In our continuation of the series on America – Where we came from we explore the discovery of the new world and the ensuing colonization. In response to the challenges of opressive systems described in our last article people began to see the New World as an opportunity that they could only dream of in times past. They took their lives into their own hands to realize that dream into reality.
America – Where We Came From (Article#2)
From the band The Animals
In this dirty old part of the city
Where the sun refused to shine
People tell me there ain't no use in tryin'
Now my girl you're so young and pretty
And one thing I know is true
You'll be dead before your time is due, I know
Watch my daddy in bed a-dyin'
Watched his hair been turnin' grey
He's been workin' and slavin' his life away
Oh yes I know it
(Yeah!) He's been workin' so hard
(Yeah!) I've been workin' too, baby
(Yeah!) Every night and day
(Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!)
We gotta get out of this place
If it's the last thing we ever do
We gotta get out of this place
'cause girl, there's a better life for me and you
When King Henry VIII of England was still an infant an Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus, convinced the Queen of Spain to finance and equip an exploratory mission to find a direct route to India via transatlantic voyage. He was a devout Christian and this effort opened opportunities to spread Catholicism as well as to enrich the Spanish crown. He landed in the outlying islands of North America (now called The Bahamas) in 1492. The landing of Spaniard Juan Ponce de Leon on the mainland of North America (in what is now the state of Florida) set off the largest land grab in world history. The discovery of South America in what is now Rio de Janeiro by another Italian explorer by the name of Amerigo Vespucci (after whom America derived its name) and the proof that the Americas were not part of the Asian continent as first thought set the atmosphere of exploration, discovery and conquer complete.
Soon after these discoveries rich and powerful men including monarchs began financing voyages of exploration. These were undertaken for a number of reasons including such things as searching for gold and other wealth, expansion of sovereign lands and to spread the gospel of the Church. Natives in these new lands lived in essentially Stone Age cultures and were perceived as inferior to the Europeans who had technology far in advance of the native.
The earliest attempts to establish colonies were met with little success. Entire groups of settlers died or simply vanished while awaiting resupply. Colonization was an exceptionally hazardous undertaking for the peasant and lord alike. The decision to drop all that they knew and to embark on a several months’ voyage bound for a wilderness world wrought with danger certainly is an indication of the fortitude of character which must have been present in these people. It is also an indicator of the sense of desperation that was prevalent among Europeans due to the lack of opportunity for the common man.
While history shows that the European did little to successfully befriend and commune with the natives of the new land (in fact the history is riddled with atrocities); the largest portion of these immigrants were true to their Christian values and attempted to not only establish good relations with the natives but also to convert them to Christianity and introduce them to a new way of life.
The first permanent English settlement in Jamestown, Virginia began 115 after the discovery by Columbus. At one time in the earliest history of Jamestown there were as many as 500 residents. However, survival was an exceptional challenge and a hard winter took the lives of 70% in less than a year. In fact, a resupply ship that returned found only 60 people remaining who were starving.
It also turned out that Jamestown was founded in the heart of a native empire. This was a hostile environment that this group was ill-equipped to deal with. Between native arrows and lack of food survival was against the odds.
Prior to this the Spanish had discovered a native favorite in South America. This plant would be a lynchpin in shaping the world and would lead to untold wealth and to wars. This plant was tobacco. The Spanish had maintained a monopoly on the product in Europe and had profited greatly from its new found popularity.
Tobacco seeds from Spain had been secretly smuggled out of Europe and were planted in Jamestown. The seeds took hold and grew well and thus began the American tobacco industry and a new economy for the colonies. In fact, tobacco was the largest export from the colonies for the next 150 years.
Among the immigrants that came included indentured servants from Europe who paid their way to the New World with a portion of their own lives which were paid off in their labor for a given period of time. Essentially these individuals were owned during the time of their indenture bond. Within two years of the introduction of tobacco to Jamestown the first indentured Africans began to come to the colonies. Full recognition of slavery was not recognized until 1654 when the first slave owner in the Americas (a black free man named Anthony Johnson) retained his servant John Casor beyond the term of his indenture and won ownership of Casor in a civil case in court setting the president for slavery.
People began to pour into the New World in droves seeking opportunities they would never have in their own homeland. There was great wealth and resources on the other side of the ocean. There was land to be owned. In Europe there were very few land owners and the general populous had to pay homage to the Lords who owned the land they lived on. (This is the origin of our modern term landlord). For a common man to own a piece of land was considered a fantasy until this moment in time.
Read the rest of the article in our upcoming issue of Surpass Magazine….