The curious historical leapfrog
The case of the missing centuries
Years ago, when I was first asked by a couple of teachers to consider developing a colonial presentation, something struck me as curiously ironic. It was a statement that was said quite innocently enough...
" could you create a colonial show about life during
the Revolutionary War and 1776 and all that neat stuff "
I had already given over 2000 historical presentations on the Middle Ages since the early 1990s, so a colonial show idea seemed like a logical extension of my work. Yet I was intrigued by something in that modern statement. While I have always been interested by all that "1776 stuff, " the irony is simply that it wasn't ... really... colonial --not in the true "working definition" of the word, let alone the common mindset of the age. Aside from the chronological reality that the 19th century was right around the corner by the war's end in 1783 ....to have even considered the mere notion of mustering such a revolution as early as 1750 as some did, implied three things. It suggested that by 1750 the colonies were largely self sufficient in agriculture. It also suggested that by 1750 the colonies were largely self sufficient in industrial and craft areas. And because of those first two factors, it suggested that the idea of 'separation' had been germinating many, many decades before the revolution. Moreover, by the latter 17th century / early 18th century, most so-called 'colonists' did not identify themselves as "colonists"....but rather called themselsves Virginians, or Carolinians by initial association first; or sometimes 'pilgrims' or ''children of Adam' in a religious context were they so inclined. And by 1720, the first centenial of the Mayflower's arrival, we know that the great grandchildren of the first pilgrims had formed their first ever, "pilgrim society clubs" replete with reenacment 'thanksgiving' dinners (and to whom we owe thanks for preserving many original Plimoth colony artifacts!). All this implies that by the early 1700s many people living here, clearly viewed themselves as a permanent and self sufficient people; if only loosely tethered to England by various 'annoying' but normal trade tarrifs that were as much a part of life as death and taxes.
So, I found myself thinking about our founding 'historiography.'
Particularly I began to think about how often the common mindset glosses over nearly 300 years. How is it that we touch on Columbus in 1492 ... then leapfrog a century to Jamestown (1607) or Plimoth in (1620) .....and then jump (again) a full century and a half no less, to all that "1776 stuff"..... as if nothing significant or enduring besides Jamestown/Plimoth happened from 1492 to 1776 ? Its almost as if we had forgotten the critical importance of our first two ~truly~ colonial centuries. It was as if we had forgotten the the people who came to this continent long before Jamestown/Plimoth....or worse, forgotten about all those colonies (that turned into states) that barely recieve mention. Take for example, Maryland. Or Delaware. Or the Carolinas. Or....the vastness of Florida ! I grew up in Northern Virginia and learned about all the English 18th century Virginia which was great...but we were never really taught about the truly remarkable story of the 1634 St Maries colony in Marland -- a mere 80 minute drive from Alexandria, Virginia and notably much closer than Jamestown or Williamsburg. Moreover, in the common mindset, we have neglected huge influences from the French, the Dutch, the Swedes, and Spanish --all of whom had a strong bearing or influence on the English, less we forget the Native Americans too. I suppose my point is that we have often overlooked a rich and fascinating history and culture of the 1500s, 1600s and early 1700s....that period that was truly colonial.
This page will serve as a series of articles and blog essays on the colonial era. I will be linking various blogs and articles here for the benefit of fellow educators. If you would like to subscribe to my historical blogs, please feel free (link coming this week)