The Brave New World. How the Americas influenced European Culture and How Europeans Changed America. Europe Prior to the Renaissance. Europe in 1300 was fragmented, made up of numerous small kingdoms, but relatively unified by faith. The Church in Rome tried to control doctrine.
How the Americas influenced European Culture and How Europeans Changed America
Europe in 1300 was fragmented, made up of numerous small kingdoms, but relatively unified by faith. The Church in Rome tried to control doctrine.
One gain from the Crusades in the late Middle Ages was the “recovery” of copies of the writings of Aristotle, Plutarch, and other ancient writers. The dissemination of these encouraged new forms of learning.
In the 1300s, a manuscript account of a journey to China, written by Marco Polo (left) was read by many scholars and merchants in Europe. While some are still uncertain that Polo ever actually traveled to China, many were excited by his descriptions of the great wealth of the Chinese cities and the cities of the Middle East. Ships from the Italian port cities now began to engage in trade with ports on the eastern Mediterranean, purchasing goods and information from Asia and the ‘silk road’ trade.
Polo’s account of his journey to China stimulated new east-west trade. The Italian cities benefited from this trade because it used the old eastern Mediterranean route of ancient times.
In the 1400s, a group of enterprising businessmen perfected moveable type in a new printing press, which further revolutionized the spread of information in Europe.
In the 1300s and 1400s, new ideas began to flourish, partly because many of the “old” ideas of the ancient Greeks and Romans were being more widely distributed with the growth of the printing press. Petrarch (left), an Italian scholar, wrote numerous poems and essays in imitation of the works of ancient Roman poets and philosophers. Petrarch’s focus on human affairs – as opposed to theology and faith – helped spur a “rebirth” of creative work centered on humanity.
Portolanos were special maps that contained navigation lines – set routes for reaching specific ports or harbors. These were useful only in known waters.
Since there was no specific record of the migration of Asians to “North America” about 60,000-100,000 years earlier, even educated Europeans were unaware of its existence.
10-20,000 natives lived at the mound city of Cahokia in the 1200-1300s. The city and its corn-culture was abandoned for unknown reasons.
Over thousands of years, numerous Native American cultures developed, ranging from small nomadic groups cities in South and Central American, and in the “Mississippian” mound communities near the rivers in mid-North America.
There is little doubt that there were many contacts between the inhabitants of the “American” continents and the inhabitants of the Euro-African land mass prior to the 15th century. In addition to scattered references in ancient writings, experiments by various anthropologists have suggested possible ways in which this occurred.
In the early 1970s, Thor Heyerdahl, a Scandinavian explorer, used a reed boat constructed in ancient Egyptian fashion to cross the Atlantic (boats of similar design have long existed in South America).
Scandinavian records show that several voyages were made from northern Europe across the Atlantic between the 10th and 13th centuries.
Archaeologists have found remains of Norse settlements in Greenland and Newfoundland.
Since the Italian ports controlled the trade from the Middle East, merchants from western Europe began to speculate on the prospects of reaching Asia by sailing around Africa toward India. Henry (left), a prince of Portugal, opened a special school for oceanic navigation on Lisbon, and paid for a number of expeditions along the coast of Africa, trying to find the southern extent of the continent.
In order to interest others in investing in his expeditions, Henry, the “navigator,” encouraged the explorers to return with profitable items from Africa. Among these profitable items was unfortunately groups of slaves.
By the 1480s, several ship captains speculated on the possibility of reaching Asia by sailing west and across the Atlantic. Cristobal Colon, (Columbus) was an Italian seaman who tried to interest England and France in such a venture.
Columbus’s idea was feasible only if the Earth was about 15,000 to 18,000 miles in circumference, an estimate reached by one group of Greek scholars. Fifteenth century ships could not be provisioned for more than about 3-4 months at sea.
In 1492, Columbus persuaded the King and Queen of newly united Spain to pay for a three-ship expedition across the Atlantic. In October, after weeks at sea, Columbus’s sailors sighted land to the west. Columbus assumed he had reached Asia.
While exploring these islands of “India,” Columbus found large numbers of natives, little gold or conventional riches, and few of the trade goods that Europeans wanted. But he returned to Spain convinced he had opened a new route to Asia.
After four explorations of the the islands (i.e. the Caribbean), Columbus still did not realize that he was on the doorstep of a continent unknown to Europe. Others eventually realized it, and one of them took the credit.
In a 1507 publication briefly describing Vespucci’s voyages, the German geographer Waldseemuller wrote “I see no reason why anyone should justly object to calling this part ... America, after Amerigo* [Vespucci], its discoverer, a man of great ability.” * Rendered in Latin as Americus
Americus Vespucci, another Italian sailor, claimed to have explored the coast of a new continent in the south in 1500-1501. Although no evidence of his voyages have ever been found, mapmakers called the new lands “America.” Spain claimed the rights to these new lands based on Columbus’s voyages and the explorations after him.
Most of exploration of the New World for Spain was carried out by conquistadors – literally conquerors -- men who had helped conquer much of Spain from the rule of Islamic caliphs in the 1400s and now sought to gain land, wealth and fame in the new lands across the ocean.
In order to encourage expeditions to the New World, the government of Spin granted “encomiendas” to explorers – grants of land, and the inhabitants on the land. This encouraged abuses and led to slavery. Cortez destroyed the Aztecs through this system.
In 1515, Bartolome de Las Casas, a Spanish missionary, began arguing against the policy of ecomiendas. He argued that Native Americans had souls and thus it was immoral to enslave them. He devoted the remainder of his life to a campaign for the better treatment of the “Indians.” His writings were translated into English in the 1600s, but had only limited influence on how English explorers and settlers treated the native inhabitants of North America.
Yet another Italian seaman, Johan Cabotus, was paid by England to duplicate Columbus’s exploration. Sailing across the Atlantic from further north in 1498-99, Cabot explored the shores of what would become eastern Canada and New England, giving England its own claim.
Some early explorers, like Walter Raleigh (right) and his half brother Humphrey Gilbert thought the New World offered a chance to create a new society free of the Old World’s vices.
Early attempts by England to establish colonies failed. A colony at “Roanoke” on the Carolina coast failed when most of the settlers returned to England after a difficult winter. The group left behind simply disappeared. Plans for other attempts collapsed for want of funds.
Richard Hakluyt, an English promoter of colonies, collected accounts of English explorations and published these in the 1580s in an attempt to maintain momentum for a colony supported by the government.
Two groups of potential colonists were the Pilgrims and the Puritans. The Pilgrims were a Protestant group who had emigrated to Holland, but were considering a further move to American because they found the Dutch culture too “liberal.”
The Puritans were a much larger group. Their leaders were largely gentlemen with some wealth and influence in English society. They believed the Church of England was “too Popish.” Neither the Puritans nor the Pilgrims believed in the tolerance of other faiths (or each other).
The first successful English colony was Jamestown, a purely economic venture by young English gentlemen who hoped to find land and wealth in “Virginia.” With charter from King James I, they landed in 1607 and built a fort along the James River. Few had any experience in exploration or living off the land.
Archaeologists have found much evidence at Jamestown to indicate the importance of defense – remains of pikes (left) and a bullet mold (right) that suggest that John Smith, one of the military leaders was right when he wrote that fear of the Natives was a prime concern.
Smith also described the first winter, when hunger led to disease and death among the first colonists. Remains of Indian pottery at the site substantiate Smith’s accounts of seizing food from local Indians. A turtle shell also shows that the English adopted native diets to supplement their food.
Attempts to grow foods and other crops from English seed largely failed at Jamestown. The colony had many lead and hard years before a Native American plant – tobacco– provided the ‘cash crop’ that the settlers needed to sell for a profit in Europe. Unfortunately, slavery grew along with tobacco.
In 1620, the Pilgrims, having returned to England from Holland, obtained a charter to establish a colony near Virginia. Their leaders deliberately sailed to New England instead to create a separate community in what is now southern Massachusetts.
“covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony”
Because the Separatists had violated the King’s charter by settling further north, it was necessary to create an agreement for the group to live and work together.
William Bradford (left) wrote the most detailed account of the first years of Plymouth colony. He recorded numerous examples of the Pilgrim’s intolerance towards others. When Thomas Morton sailed to New England in 1624, he used liquor to entice the Algonquin Indians to trade for furs:“They ... set up a May-pole,” [Bradford wrote] “drinking and dancing about it many days together, inviting the Indian women [to be] their consorts, dancing and frisking together, (like so many fairies, or furies rather,) and worse practices.”
Miles Standish, the Pilgrim military commander, led an armed party to seize Morton and send him back to England. They destroyed Morton’s makeshift camp and his Maypole.
“Cultural Baggage” is s term used for the cultural habits and values that a group of immigrants brought with them from their old home to their new home – in the case of early American colonists, the cultural baggage was primarily English culture from the 1500s and 1600s.
These early colonists discovered that they would have to adapt their European cultural heritage to the environment of North America.
The Pilgrims would not have survived in the New World without the aid of the local Native Americans aided them. Because English seed did not at first thrive in the soil of New England, the Pilgrims had to obtain food from the natives, and also learn to cultivate local food.
The Pilgrim-native relationship was an example of “cultural exchange.” The Pilgrims learned to grow maize (corn), squash, pumpkins, and beans from the Algonquians and also were allowed to hunt game on their lands. In return the Pilgrims exchanged trade goods (cloth, tools, etc.) for furs trapped by the natives.
The Puritans, another Protestant group, carried out a well- organized colonization of what is now Massachusetts, between 1630 and 1645. Entire communities that were supplied and supported, established Boston and several nearby villages.
Once again, the object was to create a separate, “Godly community of Saints.”
Puritans were no more willing to practice tolerance than the Pilgrims. In the latter 1600s, Puritan communities banned Quakers from living anywhere nearby. Quakers who refused to accept this law were hanged.
Puritans were very strict within their own families.
In the 1680s, Connecticut, a Puritan-dominated colony created as the need for land grew, passed a series of ‘blue laws,” or restrictions on personal behavior. On of the laws permitted parents to ask the courts to execute any of their children who failed to obey the parents.
John Winthrop, the principal leader of the early Puritans in America, wanted to carefully adhere to British law so as to keep the King from interfering with the growth of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. When several of the early settlers wanted to haul down the British flag at the port (because it had a Church of England cross on the design) Winthrop refused, saying that would draw the attention of the British navy.
None of the early colonies was in any sense a democratic society. The Puritans banned Roger Williams from the Massachusetts Bay Colony when his interpretations of the Bible disagreed with the prevailing view. Going south, Williams established the colony of Rhoda Island, which allowed a greater measure of religious toleration than other colonies – and worked to establish friendlier relations with the Indians. But government remained in the hands of a few ‘gentlemen.’
In the middle 1630s, Puritan soldiers virtually exterminated the Pequot Indians after an argument over furs and trade goods led to warfare. The Puritan leaders argued that they had “God’s blessing” to wipe out the heathen Pequots.
Like many other wars to come, other Native American bands helped the Puritans destroy the Pequots – this eliminated a rival in the fur trade and enabled other bands to take Pequot land. Disunity plagued the Native Americans as they faced European expansion.
By the late 1600s, other Europeans were coming to North America in larger numbers. The Dutch Colony of New Amsterdam was seized by the British in 1664 to eliminate a fur trade rival. In 1682, William Penn (right) obtained permission to create the Pennsylvania Colony as a haven for Quakers. But within 50 years large numbers of German families came to Pennsylvania to establish farms
In 1619, Virginia governor George Yardley agreed to allow 2 men from each Virginia borough (township) to come to Jamestown and advise him on how to enforce the law. This was the beginning of the House of Burgesses – the first legislative body in America. But it represented PROPERTY holdings more than individuals.
“THAT the freemen of the said Province shall on the Twentieth day of the Twelfth Month which shall be in this present year One Thousand Six hundred Eighty and two Meet and Assemble in some fit place of which timely notice shall be beforehand given by the Governour or his deputies and then and there shall chuse of themselves Seventy-Two persons of most note for their Wisdom Virtue and Ability who shall meet on the Tenth day of the first month next ensuing and always be called and act as the Provincial Councill of the said province.”
From the Pennsylvania Charter of Liberty, 1682 – the first grant of full religious freedom was also given in this charter.
Before the late 1680s, American population grew from immigration – the death rate was greater than the birth rate.
Necessary skills were acquired through apprenticeships – young workers or indentured servants were trained by working with a skilled craftsman (such as a shoemaker, left) and eventually acquired a certificate or license to practice the trade as a craftsman.
Shoemakers, cabinet makers, home builders, cigar makers, brewers, soap-makers and the like were all skilled craftsmen.
Luxury goods, like fine silver, clothes, wines, books, even glass, was acquired from Europe. Over the years, English trade laws grew to restrict what American colonist could buy from any other country but England. These laws, enforced by the Board of Trade, caused growing resentment, especially from wealthier Americans.
In order to protect English manufacturers, the English crown restricted American manufacturing – iron ore discovered in western Massachusetts could be used to make tools but not fine goods or steel implements.
Colonial traders made fine profits from the complex trade routes between the Americas and the Old World, but resented trade laws.
Colonial ports could build ships, but the government regulated which parts of the world those ships could trade with – eg. Sugar could only be bought from British sugar colonies.
As the British economy improved back home, the number of indentures to America declined. BYt the 1690s, the birth rate had begun to outpace the death rate – now American population began to grow rapidly.
Slavery increased as the number of indentures from Britain declined
As slavery grew in numbers, laws were passed to make it a permanent feature in several colonies
Colonies enacted laws that enjoined other colonies to help apprehend and return runaways – these “fugitive slave” laws became the basis for the U.S. Federal government’s laws for the same purpose – which became a divisive element in the union soon after the American Revolution.
The increase in slavery sparked protests
In the 1700s, John Woolman became one of the first colonists to protest the existence of slavery, and argue that it should be forbidden under British law.
“Now, though they are black, we cannot conceive there is more liberty to have them slaves, as it is to have other white ones. There is a saying, that we should do to all men like as we will be done ourselves; making no difference of what generation, descent, or colour they are. And those who steal or rob men, and those who buy or purchase them, are they not all alike?”
Resolutions against slavery, from the Mennonite community of Germantown Pennsylvania, 1688.
John Eliot, a puritan divine, created special communities for Indians who accepted Christianity. These “Praying Indians” were never really accepted by most colonists, who eventually wanted their land.
In the southern colonies, laws were passed to prevent Black slaves from having close contact with Indians – fearing that the two would united in revolt.
In the 1670s and 1680s, Edmund Andros governed New York by issuing orders and threatening those who questioned him with charges of treason. But when Andros’ successor needed to rasie money, he had to call an assembly to create tax legislation.
In the 1670s, Virginia governor William refused to make war against the Indians, which many struggling tobacco farmers wanted. Nathaniel Bacon, an ambitious landowner, led a rebellion that temporarily overthrew Berkeley.
In 1649, the Puritan-dominated Parliament of Britain executed King Charles I for “treason against the British people.” Many were horrified by this, including philosopher Thomas Hobbes (right) who argued that people were basically corrupt and required a “strong hand” to rule over them.
When the Parliament in Britain drove King James II from the thrown in 1688, John Locke, another philosopher, argued that government was the result of a “social contract” made by enlightened people, who could therefore depose a bad ruler and form a new government (new contract). Some in the colonies used this idea to oppose “bad governors.”
Colonists who were caught smuggling were tried in special “Admiralty Courts” by the British Navy, so one’s neighbors could not help the culprint with a light sentence.
Local newspapers carried a good deal of information about the activities of the British navy, schedules for ship arrivals and departures – which helped the potential smuggler make his plans.
“The question before the Court and you, Gentlemen of the Jury, is not of small nor private concern nor is it the cause of a poor printer, nor of New York alone. No, it may affect every Freeman to deny the liberty of both exposing and opposing arbitrary power by speaking and writing truth.”
A. Hamilton, lawyer for John Peter Zenger, 1735.
By the 1720s the thirteen colonies had become more closely tied to one another by trade and the common experiences of creating “little Englands” in North America.
But as the colonies became more like England in form and manners, colonists also realized that the “American experience” also made them quite different from those back in Europe.
Franklin (1706-1790) was the son a of a soap maker, began his career as a newspaper publisher after fleeing from his brother’s tyranny in 1723. He was also an inventor, philosopher, and politician.
As a founder of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia Library, and the Pennsylvania Hospital, Franklin pushed for the recognition of a developing new society. In “Poor Richard’s Almanac” he argued that colonists were becoming a new people – Americans.