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Don't Know Much about History: Everything You Need to Know about American History But Never Learned (Don't Know Much About...)by Kenneth C Davis
Chapter One Brave New World
Who really "discovered" America?
If he wasn't interested in the Bahamas, what was Columbus looking for in the first place?
Did Columbus's men bring syphilis back to Europe?
So if Columbus didn't really discover America, who did?
Okay, the Indians really discovered America. Who were they, and how did they get here?
If Columbus was so important, how come we don't live in the United States of Columbus?
What became of Christopher Columbus?
Where were the first European settlements in the New World?
If the Spanish were here first, what was so important about Jamestown?
What was the Northwest Passage?
What was the Lost Colony?
When and how did Jamestown get started?
Did Pocahontas really save John Smith's life?
What was the House of Burgesses?
Who started the slave trade?
Who were the Pilgrims, and what did they want?
What was the Mayflower Compact?
Did the Pilgrims really land at Plymouth Rock?
Highlights in the Development of New England
Who started New York?
Did the Indians really sell Manhattan for $24?
How did New Amsterdam become New York?
When did the French reach the New World?
Why is Pennsylvania the Quaker State?
What were the thirteen original colonies?
Few eras in American history are shrouded in as much myth and mystery as the long period covering America's discovery and settlement. Perhaps this is because there were few objective observers on hand to record so many of these events. There was no "film at eleven" when primitive people crossed the land bridge from Asia into the future Alaska. No correspondents were on board when Columbus's ships reached land. Historians havebeen forced instead to rely on accounts written by participants in the events, witnesses whose views can politely be called prejudiced. When it comes to the tale of "Pocahontas, for instance, much of what was taught and thought for a long time was based on Captain John Smith's colorful autobiography. What is worse, history teachers now have to contend with a generation of prepubescent Americans who have learned a new myth, courtesy of the Disney version of Pocahontas, in which a sultry, buxom Indian maiden goes wild for a John Smith who looks like a surfer dude with Mel Gibson's voice. Oh well.
This chapter covers some of the key events during several thousand years of history. However, the spotlight is on the development of what would become the United States, and the chapter ends with the thirteen original colonies in place. Who really "discovered" America?
"In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." We all know that. But did he really discover America? The best answer is, "Not really. But sort of." A national holiday and two centuries of schoolbooks have left the impression of Christopher Columbus as the intrepid sailor and man of God (his given name means "Christ-bearer") who was the first to reach America, disproving the notion of a flat world while he was at it. Italian Americans who claim the sailor as their own treat Columbus Day as a special holiday, as do Hispanic Americans who celebrate El Dí a de la Raza as their discovery day.
Love him or hate him — as many do in light of recent revisionist views of Columbus — it is impossible to downplay the importance of Columbus's voyage, or the incredible heroism and tenacity of character hisquest demanded. Even the astronauts who flew to the moon had a pretty good idea of what to expect; Columbus was sailing, as Star Trek puts it, "where no man has gone before."
However, rude facts do suggest a few different angles to his story.
After trying to sell his plan to the kings of Portugal, England, and France, Columbus doggedly returned to Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, who had already given Columbus the thumbs-down once. Convinced by one of their ministers that the risks were small and the potential return great, and fueled by an appetite for gold and fear of neighboring Portugal's growing lead in exploration, the Spanish monarchs later agreed. Contrary to myth, Queen Isabella did not have to pawn any of the crown jewels to finance the trip.
Columbus set sail on August 3, 1492, from Palos, Spain, aboard three ships, "Niñ a, "Pinta, and "Santa Marí a, the last being his flagship. Columbus (christened Cristoforo Colombo) had been promised a 10 percent share of profits, governorship of newfound lands, and an impressive title — Admiral of the Ocean Sea. On October 12 at 2 A.M., just as his crews were threatening to mutiny and force a return to Spain, a lookout named Rodrigo de Triana aboard the "Pinta sighted moonlight shimmering on some cliffs or sand. Having promised a large reward to the first man to spot land, Columbus claimed that he had seen the light the night before, and kept the reward for himself. Columbus named the landfall — Guanahani to the natives — San Salvador. While it was long held that Columbus's San Salvador was Watling Island in the Bahamas, recent computer-assisted theories point to Samana Cay. Later on that first voyage, Columbusreached Cuba and a large island he called Hispaniola (presently Haiti and the Dominican Republic).
Although he found some naked natives whom he christened "indios in the mistaken belief that he had reached the so-called Indies or Indonesian Islands, the only gold he found was in the earrings worn by the Indians. As for spices, he did find a local plant called "tobacos, which was rolled into cigars and smoked by the local Arawak. It was not long before all Europe was savoring pipefuls of the evil weed. Tobacco was brought to Spain for the first time in 1555. Three years later, the Portuguese introduced Europe to the habit of taking snuff. The economic importance of tobacco to the early history of America cannot be ignored. While we like to think about the importance of documents and decisions, tobacco became the cash crop that kept the English colonies going — where it literally kept the settlers alive. In other words, there is nothing new about powerful tobacco lobbies. They have influenced government practically since the first European settlers arrived.
Still believing that he had reached some island outposts of China, Columbus left some volunteers on Hispaniola in a fort called Natividad, built of timbers from the wrecked "Santa Marí a, and returned to Spain. While Columbus never reached the mainland of the present United States of America on any of his three subsequent voyages, his arrival in the Caribbean signaled the dawn of an astonishing and unequaled era of discovery, conquest, and colonization in the Americas. Although his bravery, persistence, and seamanship have rightfully earned Columbus a place in history, what the schoolbooks gloss over is that Columbus'sarrival also marked the beginning of one of the cruelest episodes in human history.
Driven by an obsessive quest for gold, Columbus quickly enslaved the local population. Under Columbus and other Spanish adventurers, as well as later European colonizers, an era of genocide was opened that ravaged the native American population through warfare, forced labor, draconian punishments, and European diseases to which the Indians had no natural immunities. American Voices
Christopher Columbus, October 12, 1492, on encountering the Arawak, from his diary (as quoted by Bartolomé de las Casas):
They must be good servants and very intelligent, because I see that they repeat very quickly what I told them, and it is my conviction that they would easily become Chr
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