An American History.

The narrative of the history of America that most of us have rolling around in our minds is rather simple; Columbus crossed the Atlantic, found America in 1492, slave owning colonies cropped up, the Native Indians were less advanced, lived in teepees, and were eventually wiped out, before George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and a few others broke free from the British Empire (or as right winged Americans like to inform me regardless of the debate; “that time we kicked your ass“). But the history of America, and specifically, what we’re taught, is far different, far more astonishing, at times unexpected and complex, and has far more twists than we could ever expect. Here are three largely unknown, yet vastly intriguing stories from American history:

Columbus didn’t discover America. Native Americans discovered Europe.
It would seem that the Anglo-Saxon, Euro-centric view of the the beginnings of the relationship between “us”, and the Natives in America is entirely misinformed. According to a new theory, it seems two Native American ships left Canada, and headed toward Scandinavia, ending up ship wrecked just off the coast of Holland….. in 60bc.
To put that into perspective; Jesus was 60 years from being born, there was no Catholic Church, there was no state of Spain, or England, or Italian States like the Republic of Genoa in which Columbus would be born around 1,500 year later, Julius Caesar was not widely known, Augustus had not been born, the Colosseum hadn’t yet been built, and there was to be no such thing as the ‘Empire’ of Rome, for another 35 years.

In 1470, twenty-two years before Columbus makes his voyage, two Native Americans washed up on Galway Bay in Ireland. We know this, because it was recorded in writing… by Christopher Columbus. In the margins of his copy of Piccolomini’s Historia Rerum, Columbus wrote:

“People from Kayato came toward the East. We saw many notable things, and specifically in Galway, Ireland, a man and his wife. A man and a woman with two logs dragged by storm. A superb creature”.

– Naturally, Columbus thought they had sailed from China, given that he had no idea America existed. But this is clear evidence from Columbus himself, that people that were not from Europe, and had came from the East, landed in Ireland, twenty-two years before Columbus headed west. ‘…With two logs’ is also significant, given that it would suggest Columbus didn’t know what to call it. It wasn’t a boat he’d seen before, but it corresponds perfectly to the hollowed out wood for boats used by Native Americans at the time.

Europe didn’t “discover” the Americas. The Americas were populated with great cities, explorers, wonders, commerce, colonists, government, constitutions, and far more people lived in what would become the US and Canada, at the time, than in Europe. It was they, who discovered Europe.

African-American free men, owned African-American slaves.
Andrew Durnford was one of Mississippi’s most successful plantation owners. His best friend, was John McDonogh, the wealthiest man in Louisiana. Schools in New Orleans still bear McDonogh name. McDonogh’s friend, Andrew Durnford, built his successful plantation using slave power. When he first bought the plot of land from McDonogh, he also bought twelve adult slaves, and two child slaves, to undertake the heavy work of building a sugar plantation. He was notably vicious in his treatment of his slaves. He also happened to be black.

In 1830, over 12,000 African-American slaves, were owned by almost 4,000 African-American free men. Slaveholding was a class unto itself, and by 1830, everyone – white & black – strove to be included in the privileged slaveholding class. This included a number of African-American free men.

It is true, that most African-Americans who owned slaves, did so out of benevolence. Most were family members, bought by newly freed African-American ex-slaves, who wished to protect their family. But a few African-Americans owned slaves for economic reasons. Durnford was one of them. As was Richard Holloway. Holloway lived in Charleston. He owned a slave called ‘Sarah’, along with her two children ‘Annett’ and ‘Edward’. After three years, Holloway – instead of freeing Sarah and her children – sold the family for $945, making around $400 profit on what he originally paid for them. For Holloway – African American – owning African-Americans as slaves was not an issue of race, it was an economic investment. Self interest. Slaves were a product to be bought and sold. Andrew Durnford similarly justified his ownership of slaves, with:

“Self interest is too strongly rooted in the bosom of all that breathes the American atmosphere. Self interest is a la mode.”

– Instead of trying to help to overthrow the system that undoubtedly held his ancestors back so horrendously, Durnford, Holloway, and many more chose to embrace the system, and to use it for his economic advantage.

The unspoken inspiration for the US Constitution.
As independence for the colonies drew close, the question of how to form a government became hot. The obvious inspiration for a democratic (at least, democratic for that particular time period) system ahead of a Monarchy comes from the desire to be free from British rule. The obvious inspiration for a a secular system based on inalienable rights comes from the Enlightenment thinking of time; Locke, Rousseau, Paine. But how to link together sections of land and populations vastly separated from north to south? What distinctive inspiration could be used to bind those people together? Well, it seems the Founders may have found inspiration in the local Native population.

The Iroquois were a loose collection of six Nations, under Confederation. They comprised the Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, Tuscarora, and the Mohawk. They referred to themselves as ‘Haudenosaunee’ meaning ‘People of the longhouse’, which for the Natives, meant several nations, living together, under one house. Each nation lived differently from the others, with different cultural norms, and different languages, yet came together as a government under Confederation, on the basis of cooperation and sharing, noting:

“We bind ourselves together by taking hold of each other’s hands so firmly and forming a circle so strong that if a tree should fall upon it, it could not shake nor break it, so that our people and grandchildren shall remain in the circle of security, peace, and happiness.”

– This new League had a spoken Constitution, ratified close to modern day New York. A model for confederacy of separate nations (or States) already existed, right there, on the doorstep of the Founders. And by new estimates, the Iroquois Confederacy seems to begun as early as the 11th Century. 600 years before the Founding of the United States.
In 1988, Congress passed a resolution noting:

“Concurrent resolution to acknowledge the contribution of the Iroquois Confederacy to the development of the United States Constitution.”

– It was Iroquois leaders such as Canassatego, who urged the States to confederate. In 1744, Canassatego was invited to talk with a delegation in Philadelphia on American and Indian relations. The spokesman for the Iroquois Confederation said:

“Our wise forefathers established Union and Amity between the Five Nations. This has made us formidable; this has given us great Weight and Authority with our neighboring Nations. We are a powerful Confederacy; and by your observing the same methods, our wise forefathers have taken, you will acquire such Strength and power. Therefore whatever befalls you, never fall out with one another.”

– The United States owes much to the system of confederation already established by advanced Iroquois nations, in its founding. Perhaps as much as it owes to John Locke, to Thomas Paine, to the principles of the Enlightenment. The notion of individual rights undoubtedly born out of the minds of philosophers of the Enlightenment. But the premise of separate ‘nations’ working together, under one banner, peaceful and cooperation; came from the Iroquois. Therefore, the Iroquois must share the title of America’s Founding Fathers.

The history of the US is not simple, it isn’t straightforward, it isn’t linear. It is filled with wonderful stories, dark stories, it was a melting pot of ideas as well as people and cultures, it wasn’t a blank slate, and the most widely taught narratives of US history often possess a hidden side that never quite fits the white Euro-centric vision we’re so used to. The history of the US is fascinating. The stories are enlightening. The forgotten figures, without knowing it, would shape the World for the next 250 years.

One Response to An American History.

  1. Arkenaten says:

    What a smashing read.

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