Years ago, I worked as a congressional staff member on the U. S. budget. Based on that experience I was invited to teach a graduate course on the U. S. budget at the local college. I was to teach about the American budget and tax law.
Teaching about the U.S. budget is challenging, because the federal budget isn’t a budget at all. It isn’t legislation. The budget is a resolution–a philosophical statement of priorities- a sort of wish list. In contrast, Congress raises revenue and spends it through appropriations bills and tax laws. By the time tax and appropriations committees complete their work, not much is left of the original proposed budget resolution.
The U. S. Capitol where the Congress Meets
The First Legislature and the First Finance Laws in North America
To teach the course I had to decide where to begin. Since I’d been swamped by research on early Virginia (see The Wealth of Jamestown and The Wealth of Virginia), I turned to my notes on the first House of Burgesses. Meeting in 1619, before the Mayflower sailed, this was the first legislative body in English-speaking North America.
According to a “great charter” designed to end military rule and establish civilian government for the colony, two burgesses were elected from each of eleven settlements. They met in the only building sufficient in size to hold them, a small wooden Anglican church in Jamestown. The graves of four early Virginia leaders were recently found at this location.
Budget and Tax Actions of the First House of Burgesses
People interested in history are very fortunate; the first House had a speaker who evidently never said anything, but kept notes on the first meeting. The first burgesses convened on July 30, 1619, an inauspicious choice for an opening day in Virginia. It was so hot that one of the burgesses died of heat stroke.
The assembly adopted the provisions of the great charter, which stated that “And that they might have a hand in governing themselves,…a general assembly should be held yearly once, whereas to be present the governor and council with two burgesses from each plantation freely to be elected by the inhabitants thereof; this assembly to have the power to make and ordain whatsoever laws and orders should by them be thought good and profitable for the colony’s subsistence.”
For three days, the assembly converted various Virginia Company of London regulations into laws. For example, they adopted rules for land tenure, and considered proposals for bettering relations with the Powhatan Indians. They established the Anglican faith as the official religion of the colony. Importantly, every burgess gained the right to initiate legislation. Above all, the body decided it was to govern the colony, and not simply pass laws proposed by the company and/or the governor.
The First Spend and Tax Bills
To govern the colony the assembly decided to consider a sort of budget. Their new rules and regulations came with a price tag and the assembly believed in balanced budgets. Consequently, to cover its own costs, the assembly decided to raise revenues. The assembly debated the first American budget and tax law.
Virginia in 1619 had no currency and no banks. Tobacco was the medium of exchange in the colony . Factors (wholesalers) who bought and sold tobacco in the international market set the price of tobacco,. which varied according to market conditions. Meanwhile Virginia tobacco already was being shipped to Europe on a regular basis.
Tobacco in the Field
On the fourth and last day of the assembly, the burgesses passed the first North American tax law. This required that every man and servant older than sixteen pay one pound of their best tobacco to the colony to pay for the services provided by the assembly’s speaker, clerk, and sergeant-at-arms during the legislative session.
The First Tax Dispute and the First Labor Strike
Two burgesses were denied their seats in the first assembly. These were Polish glass makers and operators of the only manufacturing enterprise in the colony.
Colonial Blown Glass
The Poles were not English-speaking and not Anglican; they were Catholic. The Poles promptly called a labor stoppage. Today, we’d call it a strike. Only after they’d been granted their right to vote did they go back to work. They also agreed to train people in the craft of glassmaking. Under this agreement, the Poles became subject to taxation.
This was how government finance and the budget began in Virginia : the first American budget and tax law went into effect.
An Old Accounting Joke
Spending and taxes have always required accountants, and jokes about accountants are very old. Here is one:
“A man piloting a hot air balloon discovers that he has wandered off course and is hopelessly lost. He descends to a lower altitude and locates a man on the ground. He lowers the balloon further and shouts, “Excuse me, can you tell me where I am?”
The man below says, “Yes, you are in a hot air balloon, about thirty feet above this field.”
“You must be an accountant,” says the balloonist.
“Yes, I am,” replies the man. “And how did you know that?”
“Well, says the balloonist, “what you tell me is technically correct, but of no use to anyone.”
The man below says, “You must be a manager.”
“Well, yes I am,” replies the balloonist. “How did you know?”
“Well, says the accountant, “you don’t know where you are, or where you’re going, but you expect my immediate help. You’re in the same position you were before we met, but now it’s my fault.”
Years ago, I wrote a short article for a local on-line newspaper, entitled “Governor Andros, Christmas and New Year’s Day.” The piece tried to provide some historical context for our holidays, and Williamsburg, where I live, is steeped in early history.
I’m not sure who read my first piece or why, but it has always bothered me that I published it without doing proper research. I have since done quite a lot of reading about the period and have published four historical novels that rest on the facts that I’ve discovered. While my novels don’t mention religion in history and holidays, Gov. Andros is an important character in my first, The Wealth of Jamestown.
Cover, The Wealth of Jamestown
This being New Year’s Day, I’ve decided, finally, to correct the record. Thus, this piece is a long time New Year’s resolution for me.
I never questioned the history related in my first piece. I comfortably simply repeated what historians claimed. Now, after much work, I realize that historians of the eighteenth century and earlier served the people who paid and employed them. They arranged the facts to project the elite’s agenda. The story about history and holidays first related about Gov. Andros, repeating these historians, was incorrect.
The Truth about Edmund Andros
My first article described Governor Andros as follows:
“Edmund Andros (1637-1714) served, at various times, as royal governor of New York, New Jersey, New England and Virginia. He descended from the feudal aristocracy, was a strong royalist with powerful connections at the king’s court in London, and one of the most reviled and despised of colonial royal governors.”
Sir Edmund Andros. Rhode Island State House collection.
Born in 1637, Edmunds Andros came from the island of Guernsey. His father, of low-level nobility, served as Bailiff of Guernsey and Marshall of Ceremonies to King Charles I. The king’s Marshall of Ceremonies, a military figure who appeared in full dress uniform, organized the ceremonial greetings for visitors to the royal court. As a result, Edmund, the eldest son, received his education in London at court along with the other children of the royal household.
The Andros family, as royalists, supported the Church of England in the English civil wars of the seventeenth century. They suffered much, as forces loyal to Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell besieged Castle Cornet where the Andros family lived on Guernsey for nine years.
The Andros Family and Oliver Cromwell
The Andros family, though not actively religious, supported the king and the king’s religion. Most importantly, they upheld the old order, with the emphasis on feudal honor and duty among respected military leaders. They opposed Cromwell not on the basis of religion, but because he radically opposed the old order. Cromwell replaced the king and appointed himself as Lord Protector. He was anti-bishop, anti-Pope and anti-King. Cromwell and his rump parliament beheaded King Charles I in 1649.
In 1649-50 the Andros family escaped Cromwell’s siege. They sailed from Guernsey to Jersey and from there to Holland. In Holland, Edmund’s mother joined the court of the Queen of Bohemia, the sister to the deposed and beheaded King Charles. Edmund’s father became part of a court in exile and his uncle served as captain of the exiled Horse Guards.
As a teenager, Edmund befriended William of Orange who lived in Holland, as well as Mary, daughter of Charles I, who William later married. William and Mary became monarchs of England after the removal of King James II by the parliament in 1689.
Edmund Andros, Colonial Magistrate
When Charles II returned to power in 1660, Edmund Andros came back to England as a member of the Royal Militia. Over the next twenty years he built a distinguished military career. Though not a university graduate, he had strong diplomatic skills and could speak several European languages, including French, German, Dutch and Danish. He conducted a number of diplomatic missions as a skilled negotiator.
In 1674, Andros’ father died, and Edmund became Bailiff of Guernsey. By then he’d married, but had no children. He became a dedicated colonial governor and administrator in Barbados, New York, and New England. King James II knighted Andros for his work in achieving a treaty with the Indians while Andros served as governor of New York (1674 to 1681).
In 1681 colonists in New York charged Andros with financial irregularities and favoritism and he was recalled to London to stand trial. Once home in London he didn’t stand trial and instead returned to North America with a promotion: Governor of the Dominion of New England, a territory stretching from Massachusetts to New Jersey. At the time, if he was despised by anyone, it was by Puritans loyal to the beliefs of Oliver Cromwell. In London, Edmund Andros was highly respected and honored.
History and Holidays: Governor Andros and Christmas
In 1582 Pope Gregory decreed January 1 as New Year’s Day, but the British Empire (which included the American colonies) did not accept the new calendar until 1752. So, Christmas in the British colonies remained a stand-alone holiday, though it lasted for twelve days, from December 25 through January 6. New Year’s Day came two months later in March.
The British pursued many disputes with the Pope and Catholic monarchs of Spain and France, including not accepting the Gregorian calendar. Kings sat as heads of state and heads of religion, completely intertwining politics and religion. Royal governors took strong positions on religious issues like holiday celebrations. History and holidays form part of the backdrop to European religious warfare of the time.
The Puritans of New England disapproved of the celebration of Christmas, and banned it from Boston from 1659-1681. Andros. as governor of New England in 1686, revoked the ban and also revoked the ban on festivities on Saturday nights.
Puritans detested Andros for these acts. In addition, he limited individual colonial legislatures to one meeting a year, and used his powers to overturn certain colonial laws and customs. After all, he was Governor of New England. not simply of the historical individual colonies. Connecticut despised him so intensely that his name is still excluded from the state’s list of colonial governors.
Overthrow of James II
In April 1689 the parliament overthrew King James II and Andros attempted to escape New England dressed as a woman. He was caught when someone spotted his boots beneath his dress. Once again, he was sent back to London for trial. On arrival in London, he was immediately released again, and later returned to the colonies as Governor of Virginia (1692-1698).
Andros had been a good Anglican all his life. He’d built and supported Anglican churches throughout New England, New York and the Jerseys. By the time he got to Virginia, Andros had terrible memories of dealings with the Puritans in Massachusetts.
Andros, like many others of his generation, remembered the horrors and bloodshed over differences in religion during the time of Oliver Cromwell. Andros wanted to keep religion out of politics as much as possible. For him, the defense and economic strength of the colony overrode all other issues.
After six years of peace and strong economic development Andros retired as Governor of Virginia in 1698 . He’d never used his position as governor to amass property as many other colonial governors had before him. He retired reasonably well off, but not wealthy.
Conclusions about Governor Andros
My first article stated:
“The tale of Governor Andros leaves us with a few thoughts on the New Year. He certainly had many opportunities to succeed, but failed every time. Was he repeatedly sent back from London to the colonies, every time without trial, because his supporters wanted him out of London? Did he receive the first “golden parachute” on North American soil?”
Andros died in 1714 at the age of seventy-six. Toward the end of his life, he saw the end of the war of the Spanish Succession, with the conclusion of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Over the course of that war some 400,000 people were killed in Europe.
Sir Edmund Andros, in his lifetime, had seen peace only in Virginia. He lived to see the Act of Union in 1707, which brought Scotland into the United Kingdom. He’d lived an honorable life and was recognized in death for his accomplishments.
Andros as a Model Chief Executive
Andros was buried with honors with a marching retinue of sixty-six men each carrying a white branch light. They were followed by twenty men on horseback, and six mourning coaches, each pulled by six horses. He was buried at St. Anne’s Church in Soho, a building destroyed by the Nazi blitz of London in World War II.
Historians wonder where George Washington got the idea that he could refuse being a king and instead serve out a legally set term of office. During Washington’s lifetime, the rest of the world consisted of monarchies and empires based on the idea of the divine right of kings.
Washington didn’t have far to go to find a model. Edmund Andros had served as governor of Virginia. As the local chief executive, Andros codified local laws, enforced them, maintained defenses, and avoided dealing directly with issues related to religion. He allowed and didn’t interfere with holiday celebrations. He didn’t use his office to plunder, and opposed absentee land ownership. After six years he voluntarily retired to go back to his farm in Guernsey.
Religion, History and Holidays: a Final Thought
“I once wanted to become an atheist, but I gave up…. They have no holidays”. (Henny Youngman).
Why do people care about history? What do they think knowledge about the old days will tell them? Men and women look at history a little differently. They imagine what the world might have been for each of them.
After several years as a docent at Jamestown Settlement and fielding questions from people from all age groups and parts of the country, I think I understand what we, both men and women, want to learn about history. Jamestown Settlement is a living history museum commemorating the arrival of three English ships in 1607.
Children learn the history: warfare, Pocahontas, starvation, lots of murky action. Jamestown Settlement is a park, a fort, an Indian village, and a dock on the James River holding replicas of the three ships. Children enjoy playing outside where chickens and wild turkeys roam and crafts are demonstrated in the Indian village.
But adults don’t come to Jamestown simply to entertain the children. When they enter the museum they ask questions. They want to know where they fit into the mosaic that makes up American history. Did their ancestors arrive in Virginia four hundred years ago? Unlikely, in physical terms, for most people asking. But they still feel an affinity with the first settlers; somehow they feel a connection.
Susan Constant docked on James River
History and the Need for Women
The first settlers were young men and boys who spent a lot of time fighting with everyone, including themselves. After all, they came to fight, and thought they would fight the Spanish. Sometimes they succeeded in killing each other. These people didn’t have descendants.
So when does American history begin? In my opinion, it happened when the first young settlers realized that to survive, they couldn’t rely on rescue ships from the mother country. To thrive in the new world, they needed to build more than a lonely fort. They needed a place to live and begin families. For that, they needed women.
In the beginning, the only women around Jamestown came from the native tribes who lived in the area. Archaeology tells us that native women did a lot of the cooking in Jamestown fort. Historians estimate that about a third of the original settlers who arrived on the first ships married Indian women.
Indian Cooking Site outside Jamestown Fort
After a hundred years or so, with substantial intermarriage with the Indians and the arrival of some women from Europe, Virginia developed a family structure. The wealthy landowners created plantations on which they raised and sold tobacco. There were very few towns; religion was observed in small parish churches paid for and controlled by local parishioners who lived on plantations. Though the colony received a charter to establish a university in 1622, Virginia didn’t get around to accepting that idea until 1693.
Virginia tobacco was highly prized in the mother country and all over Europe, and Virginia planters became wealthy. From 1619 they were also self-governing by an elected House of Burgesses. The mother country sent over governors who were advised by an appointed Governors Council; the more raucous elected House of Burgesses passed all legislation, including tax bills.
Women in Colonial Virginia
This is all basic stuff, but think. What and who were represented in the Virginia House of Burgesses? After about a hundred years the colony numbered about fifty thousand people. Two representatives were elected from each borough and they, all men, represented the plantations.
The plantation was Virginia’s basic unit of society. It contained everything that was necessary for life and the beginning of a family structure: the plantation raised the food, prepared it, made the furniture and the tools necessary for the crops, and sold the product. It also provided security from bandits and incursions by foreign tribes. A representative of a plantation spoke for everyone living there: rich, poor, male, female, free, indentured or slave.
Tobacco brought wealth and nice houses located on the rivers from which tobacco was shipped. Tobacco traded internationally; Virginia credit purchased many products for the use and enjoyment of the plantation residents. It also paid for tutors for the children.
Because the men went out to the fields and served in the local militia, Virginia plantations often were run day-to-day by women. Women frequently outlived their husbands and powerful, wealthy women operated in international trade. Women were important participants in deciding who their children should marry, and Virginia plantation society featured close family ties. Many members of the Governor’s Council and the House of Burgesses were closely related. It was a government of cousins who knew each other well.
History Continues: Women still Watch out for the Children
Is that so different from what we have today? Women still write a lot of the checks and run most households. They have the children and raise them. They also run a lot of small businesses, as they did in colonial Virginia. When a tourist visits Colonial Williamsburg he and his family can eat in a number of restaurants in the colonial area. Historically, almost all of them were owned and operated by women.
Women exercised their property rights early, and generally they did so to protect their children. Jamestown Settlement’s museum displays a legal document from the 1650s which describes what today would be described as a prenuptial agreement. In it, Mrs. Hannah Bennett Turner Tompkins Arnold states that she will marry her third husband, but that certain parts of her acreage will be set aside for her children. She buried three husbands and kept her farm and property together for her heirs by legal deed.
This is all detailed to a certain extent in my book, The Wealth of Jamestown. The star of that book is, of course, Sarah Harrison, daughter of a great planter, who in her marriage ceremony to the Rev. James Blair, clearly stated “No obey” when asked if she would love, honor and obey him. From that, the plot thickened.
Women didn’t often get their names and dates recorded, but they were there. We’d have no history without them.
Pirates and privateers influenced early American colonial history from its beginning. The original colonies depended on trade for survival. For example, in Virginia, the first large colony, trade involved the sale of tobacco in exchange for virtually all manufactured goods.
Mercantilism ruled the day. European countries attempted to monopolize their trade for the benefit of home countries. Royal authorities licensed ships and shipowners had to pay a fee for the right to operate. English trade with Virginia was financed through a system of credit against the following year’s tobacco crop. Goods in both directions came on ships.
Trade required peace and is depicted in the cover image for my first historical novel, The Wealth of Jamestown. The image is of a painting by Keith Rocco and is the property of the National Park Service.
Jamestown, 17th Century
Privateers, Pirates and Trade
Virginia prospered and grew, but for a good part of the seventeenth century England fought wars with European neighbors. Sometimes the wars resulted in the shifting of ownership of various territories. Thus, New Amsterdam became New York in 1667 as a result of an Anglo Dutch War. The Dutch won that war: they gave up a small settlement on the tip of Manhattan and received in its place the Spice Islands of Indonesia. They also won the right to sail ships up the James River to pick up tobacco, breaking the English monopoly on that trade.
European navies were small. During times of war, ships financed by the various crowns of Europe were supplemented by private vessels. Private merchant vessels received commissions and payments from the various governments. These privateers could conduct their business while acting in support of their kings and queens. The ships shown in the harbor in the painting were likely commercial ships owned by privateers. Depending on the year, they could have been owned by local Virginians.
Privateers armed their ships as law and order on the sea did not exist. Crews learned to operate cannons and could defend the ships if attacked. They did so partly because of their status. The governments and peoples of the day valued and admired the privateers, as mother countries and colonies needed trade for their survival and prosperity.
French and Indian Wars, Privateers and Pirates
In Queen Anne’s war (1702-1712), the English defeated the French and annexed large parts of eastern Canada including Hudson Bay. This was the second of three French and Indian wars.
A peace treaty ended the conflict in 1713, but Queen Anne died in 1714. She was succeeded by George I, the first Hanover King of England. Because the war ended, privateers lost their commissions and the revenue that went with them. England once again paid for a very small royal navy.
The English government required privateers to pay license fees (taxes) in order to sail and conduct business. Some paid the fees; the ones who refused to pay the fees were called pirates. With peace, trade expanded for all shippers, whether licensed or not. After 1714 pirates, who incurred lower costs than privateers, began to take over much of international trade. Privateers became pirates. They became a menace to their own mother countries.
The painting below, by Van de Welde the younger, shows the mother country’s ships (in this case Holland), fighting pirates:
War against Pirates
Blackbeard and the Return of Law and Order
In 1717 Blackbeard sailed a captured French warship known as the Concorde and renamed her the Queen Anne’s Revenge. With this flagship and a fleet of about forty other ships, he blockaded Charleston harbor. He became famous and his business thrived.
Authorities in London noticed . George I decided to beef up his navy. He also issued a pardon called a “Proclamation for Suppressing Pirates”. Under the King’s pardon the British Crown granted clemency to any pirate who surrendered to a governor of the colonies by September 5, 1718.
Blackbeard surrendered to the Governor of North Carolina and received an official royal pardon. As related in my book, Blackbeard’s Legacy, despite the proclamation from London, the Virginia House of Burgesses in November 1718 passed a law on “the apprehending and destroying of pirates.” With respect to Blackbeard, the House voted a reward of one hundred pounds, with ten pounds for each of his crew. The House, however, doubted their law’s legitimacy due to the king’s pardon, and refused to appropriate the reward money.
Spotswood, Blackbeard, the Courts and the Law
Spotswood disregarded the royal proclamation. At his personal expense he commissioned two sloops to find Blackbeard. He also appointed as commander of the force Lieutenant Robert Maynard. Maynard served on HMS Pearl, a royal navy ship anchored at Jamestown.
In October 1718, Spotswood learned that William Howard, Blackbeard’s former quarter master, had come to Williamsburg. The governor ordered a local justice of the peace to issue a warrant to detain Howard for trial. Soldiers arrested Howard, took fifty pounds from him, and arrested two black men who traveled with him. Fifty pounds in 1720 would be worth about $11,000 in today’s U. S. dollars. That was a lot of money in those days. Armed guards took the three men onto the Pearl.
Spotswood wanted Howard tried in an admiralty court without a jury, but the Governor’s Council disagreed. The Governor’s Council, an appointed upper house of the Virginia General Assembly, called for normal legal order. The Council declared that Howard and his two companions should be provided the normal course of law in civil court. Spotswood was determined and disregarded the advice of the Council. He insisted that Howard be indicted for crimes of piracy on the high seas. Spotswood insisted that Howard be tried by a special three-man jury Spotswood would personally appoint.
How Not to Try a Pirate
Well known around Williamsburg, Howard had powerful friends. On their advice, he responded by hiring a lawyer, James Holloway. Holloway quickly caused the arrest of the justice of the peace who signed the warrant for Howard’s arrest. Subsequently, the civil court, following demands made by Holloway, issued warrants for the arrest of Captain George Gordon and Lieutenant Robert Maynard who’d detained Howard on the Pearl. Holloway, on behalf of Howard, sued Gordon and Maynard for five hundred pounds in damages.
Spotswood wanted to demonstrate he still exercised the powers of government. In a trial conducted by jurors appointed by Spotswood, Howard was found guilty and ordered hanged. However, on the day before the hanging, Spotswood received a number of notices from London. One was a commission ordering him to pardon all surrendering pirates for all acts of piracy committed before July 23, 1718.
Spotswood released Howard and his two companions, and returned Howard’s fifty pounds. In response, Howard promptly asked his lawyer to pursue his case for damages against the naval officers in civil court.
To sum up, the English Crown, Virginia’s legislative representatives, and the courts replaced the pirates and privateers and the governor as arbiters of justice.
Does all this sound familiar? Here, a legislature passed laws without funding them, while an executive disregarded current laws to enforce abrogated laws. Irate citizens (the pirates and privateers) sought justice and compensation in the courts. Three branches of government checking each other, almost a hundred years before the writing of the U.S. Constitution.
My granddaughter, a high school junior, plans to take a course in which she’ll be learning about American history this summer. Likely it will be a virtual course delivered by zoom over the computer.
I wonder what constitutes history to today’s teenagers. Personally I can remember the end of World War II and its aftermath. Parades marched down the main streets and veterans returned home with missing limbs. I hid under my school desk in drills to protect me from a Russian nuclear attack. The Cuban missile crisis felt like the beginning of World War III and I remember the assassination of President Kennedy.
My own children have no living memory of any major war: World War II, Korea or Vietnam. They and their children know nothing about the gas shortages of the 1980s and Jimmy Carter’s inflation that destroyed our small community banks. They do know about wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the destruction of the twin towers in 2001. My grandchildren don’t even remember that.
What do they teach in American history courses in today’s high schools? I hope they do a better job than they did when I went to school. But I know they won’t be teaching early history. I was told this by quite a number of history teachers when I served as a docent at Jamestown Settlement, a historical museum that commemorates the first landing of three English ships in North America in 1607.
Peter Minuit Buying Manhattan: Learning Early New York City History
What I Learned about Early American History
Growing up in New York City, I began learning about American history in kindergarten and the first grade. For instance, I remember learning about three ships arriving at Jamestown and the pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock. There, at Plymouth Rock, they apparently celebrated the first Thanksgiving. I know we were shown a painting of Peter Minuit buying Manhattan Island from the Indians with twenty-four dollars in trinkets and a bottle of rum.
Look at the painting closely. We can see that all of the Indians are covered head to toe in deerskins. Several wear elaborate feathered headdresses. An Indian woman wears a cotton print dress under her deerskin. We know that Western Indians in the nineteenth century dressed like that, but Manhattan Indians in the seventeenth century likely looked quite different.
No matter to the kindergartener. We made deerskins to wear and feathered headdresses—all out of brown paper, colored and pasted together any way we liked. I remember we also made pilgrim hats, but they were black and out of card board. In comparison, it was much more fun to be an Indian; they got to prance around and make loud noises.
Whatever people learned in school, to most people the founding fathers fell out of the sky in powdered wigs and silk stockings. Therefore, the hundred and fifty years between Pocahontas and George Washington remain a blank.
American History and Genealogy
At Jamestown Settlement I met many genealogists, anxious to see if they had an ancestor on one of the first ships. Though they were interested in learning about American history, I had to tell them that those people were probably not people they’d want to meet. My teachers never taught this in school, but the settlers came to fight and make fortunes. They fought with each other and the native tribes nearby, and most of them died early gruesome deaths from starvation, disease, warfare, and simply fighting with each other. These early sailors weren’t ancestors of anybody.
Descendants of Pocahontas (there are many) are generally not the genealogists; they know their family lines very clearly and don’t have to prove anything. While their “history” goes back to 10,000 B.C., they come to the museum to see history as relevant to today. They come to see the building of the country, from sailing up the rivers, establishing plantations, trading crops for credit, and developing a way for different people to live together.
About a third of the sailors on the three original ships “married” Indian women. The Indians helped to build James Fort, and Indian wives did most of the cooking. Indian-made cooking utensils have been found on the site of the original fort, and in the earliest days only the Indians would have known what was edible. The earliest surviving settlers learned a great deal from the Indians. If you date your family to seventeenth century Virginia, Pocahontas is probably your relative.
Some Perspective on Learning about Early History
Early history isn’t taught because little is known about it, and what’s written is partisan, controversial and probably incorrect. We don’t learn about early American history in school, but where else can we learn about it?. Were the English barbarians, out to kill and rampage? Were the Indians savages, out to starve out the new arrivals? Didn’t they trade and learn from each other? How did they really build towns and colonies?
Let me end with a cartoon by James Stevenson (1966) from The New Yorker:
Learning about American History: Indians and Settlers: Friends or Foes?
Cartoons don’t settle anything. They just keep the arguments going.
The coronavirus epidemic, coming in March, has coincided with the beginning of spring and my birthday. Certainly a memorable birthday, celebrated with a carryout dinner.
My husband and I have behaved according to the rules. We stay at home, away as much as possible from people and interesting places. Every where I look, I’m told that’s what people like me and my husband are supposed to do. After all, we are the “vulnerable.” I’ve spent a year being treated for lymphoma and my platelet count will never be normal again. My husband has a bad back and is nearly diabetic.
But I don’t feel vulnerable. Every few days I venture out, at the correct time–7:00 am to the grocery store, late afternoon for a walk. I’ve been to the post office where tapes show people where to stand so they can be six feet apart. I’ve thought about golf which for some reason isn’t closed. I could take my putter to the golf practice range near us, but that would require a walk. My knee and shoulder object to too much exercise, so I haven’t yet tried that.
I’ve had my fill of video games, bad television, and silly puzzles. I’ve watched the Coronavirus Task Force about every other day, and I’m impressed with the doctors. I worry about my son, who is a doctor, and call him every other day. He says his hospital in Ohio expects to be swamped in a few weeks, but so far they are able to handle new cases.
What to do? Spring has arrived! My daffodils, including some mysterious yellow crocus that have spread from my front yard to the woods across the street, are in full blossom. I cut a few every morning, while listening to the little birds chirping their hearts out. We’ve already seen chickadees, woodpeckers, gold finches, cardinals, mocking birds, and blue birds. I’ve also spotted a few eagles and ospreys. The little birds, tweeting very loudly, finish the feeder off every other day. Here is a picture of our feeder:
The birds have inspired me, because they make me think of poetry. How about a little poetry, to go with the new coronavirus? :
“There was an old lady from Williamsburg
Who fell into her TV
She stood next to Dr. Birx,
Wondering where the President might be.
Sure enough, he entered and said,
“Welcome to the Task Force!”
She replied, “I’m glad I’m not dead!”
He said, “Isn’t this Worse?”
What could be worse than falling into the television set and becoming a flashing image? Maybe I’ll need to add some more to this.
Since this is spring, I’m happy to announce a discount on all of my ebooks. From now till the end of June all of my historical novels will be available in the ebook version at a 35 per cent discount. Order them from ipgbook.com and use the code BMSpring2020.
I hope all who get this are safe and healthy. Stay well and follow the guidelines.