From What Is America?
A Short History of the New World Order by Ronald Wright (2010)
The mythic history we have all soaked up describes the land of the New World as a “virgin wilderness” or “primeval forest” inhabited only by a handful of “wild men” or “savages”. This idea of an empty sylvan America has always had unshakably strong appeal for both the early British invaders and their American descendents – because it brushes aside awkward questions of indigenous ownership and sovereignty.
In the spring of 1524, Giovanni de Verrazzano, a Florentine navigator working for the French king, reconnoitered the eastern seaboard of what is now the United States from the Carolinas to Canada. Whenever he sited good land, Verrazzano found it thickly inhabited by farmers, the people there “confident…beautiful [with] the most civil customs [and] taller than we are”. The Rhode Islanders’ fields stretched inland, he reckoned, for “25 to 30 leagues [80 to 100 miles]…open and free of any obstacles or trees”.
In 1535, Jacques Cartier reached what is now Montreal and was then Hochelaga – or Great Rapids. “More than a thousand people”, he wrote, had gathered at the landing “welcoming us as warmly as a father greets a son. We came to their tilled land and beautiful open fields full of the grain of that country, and on which they live as we do on wheat. And in the midst of these open fields stands the town of Hochelaga, beside a mountain whose slopes are farmed and very fertile and from whose top one can see a long way.”
The French explorer Jacques Cartier visited Hochelaga, located on the island of Montreal, on Sunday, 3 October 1535, which included about 50 long houses made of wood and bark, surrounded by a three-tiered palisade. Cartier described the homes as having several rooms as well as a central space with a fireplace for socializing, with the upper floor used for storing food, while smoked fish was kept in containers on the ground.
The village of Hochelaga was occupied by the St. Lawrence Iroquoians, sedentary farmers who inhabited the St Lawrence Valley between 1200 and 1600 CE. When Samuel de Champlain traveled to the region in 1603, the village of Hochelaga and its inhabitants had disappeared, possibly because of European diseases.
Hernado de Soto, on his way through what are now South Carolina and Georgia, following his arrival in Tampa Bay in 1539, and then westward through Alabama and Mississippi, saw advanced farming polities, independent states and small kingdoms, heirs of the Mississippian Temple Mound culture that had built the great city of Cahokia near modern St. Louis a few centuries before. These people had trading and political alliances, and their wealth was in copper, mica and pearls.
The Mississippian Temple Mound culture existed from roughly 3400 BCE to the 16th century CE, and covered the regions of the Great Lakes, the Ohio River valley, and the Mississippi River valley and its tributaries, including the great city of Cahokia near modern St. Louis.
Cahokia encompassed 2,200 acres and included 120 man-made earthwork mounds over an area of six square miles.
In May 1540, the Spaniards entered a realm called Cofitachiqui, which controlled most of South Carolina and parts of the Smoky Mountains from a capital, Talimeco, whose remains may well lie buried in silt beneath the modern city of Columbia. The ruler was an elegant woman, dressed in fine white linen and carried like an Inca princess on a palanquin (covered litter). “She spoke to the Governor with much grace and self-assurance”, wrote Soto’s secretary. The Spaniards rode through the Lady of Cofitachiqui’s lands “for a hundred leagues [330 miles], in which…she was very well obeyed” and the people beyond Cofitachiqui regarded themselves as her vassals.
Cofitachequi was a chiefdom founded about 1300 AD and encountered by the Hernando de Soto expedition in South Carolina in April 1540.
Sir Walter Raleigh sent kinsmen and followers to secure an outpost in “Virginia” in 1585. Ralph Lane, writing back to him from Roanoke, described the region as “very well peopled and towned”. But in many regions of North America, as in Mexico and South America, plague was already running ahead of the whites themselves, smoothing the invaders’ way. America was no virgin; she was a widow.
The American historian Patricia Limerick stated: “There is no clearer fact in American history than the fact of conquest. In North America, just as much as in South America, Africa, Asia and Australia, Europeans invaded a land fully occupied by natives.”
About 1630, William Bradford, a leader of the Plymouth Colony, began writing a polemical history of his flock which created the myth of good Christians arriving in a desolate land, inhabited only by savages. “What could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men.” Bradford’s work made its way into other books and has shaped white America’s perception of itself for a dozen generations. Tocqueville himself reproduced whole pages from a history of New England published in 1826, unaware that the author had lifted much of it from Bradford verbatim.
Both mainstream Puritans and Pilgrims saw themselves as modern Saints migrating from the Old World to the New (a belief system that would eventually spawn the Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons, in the 1830s). They were the new Israelites, a chosen people on a divine “errand” to transform a supposed wilderness into a promised land.
But their self-serving mythological “histories” were far from the terrible truth of discovery, invasion, occupation, expansion and near-genocidal ethnic cleansing.