March 11, 2007

Why Plymouth, not Jamestown?

American Schemers

On the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, several new books tell the harrowing tale behind the myth.[T]he tawdry side of Jamestown ... helps explain why its founding has rarely been enshrined as the nativity of English America. As Karen Ordahl Kupperman observes in The Jamestown Project, "This is the creation story from hell." Instead of Thanksgiving, there's the spectacle of starved colonists eating rats, shoes, excrement and each other. One man even killed, carved up and salted his pregnant wife. He was promptly tortured and executed, like many others at Jamestown, a settlement plagued by crime, mutiny and indolence. Rather than grow food, colonists extorted it from Indians. The English ultimately thrived by exporting tobacco and importing Africans. Small wonder that Americans have traditionally abridged Jamestown's story to a single scene: Pocahontas's romantic rescue of John Smith.Jamestown's black history also comes into play:Tim Hashaw provides plenty of direction in The Birth of Black America, which tells of the "Black Mayflower" that brought Africans to Jamestown in 1619. Shipped from Angola, then pirated from a Portuguese slaver, the Africans faced a mixed future in Virginia, which hadn't yet codified slavery.

Just a month before the Africans were sold near Jamestown, colonists gathered to form the first representative assembly in English America. Already, in 1619, a year before the Pilgrims landed, America's founding flaw was evident. A society built on the contrary pillars of freedom and bondage was destined to fracture.
Comment:  I'd say America's fatal flaw first became evident when Columbus decided to enslave or kill the Natives he encountered. As Pastwatch:  The Redemption of Christopher Columbus makes clear, it didn't have to happen that way.

1 comment:

Rob said...

Because a foundational myth needs to be set sometime near the founding. And most Americans trace the founding of this nation back to the Pilgrims. Some trace it all the way to the ancient Greeks.

Even if you take July 4, 1776, as America's founding moment, it would be located in Philadelphia, not Washington DC. I trust I don't need to explain why. ;-)