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History Corner: Did You Learn This in School?

History Corner: Did You Learn This in School?

Was Christopher Columbus the first European in the Americas?  Nope.  Around the year 1000, Leif Eriksson sailed west from Scandinavia to what is now Canada, spending the winter there before returning to Greenland.  Some colonists stayed there for three years but finding the natives unfriendly, returned home.  Columbus landed in the islands of the Caribbean in 1492.  Columbus died thinking he had discovered the East Indies and that is why he called the people he found there, Indians.  We now refer to them as Native Americans.

Other explorers followed, knowing that there was land to be explored and the one man who actually put this in writing was Amerigo Vespucci, who sailed to South America between 1499 and 1503 bringing back to Europe, exciting tales of the new world.  A mapmaker named Martin Waldseemuller created an updated map, where he named the continent South America in honor of Vespucci.  The name was being used in Europe and it became attached to the North American continent as well.

To some, the Pilgrims were the first to establish a successful English settlement in North America.  Wrong.  In 1607 a group of Englishmen sailed to what is now Virginia, hoping to find gold, silver and copper that had been reported by previous explorers.  The Virginia Company of London funded the trip with 105 men landing at a place they named Jamestown after King James.  They struggled for survival and within a few months, half of them had died.  With the trip taking longer than expected, their rations were depleted.

The colony stumbled along for several years with the arrival of women and children and it ultimately survived with the leadership of Captain John Smith.

They didn’t find gold but with the help of the Native Americans found food sources and the ever so popular tobacco plant, which they harvested in great amounts.  It was sold to England by the ton even though King James was heard to say that “smoking was a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain and dangerous to the lungs.”  BUT it saved the colonies behind.

Getting back to the Pilgrims.  This group of people came to the “new world” in hope of a better life.  (Me thinks the travel brochure lied.) Some came for religious freedom, while some came for land.  Others came as indentured slaves who hired themselves out to work for someone else for 4 to 7 years, to pay for their voyage.  Not a bad idea if at the end they indeed received their freedom.  The Pilgrims were part of a religious group of English men and women who called themselves Puritans, disagreeing with the Church of England with its elaborate ceremonies and decorations.

As the name Puritan implies, well really it states, that they wanted to purify the church and when they fought the rules of the Church of England they were told to shape up or ship out.  Tough talk.  I don’t think it was that blunt but they chose to leave.  One of the members of this new world colony went even further with his doctrine not sharing the strict ideas of the Puritans.  Although Roger Williams helped establish the Massachusetts Bay Colony, he noted that the ideals of the Puritans were for them only and they were quick to whip, jail, banish or even hang non-Puritans.  Ouch.  Although he was well liked, Williams angered other ministers and they decided to put him on a boat back to England but before they could do that, he ran away, founding a new colony, Providence, Rhode Island where religion was truly free with each person choosing his or own religion.

Did you have to learn the names of all 13 colonies in school?  Do you remember them?  Let me remind you.  Of course, the most obvious to stay in our memory bank is Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and maybe Rhode Island.  Close your eyes and try to name the rest. No peeking.  Virginia, New Hampshire, Maryland, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Georgia.  What one did you miss?  I bet it was Georgia.

Many years prior to the Revolutionary War, shots were fired in 1754 with the French and Indian War.  Its title is deceiving because it was the French WITH the Indians against the British.  The European countries claimed the same lands around the Great Lakes, and the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.  Although outnumbered, the French were better fighters than the English with most of the Indians on their side.  The French were the better of two evils because their main idea was to hunt and trap not to colonize.  The English had another idea.  Take over the land, mistreat the natives there and ignore their cultures.

It was 21-year-old George Washington who was sent to Fort Duquesne in Pennsylvania to force out the French as they were on British territory.  BUT they had no intention to leave.  So there.  Washington and his 150 men were defeated and had to retreat.  A year later, Washington and a British General Edward Braddock returned.  Braddock died, and Washington had two horses shot out from under him and he had four bullet holes in his coat.  Enter Betsy Ross…no that’s another time.

The British wouldn’t give up and eventually triumphed in 1758 with the leadership of William Pitt.  The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763 restoring much of the territories belonging to the various countries involved but the cost of the war was extensive giving the French the heave ho from the British territories that caused the war in the first place.  How was Britain going to pay for this war?  Ah, the colonists.  They were reaping the rewards of living in the British colonies so why not let them pay for the war?  Wrong again.  The colonists were not in the war so why make them pay?

The thinking, on the part of King George III and especially the British Parliament was that the war protected the English colonies from a French takeover and the occasional skirmishes with them.  The Sugar Act of 1764 placed a tax on sugar, coffee, wine and molasses.  There had been a tax on molasses since 1733 but due to evasion of this tax by the colonists, Britain beefed up its efforts to force the colonies to buy from the British West Indies instead of the French West Indies.  This and other considerations forced the colonies to cease their lucrative rum production.  Given the increased anti-British sentiment, the Stamp Act of 1765, following the Sugar Act, angered the colonists.  It placed a tax stamp of payment on everything printed on paper, newspapers, playing cards, wills, ship’s papers and other documents requiring paper.

These two efforts to raise money only raised anger and you can see the writing on the wall with my story that the Revolutionary War was not far behind.  How much of this history do YOU remember?

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