was named Po'pay, and the revolt is often named after him. Today's New Mexicans have a statue of him in the U.S. Congress. More to come. Read more!

NEW NARRATIVE #4: Enslaved Tainos Miners and Ponce De Leon's Florida Raids

Columbus and a cohort of enslavers and settler-colonialists didn't come to the Caribbean for sightseeing. They wanted wealth, and lots of it, for themselves and the Spanish Court. Without much immediate gold or spices to be taken, Columbus enslaved and sent back people. First, he sends a few dozens, then a batch of 400 or so, in horrific conditions on board the ships. While the Court at first accepted them as curiosities, Queen Isabella didn't like dealing in slaves herself, so she turned them out to be sold in the local markets.

Where she queried instead, were the spices, gold, and jewels? The Spaniards on Hispaniola noticed some natives with small leaves of gold worn as earrings. Where did it come from? High up in the mountains, in the streams. They took a party to show them, included how to dig a trough in the water, sift the mud, and eventually, a fleck or two of gold appeared. The native Tainos liked the stuff, but not anywhere near the madness that overtook the Spaniards.

Herein is the source of much evil and suffering. To condense the story, the native Tainos, by the thousands, were turned into a slave proletariat on hundreds of makeshift gold mines, squeezing a good deal of raw gold out of the hills. The human cost was significant. After a year in these conditions, the native workers, according to an observer at the time, were 'walking corpses.'

We're told the Indians died from epidemic diseases to which they had little resistance. True, but only a partial truth. They were first beaten in warfare, then reduced to slave conditions and deprivations, then worked nearly to death, and then, very weakened, succumbed to Europe's pathogens. So the disease theory of depopulation can often mask more than it reveals.

In any case, the Taino were dying in droves, and the Spaniards needed more slaves for digging gold and diving for pearls. They tried seizing a people called 'Caribs' on outlying islands, but they were too fierce. The tale was told that they sliced open their captives and ate their flesh. Whether true or not, it kept the Spaniards at bay. It also got back to the Queen, who was trying to write a law against slavery. She wanted the Indians to be her 'free vassals' and converted to Catholicism. But she allowed three exceptions: a native could be enslaved if 1. they were cannibals, 2. they were captured in a 'just war,' and 3. they were bought from other natives for whom they were already slaves.

Obviously, the exceptions became the rule, with one departure. Natives brought to Spain and able to get a decent lawyer-a number specialized in the field-might win their freedom. But not likely across the ocean.

The mainland was said to have many people for enslaving, so the pressure was on. The first to rise to the demands was Juan Ponce De Leon, who we all know as the guy who claimed Florida while searching for the 'Fountain of Youth.' The 'fountain' quest was all myth and hype. His real aim was to seize people, load them on his boats, and make them slaves on Hispaniola and other islands. He succeeded and returned to Spain to be made governor of Puerto Rico. Back in the West Indies, he invaded Florida again, but this time was seriously wounded in battle with the Calusa people. He managed to make it back to Cuba and died there, and was later buried in Puerto Rico. There were two more invasions, with vastly different outcomes. We'll get to them next time. Read more!

New Narrative #3: The Basques Fish for Cod, Columbus Arrives in Indies

The indigenous peoples along the North Atlantic were not unfamiliar with Europeans even before Columbus and John Cabot. These days we all know of the visits of the Norse and Leif Erikson, even their settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland around the year 1000, and more probable camps down to Massachusetts. But after a decade, the Norse retreated.

More regular but less known were the Basques, who frequently hunted whales and fished for cod. Again the Catholic church had a hand in it, forbidding the eating of meat every Friday and dozens of other holy days. Thus there was a hot market for fish of all sorts, especially for the upper crust. Whale meat and oil were also in high demand. A lot of this in earlier years was caught in European waters but they were being over-plundered.
The Basques, being excellent fishers, sailors and whale hunters, also kept their mouths shut, as best as they could, about the location of the new unplundered fishing waters west of Iceland, from Labrador and Newfoundland, all the way down to Massachusetts.

They had a settlement called 'Red Bay' in Canada near Newfoundland, used mainly for rendering whale blubber into oil and salting down the Cod for the return voyage. Some Native peoples recall contact and trade with these fishermen, but none of it was extensive or permanent. They were most impressed with metal tools and colorful cloth, along with the size of the Basque 'canoes' and the beards on men. And as noted earlier, save for the English who fished with the Basques, the English Crown largely ignored the matter until the late 1500s.

So that leaves Spain as the principal early and deadly intruder into 'Turtle Island.'
As we know, Columbus landed in 1492, and he named the place 'San Salvador' in the Bahamas. What is less known is exactly which island it was. It's still debated. The people who lived there, the Taíno, (see graphic) called their home 'Guanahaní'.

In December 1492, Columbus also landed in Hispaniola, also home to the Taíno. He left about 30 men with the wreckage of the Santa Maria to form a colony, after seizing a dozen or so Taíno to take back to the King and Queen of Spain as slaves. Columbus had no scruples about brutality toward 'heathens'.

When Columbus returned to the 'colony' on his second voyage, he found it empty, save for a few dead bodies of his men. The story goes that while seizing women and gold jewelry, the men fell out among themselves. A Taíno chieftain, named Caonabo, gathered an insurgent force against the harsh treatment and wiped the Spaniards out. Later on, the Taínos themselves would face genocide, but from the very first years, we can see 'wherever there is oppression, there is resistance.' But let's not get too far ahead. Next is Spain enters 'Turtle Island' proper, the North American continent.  Read more!

NEW NARRATIVE #2: The Pope and the 'Law of Discovery'

In movies, books and paintings, we've all absorbed the scene of Columbus, or John Cabot or another European ship captain with his armed thugs, sometimes with a priest, planting a flag or banner, and making a proclamation. In many cases, they had little idea about where they were--the northern buffer regions of Cathay? Japan? If they ran into the people who lived there, they didn't understand the languages, even as they read something aloud.

So what were they doing? It was a proclaiming of the 'Doctrine of Discovery' based on a set of three 'Bulls' issued by the Pope in Rome that made the land and peoples they were standing on now under the ownership and sovereignty of whatever kingdom who financed them. They only had to know two, maybe three, things. 1. The native peoples were heathen; 2. They were previously unknown in Europe; and 3. they were not part of a class-divided social order, subject to kings or princes of their own. Since the last one was hard to determine, it was often ignored.

What was the reason for this 'Doctrine?' In the early 1400s, the Islamic world was making it hard for the kingdoms of Christendom to trade with the far east via the Silk Road, the Red Sea and other routes. The pressure was on to find new trade routes. Henry the Navigator went to work for the Portuguese king, taking over the Canaries, working his way down the African coast, finding gold and ivory, and finally making it around the Cape into the Indian Ocean. Columbus, on the other hand, started claiming islands beyond the Azores for Spain. So Spain and Portugal clashed, and took it to the pope. To shorten the tale, his Holiness drew a line down the middle of the Atlantic--everything to the West was Spain's, to the east, Portugal's. That's why Brazil largely speaks Portuguese.

But what about the rest of the Kingdoms of Europe? Were they cut out? No, there was a loophole. They could claim lands 'unknown' to Portugal or Spain. An early rival was John Cabot, working for English merchants with some help from Henry the VII. His first trip failed to make it, but the second, around 1497, got him to what most think is Newfoundland. He got on the beach, planted the English banner, read his little speech, walked around for about 100 yards, found a vacated native campsite, then got back on the ship and headed home. He corresponded with Columbus, comparing notes, and correctly concluding that 'Turtle Island' was unknown to Columbus, so bingo, North America now belonged to the English king. Except John Cabot died somewhere on his third voyage, and the new king, Henry VIII, was too busy marrying and divorcing, and breaking with the Pope, to care that much about 'the new found lands.'

To our modern ears, the 'Doctrine' sounds weird and dead. Not so. It's not only embedded in ongoing international law; it's also, thanks to Thomas Jefferson and an 1820s Supreme Court ruling, part of our law. It was recently cited by none other than Ruth Bader Ginsberg in a ruling she made against the Oneida tribe of native peoples. But Charles Mills, in his 'Racial Contract,' makes the key point about the Papal Bulls. They marked the turning point where the Christendom of Europe became the motherland of 'superior' people noted for their white skin, and the rest of the planet had no rights they were bound to respect. Next: Europeans carve up Turtle Island. Read more!

A NEW NARRATIVE #1: The Civilizations of 'Turtle Island'

I'm going to start a series of posts featuring interesting items about us and our country. I'm not a historian like Howard Zinn or Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz or many others. I doubt I have a book in me anywhere near their standards. But I do have a pile of notes and ideas to share. We can just see where it goes. I'm especially inspired by Charles W Mills, the philosopher who just passed on. His 'Racial Contract' is a mindblower and eye-opener. It emancipates our minds in a major way.

So I want to start with the 'New World' or 'North America' before the European conquerors and settlers arrived. Right away, Mills would tell me even the names are wrong, since these are European names. It matters, because the continent wasn't a 'wilderness.' It was full of people and villages, from nomadic camps to major cities, some large and more modern than those in Europe. Agriculture was everywhere--corn, beans and squash--and the forests were managed, full of trails and roads No one is quite sure how many people were here, but 100 million is a number that pops up. Their social orders ranged from small equalitarian tribes to major feudal orders. One thing is certain: they were not 'savages,' 'wild' 'heathen' or any other nasty subaltern name those from Europe would give them. Truth be told, they were at least on a par, if not better in some ways.

So what did they call the continent? It depends. Some had names for parts of it, like 'Aztlan,' for what today is part of Mexico and the US Southwest. But more than one grouping used several terms, that roughly translate as 'Turtle Island.' That may seem odd, but if you get into the origin myths many had in common, it makes perfect sense, especially to them. So that's what I'll try to use, and even if I fall into 'the new world,' or 'the Americas,' I mean Turtle Island. Here's a map that might get you thinking about it in a way that's outside 'the racial contract'. Next we'll get into the 'Doctrine of Discovery.' Read more!

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