Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The English Come to America

This is perhaps less polished than my previous chapter, but I've come to peace with the fact that that's why editors exist. Until I'm under contract and paid, I'm assuming that it's fine to post what I'm working on, especially since it's the reason I'm not writing much here these days.

EDITED TO ADD: I'll only be leaving this post up for a few days, so read it while it's fresh!


…Let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed…
— Richard II, William Shakespeare

The great stories of the past are connected, like puzzle pieces. Sometimes, to understand one part of history, we need to step back to understand what happened first, and why. Then we can use to past to make sense of the present.
Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America, was founded in 1607. But we’re not going to jump in there. To understand the bigger picture of how and why the English settled America, and why the English colonies didn’t always get along with each other, we need to travel back to…

1500. King Henry VII of England was ready to take his place among the great monarchs of Europe. After he had ended the Wars of the Roses by defeating King Richard III in 1485, he had ruled as king of England by right of conquest, not because his father had handed down the crown to him. Even though Henry had married a daughter of King Edward IV, he wanted to establish his own family, the Tudors, as rightful rulers of England.

To do this, he needed to form alliances with other European rulers. Spain was newly united into one strong kingdom under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. In 1489, Henry signed a treaty with Spain that would be cemented by the marriage of his son, Arthur, to Catherine of Aragon, the youngest Spanish princess. Henry was well-pleased. Ferdinand and Isabella were good allies to have, and their empire was expanding. In 1492 they had financed Christopher Columbus’s expedition to find a new route to India, and now Spain was raking in gold and other wealth from the New World.

Henry VII himself tried to get involved in the Age of Exploration. In 1497, five years after Columbus sailed, he chartered a voyage led by the Italian explorer John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto) to see if England could find a shorter northern route to India. Cabot sailed from the port of Bristol to the coast of Canada, but he didn't set up any colonies, and he died during his second voyage. 

Henry VII didn’t spend much time worrying about this. The New World was of less importance than his son’s marriage. Arthur was a tall, handsome lad, and he was Henry’s great hope of bringing stability to England. His very name was a link to Britain’s legendary King Arthur. The pretty princess of Aragon, Catherine, with her pious intelligent nature and her red-gold hair, would be the perfect queen for him. The children were still too young to marry, but they wrote to each other in Latin. The Catholic Tudor dynasty was assured.

If Henry VII had been able to see forward to the next 100 years of English history, he would not have been so confident. Arthur, who could not even talk with his bride Catherine because they did not pronounce Latin the same way, died barely six months after his marriage. Eventually Catherine married his younger brother Henry, who became King Henry VIII when he ascended to the throne. But Catherine and Henry VIII could not have a son, and Henry remembered the lesson he’d learned from his own father: he needed a son to ensure that the Tudors could keep an unquestionable hold on the throne. Catherine’s only surviving child was a daughter, Mary. 

At last Henry decided that he needed a new wife to give him the son he wanted so much. He claimed that his marriage to Catherine was not really valid because she had been his brother’s wife.  Henry had always thought of himself as a good Catholic, and he assumed that  Pope Clement VII would give him an annulment. Clement, however, was unmoved.
When the Pope refused to proclaim that Catherine was not really Henry’s wife, Henry took matters into his own hands. In 1534, he declared himself the Supreme Head of the Church in England. He divorced Catherine, took a succession of new wives in hopes of finally having a son, and began to persecute faithful Catholics. He ordered the deaths of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher for refusing to acknowledge that the king was the head of the Church in England. He dissolved monasteries and distributed their land among his nobles. 

Although Henry was succeeded by his longed-for son, Edward VI, the boy died very young, and Catherine’s daughter Mary Tudor took the throne in 1553. Mary was a Catholic like her mother, and she longed to restore England’s Catholic heritage. In her zeal she executed Protestants as her father had executed Catholics. But Mary died childless and was succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth I. Elizabeth, raised Protestant, persecuted Catholics in her turn. She required anyone holding public office to swear oaths of fidelity to the Anglican Church, and charged fines to those who did not attend official services. Many Catholics began to look for chances to build a new life outside of England.

King Henry VIII’s rejection of the Catholic Church marked a turning point for the English monarchy. His father Henry VII had relied on a complex family tree to justify his claim to the throne; after Henry, battles over the throne centered around religion, not parentage. The Catholics of England would suffer for years to come.

Why did it take the English more than one hundred years after Columbus discovered America to finally stake their claim in the New World? Henry VII died only a few years after John Cabot’s voyage. Henry VIII was too busy getting married to send expeditions to America. Edward VI was only nine years old when he became king, and he was just fifteen when he died. Mary felt that making England a Catholic country again was more important than voyages of exploration, and anyway, she was married to Philip of Spain. She didn’t need to compete with him for the wealth of the New World.

However, Elizabeth’s reign was long and stable. She also had a long-standing feud with the Spanish, not the least because she had turned down a proposal from Mary’s former husband Philip. Spanish ships were sailing across the Atlantic laden with gold from the fantastic cities of America. Elizabeth encouraged English privateers to capture Spanish ships and take their cargo as prizes. But England needed a base in the New World to be able to compete with Spain. 

In 1584 Queen Elizabeth gave a charter to found England’s first colony in the Americas to Sir Walter Raleigh. Sir Walter, the great flatterer, promptly named the entire eastern seaboard Virginia in honor of England’s Virgin Queen. He sent expeditions to Roanoke Island (off the coast of what is now North Carolina) in 1585 and 1587, setting the stage for one of the greatest mysteries of history.

The Roanoke colony was not destined for success. The first group of colonists had to be rescued and shipped back to England by Sir Francis Drake, the great mariner (and pirate). The second group only lasted a few months before they begged their governor, John White, to sail back to England for help and supplies. John White didn’t want to go. The winter storms were beginning to blow across the North Atlantic Ocean, and his granddaughter had just been born — Virginia Dare, the first person of European descent to be born in North America. But the colony had to have protection and food. Reluctantly, White went.

He returned to England at exactly the wrong time for the Roanoke colonists. Elizabeth’s fight with Philip of Spain had come to open blows. Philip’s great Armada was sailing for England, intent on invasion. Elizabeth declared that every ship that could sail must defend England. England inflicted a great defeat on Spain and broke the power of her navy in 1588, but John White could not get back to America to the people waiting desperately for him on Roanoke Island. It was not until 1590, three years after he’d sailed away from Roanoke, that he was able to return with supplies.

No one was there.

The buildings were dismantled, books were scattered, White’s suit of armor was rusting, but the people were gone. On a tree was carved the word CROATOAN, the name of the local natives, and of a nearby island. But the Maltese Cross, the distress signal that White and the colonists had agreed on, was not carved in the tree.

White was frantic to sail to the nearby island and search for his people and his family, but the sailors refused. Bad weather was coming up, and all they wanted to do was to return to England. Years later, other ships came to look for the colonists, but no trace of them could be found. To this day the word CROATOAN keeps the secret of the lost colony of Roanoke Island.

For a time it seemed that failure was all that could come of trying to start a colony in America. Even after the founding of Fort James in 1607 — named for the new King James, and later to be called Jamestown — the newborn Virginia colony was constantly on the verge of collapsing. The gentlemen adventurers who swaggered into Virginia did not understand farming and considered it beneath them. They were in the New World to make money for the Virginia Company, not to do the work of peasants.

Unfortunately for the settlers, what they found in Virginia was sickness, starvation, and a powerful native chief, Powhatan, who didn’t appreciate the arrogance of these newcomers. Little Fort James was poorly organized and badly managed. Captain John Smith took charge, ordering that those who would not work should not eat. The gentlemen grumbled, but they worked. Even so, colonists died at an astonishing rate. In 1610, three years after 214 men first landed in Jamestown, only 60 still survived, and those men were ready to abandon the colony and return to England. Only the arrival of the new governor, Lord de la Warr, who came with supplies, saved the settlement. (The state of Delaware was later named for him.) 

In 1613, Powhatan’s 17-year-old daughter Pocahontas, who had converted to Christianity while being held captive by the English, married John Rolfe. Rolfe had carried to Virginia a small treasure — a cache of seeds for sweet Spanish tobacco, which he’d smuggled off the island of Bermuda after being shipwrecked there. His successful crop proved the riches of Virginia were not in gold, but in smoke: tobacco smoke. The now-wealthy planter fell in love with Pocahontas and married her, uniting the English and the Powhatan confederacy in a rare moment of peace. Now called by her Christian name Rebecca, Pocahontas went to England with  her husband to meet the king. There, amid the pomp and pollution of the Old World, this daughter of the New World fell sick and died at age 21. 

Powhatan himself died not long afterward, ending the fragile peace between natives and English. His tribe decided in 1622 that it was time to rid themselves of the English for good. They planned to kill all the English in one fell swoop. Some natives who had become Christians warned the colonists in Jamestown about the coming attack.  Even so the warriors massacred settlers in the outlying farms along the James River.  330 people, a fourth of the English population in America, were killed.

Still, despite sickness, hunger, and attack, Virginia held on. The smoke-crazed English were snapping up Virginia tobacco, creating a new class of wealthy American planters. England also needed America’s resources, such as shipbuilding supplies like timber, resin, and pitch. Artisans from Germany, Poland, and Slovakia had set up a glass-blowing industry and were exporting their glassware back to Europe. As long as there was money to be made, people would keep settling in Virginia, and Virginia welcomed the new immigrants — as long as they were Protestant.

A new colony was about to make America a land of opportunity for Catholics too.

King Charles I came to the throne in 1625. He was sympathetic to Catholics, being married to the French Catholic princess Henrietta Maria and preferring a Catholic style of worship to Protestant services. A change was in the air. For almost one hundred years, Catholics had been persecuted by Protestant monarchs. Now, Charles began to reverse the trend. He began to crack down on the Puritans, the strictest Protestants who wanted to get rid of all Catholic influence. But Charles was still a Protestant, and there were still plenty of laws that made it difficult to be Catholic in England. Both Catholics and Puritans began to dream of having their own colony where they could practice their religion freely.

Charles’s friend George Calvert, Baron Baltimore, dreamed of creating a Catholic homeland in the New World. He had tried on and off since 1620 to start a colony in Newfoundland (now in Canada), but the weather was too cold for the fledgling farmers. Now he turned his gaze toward the south. Virginia looked like fine farming country, and tobacco was a crop a gentleman could grow. Although George Calvert died before he could found his Virginia settlement, King Charles I granted George’s son Cecil and his descendants a parcel of land north of Jamestown. The new colony was named Maryland. Perhaps that was in honor of Queen Henrietta Maria — no Englishman could argue about a colony named for the queen. But Cecil Calvert had another queen in mind: Mary, mother of Jesus, Queen of Heaven. On the feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 1634 , the ships the Ark and the Dove dropped anchor in Chesapeake Bay, laden with settlers, a doctor, chickens, plenty of wine and beer, and three Jesuits. 

Maryland was not meant to be only for Catholics. Its charter extended religious tolerance to every Christian who believed in the Holy Trinity. The gentlemen who would become Maryland’s first landowners were Catholic, but the workmen, artisans, and servants who sailed with them were mostly Protestant. Neither Catholics or Protestants could deny each other freedom of religion. In that way, Maryland was different from England, the mother country.

In other ways Maryland was similar to England. Calvert and the gentlemen who settled Maryland planned to create estates like the ones that dotted the English countryside. Each estate would have a manor house for the landowner surrounded by fields and workshops. Servants and field hands would live on the estate and work for the landowner. Unlike the early Virginia settlers, the Marylanders were prepared to start farming immediately. They also bought their land from the local Yaocomaco tribe and formed an alliance with them, meaning that Maryland could start its existence without fear of attack. 

Not all was peaceful, however. Virginia did not care to have a colony right next door that welcomed Catholics. Protestants from Virginia took over Maryland’s government and made life difficult for Catholics. The Calvert family was able to gain control again for a short time, but by 1688, the religious strife in England was mirrored again in America. That year, the Catholic King James II was deposed by the Protestant William III in England’s “Glorious Revolution”, while across the sea in Maryland, Catholicism was outlawed. It would take nearly one hundred more years — and an American revolution against England — before Maryland Catholics would be free again to practice their faith.

Maryland and Virginia were both colonies sustained by plantation-style farming. The fertile land of the Tidewater and Piedmont regions was ideal for growing vast fields of cash crops. Tobacco was exported to England, and corn was shipped to the New England colonies, whose rocky soil made large-scale farming less profitable. Tobacco, in particular, stripped the soil of nutrients and required fresh fields to be cleared every few years. All this work — clearing, planting, picking, preserving, packing — required many people to keep each plantation running. At first much of the labor was provided by indentured servants, people who promised to work for a set number of years in order to pay back their passage from England. Indentured servants were not always treated well, but at least they had the promise of freedom at the end of their contract, and some of them became wealthy in their own right.

The earliest Africans in the colonies were indentured servants, able to earn their freedom. Mathias de Sousa, a Portuguese man of African descent who arrived on the Ark as an indentured servant to the Jesuit fathers, even served as an elected member of Maryland’s assembly in 1642. Plantation owners, however, pushed for laws that declared Africans and anyone of African descent to be slaves for life. Plantations brought in money for the colonies, and plantations required slave labor. The Catholics of Maryland — even the Jesuits — were no exception. They wanted to own property, and they wanted their farms to make them wealthy and comfortable, and slavery made that possible. 

Remember that at the beginning of the chapter we said that the great stories of the past are connected, and that to understand one part of history we must understand what happened first, and why. The stain of slavery, and of an economy based on slavery, tainted the colonies from the beginning. As our story unfolds, we will continue to see the terrible price that America will pay for building its prosperity on the backs of slaves.

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