America’s Exceptional History of Anti-Slavery

“Moral Map of the US”

Recently the idea of American Exceptionalism has been ridiculed in academic and political circles with entire books dedicated to the purpose of tearing down any thought of an ethical America.[i] Much of this recent shift centers around America’s record on slavery. For instance, organizations such as the New York Times have started initiatives declaring that the “true founding” was not until the introduction of slavery 1619[ii] and that the “founding ideals were false” due to the existence of slavery.[iii]

The shift to a negative perspective of America largely stems from the revisionist school of history beginning in the 1960’s and culminating with Howard Zinn’s monumental 1980 People’s History of the United States. This book popularized the historiographical approach of doing “history from the bottom up,” which means telling the story of America through the interpretive lens of oppression. A fellow activist historian of Zinn’s, Staughton Lynd explains the fundamental premises underlying this approach in his Doing History from the Bottom Up. In their interpretive model, “was founded on crimes against humanity directed at…enslaved African Americans,” and therefore must be evil.[iv]

Such anti-American revisionism forgets that America’s record of anti-slavery actually is exceptional compared to the rest of the world. Rarely do revisionists remember that over half of the American states had passed laws abolishing slavery by 1804, nearly thirty years before William Wilberforce effected the similar results in England. This wide-scale abolitionism was planted by the Biblical beliefs of several early colonies, was watered by the advocacy and action of the patriots during the American Revolution, and finally brought forth fruit through the establishment of a Constitutional Republic designed to advance liberty and defend the ideals of the Declaration.

A careful review of the colonial anti-slavery context, the development of abolitionist thought during the War for Independence, and the staunch leadership of the pro-freedom Founding Fathers reveals how America led the way in abolishing slavery. Instead of the modern academic narrative which attempts to debunk American exceptionalism, history shows that America was exceptional in their struggle for emancipation.

As mentioned earlier, by 1804 all of the New England states as well as Vermont, New York, and New Jersey had either completely abolished slavery or enacted positive laws for the gradual abolition of it. This is four years before the Federal Congress ends the slave trade, and almost three decades before England votes to follow suit and abolishes slavery. The American wave of emancipation constituted the largest group of people who had voluntarily freed their slaves up to that point in modern history.

The 1810 census documents that the total population of those states—Massachusetts (Maine included), New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey—stood at 3,486,675.[v]  This was approximately 48% of the total population, slave and free, of the United States at that time. Although not entirely free of slavery due to the gradual emancipation laws in states such as New York and New Jersey, the total percentage of the population waiting for emancipation was only 0.9% in states originally a colony. So, by 1804 half of America had succeeded in passing laws for the abolition of slavery, and only six years later they had been 99% effective in accomplishing that goal. Nobody else in the world was anywhere close to what those Northern States had succeeded in doing—in this America was exceptional.

Massachusetts itself has the honor of being the only state to have totally abolished slavery by the time the first census was completed in 1790, and Vermont was not far behind with only seventeen slaves left to be liberated by their laws.[vi] Massachusetts also receives distinction for passing potentially the earliest anti-slavery law in the American colonies within the 1641 enactment of the Massachusetts Body of Liberties. The tenth capital crime in that legal code stated that, “if any man stealeth a man or mankind, he shall surely be put to death. Ex. xxi.16.”[vii] Taken from the Bible as evidenced by the scriptural citation, manstealing was interpreted by the New England colonists to include what they considered improper enslavement—later it was to expand to all vestiges of slavery.

Blackstone describes manstealing as, “the forcible abduction or stealing away of a man, woman, or child, from their own country, and sending them into another.”[viii] Going further to say, “this is unquestionably a very heinous crime, as it robs the king of his subjects, banishes a man from his country, and may in its consequences be productive of the most cruel and disagreeable hardships.”[ix]

This law was not simply an empty letter either, and when the first instance of manstealing occurred in 1646 the General Court of Massachusetts was vigorous in its prosecution. The record explains that:

The General Court, conceiving themselves bound by the first opportunity to bear witness against the heinous and crying sin of man stealing, as also to proscribe such timely redress for what is past, and such a law for the future as may sufficiently deter all others belonging to us to have to do in such vile and most odious courses, justly abhorred of all good and just men, do order that the negro interpreter, with others unlawfully taken, be, by the first opportunity, (at the charge of the country for present,) sent to his native country of Ginny, and a letter with him of the indignation of the Court thereabouts, and justice hereof, desiring of honored Governor would please put this order in execution.[x]

Interestingly, the Court chose to go farther than the law necessarily required, deciding to send back the slaves at the cost of the community. After making arrangements for the liberated slaves, the General Court then, “appointed a committee to examine witnesses and draw up the case about Captain Smith and Mr. Kezar killing stealing, and wronging of the negroes, etc.”[xi] This response to the arrival of a slave ship is markedly different than when the first one arrived on the shores of Jamestown, and it indicates an entirely different culture which from an extremely early period looked down upon the slave trade.

Religion Fueled Anti-Slavery

Their reliance upon the Bible to begin to understand their relationship to slavery led New Englanders down a dramatically different path than both the Southern colonies and the world. Instead of viewing enslavement as a natural product of race, they understood it arose out of either personal misfortunes (such as debt) or bad choices (such as crime). The New England slaves therefore attained levels of rights unheard of practically anywhere else.

The Puritans’ idea of a “Bible commonwealth” relied upon the Mosaic laws for much of their own statutes concerning servitude. Therefore, slaves had an increased level of social status with rights including the right to own property, testify in court against white men, wives could not be compelled to testify against their husbands, had legal standing to sue which included suing their masters for freedom.[xii] Additionally, enslaved people had the equal procedural rights within the courtroom which, together with the right to sue, led many slaves to advocate for freedom through the New England government.[xiii]

The wider context of slavery both domestically and globally makes North America’s record even more exceptional. First it must be noted that slavery has existed within every culture historically documented. In fact, the story of American slavery begins long before Christopher Columbus ever dreamed of sailing across the ocean sea. The native tribes he discovered all had slaves and on a whole it is estimated that 20 to 40 percent of native populations were slaves, making the native Americans on par with the slave empires of Greece and Rome.[xiv] This native American tradition of slavery continued uninterrupted by colonization, and by 1860, 12.5% of the population in the Indian Nations were black slaves, equaling one slave for every eight Indians.[xv]

Expanding the scope of inquiry even wider, throughout the nearly 400 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade 12,521,337 Africans were taken to be slaves around the world. Only a small minority of that number ever embarked to the areas that would become the United States—305,326 to be exact, totaling 2.4%.[xvi] For comparison, Spain and her territories received 1,061,524 slaves during that same period representing nearly 8.5%, and France only barely received more with 11% (1,381,404). Next was Great Britain with 3,259,441 slaves taken from Africa, meaning that over one quarter (26%) of all slaves sourced from the African continent were intended for English lands. That, however, pales in comparison to Portugal and Brazil, where 5,848,266 enslaved humans were shipped—nearly 47% of the total number. Even the Netherland had more stake in the trans-Atlantic slave trade than America did, themselves accounting for 554,336 and 4.4%.[xvii]

What is more, slavery both globally and in America was never simply white on black. Just as every people group has owned slaves, every people group has correspondingly been enslaved. Prior to the 1700s there were more white slaves globally than there were black slaves.[xviii] In fact, early records from Massachusetts reveal that in December of 1738 several white men were sentenced to slavery for a variety of crimes. One had been an indentured servant who physically assaulted the man he was working for, and then “did conspire also against the life of his said whole common wealth,” and two others for theft alongside breaking and entering.[xix] The next year the Massachusetts court similarly sentenced another white criminal to slavery for attempted rape.[xx]

In addition to white slavery in America, Americans themselves were sold into slavery in the Barbary Coast of North Africa after being captured by Muslim slave traders. Charles Sumner, the famous abolitionist and founder or the Republican party, documented that fourteen men from Boston and Philadelphia would fetch $34,792 in the African slave market of 1785.[xxi] Beyond just the American sailors, the Muslim Barbary Pirates conducted extensive slave raids along the European coast, meaning that:

“Between 1530 and 1780 there were almost certainly a million and quite possibly as many as a million and a quarter white, European Christians enslaved by the Muslims of the Barbary Coast.”[xxii]

Just as there were white slaves both in America and the world, there also were black slave masters. Carter Woodson, often considered the “Father of Black History,” conducted a close study of the 1830 census data in order to investigate rates of free blacks who themselves owned slaves. His research revealed that, out of those free blacks who were eligible to own slaves (head of households living in states which would later join the Confederacy), 16% of them owned black slaves.[xxiii] Certain states, however, stand out in their relatively high frequency. South Carolina for instance saw 43% of eligible free black people own slaves, 40% in Louisiana, 26% in Mississippi, 25% in Alabama, and 20% in Georgia.[xxiv] Such statistical data simply shows just how varied the institution of slavery was throughout both history and the American story—far from the monolithic image presented by revisionists.

With so much of the world having been embroiled with slavery and the slave trade for hundreds of years, it makes the actions of America not only unique but remarkable. By the time the 18th century began, many of the northern colonies began passing laws which established duties on importing slaves. The intent was for such acts cut away the slaver’s profit margin and therefore making it economically undesirable to import slaves into those regions. In 1700 elements of the Massachusetts citizenry petitioned the legislature for restrictive duty on slaves “to discourage the bringing of them” of forty shillings.[xxv] The next year the colony sought to set a limit to the period of slavery that a person could serve, and in 1705 they were successful in obtaining a four-pound import duty.[xxvi] Rhode Island had passed a slightly smaller duty two years earlier of a still substantial three-pounds.[xxvii]

Other colonies such as New York and Pennsylvania attempt to pass even more restrictive bills regulating the slave trade into relative non-existence but many of their efforts were vetoed by the authority of the Crown.[xxviii] The Royal veto of anti-slavery measures, often because of the economic benefit which England derived from the global trade, became a common response to colonial attempts at restricting slavery.

Nearly seventy years later such practices nearly made it into the Declaration of Independence after appearing in Thomas Jefferson’s draft and being approved by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. The grievance against the slave trade was the longest out of all of them, occupying the better part of a page in addition to having the most words underlined or capitalized outside of the title. The grievance in the draft reported to Congress read as follows:

He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of distant people, who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation tither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce.[xxix]

“Am I not a man and a brother.”

Many other Founding Fathers agreed with Jefferson—in fact, the majority of Founding Fathers agreed with him. Only two states voted against the grievance thus keeping it out of the final Declaration of Independence.

(It should also be noted that although many today claim that when the Declaration states that “all men are created equal” the Founding Fathers really meant to say “all white men are created equal,” Jefferson himself explicitly identifies slaves as men and thereby included in the American promise.)

With over a century of anti-slavery activity, it should come as no surprise to see a dramatic increase in manumissions and widespread emancipation during and immediately following the War for Independence. From 1790 to 1810 the number of free blacks in America increased from 59,466 to 108,395, displaying a growth rate of 82%. The next decade saw that number expand another 72% to 186,446.[xxx] While the number continued to grow albeit at a lower rate of growth in the years leading up to the Civil War, those first two decades of the American Republic saw the strongest rate of voluntary emancipation ever recorded up to that time. It is this period which Arthur Zilversmit calls the First Emancipation.[xxxi]

John Adams, an attorney prior to becoming a politician, recalled the environment of emancipation during those years saying:

“I was concerned in several Causes, in which Negroes sued for their Freedom before the Revolution.…I never knew a Jury, by a Verdict to determine a Negro to be a slave—They always found them free.”[xxxii]

During the Revolution itself many slaves who fought for freedom from England also achieved freedom from slavery, being manumitted on account of their service. William Whipple, signer of the Declaration and General under Washington, freed his slave, Prince Whipple during campaign after realizing the incongruity of his own actions.[xxxiii] Another veteran of the Revolutionary War, a slave named Prime, was actually re-enslaved after the war but, with the help of anti-slavery advocates, he successfully petitioned for his emancipation, winning his freedom not only on the battlefield but in the courtroom as well.

Upon examining this period, renown historian Benjamin Quarles remarked that the War for Independence and the environment leading up to it empowered the black population with the tools and personal agency to reach for their freedom as Americans. He writes that the slaves, “gave a personal interpretation to the theory of natural rights and the slogans of liberty and independence,” and many white leaders who were awakening to the injustice helped them in that greater revolution.[xxxiv]

This brief examination of the overarching facts and context concerning America’s early history with slavery shows that the story is infinitely more nuanced than the revisionist narratives propagated by Zinn, Lynd, and the New York Times. The real history, however, reveals that America’s record for anti-slavery is exceptional when placed in the context of the world at that time. Instead of presenting a view of history as if it Jamestown won the ideological battle for America, historians today must realize that the tree of slavery was choked out by the tree of liberty. That the ideas of Plymouth overcame those of Jamestown.

The story of the northern colonies, when properly told, shows that America was among the first places in the world to lead a successful fight against slavery in both word and deed. Furthermore, the anti-slavery Founding Fathers paved the path which many of the global abolitionist followed in the decades to come. America ought not to be remembered as a land of oppression but rather one of liberation. The New World has been the frontier of freedom from the beginning, being the first to struggle for emancipation and find large-scale success. Those small American Republics, carved out of the wilderness, showed a level of civilization unheard of at that early period, passing anti-slavery and abolition laws before virtually anywhere else in the world. America was indeed exceptional—a seedbed of liberty for themselves and the rest of the world.


[i] Andrew Bacevich, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2009); Godfrey Hodgson, The Myth of American Exceptionalism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).

[ii] “The 1619 Project,” The New York Times (accessed December 5, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html

[iii] Nikole Hannah-Jones, “Our Democracy’s Founding Ideals were False When They were Written,” The New York Times (December 5, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/black-history-american-democracy.html

[iv] Staughton Lynd, Doing History from the Bottom Up: On E. P. Thompson, Howard Zinn, and Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014), xii.

[v] Aggregate Amount of Each Description of Persons Within the United States of America, and the Territories Thereof (Washington: 1811), 1.

[vi] The American Almanac and Repository of Useful Knowledge for the Year 1858 (Boston: Crosby, Nicholas, and Company, 1858), 214.

[vii] Francis Bowen, editor, Documents of the Constitution of England and America, from Magna Charta to the Federal Constitution of 1789, (Cambridge: John Bartlett, 1854), 72.

[viii] William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (London: A. Strahan and W. Woodfall, 1795), 4.218-219.

[ix] Ibid., 4.219.

[x] Nathaniel Shurtleff, Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England (Boston: William Whites, 1853), 1.168.

[xi] Ibid., 1.176.

[xii] Arthur Zilversmit, The First Emancipation: The Abolition of Slavery in the North (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1968), 19.

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Fernando Santos-Granero, Vital Enemies: Slavery, Predation, and the Amerindian Political Economy of Life (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009), 226-227.

[xv] Joseph Kennedy, Preliminary Reports on the Eighth Census, 1860 (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1862), 11.

[xvi] “Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade – Estimates,” Slave Voyages, https://www.slavevoyages.org/assessment/estimates (accessed December 6, 2019).

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Philip Morgan, “Origins of American Slavery,” Organization of American History Magazine of History, Vol. 19, No. 4 (July 2005), p. 53

[xix] Nathaniel Shurtleff, Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England (Boston: William Whites, 1853), 1.246.

[xx] Ibid., 1.269.

[xxi] Charles Sumner, White Slaves in the Barbary States (Boston: William D. Ticknor and Company, 1847), 32.

[xxii] Robert Davis, “Counting European on the Barbary Coast,” Past &Present, No. 172 (August 2001), 118.

[xxiii] Thomas J. Pressly, “‘The Known World’ of Free Black Slaveholders: A Research Note on the Scholarship of Carter G. Woodson,” The Journal of African American History 91, no. 1 (2006): 85.

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Zilversmit, The First Emancipation, 51.

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] Ibid., 47-49.

[xxix] Thomas Jefferson, The Works of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Paul Leicester Ford (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904), 210-211.

[xxx] Kennedy, Preliminary Reports, 7.

[xxxi] Zilversmit, The First Emancipation.

[xxxii] Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1877), 401-402.

[xxxiii] William Nell, Colored Patriots of the American Revolution (Boston: Robert Wallcut, 1855), 198.

[xxxiv] Benjamin Quarles, “The Revolutionary War as a Black Declaration of Independence,” Slavery and Freedom in the Age of the American Revolution, edited by Ira Berlin (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1983), 285.

*Originally published: April 6, 2020

* This article concerns a historical issue and may not have updated information.

Thieves Vinegar Recipe from the 1700s

This document from the WallBuilders collection is a recipe for Thieves Vinegar from the late 1700s. Thieves was used in a number ways as a remedy to fight against several diseases which affected early America.

Transcript:

Thieves Vinegar

Take rue, wormwood, tansey [sic., tansy], sage, hoorhound [sic., horehound], rosemary and flowers of lavender—of each one handful—put these herbs into a quart of strong white wine vinegar.

Let it stand either by the fire or in a sand heat 4 days, then boil it in a covered jar emerged to the neck in water. Cone must be taken not to let the steam evaporate when cold. Strain it and add 1 ounce of camphor. Bottle it and cork it close.

To keep off infection wash the loins, feet and hands, and sniff it.

For the headache add volatile salts.

Columbus and the Context of Colonization

To the right is a picture of a recently desecrated statue of Christopher Columbus. With red paint simulating the appearance of blood streaming down his head and shoulders, big white letters mark the ground in front of the memorial with the command: “Kill The Colonizer.” Obviously, the vandals who did this acted more as activists than historians, but every activist operates upon a set of historical premises attempting to justify their actions. But are they accurate? Was Columbus simply a murdering colonizer? Did American colonization even start with Columbus? If not, then who first colonized the New World? What does colonization mean and what effects did it have?

For starters, colonization was a common practice long before Columbus. Far from being the first colonizer, Columbus and his views upon the purpose and procedure of colonization came after centuries of historical development. To view the actions of Columbus as a colonial governor outside of the context and culture of his day is to commit the most obvious of academic malpractices. The history of colonization can be reliably traced back to the ancient Greeks, Macedonians, Romans, and other Mediterranean cultures. Over the centuries they sent many thousands abroad to establish cities and economic centers in faraway lands. Quite often these endeavors were caused by a desire for land, trading, or military outposts. Wherever these colonists went they brought with them the Greco-Roman culture and institutions such as democracy, slavery, and the arts. In fact, the enslavement of those foreign populations was so prevalent that at its height 30% of the people living in classical era Athens were slaves while nearly 40% of total population in the Roman empire were enslaved.1

This tradition of conquest, colonization and enslavement continued in the Islamic world as the power of Rome splintered and crumbled in both the East and West. The Barbary Coast of North Africa under Muslim rule became a Mecca for the slave trade as African tribes sold captured combatants to the Islamic traders, who then exported them around the Mediterranean. In fact, the African slave trade conducted by Islamic traders first exposed Europe to the idea through the Muslim invasions in the Iberian peninsula.2 Something else which must be acknowledged is that slavery has always been a universal institution. Nearly every single people, race, and culture has been both slave and master. In fact, globally there were more white slaves than black slaves all the way up to the seventeenth century.3

With the Islamic conquest of the Byzantine empire and the Holy Land nearly all European trade to the Orient had been effectively halted and the need to discover new routes became all the more pressing. Such influences led the Portuguese mariners to sail down the coast of Africa in attempts to navigate around Africa to India; with the 1431 colonization in the closer Azores and the final discovery of the farther islands of Flores and Corvo by 1452, in addition to the widespread trade and traffic along the African coast the systems of colonization were modernized.

With this increasing push for exploration tensions grew between neighboring Portugal and Spain concerning who could sail, trade, and explore where. This led to the gradual codification of the ideas and doctrines behind exploration and colonization. Such international issues between two nations led by Catholic rulers meant that the Pope was the natural third-party agent for arbitration. With things heating up, Pope Nicholas V stepped in to cool tensions and issued the papal bull Romanus Pontifex in 1455.

Pope Nicholas V

The Pope, while establishing the areas of exploration the Portuguese had a right to possess due to their investment and action, also takes the occasion to outline the corresponding responsibilities of the exploring powers. The ultimate concern pursuant to the theological doctrine established is the conversion of unreached native populations. Nicholas V writes that the following dictates arise after:

“Contemplating with a father’s mind all the several climes of the world and the characteristics of all the nations dwelling in them and seeking and desiring the salvation of all.” 4

Such contemplation causes him to establish a system of incentives in order to encourage the various Catholic states to, “restrain the savage excesses of the Saracens [Muslims] and of other infidels, enemies of the Christian name,” and expand the bounds of European influence to people, “situated in the remotest parts unknown to us.”5

(Today the idea of Christians holding such militaristic views about defending the faith seem antiquated and sometimes repulsive, but often it is forgotten that such perspective was born out of the several centuries Islamic domination and expansion. After the fall of Rome and the reduction of the Byzantine Empire, the successor states in Europe were weak, disorganized, and ill-equipped to deal with both the infighting and the appearance of a new, warlike, and powerful religion coming out of Arabia. As the Muslim caliphates swept across North Africa and through the Levant, they also decimated many of the oldest Christian churches and communities. After thoroughly dominating and establishing Islamic hegemony in the conquered regions, they even began raiding Europe itself and eventually overtook the southern part of the Iberian peninsula. It was the reconquest of this Kingdom of Granada which consumed the Spanish Sovereigns’ attention in the years leading up to Columbus’s voyage and Columbus himself even took part in the fighting. Therefore it should come as no surprise or shock that the Church held this view at the time considering that the most recent centuries had consisted of them being continually pushed back by a constant jihad.)

Applauding Prince Henry “the Navigator” and the efforts of the Portuguese, “to cause the most glorious name of the said Creator to be published, extolled, and revered throughout the whole world, even in the most remote and undiscovered places,” the Pope commanded that all colonization efforts cause, “churches and other pious places to be there founded and built, in which divine service is celebrated.”6 With the effect that:

“Very many inhabitants or dwellers in divers islands situated in the said sea, coming to the knowledge of the true God, have received holy baptism, to the praise and glory of God, the salvation of the souls of many, the propagation also of the orthodox faith, and the increase of divine worship.”7

However, with no real separation existing between church and state (as clearly evidenced by the Pope conducting international treaties on trade and territory) it was often considered that one of the best methods of evangelism consisted in the state conquering hostile peoples to allow the church to then do the work of conversion more easily. This had been the most widespread method of conversion in the Islamic and Christian world for the past several centuries. The papal bull explains how:

“Thence also many Guineamen and other negroes, taken by force, and some by barter of unprohibited articles, or by other lawful contract of purchase, have been sent to the said kingdoms. A large number of these have been concerted to the Catholic faith, and it is hoped, by the help of divine mercy, that if such progress be continued with them, either those peoples will be converted to the faith or at least the souls of many of them will be gained for Christ.”8

Prince Henry

Thus—carrying on a tradition going back to the Greeks and Romans and continued by the Islamic kingdoms—the political Catholic church considered enslavement of hostile people a productive and permissible method of inducing conversion. Later in the bull it infers that only, “all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed,” were open for the Christian powers (Portugal in this case), “to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery.”9

However, it is important to note that enslavement is presented only as a secondary and more regulated method, not to be principally employed. Additionally—and this is significant considering Columbus’s stated motivations for discovery—Pope Nicholas V thought exploration and a trade route was necessary because reports told of a large Christian kingdom (or at least one heavily inclined to receive the faith) which would assist the European nations in retaking Jerusalem in a new crusade. The bull states that:

“by his effort and industry that sea might become navigable as far as to the Indians who are said to worship the name of Christ, and that thus he might be able to enter into relation with them, and to incite them to aid the Christians against the Saracens and other such enemies of the faith.”10

This papal bull provided the codified reasoning which most clearly encapsulates the world in which Columbus developed his understanding of colonization. Even here his faith eventually directed the policies he would later institute in the Indies. The context of colonization considered that the ends of salvation or cultural conversion justified the means of legal warfare and slavery was by no means invented by Columbus but inherited from a long tradition in the Portuguese, Muslim, and ancient systems. Thus it is not surprising to find such policies pertaining to slavery, but, as we shall see, the seeds of freedom and equality found in Columbus’s plan is a rare moment of surprising progressiveness in the scheme of historical development.

The duel influences of Portuguese examples and papist doctrine had a distinct effect upon the first wave of Spanish colonization in the New World as directed by Columbus. Famed naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison, who used Columbus’s journals to trace the course of his voyages in the Harvard Columbia Expeditions, explains that such plans were focused more on establishing a series of trading posts than conquest:

He [Columbus] was inspired rather by the trading empire which the Portuguese had been establishing along the West African coast for half a century. Of that he had first-hand knowledge. In Africa the Portuguese sought not to colonize, but to trade; and experience proved that the West African trade could best be conducted between a staple town in Portugal (at first Lagos, later Lisbon), and garrisoned trading stations—“factories” as they were called in English.”11

To Columbus, the original goal was not enslavement or subordination—in fact Columbus considered the peaceful Taino tribes as citizens of Spain with equal rights to himself and his crew (much to the chagrin of the avaricious Spaniards).12 In fact, after announcing his discovery Columbus set about planning a second voyage to the New World with an intent to establish the type of trading post colonies described above. Based off of his words and deeds, Columbus’s scheme for colonization distills into four key aspects:

  1. The establishment of a new trading empire in the Far East;
  2. Exclusion of all but Catholic Christians from its benefits;
  3. Conversion of the natives to Christianity; and
  4. The enslavement of hostile or recalcitrant natives, as a method of punishment and a source of profit.13

Slavery, as it continuously was to Columbus, the last option and only to those who were defeated in war. This idea corresponds to the 1455 Romanus Pontifex Bull. Going back to Columbus’s official proposed plan of colonization and government in the New World, slavery never even appeared. Making his case to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, Columbus spent most of his time regulating the system of legal gold-hunting. He worried that the Spanish will be driven too much by a, “greed for gold,” which will lead to a deficit in food and supplies.14 To solve this Columbus stipulates that the Spanish must obtain a license to search for gold in addition to building permanent residences, giving half of the gold to the government, and only being able to collect during a part of the year.15 While he disincentivized gold-hunting, Columbus, ever the explorer, instead incentivized, “the discovery of new lands.”16

However, before expressing the various and detailed economic regulations for gold and discovery, Columbus makes clear that his primary intentions are religious, demanding that:

There be a church and abbots or friars to administer the sacraments, perform divine worship, and to convert the Indians.17

For Columbus, gold was secondary to God. In fact, just like Pope Nicholas V, Columbus desired that the proceeds from the discover go to funding the re-conquest of Jerusalem in a new crusade.18 The Catholic Sovereigns Ferdinand and Isabella quickly confirmed the request. They agreed with Columbus that conversion was the first object of colonization. After establishing that the Taino fall under the protected status afford those “very ripe to be converted to our Holy Catholic Faith, since they have neither dogma nor doctrine,” they command that:

“The said Admiral, Viceroy and Governor that by all ways and means he strive and endeavor to win over the inhabitants of the said Islands and Mainland to be converted to our Holy Catholic Faith; and to aid him in his work Their Highnesses are sending thither the learned father Fray Buil,i together with other Religiosos whom the said Admiral is to take with him, and these through the effort and exertion of the Indians who have come to Spain, [the Admiral] is to see that they be carefully taught the principles of Our Holy Faith, for they must already know and understand much of our language; and he shall provide for their instruction as best he can.”19

Such commands directly contradict the typical propaganda which characterizes Columbus as some uncontrollable slave trader. In the Catholic doctrines of colonization slavery was predicated on the assumption that the enslaved was not Christian. Thus, it follows that if Columbus or the Sovereigns primarily sought slaves they would have been hesitant to encourage conversion—especially since they thought the natives would easily convert to the faith. The Sovereigns continue even further, however, by instructing Columbus to specifically protect the civil and political rights of the peaceful allied tribes, commanding that he:

“Force and compel all those who sail therein as well as all others who are to go out from here later on, that they treat the said Indians very well and lovingly and abstain from doing them any injury, arranging that both people hold much conversation and intimacy, each serving the others to the best of their ability. Moreover, the said Admiral shall graciously present them with things from the merchandise of Their Highnesses which he is carrying for barter, and honor them much, and if some person or persons should maltreat the said Indians in any manner whatsoever, the said Admiral, as Viceroy and Governor of Their Highnesses, shall punish them severely by virtue of the authority vested in him by Their Majesties for this purpose.”20

Thus, Columbus is dispatched with orders to treat the Taino “very well and lovingly” and to “honor them much.” Additionally, should any colonist attempt to take advantage of them, he has express authority to punish the offending Spaniard “severely.” Later we will see that this is exactly what Columbus attempts to do and as reward for his faithful execution of the Sovereigns’ orders he is deposed, imprisoned by rebels, and shipped back to Spain in chains—simply because he would not allow the Spanish colonists to take unfettered advantage of the Indians.

If this was not enough, Pope Alexander VI decided it necessary to mediate between Portugal (who was attempting to claim the newly discovered lands) and Spain (who obviously rejected that claim). Before calming the international tensions in his 1493 bull Inter Caetera, Alexander VI confirmed the intentions of Columbus and the instructions of the Monarchs concerning the importance of evangelization before all else. Building off of the same principles found in Romanus Pontifex, the Pope acknowledged how Columbus and the Monarchs sought to:

“Seek out and discover certain lands and islands remote and unknown and not hitherto discovered by others, to the end that you might bring to the worship of our Redeemer and profession of the Catholic faith their residents and inhabitants.”21

Then, after applauding Columbus for his long-suffering devotion to exploration and his clear skill in navigation, the Pope explains that based off of all the current reports and experiences:

“Therein dwell very many peoples living in peace, and, as reported, going unclothed, and not eating flesh. Moreover, as your aforesaid envoys are of opinion, these very peoples living in the said islands and countries believe in one God, the Creator in heaven, and seem sufficiently disposed to embrace the Catholic faith and be trained in good morals. And it is hoped that, were they instructed, the name of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, would easily be introduced into the said countries and islands.”22

Up to this point, the only natives which Columbus had encountered were the relatively peaceful and amiable Taino who immediately allied themselves with Columbus. The explorers had not met the warlike Caribs who were truly barbaric and savagely attacked and cannibalized the Taino they captured through conquest. Thus it is telling that while no openly hostile or especially onerous tribes had been encountered slavery hardly appeared even in passing throughout any of the three main colonization documents (those being Columbus’s memorial, the Sovereigns’ response, and the Inter Caetera bull). Alexander VI does provide that if such “barbarous nations,” be found to exist, they ought to be, “be overthrown and brought to the faith.”23 But again, that is a tertiary and conditional injunction, the first and foremost aim is:

“That inasmuch as with eager zeal for the true faith you design to equip and dispatch this expedition, you purpose also, as is your duty, to lead the peoples dwelling in those islands to embrace the Christian profession; nor at any time let dangers or hardships deter you therefrom, with the stout hope and trust in your hearts that Almighty God will further your undertakings.”24

Based upon the official colonial plans and doctrinal statements no intention to enslave the natives initially existed on the part of the Pope, the Monarchs, or the Admiral. As no hostile or infidel power had been encountered at this point no one could have been legally enslaved based off of the previously stated policies.

The weight of such declarations ought to be plainly obvious. Christopher Columbus a man with “genuine and sincere,” belief in Christianity,25 and the expectation had been clearly set that conversion came before anything else—even the eventual profits were supposed to go back into spreading Christianity. From our position in the 21st century it seems naïve that Columbus could have believed such a plan would succeed. The tragedy of his failed attempts to stop the malevolent Spanish rebels should lead the careful student of history to wonder what it could have been but for the bad actors who traveled with Columbus. In fact, while being shipped back to Spain after rebellious colonists and renegade magistrates disposed him, he laments that:

“a great number of men have been to the Indies, who did not deserve baptism in the eyes of God or men.…wretches without faith, and who are unworthy of unbelief.”26

This complaint calls back to the instructions of Ferdinand and Isabella, and the Inter Caetera from 1493 only seven years prior. Throughout the letter Columbus decries the impious actions of the Spaniards done in contradiction the governing policies established by both crown and church.

Such was the officially stated policy concerning the treatment of the native populations from the Catholic Governor, the Catholic Sovereigns, and the Catholic Popes. In all, the overarching theme is that while barbarous and infidel powers could be enslaved through just war, the initial and primary duty was the conversion and salvation of all peaceful peoples.

What, however, is nearly universally overlooked in every discussion of American colonization—especially by the overzealous yet tremendously underinformed activists who vandalized that statue pictured earlier—is that Columbus was not the first colonizer in the New World. When he landed in the Caribbean in 1492, he encountered cultures which had been conquering, colonizing, and enslaving each other for hundreds of years prior to his arrival. In fact, Columbus’s plan for colonization was actually more humane and civilized than the barbaric and stunning method employed by the Taino upon the Siboney, and likewise the Caribs upon the Taino. Morison explains that:

Colonization, we must remember, is merely one form of conquest, and conquest is one of the oldest and most respectable of Euro-Asiatic folk-ways, which the ancestors of our Indians had practiced in the New World for several millennia before the first conquistador appeared from Castile.27

History must be approached with the understanding that “all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sin is the universal condition of man and knows no exceptions save one. It should, therefore come as no surprise that the native Americans were less than perfect. What might, however, be shocking is the extent in which they practiced and even institutionalized reprehensible behavior such slavery, cannibalism, human trafficking, polygamy, sodomy, genocide, and even baby mills for the production of babies to be eaten. One would think that the activists would be protesting such actions even more intensely than those of the comparatively much more humane Columbus.

From just a brief summary of the governing policy instituted by Columbus in the New World it becomes manifestly apparent that his actions did not arise from his imagination but from the doctrines of the most influential Catholic leaders in both church and state. The methods employed by Columbus are unique to the beneficial Catholic influence upon long-standing colonization ideology. His implementation of the principles found in Romanus Pontifex, expanded upon in Inter Caetera, and ordered by Ferdinand and Isabella reflect his belief in Catholicism. Columbus himself declared at the end of his life that all of his endeavors had arisen from his devotion to God, explaining:

“No one should be afraid to take on any enterprise in the name of our Savior, if it is right and if the purpose is purely for his holy service.”28

He was driven by a desire to do the will of God and effect the conversion of the natives—not their enslavement. Far from being a focus, slavery is repeatedly overlooked or ignored in preference to the leading concerns of religion or the economy. By placing Columbus’s policies in the proper context, a better and wider understanding emerges of the first years of colonization.

So maybe those vandalizing activists should reconsider their actions and look at the full picture instead of just the sections which they believe justify their juvenile decisions. They are unwittingly fulfilling the very words which the first great biography of Columbus, Washington Irving, noted all the way back in 1828—effectively bringing metaphor into reality:

There is a certain meddlesome spirit, which, in the garb of learned research, goes prying about the traces of history, casting down its monuments, and marring and mutilating its fairest trophies. Care should be taken to vindicate great names from such pernicious erudition. It defeats one of the most salutary purposes of history, that of furnishing examples of what human genius and laudable enterprise may accomplish.29

The words of Irving ring especially true today as many statues and memorials to Columbus—among a host of other American heroes such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson—are being discarded, desecrated, or destroyed.

With that in mind, lets now turn our attention away from the Old World Columbus was leaving and to the New World he was discovering. What were natives actually like and how did it compare to the Europeans? [To continue learning about Columbus read Before the West was Won here.]


Endnotes

i Fray Buil played a large role in the downfall of Columbus and his colonial plan as he never attempted to convert a single Indian and instead spent all his efforts in stirring up the Spaniards against both the natives and Columbus.

1 Fernando Santos-Granero, Vital Enemies: Slavery, Predation, and the Amerindian Political Economy of Life (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009), 226-227.

2 Philip Morgan, “Origins of American Slavery,” Organization of American History Magazine of History, Vol. 19, No. 4 (July 2005), 51-52.

3 Philip Morgan, “Origins of American Slavery,” Organization of American Historians Magazine of History, Vol. 19 No. 4 (July 2005), 52.

4 Nicholas V, “The Bull Romanus Pontifex. January 8, 1455,” European Treaties Bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648, edited by Frances Gardiner Davenport (Washington DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1917), 20-21.

5 Nicholas V, “The Bull Romanus Pontifex. January 8, 1455,” European Treaties Bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648, edited by Frances Gardiner Davenport (Washington DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1917), 21.

6 Nicholas V, “The Bull Romanus Pontifex. January 8, 1455,” European Treaties Bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648, edited by Frances Gardiner Davenport (Washington DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1917), 20-21.

7 Nicholas V, “The Bull Romanus Pontifex. January 8, 1455,” European Treaties Bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648, edited by Frances Gardiner Davenport (Washington DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1917), 20-21.

8 Nicholas V, “The Bull Romanus Pontifex. January 8, 1455,” European Treaties Bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648, edited by Frances Gardiner Davenport (Washington DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1917), 22.

9 Nicholas V, “The Bull Romanus Pontifex. January 8, 1455,” European Treaties Bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648, edited by Frances Gardiner Davenport (Washington DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1917), 23.

10 Nicholas V, “The Bull Romanus Pontifex. January 8, 1455,” European Treaties Bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648, edited by Frances Gardiner Davenport (Washington DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1917), 21-22.

11 Samuel Eliot Morison, “The Earliest Colonial Policy Toward America: That of Columbus,” Bulletin of the Pan American Union 76, no. 10 (October, 1942), 544.

12 Christopher Columbus, The Journal of Christopher Columbus: During His First Voyage, 1492-93, edited by Clements R. Markham (London: Hakluyt Society, 1893), 156.

13 Samuel Eliot Morison, “The Earliest Colonial Policy Toward America: That of Columbus,” Bulletin of the Pan American Union 76, no. 10 (October, 1942), 546.

14 Christopher Columbus, “Memorial to the Sovereigns on Colonial Policy, April 1493,” Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, Edited by Samuel Eliot Morrison (New York: The Heritage Press, 1963), 201.

15 Christopher Columbus, “Memorial to the Sovereigns on Colonial Policy, April 1493,” Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, Edited by Samuel Eliot Morrison (New York: The Heritage Press, 1963), 201.

16 Christopher Columbus, “Memorial to the Sovereigns on Colonial Policy, April 1493,” Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, Edited by Samuel Eliot Morrison (New York: The Heritage Press, 1963), 201.

17 Christopher Columbus, “Memorial to the Sovereigns on Colonial Policy, April 1493,” Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, Edited by Samuel Eliot Morrison (New York: The Heritage Press, 1963), 201.

18 Christopher Columbus, The Journal of Christopher Columbus: During His First Voyage, 1492-93, edited by Clements R. Markham (London: Hakluyt Society, 1893), 139.

19 “Instruction of the Sovereigns to Columbus for His Second Voyage to the Indies, 29 May 1493,” Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, Edited by Samuel Eliot Morrison (New York: The Heritage Press, 1963), 203-204.

20 “Instruction of the Sovereigns to Columbus for His Second Voyage to the Indies, 29 May 1493,” Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, Edited by Samuel Eliot Morrison (New York: The Heritage Press, 1963), 203-204.

21 Alexander VI, “The Bull Inter Caetera. May 3, 1493,” European Treaties Bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648, edited by Frances Gardiner Davenport (Washington DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1917), 61.

22 Alexander VI, “The Bull Inter Caetera. May 3, 1493,” European Treaties Bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648, edited by Frances Gardiner Davenport (Washington DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1917), 62.

23 Alexander VI, “The Bull Inter Caetera. May 3, 1493,” European Treaties Bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648, edited by Frances Gardiner Davenport (Washington DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1917), 61.

24 Alexander VI, “The Bull Inter Caetera. May 3, 1493,” European Treaties Bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648, edited by Frances Gardiner Davenport (Washington DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1917), 61-62.

25 Samuel Eliot Morison. Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1942), 47.

26 Christopher Columbus, “Letter of the Admiral to the (quondam) nurse of the Prince John, written near the end of the year 1500,” Select Letters of Christopher Columbus (London: Hakluyt Society, 1870) 165.

27 Samuel Eliot Morison, “The Earliest Colonial Policy Toward America: That of Columbus,” Bulletin of the Pan American Union 76, no. 10 (October, 1942), 543.

28 Columbus, “Letter from the Admiral to the King and Queen,” 182-183.

29 Washington Irving, A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (London: John Murray, 1828), 1: 64-65.

Before the West was Won: Pre-Columbian Morality

In the decades leading up to and following 500th anniversary of the discovery of the New World in 1992 the vast preponderance of both academic writers and popular commentators take an overwhelmingly negative view of Christopher Columbus. In fact, these voices are so critical that currently the, “dominant picture holds him responsible for everything that went wrong in the New World.”1 This new revisionist trend goes against the previous centuries of orthodox thought, research, and opinion.2

Much of this recent tide of thinking arises from the philosophy of doing “history from the bottom up.” According to leading advocate Staughton Lynd, revisionists approach history with the assumption that, “the United States was founded on crimes against humanity directed at Native Americans.”3 Such a premise, however, means that the Discoverer of America, Christopher Columbus, must also have participated and begun those “crimes against humanity.”

In the most famous work of “bottom up” history, A People’s History of the United States, author Howard Zinn unilaterally claims that the indigenous people held a higher moral standard than the European nations at the time. He declares that Columbus did not stumble into an “empty wilderness,” but rather a remarkably “more egalitarian” society where the relationship between men and women were “more beautifully worked out than perhaps any place in the world.”4 By all “bottom up” accounts, the New World was a paradise destroyed by Christopher Columbus and those that followed.

But what did the New World actually look like when Columbus landed on its shores in 1492? Contemporary accounts from both European and Indigenous sources reveal that the pre-Columbian world was a place where slavery, trafficking, sexual exploitation, oppression, and even genocide was commonplace prior to any European contact. As will be seen, the discovery eventually put a stop to many of these heinous acts—ultimately elevating morality instead of lowering it.

This dissidence between what revisionists claim and the clear historical truth continues to direct America’s national conversations today. In the early 21st century, one of the pivotal conversations in America concerns American’s relation to slavery. The New York Times has launched the “1619 Project” which claims to observe the, “the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery.”5 However, slavery in the America’s began well before 1619—to ignore this fact is to overlook all the enslaved people who lived in America before Columbus came. It is to dishonestly let an agenda’s narrative rewrite history.

Ironically, the man now blamed for America’s slavery was the first to shed light upon the institutions of oppression among the native Americans. In fact, the pre-existent native slave trade was so prolific that, “wherever European conquistadors set foot in American tropics, they found evidence of indigenous warfare, war captives, and captive slaves.”6 The journals, letters, and reports documents first-hand how the various tribes were already practicing slavery prior to the arrival of the Europeans.

Take briefly for instance, the Carib tribes who had widespread institutions of perpetual slavery, captive mutilation, and even villages dedicated to the sexual exploitation of captured Taino women forced to produced children which their masters then ate. Facts stand in stark contrast to the “more egalitarian” fabrication of Zinn. Such horrors do not show a “more beautifully worked out” society in the slightest—in fact, it does quite the opposite.

This context of the ignoble savage (to turn a popular phrase) places Columbus as one offering an actual advancement in civilization when compared to the atrocities discovered by the explorers. Charles Sumner, the renowned abolitionist Senator from the mid-1800’s, explained that the context of comparative cultures allows the historian to ascertain whether or not interactions and exchanges were beneficial or detrimental to the overall cultivation of morality. Even practices which all today condemn might have at an earlier time represented a significant advancement. He uses slavery, the very institution he spent his life fighting, as an example:

The merchandise in slaves will be found to have contributed to the abolition of two hateful customs;…eating of captives, and their sacrifice to idols. Thus, in the march of civilization, even the barbarism of slavery is an important stage of Human Progress. It is a point in the ascending scale from cannibalism.7

Such a point is self-evident. In the age of conquest victorious groups had limited options concerning the fate of defeated opponents. In the ancient world, and more recently in less developed areas, the only conclusions for those on the losing side of a conflict were slaughter, sacrifice, cannibalism, or some other similarly unfortunate end. Once civilization reached a point of sufficient stability nations could support allowing captured warriors and civilians live as slaves or tributaries. Instead of killing those who did not die in the conflict, they were used to pursue economic advancement through either forced labor or trade with other nations. Thus, Sumner rightly notes that even atrocities such as slavery at least marks a step up from the greater depravity of murdering, sacrificing, or eating the captives.

Such a progression finds itself distinctly expressed in Columbian exchange of morality in the years following the discovery of the New World. Setting aside the actions of the Spanish rebels, later corrupt magistrates, and false ministers who disguised themselves as apostles of Christ, the clear record is that the original evangelistic centered plan for colonization presented by Columbus, commissioned by the Sovereigns, and confirmed by the Pope planted the seeds of a more progressive moral society. [To learn more about the evangelistic vision of Columbus read this article.]

When examined in the wider context, Columbus acted more to advance the virtues of liberty and equality than not. Situated next to the robust system of slavery and oppression existing in America prior to the arrival of the Europeans, Columbus’s efforts against the cannibalistic slave-driven tribes at the behest of the more peacefully inclined tribes (who also owned slaves) led to the liberation of many women, children, and men. Although it is a fact often overlooked, this allows the historian to frame the effects of Columbus’s voyages and subsequent colonization in the proper context. Of course, none of this is to suggest that Columbus was perfect—by no means. It does, however, show that he first planted the seeds of freedom on American shores which would eventually germinate into the nation which brought more liberty, stability, and prosperity than any other country in the history of the world.

The arrival of Christopher Columbus and his three diminutive ships laden with tremendous potential was an anthropologist’s dream. In 1492 Columbus encountered and documented for the first time the Taino people within the larger Arawak language group. Without Columbus and his efforts we would have no records of these cultures at all. While this tribe is largely considered to be the most civil out of all the native tribal groups encountered by the early Spanish explorers it does not hide the fact that they too participated in conquest, colonization, and slavery.

Columbus himself had strong relations with their chief, Guacanagari, throughout their lives. His admiration for the Taino went so far as to cause Columbus to exclaim that, “a better race there cannot be, and both the people and the lands are in such quantity that I know not how to write it.”8 Such commendations might suggest that the Taino were without blemish but Columbus was soon to see examples of how that was not the case. Even Columbus could not fail to note how, “the natives make war on each other, although these are very simple-minded and handsomely-formed people.”9

The Taino, just like nearly any other people group or culture, did not themselves enter into an “empty wilderness.” The islands they occupied were conquered from the earlier Siboney culture group. Respected naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison (noted for his leadership of the 1939 Harvard Columbian Expedition which sailed the routes of Columbus’s voyages based off the information provided in his journals) explains that:

Colonization, we must remember, is merely one form of conquest…which the ancestors of our Indians had practiced in the New World for several millennia before the first conquistador appeared from Castile. Even the Taino people of the Antilles, whom Columbus reported to be gentle, peaceable, and defenseless, had conquered the Bahamas and most of Cuba from the more primitive Siboney during the fifteenth century.10

Shockingly, the Taino conquest of the Siboney tribe was so total and complete that in all of the recorded observations of Columbus he only ever encountered one Siboney survivor.11 This amounts to nothing less than a relentless Taino invasion. Such a statistical annihilation of a people group equals and even outstrips some of the highest estimates of the destruction of the Taino population due to exposure to the European diseases their immune systems were so unequipped for.12

Expanding to a wider view of the pre-Columbian world, cycles of conquest, subjugation, and decimation were not uncommon and, “one could legitimately argue that for many Amerindian people the expansion of the Huari, Aztec, and Inka empires was equally cataclysmic,” when compared to that following the appearance of the Europeans.13 The idea that Columbus and the Europeans brought the idea of war to a previously untouched and unblemished culture is historically bankrupt and unfounded on anything except ideological agenda.

One example from the history of Ferdinand Columbus offers a pointed perspective into this newly discovered culture. He documents the tragedy of the first large confrontation between a hostile force and the coalition forces led by Columbus consisting of the Spaniards and allied tribes marshaled by Guacanagari. In an earlier attack upon the Spanish outpost and the allied Indian village one of his wives was murdered and another one captured to be thereafter enslaved to the victorious chieftain. “And that was why he now appealed to the Admiral to restore his wife to him and help him get revenge for his injuries.”14 The battle is a major success for the coalition forces, and the Spanish’s technological superiority bolstered by the Taino’s numerical assistance routed the enemy army. Not only were Columbus and Guacanagari successful in reclaiming his enslaved wife, but they also captured the offending chief and all of, “his wives and children.”15

This episode provides an exemplary source text for evidencing several major aspects prevalent in the native cultures encountered by Columbus. First and most obvious (although often overlooked by popular “bottom up” historians such as Zinn), is the existence of war between the various tribes which clearly existed prior to European discovery. As discussed earlier, even the presence of Guacanagari and his relatively peaceful Taino subjects upon the islands explored by Columbus would not have been possible but for the previous conquest and near complete extinction of the earlier occupying inhabitants.

Second, it shows that both indigenous sides practiced polygamy. Early missionary Fray Ramon Pane, “a modest and loyal Jeronymite who was doing his best to serve God instead of mammon,”16 remarked how polygamy was the standard practice amongst the vast majority of natives. It was only the introduction of Christianity which caused many to abandon the practice. The conversion of leading chieftain named Mahuviativire illustrates this perfectly. The missionary reported that the chieftain, “for three years now has continued to be a good Christian, keeping only one wife, although the Indians are accustomed to have two or three wives, and the principal men up to ten, fifteen, and twenty.”17 If men are commonly permitted to marry twenty women, one ought to question what exactly Howard Zinn considers a “beautifully worked out” society.

Lastly, it offers a glimpse into the widespread enslavement of the members of other tribes—principally women and children—through raids and conquest. In fact, when Columbus first landed on October 12th, 1492, he learned from the Taino themselves that they were often attacked, carried away, and enslaved by other tribes who preyed upon their weakness. The Admiral notes in his journal that he:

Saw some with marks of wounds on their bodies, and I made signs to ask what it was, and they gave me to understand that people from other adjacent islands came with the intention of seizing them, and that they defended themselves. I believed, and still believe, that they come here from the mainland to take them prisoners.18

Although Columbus’s initial interpretation is wrong as to who the perpetrators were, the Taino’s description of defending themselves against the savage attacks from an outside group of aggressive natives provided Columbus with his first introduction to the ways of the Carib people.

Placed next to the relative timidity and gentleness of the Taino, the Carib tribes appear quite warlike and barbaric. These indigenous peoples (from whose name we derive both the words “Caribbean” and “cannibal”) terrorized the Taino through constant raids and attacks. It was of the Carib tribes that, the Taino warned Columbus about during the first voyage, speaking of a civilization of, “extremely ferocious…eaters of human flesh” who “visit all the Indian islands, and rob and plunder whatever they can.”19 The Caribs were so effective that in 1494,  after the second voyage, it was published in Europe that many of:

The Islands explored on the voyage last year are exposed to Carib invasions. One or two Caribs can often rout a whole company of Indians [i.e. Taino]. The Indians are so much in awe of the Caribs that they tremble before them even if they are securely tied.20

This author, Nicolo Syllacio, continues to relate the observations of crew member Peter Margarita concerning the Carib culture, explaining how:

These islands are inhabited by Canabilli, a wild, unconquered race which feeds on human flesh. I would be right to call them anthropohagi [man-eaters]. They wage unceasing wars against gentle and timid Indians to supply flesh; this is their booty and is what they hunt. They ravage, despoil, and terrorize the Indians ruthlessly, devouring the unwarlike, but abstaining from their own people.21

Such descriptions might be easily considered as European inventions in order to justify conquest and thereby discounted if not for the fact that the testimony from the Taino Indians confirms Syllacio’s account and many other eyewitnesses provide corroborating reports. Additionally, the Caribs themselves confessed that they were indeed cannibalistic.22

Another crew-member and childhood acquaintance of Columbus, Michele de Cuneo, similarly records the barbarity of Carib culture discovered in the New World. He explains that the Caribs would spend up to a decade plundering any particular island until they completely depopulated it through slavery and cannibalism. He writes that:

The Caribs whenever they catch these Indians eat them as we would eat kids and they say that a boy’s flesh tastes better than that of a woman. Of this human flesh they are very greedy, so that to eat of that flesh they stay out of their country for six, eight and even ten years before they repatriate; and they stay so long, whenever they go, that they depopulate the islands.23

The complete and deliberate depopulation of entire islands and communities by a dominate and oppressive culture very well can be defined as genocide through cannibalism—certainly much more than anything which Christopher Columbus ever did.

Additionally, this was far from an isolated incident recorded second hand. Cuneo, along with many others, were eye-witnesses to the tragic aftermath of Carib raids and what often happened to those the attackers chose to keep alive. Upon landing at a village of Carib slaves, Cuneo recalled that the now liberated group included:

Twelve very beautiful and very fat women from 15 to 16 years old, together with two boys of the same age. These had the genital organ cut to the belly; and this we thought had been done in order to prevent them from meddling with their wives or maybe to fatten them up and later eat them. These boys and girls had been taken by the above mentioned Caribs.24

The truth is clearly different than the egalitarian society promoted by “bottom up” historians. A society which conquers, captures, cannibalizes, and enslaves neighboring tribes, subjecting captured inhabitants to physical mutilation and sexual servitude is certainly not a place, “where the relations among men, women, children, and nature were more beautifully worked out than perhaps any place in the world.” 25 None of the European nations, for all their faults, engaged in anything similar to what was happening in the New World.

Other witnesses corroborate what Cuneo saw, explaining how the Caribs:

In their wars upon the inhabitants of the neighboring islands, these people capture as many of the women as they can, especially those who are young and handsome, and keep them as body servants and concubines.26

One of the medical experts further described how the captive men and boys were neutered in order to prepare them for consumption later, saying:

When the Caribbees take any boys as prisoners of war, they remove their organs, fatten the boys until they grow to manhood and then, when they wish to make a great feast, they kill and eat them, for they say the flesh of boys and women is not good to eat.27

This treatment is similar to the castration of cattle designated for market across the world today. Castrating calves at a young age serves, “to prevent reproduction and simplify management, but, most importantly, cattle are castrated to improve marbling and tenderness of the finished beef.”28 Similar motivations seemingly led the Caribs to mutilate their male captives.

The medical expert on the early voyages, Dr. Diego Chanca, while originally unsure about the veracity of reports concerning Carib cannibalism from the Taino, confirmed them once he arrived in the Indies. Dr. Chanca recalls an incident when one of the shore party:

Brought away with him four or five bones of human arms and legs. When we saw those bones we immediately suspected that we were then among the Caribbee islands, whose inhabitants eat human flesh, because the admiral, guided by the information respecting their situation he had received from the Indians of the islands he had discovered during his former voyage, had directed the course of our ships with a view to find them.29

The discovery of bones which have been cannibalized marks the first example of physical evidence of cannibalism. Another crew-member on a journey to a local chieftain remarked that, “the royal residence which stood on a flat-topped hill where there was a large plaza whose stockade was decorated with 300 heads of the men he had killed in battle.”30 Such archeological evidence confirms the Taino testimony and Carib confessions written down by the earliest of explorers. Recently too, bones and cannibalized remains have been discovered which independently confirms the overwhelming uniformity of both European and indigenous sources.31

As noted above, when the Europeans landed on Carib islands they discovered entire villages of enslaved women and mutilated men. Whenever Columbus and his crew landed and began exploring the village the slaves began fleeing to the Europeans seeking refuge from their captors and transport back to their homes. In a second village even more gruesome scenes were witnessed. By the time they left over twenty women and three men were liberated by Columbus and his men.32 Dr. Chanca described that the Caribs enslaved so many women that, “in fifty houses we entered no man was found, but all were women.”33

After the Europeans explained to the enslaved Taino that they themselves were not cannibals, “they felt delighted.”34 The liberated women began to explain to the doctor that:

The Carribbee men use them with such cruelty as would scarcely be believed; and that they eat the children which they bear to them, only bringing up those which they have by their native wives.35

This system of enslavement, sexual subjugation, and then the cannibalism of the offspring is nearly unprecedented in world history. Being now led by the freed Taino Indians, the explored found in the villages ample proof of their stories:

For of the human bones we found in their houses everything that could be gnawed had already been gnawed, so that nothing else remained of them but what was too hard to be eaten. In one of the houses we found the neck of a man undergoing the process of cooking in a pot, preparatory for eating it.36

In total, the evidence reveals that the Carib tribes consisted of a culture dependent upon slave labor and human servitude derived from extended campaigns of conquest. One of the crew members on the second voyage even remarked how, “The women do all the work. Men only mind fishing and eating.”37 Anthropologist Fernando Santos-Granero rightly summarizes that the Caribs subsisted through the “large-scale raiding” of Taino tribes where:

Female and children captives were turned into concubines and slaves, whereas adult males were killed and partly eaten in cannibalistic rituals that brought together members of different villages and sometimes the population of entire islands.38

The world Columbus discovered is widely different than the view recently presented. In the vast majority of modern biographies and evaluations of Columbus and the entire age of exploration overlooks the context into which their actions were situated. They look at the failures of Columbus to stop slavery altogether and miss the fact that he was engaged in the widespread liberation of enslaved women. They see how he went to war against some of the natives without considering how he was asked to by his ally Guacanagari to avenge one wife who had been murdered and retrieve another who had been stolen. In short, they judge Columbus as if he landed upon the shores of America today and not five hundred years ago. To judge a historical figure or action divorced from the age and context presents an incomplete fact pattern leading to an improper and historically deficient conclusion.

At this juncture an objection might be raised that the European sources are unreliable due to their biases against the natives and the benefit which would arise from painting at least certain segments of the native population as barbaric beyond belief. However, to discount the European sources merely because they are European upon the pretense that they might have something of prejudice or bias in them is intrinsically anti-historical in its nature and execution. Every source or document represents a historical action imbued with native prejudices and perspectives, but the existence of such in the sources in no way disproves the reliability of them.

Like any inquiry, historical and modern, the truth is established through the preponderance of the evidence in one way or the other. Noted scholars have explained that, “Denying the possibility of learning about the history of Amerindian societies using European sources would be tantamount to denying the possibility of knowing the history of any people through any kind of source.”39 Through the collection of corroborating testimony, documentation, and sources a picture of the historical past can be reliably constructed, and for it to be an honest representation the first-generation European writings as they recorded what they themselves witnessed in their travels must be included.

However, if the contextual scope is expanded to include not just the island cultures encountered by Columbus but also to the other nearby tribes in the Mesoamerican regions such as Central and South America, it reveals that reports of cannibalism, slavery, and related actions are not the imaginations of a few biased Europeans but the actuality of a larger cultural trend existent in indigenous American societies.

The most famous examples of similar atrocities are those of the Aztecs, of which Zinn only acknowledges to remark, “the cruelty of the Aztecs, however, did not erase a certain innocence.”40 With some explorers seeing skull walls with nearly 100,000 pieces and the largest recorded instance of mass sacrifice including up to 80,000 victims at the dedication of the temple at Tenochtitlan in 1487, it appears an odd expression of “certain innocence.”41 Most victims were slaves captured in raids and wars or even their own children in some instances. Of course, the Aztecs were not alone in such practices although they were probably the most liberal. Indeed, in the indigenous societies, “Some type of death sacrifice normally accompanied all important rituals.”42 The method of sacrifice varied considerably, including:

The standard method of gashing open the chest with a stone knife and ripping out the heart, decapitation (especially for female victims), shooting with atlatl darts or arrows, the “gladiatorial sacrifice,” burning nearly to death—the coup de grace delivered by heart extraction, drowning, hurling from a height, smashing against a hard surface, strangulation, shutting up and starving to death.43

After the slaves were murdered often their hearts were extracted if that had not already been done. The skulls were then removed, prepared, and placed within the ever-growing skull racks or other similar repositories. Lastly the carcasses of the now decapitated and heartless victims were taken and consumed in a ritualistic feast.

The Huastec civilization serve as another example of the general trend within the central Mexican cultures which engaged in widespread subordination of weaker tribes and the sacrifice of those conquered peoples. The excavated pottery from the area depict the common heart extraction style of sacrifice similar to the example shown on the early codices from other regions such as Codex Magliabechiano.44 The Huastec also sacrificed their slaves through a process known as flaying which included the skinning and preservation of the victims faces and sometimes bodies, afterwards cannibalizing the remains.45 Similarily, slave sacrifices to the Mexican god Xipe consisted of the typical heart extraction offering and then the flaying of the entire human body to be worn by anyone, “wishing to show special devotion to the god.”46

The New World was one filled with the old ways of colonization, conquest, and slavery. Before any European arrived upon the shores of Cuba or Puerto Rico entire civilizations were being destroyed by invading armies. Women were enslaved and abused to produced children to satisfy the hunger of their cannibalistic masters. Young boys were captured and castrated before being fattened and served during special feasts. From the Taino to the Caribs to the Aztecs, the Europeans witnessed a world where slavery was widespread and those unfortunate enough to be captured were viciously abused. Slavery in the pre-Columbian world was so prevalent that somewhere between twenty to forty percent of all Indians were enslaved people.47

Overall, the world which Christopher Columbus discovered is radically different from the human egalitarian society presented by the modern revisionist writings on the subject. Academics like Zinn and Lynd begin from the assumption that America was founded upon crimes committed against the Indians by the European explorers and colonists and ignore any data which suggests the opposite. In their intellectual expedition to do “history from the bottom up” they are never able to tell the history of those truly at the bottom. They stop short of the women enslaved and abused by the Caribs and liberated by Columbus. In their desire to prove the American founding evil they ignore the wider context surrounding the voyages. The facts do not validate their philosophy. The evidence simply does not fit with the “highly egalitarian ideologies and practices,” promoted by Zinn.48 In order to give a voice to their own activism they silence the voice of the women enslaved by the Caribs or the thousands sacrificed upon Aztec alters.

After being elected as President of the United States of America, Theodore Roosevelt was elected to be the president of the American Historical Association. In his 1912 inaugural address he explained how many times historians abandon objectivity in their quest to appear neutral. President Roosevelt argues that:

The greatest historian should also be a great moralist. It is no proof of impartiality to treat wickedness and goodness as on the same level.49

So much of the Columbus question in modern America revolves around whether or not he can be considered a good person or even a hero. The failure to situate him with his proper context has already been addressed, but now after reviewing much of the available evidence what can be said about Columbus’s effect upon the moral development of the New World? How did the Columbian exchange affect the morality of the New World, and was it an improvement? Did it, as Sumner suggested, provide an ascending point upon the chain of human progress or not?

The answer to this is an unqualified yes. The sum total effect of Columbus’s discovery of America ultimately brought about a vast improvement in the cultural morality existent in the Caribbean and Central American regions. Such a conclusion, of course, is not to justify the terrible savageness of some of the Spaniards and other colonists which followed Columbus later. Much rather it is simply to acknowledge the fact that no matter what else happened, never again was the Western hemisphere to see the sacrifice of 80,000 victims in a single day or the existence of baby mills for the purpose of infant cannibalism. Even in 1860 the overall percentage of slaves in the United States was less than it was in many of the ingenious societies.

The overarching story of American discovery and colonization is one of progress and advancement. Of mankind piercing the mist of the Ocean Sea to plant the seeds of individual rights, liberty, and freedom on a faraway shore so that they could finally germinate and grow, providing its fruit to the world both Old and New. However, when historians isolate the actions of Columbus from the wider cultural context, that story of human progress and the ever-developing refinement of civilization is lost amidst the fog of fable.

The fabrication of Zinn—that the indigenous peoples were a more morally advanced society with greater equality and beneficence between the genders and classes—is helpful for certain ideological agendas but not for serious historical inquiries. The truth demonstrated above show just how less developed the native cultures were in areas of social rights and cultural ethics as compared to the explorers and discoverers coming from Europe. Obviously, such facts do not and cannot serve as a kind of justification for the documented failures and shortcoming of those coming from the Old World. If an expedition of modern men journeyed back to anywhere in the world in 1492. The modern sensibilities of right and wrong would be mortified, having gone through several centuries of refinement since the days of Columbus and Guacanagari. Both the illiberality of the Spanish religious code and the rampant slavery of the Taino and Caribs would shock the moderns. All have sinned and fallen short of the whatever standards the modern historian or moralist might try to retroactively apply to the past. Columbus himself recognized the need to be judged in context by those who understood the times, writing:

I ought to be judged as a captain, who for so many years has borne arms, never quitting them for an instant. I ought to be judged by cavaliers who have themselves won the meed of victory; by knights of the sword and not of title deed.50

Thus, in a study of Columbus and the past we must become a “knight of the sword” and not merely of a “title deed.”


1 Carol Delany, Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem (New York: Free Press, 2011), xii.

2 Focusing primarily on English and American reception and interpretation of Christopher Columbus, the orthodox view of a more heroic and honorable Columbus begins with William Robertson, The Discovery and Settlement of America (New York: J. & J. Harper, 1828; 1st ed. London, 1777); Jeremy Belknap, A Discourse Intended to Commemorate the Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (Boston: Belknap and Hall, 1792); William Grimshaw, History of the United States (Philadelphia: John Grigg, 1826); Charles Goodrich, A History of the United States of America (Hartford: D. F. Robinson & Co., 1829); the most complete synthesis of the first wave orthodox understanding of Columbus being found in Washington Irving, The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (London: John Murray, 1828). The typical orthodox trend largely continued with the second wave of scholarship in the mid to late 19th century with examples including S. G. Goodrich, A Pictorial History of the United States (Philadelphia: E. H. Butler, 1843); Thomas D’Arcy McGee, Catholic History of North America (Boston: Patrick Donahoe, 1855); Joel Dorman Steele, A Brief History of the United States for Schools (New York: A. S. Barnes & Company, 1871); and Horace A. Scudder, A History of the United States of America (Philadelphia: J. H. Butler, 1884). There are few early examples of the debunking and revisionist tendencies but on a whole,  these were seen as novelties and had negligible influence on the overall dialogue, see W. L. Alden, Christopher Columbus (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1881); and Aaron Goodrich, A History of the Character and Achievements of the So-Called Christopher Columbus (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1874). More progressive interpretations of Columbus starting appearing more seriously with works including William Giles Nash, America: The True History of Its Discovery (London: Grant Richards Ltd., 1924); Emerson Fite, History of the United States (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1929); and Wilbur Fisk Gordy, History of the United States (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929). However, such examples still failed to turn the tide of both popular perception and academic tendency towards orthodoxy, the overwhelmingly standard and influential biography from Morison examples this, see Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1942). The revisionist and progressive movements began to dominate the discussion during the 1960’s as a spirit of activism spread throughout the academy with works such as, Edward Stone, “Columbus and Genocide” in American Heritage 16 (October 1965); Bernard A. Weisberger, The Impact of Our Past: A History of the United States (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1972); and Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (New York: Harper & Row, 1980).

3 Staughton Lynd, Doing History from the Bottom Up: On E. P. Thompson, Howard Zinn, and Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014), xii.

4 Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (New York: Harper Collins, 2015), 21.

5 “The 1619 Project,” The New York Times (accessed September 13, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html.

6 Fernando Santos-Granero, Vital Enemies: Slavery, Predation, and the Amerindian Political Economy of Life (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009), 1.

7 Charles Sumner, White Slavery in the Barbary States (Boston: William D. Ticknor and Company, 1847), 11.

8 Christopher Columbus, The Journal of Christopher Columbus, translated by Clements Markham (London: Hakluyt Society, 1893), 131.

9 Ibid., 42.

10 Samuel Eliot Morison, “The Earliest Colonial Policy Toward America: That of Columbus,” Bulletin of the Pan American Union 76, no. 10 (October, 1942), 543.

11 Samuel Eliot Morrison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1942), 464.

12 For a brief statistical overview of the decline in indigenous populations see, Alan Taylor, American Colonies: The Settling of North America (New York: Penguin Publishing, 2001), 38.

13 Santos-Granero, Vital Enemies, 6-7.

14 Ferdinand Columbus, The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus, translated by Benjamin Keen (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1992), 148-149.

15 Ibid., 149.

16 Morrison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, 484.

17 Fray Ramon Pane quoted in, Ferdinand Columbus, The Life of the Admiral, 168.

18 Columbus, The Journal, 38.

19 Christopher Columbus, “Letter sent by Columbus to Chancellor of the Exchequer, respecting the Islands found in the Indies,” in Select Letters of Christopher Columbus (London: Hakluyt Society, 1870), 14.

20 Nicolo Syllacio, “Syllacio’s Letter to Duke of Milan, 13 December 1494,” in Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, edited by Samuel Eliot Morrison (New York: The Heritage Press, 1963), 237.

21 Ibid., 233-234.

22 Ibid., 235.

23 Michele de Cuneo, “Michele de Cuneo’s Letter on the Second Voyage, 28 October 1495,” Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, edited by Samuel Morrison (New York: Heritage Press, 1963), 219.

24 Ibid., 211-212.

25 Zinn, A People’s, 21.

26 Diego Chanca, “Letter of Dr. Diego Alvarez Chanca,” Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1907), Vol. 48, 442.

27 Ibid.

28 Boone Carter, Castrating Beef Calves: Age and Method (Las Cruces: New Mexico State University, 2011), 1.

29 Chanca, “Letter of Dr. Diego Alvarez Chanca,” 436.

30 Diego Mendez, “The Will of Diego Mendez,” in The Journal and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, edited by Samuel Eliot Morison (New York: The Heritage Press, 1963), 389.

31 Sabrina Valle, “Cannibalism Confirmed Among Ancient Mexican Group,” National Geographic, October 1, 2011, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/11/110930-cannibalism-cannibals-mexico-xiximes-human-bones-science/ (accessed October 6, 2019).

32 Chanca, “Letter of Dr. Diego Alvarez Chanca,” 442.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid., 440.

35 Ibid.

36 Ibid.

37 Cuneo, “Michele de Cuneo’s Letter,” 220.

38 Santos-Granero, Vital Enemies, 20.

39 Ibid., 12.

40 Zinn, A People’s History, 11.

41 Herbert Burhenn, “Understanding Azte Cannibalism,” Archiv Für Religionspsychologie / Archive for the Psychology of Religion 26 (2004), 1.

42 Henry B. Nicholson, “Religion in Pre-Hispanic Central Mexico,” Handbook of Middle American Indians: Archaeology of Northern Mesoamerica (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971), Vol. 10, 432.

43 Ibid., 432-433.

44 The Book of the Life of the Ancient Mexicans, Translated by Zelia Nuttall (Berkeley: University of California, 1903), 70.

45 Guy Stresser-Pean, “Ancient Sources on the Huasteca,” Handbook of Middle American Indians: Archaeology of Northern Mesoamerica (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971), Vol. 11, 598.

46 H. R. Harvey, “Ethnohistory of Guerrero,” Handbook of Middle American Indians: Archaeology of Northern Mesoamerica (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971), Vol. 11, 613.

47 Santos-Granero, Vital Enemies, 226-227.

48 Ibid., 4.

49 Theodore Roosevelt, History as Literature and Other Essays (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), 19.

50 Christopher Columbus, “Letter of the Admiral to the (quondam) nurse of the Prince John, 1500,” Select Letters of Christopher Columbus (London: Hakluyt Society, 1870), 170.

Columbus Wasn’t an Idiot

Modern anti-history portrayals of Columbus enjoy ridiculing him as some sort of first-rate bumbling fool. It simply is definitive, “proof that Columbus was an idiot if he still thought they were in the Indies.”1 Come on, seriously, who in their right mind would mistake America for India? That’s what maps are for! I mean, they aren’t even close to each other. Who but a dunce of the highest order would miscalculate the circumference of the globe because he mistook calculations done in Arabic miles for those done in Roman miles instead.2 That’s just ridiculous!

But nevertheless, people who are neither sailors nor historians, have come to the stunning conclusion that the man formally named Admiral of the Ocean Sea was a “stubborn idiot” and a “cruel-hearted simpleton,”3 taking to calling him school-yard names like “Chuckle-Headed Columbus.” 4

Anti-Columbus activists declare without hesitation that Columbus, a figure respected for over 400 years:

Is the perfect American. He was loud, ignorant, greedy and evil, and his intolerance was fueled by his religious extremism. His life’s work was stealing wealth, bamboozling the government, and crushing the little people—whether his own shipmates or the Caribbean natives.5

Furthermore, these personal attacks now extend to anyone who might think the historical record tells a different story—certainly no one must examine the evidence or facts and draw a conclusion other than the one they reached. Defenders of Columbus are deemed, “just as idiotic and disgusting as he was,” because who but a bigot would suggest Columbus was anything but a, “half-wit harbinger of genocidal calamity.”6

However, for hundreds of years previous to the 1970’s (when much of the modern anti-Columbus sentiment took root) Columbus was constantly held in the highest regard as a sailor, navigator, and explorer. The main argument offered for Columbus’s lack of intelligence comes from the fact that he didn’t make it to India but instead discovered an entire world unknown to anyone except those who lived there. It seems odd that someone’s credentials would be attacked because they encountered something which literally no one knew existed, so let’s examine what kind of credentials Columbus had.

Christopher Columbus was not born into money or nobility. His father was a lower-class tradesman and nascent entrepreneur who worked extremely hard to give his children at least the basic fundamentals of education. Through his father’s efforts and a few wealthier friends who assisted him with the studies, Columbus learned to read at a young age—a remarkable feat for this era of widespread illiteracy. From this point on Columbus educated himself through constantly learning new skills and reading extensively in math and science specifically.

Columbus himself, realizing that his self-education might be used against him by academics who considered knowledge something only held by them alone, took time to relate his extensive experience to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The Admiral explains that:

At a very early age I went to sea and have continued navigating until today. The art of sailing is favorable for anyone who wants to pursue knowledge of this world’s secrets. I have already been at this business for forty years. I have sailed all the waters which, up to now, have been navigated. I have had dealings and conversation with learned people—clergymen and laymen, Latins and Greeks, Jews and Moors, and with many others of other sects. I found Our Lord very well-disposed toward this my desire, and he gave me the spirit of intelligence for it. He prospered me in seamanship and supplied me with the necessary tools of astrology, as well as geometry and arithmetic and ingenuity of intellect and of manual skill to draw spherical maps which show cities, rivers and mountains, islands and ports—everything in its proper place.7

This could seem like a high boast if he was a bad sailor, but by all accounts, he quite probably undersells his ability as a navigator out of humility. In fact, one of the crew members on the second voyage to the New World took time to specifically note Columbus’s exceptional skill on the water:

But there is one thing that I wish you to know, that, in my humble opinion, since Genoa was Genoa, no other man has been born so magnanimous and so keen in practical navigation as the above-mentioned Lord Admiral; for, when navigating, only by looking at a cloud or by night at a star, he knew what was going to happen and whether there would be foul weather; he himself both conned and steered at the helm; and when the storm had passed over, he hoisted sail while the others were sleeping.8

And this evaluation of Columbus’s exemplary skill as a sailor (hoisting sail single handed is no small feat) and a navigator is by no means restricted to just those who sailed with him. Even the Pope took time to publicly praise, our beloved son Christopher Columbus,” and his, “the utmost diligence sailing in the ocean sea, through western waters.”9 From big to small, everyone acknowledged his skill at the helm.

Over 400 years after Columbus’s voyages, renowned naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison led the Harvard Columbus Expedition in 1939 while writing one of the most complete accounts of Columbus ever executed. From Columbus’s journals and other primary source documents, Morison and his crew traced Columbus’s path through the ocean and around the Caribbean. At the end of their journey, Morison concluded that:

The voyage that took him to “The Indies” and home was no blind chance, but the creation of his own brain and soul, long studied, carefully planned, repeatedly urged on indifferent princes, and carried through by virtue of his courage, sea-knowledge and indomitable will. No later voyage could ever have such spectacular results, and Columbus’s fame would have been secure had he retired from the sea in 1493. Yet a lofty ambition to explore further, to organize the territories won for Castile, and to complete the circuit of the globe, sent him thrice more to America. These voyages, even more than the first, proved him to be the greatest navigator of his age, and enabled him to train the captains and pilots who were to display the banners of Spain off every American cape and island between Fifty North and Fifty South. The ease with which he dissipated the unknown terrors of the Ocean, the skill with which he found his way out and home, again and again, led thousands of men from every Western European nation into maritime adventure and exploration.10

Even if you disagree with what Columbus was attempting to do, you cannot deny the fact that he was an outstandingly intelligent navigator—the best of his age. On top of that, his technical, scientific, and astrological knowledge rivaled, if not exceeded, that of many formally training “intellectuals” of his day.

The Founding Fathers recognized that fact to the extent that often America was called Columbia in the poetry of people like Phillis Wheatley11 and Joseph Hopkinson in the famous song Hail Columbia.12 John Adams recognized that Columbus was, “a bold navigator & successful adventurer.,”13 while Thomas Jefferson scoured Europe for an accurate portrait of the Admiral going so far as to study which paintings bore the closest resemblance to Columbus.14 While president, George Washington spent time going to the theater to watch a play detailing the landing of Columbus.15 Others went so far as to say that he stands as the “type of the American character.”16

Beyond the personal acknowledgements from the various Founding Fathers, the culture as a whole so respected Columbus’s skill and importance as a sailor and explorer that one of the first ships in the United States Navy was the USS Columbus17 while the newly designed capitol was christened in his honor.18 So, very far from the idiot he is often portrayed as today, for over 400 years, people of science, of stature, and even entire nations understood that Christopher Columbus was a brave explorer who expanded the realms of human knowledge and understanding.


Endnotes

1 Seth Michels, “History Uncensored Ep. 6 Columbus the Idiot Part 2,” History Uncensored Podcast (July 9, 2019), here
2 Samuel Morrison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea (New York: MJF Books, 1970), 65.
3 Ken Layne, “Today We Honor Columbus, An Inspiration to Cruel Half-Wits Everywhere,” Gawker (October 14, 2013), here.
4 Seth Michels, “History Uncensored Ep. 6 Columbus the Idiot Part 2,” History Uncensored Podcast (July 9, 2019), here
5 Ken Layne, “Today We Honor Columbus, An Inspiration to Cruel Half-Wits Everywhere,” Gawker (October 14, 2013), here.
6 Rafi Schwartz, “These Defenses of Columbus Day Are Just as Idiotic and Disgusting as He Was,” Splinter (October 9, 2017), here
7 Christopher Columbus, “Letter from the Admiral to the King and Queen,” Christopher Columbus’s Book of Prophecies, trans. Kay Brigham (Fort Lauderdale: CLIE Publishers, 1992), 178.
8 Michele de Cuneo, “Michele de Cuneo’s Letter on the Second Voyage, 28 October 1495,” Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, trans. Samuel Morrison (New York: Heritage Press, 1963), 227.
9 Alexander VI, “The Bull Inter Caetera. May 3, 1493,” European Treaties Bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648, edited by Frances Gardiner Davenport (Washington DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1917), 61-62.
10 Samuel Morrison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea (New York: MJF Books, 1970), p. 669.
11 Phillis Wheatley, “To His Excellency, George Washington” Phillis Wheatley Historical Society (accessed August 20, 2019), here
12 Joseph Hopkinson, “Hail Columbia,” Bartleby (accessed August 20, 2019), here
13 John Adams to William Tudor, Sr., February 25, 1800, Founders Online (accessed August 16, 2019), here.
14 Thomas Jefferson, “Notes on the Likeness of Christopher Columbus, 28 August 1814,” Founders Online (accessed August 20, 2019), here
15 George Washington, “Diary Entry: 6 February 1797,” Founders Online (accessed August 20, 2019), here
16 Charles Ingersoll, “Proceedings at Philadelphia: The Triumph of Patriotism,” ed. Hezekiah Niles, The Weekly Register (Baltimore: The Franklin Press, 1812), 2:203, here.
17 John Adams, “Autobiography: In Congress, November and December 1775,” Founders Online (accessed August 20, 2019), here
18 Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, September 8, 1791, Founders Archive (accessed August 20, 2019), here

Columbus: God Over Gold

One of the tired old myths promoted by the anti-Columbians (as they might well be called) is that the lust for gold drove Columbus leading him to commit innumerable atrocities. Critics shout that all wickedness was done in Columbus’s “vain pursuit of his obsession for gold.”1 This accusation gets thrown in with all the others, painting Columbus as a heinous villain instead of the noble navigator (as he was largely known for centuries). For example, it is common to hear anti-Columbians boast how:

Recent years have brought us Columbus the Bumbling Idiot who bumped into America by accident, Columbus the Gold-Obsessed Slave Driver, and Columbus the Mass Murderer.2

Unlike many of the other accusations, Columbus’s relationship with gold has always been under the spotlight. One of Columbus’ crew members was even led to think that all Columbus cared for was gold. That man remarked on the second voyage:

After we had rested for several days in our settlement it seemed to the Lord Admiral that it was time to put into execution his desire to search for gold, which was the main reason he had started on so great a voyage full of so many dangers as we shall see more completely in the end.3

Often people point to this quote as definitive proof that the primary goal of Columbus was gold and wealth—Columbus only cared about getting rich and he enslaved, raped, pillaged, and destroyed anything that got in his way.

The Truth

However, this statement from Columbus’ ship mate, and the myths of the anti-Columbus critics, directly contradicts everything Columbus wrote about his motivations.

Based off the overwhelming primary source documentation Columbus was not an explorer driven by greed—much rather he was a discoverer who sought to restore a shattered world. The discovery of gold was important to him but not at all in the way critics represent it today.

First off, we must note that Columbus immediately instituted a policy of mutual free market exchange when it came to trading with the native tribes for gold. It is recorded that Columbus sought to:

Prevent the others from imposing upon the Indians. As the Indians are so simple, and the Spaniards so avaricious and grasping, it does not suffice that the Indians should give them all they want in exchange for a bead or a bit of glass, but the Spaniards would take everything without any return at all. The Admiral always prohibits this, although, with the exception of gold, the things given by the Indians are of little value. But the Admiral, seeing the simplicity of the Indians, and that they give a piece of gold in exchange for six beads, gave the order that nothing should be received from them unless something had been given in exchange.4

The Motivation

But ultimately, the most important question to ask is, “Why did Columbus search for gold?” What was his ultimate motivation? If it wasn’t for personal wealth, then what was it for? Thankfully, Columbus’ own journal answers this question by explaining that after the first voyage Columbus:

Trusted in God that, when he returned from Spain, according to his intention, he would find a ton of gold collected by barter by those he was to leave behind, and that they would have found the mine, and spices in such quantities that the Sovereigns would, in three years, be able to undertake and fit out an expedition to go and conquer the Holy Sepulcher. “Thus,” he says, “I protest to [ask] your Highnesses that all the profits of this my enterprise may be sent in the conquest of Jerusalem.”5

Note that Columbus writes to the King and Queen explicitly calling upon them to devote all of the profits to liberate Jerusalem from the grip of the Muslim conquerors. It may be shocking to someone who only knew that “in fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” but Columbus actually considered himself someone called by God to help restore the lands conquered by Islamic Jihad in the previous centuries (see Dr. Warner’s video explaining the historical context). In another letter he writes to Ferdinand and Isabella explaining, “the argument I have for the restitution of the Holy Temple to the Holy Church.”6

In the same letter to the King and Queen, Columbus explains that going back to St. Augustine, many within the Church predicted that the world would end 7,000 years after creation. Based on the work of Augustine, Pierre d’Ailly, and others, Columbus concluded:

there are but 155 years left for the fulfillment of the seven thousand, at which time I said above, by the authorities cited, that the world will come to an end.7

Conclusion

Columbus seriously thought that he would have a pivotal role in preparing the world for receiving the returning Messiah at His triumphant return in Jerusalem. In one of the least discussed but most important documents for understanding Columbus—the Book of Prophecies—Columbus actually collects all the supposed evidence and prophecies for the discovery of the New World and his spiritual and religious motivations for sailing across the ocean. Therein he presents his argument again for using the discovery to push back the Islamic invasion of the Holy Land while they still had time. He writes:

Who doubts that this illumination was from the Holy Spirit? I attest that he [the Spirit], with marvelous rays of light consoled me through the holy sacred Scriptures, a strong and clear testimony, with forty-four books of the Old Testament, and four Gospels with twenty-three Epistles of those blessed Apostles, encouraging me to proceed, and, continually, without ceasing for a moment, they inflame me with a sense of great urgency. Our Lord wished to perform the clearest miracle in this [matter] of the voyage to the Indies, to console me and others in this other [matter] of the Holy Temple.8

Clearly, Columbus’s main motivation in seeking the New World was religiously motivated and not driven by personal greed for riches. Much rather, he advocated that all proceeds be directed by the King and Queen to the interests—at the time—of the Church. In fact, Columbus closes his letter to Ferdinand and Isabella by focusing on the fact that the discovery of the “Indies” meant that Christianity was being spread across the world:

And I say that the sign which convinces me that our Lord is hastening the end of the world is the preaching of the Gospel recently in so many lands.9

So, contrary to the anti-Columbus academics of today, Columbus cared more about God than gold.


Endnotes

1 Edward Stone, “Columbus and Genocide,” American Heritage (October 1975, Volume 26, Issue 6), at: https://www.americanheritage.com/content/columbus-and-genocide
2 Jason Gotts, “Beyond Columbus the Hero, the Slave Driver, or the Bumbling Idiot,” Big Think (October 6, 2011), at: https://bigthink.com/think-tank/beyond-columbus-the-hero-the-slave-driver-or-the-bumbling-idiot
3 Michele de Cuneo, “Michele de Cuneo’s Letter on the Second Voyage, 28 October 1495,” Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, trans. Samuel Morrison (New York: Heritage Press, 1963), 214.
4 Clements Markham, “December 22, 1492,” Journal of Christopher Columbus (London: Hakluyt Society, 1893), p. 127-128.
5 Clements Markham, “December 26, 1492,” Journal of Christopher Columbus (London: Hakluyt Society, 1893), p. 139.
6 Christopher Columbus, “Letter from the Admiral to the King and Queen,” Christopher Columbus’s Book of Prophecies, trans. Kay Brigham (Fort Lauderdale: CLIE Publishers, 1992), 179.
7 Columbus, “Letter from the Admiral to the King and Queen,” Book of Prophecies, trans. Brigham (1992), 181.
8 Columbus, “Letter from the Admiral to the King and Queen,” Book of Prophecies, trans. Brigham (1992), 179.
9 Columbus, “Letter from the Admiral to the King and Queen,” Book of Prophecies, trans. Brigham (1992), 183.

Discovering Columbus

Columbus on Trial

For over 500 year Christopher Columbus enjoyed a seat in the pantheon of American history. Being the discoverer of the New World came with well earned advantages. During the early days of our nation books, poems, and statues were made celebrating the man and his mission. Cities were named in his honor, even the seat of the American Government was christened the District of Columbia. There were some that even thought of making it the United States of Columbia.  The Admiral of the Ocean Sea (Columbus’s official title) was so important to the American ethos, that one of the first vessels in the Navy was the USS Columbus.

For years, the first thing children learned in school about America was the old rhyme ” In fourteen hundred ninety-two;
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” In many respects, the story of the United States begins with Christopher Columbus. With so much legacy spanning over several centuries, it comes as a shock to discover that the Discoverer has suddenly become public enemy number one. Every Columbus Day more and more communities destroy their monuments and re-baptize the day as Indigenous People’s Day.  Each year, anti-Columbus elements bring out more and wilder accusations in attempts to re-write the history books.

In order to present the facts, the history, and the truth, we have spent years gathering resources and combing through the records to uncover what really happened when the Old World encountered the New. This page will serve as the port of departure for people who want to explore past and find the truth about Columbus.

Is he a man we should remember? Was he a hero? What can we learn from his experiences? The answers to these questions and many more like them are available below. Go through the modern lies and the historical facts surrounding Columbus, and clink on the pictures below to read the in depth articles!

Columbus’s primarily sought gold in order to provide for the needs of the Church, both for evangelism and to fund a crusade to retake Jerusalem from Muslim invaders. Learn how Columbus put God over gold: https://wallbuilders.com/resource/columbus-god-over-gold/

Columbus fought against both the native practice of sexual exploitation and the trafficking which Spanish rebels started. In fact, he actually liberated several villages of women who had been forced into sexual servitude. To learn more read here: https://wallbuilders.com/resource/columbus-and-sex-slavery/

Although Columbus was sent back in chains, it was for false allegations from which he was entirely exonerated. After the trial all of his rights and privileges were restored with the exception of his governorship.

In addition to being largely self-taught, Columbus was one of the best navigators the world has ever seen. For nearly 400 years scientists and seamen both acknowledged this fact. Read here to learn more about how Columbus wasn’t an idiot: https://wallbuilders.com/resource/columbus-wasnt-an-idiot/

Records show that the only time Columbus warred against the natives was in defense or when called upon by his native allies. The leading cause of death among the Indians was not war, but diseases. Watch PragerU’s video for more information: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxYVbC283uM

The cultures which Columbus encountered were barbaric, with tribes conquering, enslaving, and cannibalizing each other to the point of complete extermination. For an in depth explanation read here: https://wallbuilders.com/resource/before-the-west-was-won-pre-columbian-morality/; for a brief overview to share read this: https://wallbuilders.com/resource/no-noble-savage-the-world-columbus-found/

No Noble Savage: The World Columbus Found

All arguments making Christopher Columbus a villain comparable with Adolf Hitler1 or Saddam Hussain 2 start with the premise that the world he discovered was populated by peaceful inhabitants who lived in a golden age. It was only with the introduction of the white man, critics claim, that this paradise was destroyed by the tyrannical oppression perpetuated by the European Christians.

The current romanticized presentation of the native cultures is the underlying assumption which permits the narrative that Columbus was a villain. Academics push this to justify tearing down statues of the explorer and removing his name from the calendar.  Proponents of the alternative to Columbus Day—which they call Indigenous People’s Day—are also proponents of alternative history.

Howard Zinn, in his massively influential yet famously inaccurate work A People’s History of the United States, propagated this myth of the noble savage:

So, Columbus and his successors were not coming into an empty wilderness, but into a world which in some places was as densely populated as Europe itself, where the culture was complex, where human relations were more egalitarian than in Europe, and where the relations among men, women, children, and nature were more beautifully worked out than perhaps any place in the world.3

According to Zinn (and most if not all of the modern outcry against Columbus can be traced to his book), the indigenous people were far more advanced in their social morality than the Europeans. This, of course, leads to the conclusion that the white man was (and still is) a racist tyrant oppressing whomever he might. This leads to the conclusion that America was (and still is) one of the worst nations in all of history.

“A Certain Innocence” – Codex Magliabecchiano

What Zinn and his followers fail to account for are the facts. The world Columbus discovered was full of slavery, murder, genocide, sodomy, sexual exploitation, and general barbarity. Zinn only mentions the famous atrocities of the Aztec culture in passing to say that, “the cruelty of the Aztecs, however, did not erase a certain innocence.”4 Let’s take a look at the “certain innocence” prevalent in the cultures encountered by Columbus and the other pre-Columbian natives.

Although the first tribe (led by the chieftain Guacanagari) was extremely friendly to Columbus—so much so that the Columbus even declared that, “a better race there cannot be, and both the people and the lands are in such quantity that I know not how to write it”5—they were not the pacifistic society often portrayed. This first tribe was part of the Taino community which occupied many of the islands in the West Indies. They held those islands, however, because they themselves had conquered, driven out, and replaced the earlier Siboney culture. The Taino domination was so complete that Columbus only ever encountered one such Siboney native.6

The Taino’s warrior culture was noticeably lacking when compared to the truly savage culture of the Carib (or Canib) tribes. These indigenous peoples (from whose name we derive both the words “Caribbean” and “cannibal”) were feared by the Taino because of the constant raids and attacks. During his first voyage, the Taino told Columbus about “extremely ferocious…eaters of human flesh” who “visit all the Indian islands, and rob and plunder whatever they can.”7

Columbus and his shipmates had extensive encounters with the Caribs during the subsequent voyages. The things they saw corresponded exactly with the description giving by their Taino friends, and many other atrocities which they had failed to mention.

For instance, the Caribs would spend up to a decade plundering any particular island until they completely depopulated it through slavery and cannibalism.8 Specifically, on these campaigns they would cannibalize the men and enslave the women and young boys. One of Columbus’s crew member left us with a description of what the Caribs would do to their captives, saying that he found:

twelve very beautiful and very fat women from 15 to 16 years old, together with two boys of the same age. These had the genital organ cut to the belly; and this we thought had been done in order to prevent them from meddling with their wives or maybe to fatten them up and later eat them. These boys and girls had been taken by the above mentioned Caribs;9

The testimony by the Taino of cannibalism was confirmed by the amount of human bones and even cooking limbs found in the villages.10  Another shipmate on the voyage, the lead doctor, also related in depth the terrible acts of the Caribs. He explained:

In their wars upon the inhabitants of the neighboring islands, these people capture as many of the women as they can, especially those who are young and handsome, and keep them as body servants and concubines; and so great a number do they carry off, that in fifty houses we entered no man was found, but all were women. Of that large number of captive females more than twenty handsome women came away voluntarily with us.

When the Caribbees take any boys as prisoners of war, they remove their organs, fatten the boys until they grow to manhood and then, when they wish to make a great feast, they kill and eat them, for they say the flesh of boys and women is not good to eat. Three boys thus mutilated came fleeing to us when we visited the houses.11

Cannibalism – Codex Magliabechiano

The same doctor describes another instance where they came to a Carib slave camp and:

As soon as these women learned that we abhor such kind of people because of their evil practice of eating human flesh, they felt delighted…. These captive women told us that the Carribbee men use them with such cruelty as would scarcely be believed; and that they eat the children which they bear to them, only bringing up those which they have by their native wives. Such of their male enemies as they can take away alive, they bring here to their homes to make a feast of them, and those who are killed in battle they eat up after the fighting is over. They claim that the flesh of man is so good to eat that nothing like it can be compared to it in the world; and this is pretty evident, for of the human bones we found in their houses everything that could be gnawed had already been gnawed, so that nothing else remained of them but what was too hard to be eaten. In one of the houses we found the neck of a man undergoing the process of cooking in a pot, preparatory for eating it.

This authentic eyewitness picture of the indigenous people is radically different that the one presented by Zinn. If this is what he means by “certain innocence” what does guilt looks like? Remember, these are the people of whom he proclaimed that their “relations among men, women, children, and nature were more beautifully worked out than perhaps any place in the world.” It may comes as a shock to Zinn, but no one ought to consider slavery, sexual exploitation, and infant cannibalism as “beautifully worked out.”

This is the New World which Columbus discovered. It wasn’t filled with friendly, peaceful, tribes, but people numerous and warlike. It is against this backdrop that we must evaluate the actions of Columbus and not the fabricated history created by fake historians like Howard Zinn and his followers.


Endnotes

1 Russel Means, quoted by Dinesh D’Souza in “The Crimes of Christopher Columbus,” First Things, November 1995.
2 Eric Kasum, “Columbus Day? True Legacy: Cruelty and Slavery,” Huffington Post, October 10, 2010.
3 Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (New York: Harper Collins, 2015), 21.
4 Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (New York: Harper Collins, 2015), 11.
5 Christopher Columbus, The Journal of Christopher Columbus, trans. Clements Markham (London: Hakluyt Society, 1893), 131.
6 Samuel Morrison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea (New York: MJF Books, 1970), 464.
7 Christopher Columbus, “Letter sent by Columbus to Chancellor of the Exchequer, respecting the Islands found in the Indies,” Select Letters of Christopher Columbus, trans. R. H. Major (London: Hakluyt Society, 1870), 14.
8 “Michele de Cuneo’s Letter on the Second Voyage, 28 October 1495,” Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, trans. Samuel Morrison (New York: Heritage Press, 1963), 219.
9 “Michele de Cuneo’s Letter on the Second Voyage, 28 October 1495,” Journals and Other Documents, trans. Morrison (1963), 211-212.
10 “Letter of Dr. Diego Alvarez Chanca,” Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1907), 48:438, 440.
11 “Letter of Dr. Diego Alvarez Chanca,” Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1907), 48:442.

Columbus and Sex Slavery

I have now reached that point, that there is no man so vile but thinks it his right to insult me. The day will come when the world will reckon it a virtue to him who has not given his consent to their abuse.1

Columbus wrote these words off the coast of Spain, bound in chains. An official officer sent by the King and Queen to investigate allegations of misconduct shipped Columbus and his brothers back to Spain in 1500 after usurping power and allying himself with the armed rebels. Columbus penned the above letter as a vindication of his conduct to Ferdinand and Isabela, and in a sense, his claim proved to be prophetic. As soon as the Sovereigns discovered the imprisonment of Columbus, they ordered him released and to appear before them in order to address the accusations. After hearing Columbus’s defense, they cleared him of all charges. The allegations were not credible and proved to be false upon investigation. Columbus was restored.

Today, the legacy of Columbus finds itself in a similar situation. Columbus Day yearly becomes a battlefield where supposed experts once again drudge up these same old allegations and tout them as some new revelation. One of the most common, and therefore ridiculous, claims is that Columbus trafficked the native women in sex slavery.

Sources ranging from Wikipedia2 to the equally laughable Snopes3 make this accusation. The Huffington Post likewise claims Columbus “supervised the selling of native girls into sexual slavery,” and that he “makes a modern villain like Saddam Hussein look like a pale codfish.”4

They base such a claim on a quote from the same exact letter referenced above. The detractors read a single sentence out of context, and then push their misreading as fact. They quote Columbus as condoning and participating in sex slavery because in his letter he writes:

For one woman they give a hundred castellanos, as for a farm; and this sort of trading is very common, and there are already a great number of merchants who go in search of girls; there are at this moment from nine or ten on sale; they fetch a good price, let their age be what it will.5

This, they say, proves Columbus a villain. However, if we just continue reading the paragraph, Columbus is not at all saying this is a good thing. In fact, he lists these actions in the middle of a long explanation of all the atrocities which a rebelling faction committed. He goes on to lament:

I declare solemnly that a great number of men have been to the Indies, who did not deserve baptism in the eyes of God or men, and who are now returning thither.”6

From even just the slightest bit of context, we discover that the truth is actually exactly opposite of the accusations. What is even more remarkable, is that the same crowd who makes these historical distortions, also overlook the sexual exploitation committed by some of the indigenous people.

During Columbus’ voyages, he came across several islands ruled by a people know as the Caribs (where we get the word Caribbean). He found villages comprised of mostly women who had been enslaved and taken away from their homes. One of the leading crewmen describes that:

These captive women told us that the Carribbee men use them with such cruelty as would scarcely be believed; and that they eat the children which they bear to them, only bringing up those which they have by their native wives.7

This is beastly and truly horrific. Want to talk about sexual exploitation and abuse? There it is. We often think that the New World which Columbus discovered was populated only by kind and peaceful natives. This, however, couldn’t be further from the truth. As you dive into the real, eye-witness accounts of the pre-Columbian world, you discover what Columbus and the later explorers encountered—a land filled with cannibalism, slavery, polygamy, sex trafficking, and even genocide against other tribes.

We will be the first to tell you no one is perfect. The Bible is clear, “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And that certainly includes Columbus, who was far from perfect. But, in the remarkable drama of discovering the New World, Columbus was certainly not the villain he’s portrayed as today.


Endnotes

1 Christopher Columbus, “Letter of the Admiral to the (quondam) nurse of the Prince John, written near the end of the year 1500,” Select Letters of Christopher Columbus (London: Hakluyt Society, 1870), 153-154.
2 “History of Sexual Slavery in the United States,” Wikipedia, accessed October 8, 2018.
3 “Did Christopher Columbus Seize, Sell, and Export Sex Slaves?” Snopes, accessed October 8, 2018.
4 Eric Kasum, “Columbus Day? True Legacy: Cruelty and Slavery,” Huffington Post, October 10, 2010.
5 Columbus, “Letter of the Admiral to the (quondam) nurse of the Prince John,” Select Letters (1870), 165.
6 Columbus, “Letter of the Admiral to the (quondam) nurse of the Prince John,” Select Letters (1870), 165.
7 “Letter of Dr. Diego Alvarez Chanca,” Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1907), 48:440.

No, Revisionists, Thanksgiving is not a Day of Mourning

No, Revisionists, Thanksgiving is not

a Day of Mourning

by David Barton

Just before Thanksgiving [2017], I discussed the origins of the holiday on Glenn Beck’s show The Vault.[1] I understand the program has been used profitably by teachers throughout America. After a college professor showed the episode to a class, a student sent him eleven “articles” posted on the internet purporting to show that the Pilgrims killed and oppressed Indians. He asked me how I would respond to the posts, and what resources I would recommend for readers interested in an accurate account of the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving. I’m happy to be of assistance.

The internet posts did indeed claim that the Pilgrims killed and oppressed Indians.[2] However, they were all opinion pieces that contained no footnotes and mentioned only a few sources—none of which were published before 1990.

If one is seeking to establish facts – such as those related to the Pilgrims’ longstanding peace with the Indians from 1621–1675 – it is necessary to consult primary sources from that era, which include journals, diaries, letters, recorded speeches, and other first-hand evidence about those events. Sources should always be properly cited so that interested, or skeptical, readers can examine them.

The opinion pieces cited by the student made broad, sweeping claims and lacked specificity or details about where or when Pilgrims killed and oppressed Indians. Some articles referenced the Indian war of 1637, but some of the claims could have also referred to an encounter in 1623, or King Philip’s War of 1675, the three early conflicts between Indians and the Pilgrims.

To confirm the truth about any such claims and incidents, three excellent primary sources about the Pilgrims should be consulted. First, Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford. (Bradford regularly served as governor of the colony from 1622–1656, and his journals cover the years 1620–1647). Second, A Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plimoth in New England (also known as Mourt’s Relation, written by Pilgrims William Bradford and Edward Winslow, covering 1620–1621, including the Pilgrims’ relations with the Indians). And third, Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers of the Colony of Plymouth, from 1602 to 1625 (1841; Alexander Young, editor, it includes records of the Pilgrims compiled from 1602–1625).

And there are some excellent contemporary works based on these earlier sources, including Robert Bartlett’s The Pilgrim Way (1971), George Willison’s Saints and Strangers (1965), and anything written about the Pilgrims by Dr. Jeremy Bangs, former Chief Curator of Plimoth Plantation, in Plymouth, Massachusetts (the original home of the Pilgrims) and director of the Leiden-American Pilgrim Museum Foundation. Bangs is considered by other colonial historians to be one the best modern experts on the Pilgrims. He has authored multiple books and articles about the Pilgrims and Puritans, including the easily accessible piece “The Truth About Thanksgiving Is that the Debunkers are Wrong” (available at: https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/15002).

Older works also provide an historically accurate view of the Pilgrims and their many contributions. Particularly useful are American history books written by nineteenth-century historians George Bancroft, Benson Lossing, and Charles Coffin. (These books are available online at www.books.google.com.)

Also of benefit is the long series of Forefathers’ Day orations. Since 1769, Forefathers’ Day has been celebrated annually in Plymouth, Massachusetts, to commemorate the landing of the Pilgrims. The celebration includes annual orations about the Pilgrims that, collectively, provide much history and perspective. Among those delivering these orations were many famous individuals (links to their particular oration appear in each footnote):

·         An Oration Delivered at Plymouth, December 22, 1802, At the Anniversary Commemoration of the First Landing of Our Ancestors At That Place, by John Quincy Adams[3]

·         A Discourse Delivered at Plymouth, December 22, 1820, In Commemoration of the First Settlement of New-England, by Daniel Webster[4]

·         Others orators addressing the subject of the Pilgrims in these annual commemorations include Edward Everett (President of Harvard, Governor of Massachusetts, US Senator);[5] Robert C. Winthrop (President of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Speaker of the US House of Representatives);[6] Rufus Choate (US Senator);[7] Oliver Wendell Holmes (Professor at Harvard, physician, writer);[8] Lyman Beecher (abolitionist; President of Lane Seminary);[9] a second speech by Daniel Webster (US Senator, Secretary of State to three presidents);[10] and others.

(The following link contains a listing of these addresses delivered from 1770 to 1865: www.americanantiquarian.org/proceedings/44539521.pdf.)

Of the three major conflicts between the Pilgrims and the Indians, King Philip’s War was by far the biggest. Concerning this, there are many reputable academic or historical society websites that present a neutral, factual view, including:

·         https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/king_philip.htm

·         https://militaryhistory.about.com/od/battleswars16011800/p/King-Philips-War-1675-1676.htm

·         https://colonialwarsct.org/1675.htm

While these websites are good for brief and general overviews, we always encourage readers to consult primary sources, and particularly important for the 1675 King Philip’s War are:

·         A Relation of the Indian War, by Mr. Easton, of Rhode Island, by John Easton, 1675[11]

·         A Narrative of the Indian Wars in New-England, From the First Planting Thereof, in the Year 1607, to the Year 1677, by the Rev. William Hubbard, 1677[12]

·         The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, 1682[13]

·         Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana, or The Ecclesiastical History of New-England, 1702 (2 vols.)[14]

The following three books are secondary sources about that war, but they rely heavily on relevant primary sources. We therefore highly recommend them:

·         The History of King Philip’s War, by Samuel G. Drake, 1825[15] (an expansion of A Brief History of the Warr with the Indians in New-England, by Increase Mather, 1676[16])

·         The History of King Philip’s War, by Benjamin Church, 1865 (based on the writings of those who participated in the war)[17]

·         King Philip’s War, Based on the Records and Archives of Massachusetts, Plymouth, and Rhode Island and Connecticut, and Contemporary Letters and Accounts, by George Ellis and John Morris of the Connecticut Historical Society, 1906[18]

— — — ⧫ ⧫ ⧫ — — —

After receiving the inquiry from the professor and looking over the articles provided by the student, we began examining the primary source works mentioned above. We also contacted historians in Massachusetts, including those who help run the Pilgrim museum. The outcome was the same. State historians affirm that the official peace between the Pilgrims and the Indians was the longest on record—they have found no record of any treaty that lasted longer than the 54 years of the Pilgrim treaty (1621–1675). Furthermore, when the treaty was eventually broken in 1675 during King Philip’s War, it was the Indians and not the Pilgrims who violated it.

Here is a brief overview (based on primary sources, referenced in the footnotes) verifying what led up to that conflict and the breaking of the treaty.

The Pilgrims, after arriving in December 1620, survived a difficult beginning with the help of several Indians who befriended them.[19] Intending to live in the area where they had landed, they approached the local tribe, seeking to purchase land. The price was set by the Indians, and written documentation of sale was received for those purchased lands.[20]

This policy of purchasing land from the Indians came to characterize the general practice of the New England and portions of the mid-Atlantic regions, being mirrored not only by the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony[21] but also by the Rev. Roger Williams with Rhode Island,[22] the Rev. Thomas Hooker with Connecticut,[23] and William Penn with Pennsylvania.[24] (On one occasion, Penn actually purchased some of the same tracts multiple times because at least three tribes claimed the same land, having taken and retaken it from each other in conquest; so Penn secured it from each.[25]) The practice of purchasing land from the Indians was also followed[*] in New Hampshire,[26] New Jersey,[27] and New York.[28]

The Pilgrims and their Indian neighbors the Wampanoag entered into a peace treaty in 1621. Experiencing good relations with the tribe and a strong friendship with their chief, Massasoit, in 1623 he informed the Pilgrims of a treacherous assault to be made against them by the Massachusetts tribe, which was gathering other chiefs for a surprise attack.[29] Facing potential extermination, Pilgrim Miles Standish led a preemptive strike, thus saving the colonists. Without this, the Pilgrim story could have been as short-lived as that of the colonists of Roanoke, Virginia or Popham, Maine. Good relations continued between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag, with the next period of tensions with other tribes occurring in the 1637 Pequot War.

The Pequot were warlike and aggressive, even against their Indian neighbors on every side, which included the Wampanoag (allies and friends of the Pilgrims), Narragansett, Algonquian, and Mohegan. The Pequot had established a trading monopoly with the Dutch, which the arrival of the English threatened, so they determined to rid the region of the English. After killing some English settlers, the colonists responded and organized strikes against the Pequot.[30] The war spread across much of Connecticut, and also threatened the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colonies. The conflict ended when Sassacus, the chief of the Pequot, was pursued and killed by the Mohegan and Mohawks.[31]

One of the aforementioned articles provided by the student claimed that it was during this war that Pilgrims killed Indians,[32] but this claim is wrong. The Pilgrims’ participation in this conflict was limited to a skirmish at Manisses Villages, where no Indians were killed.[33] Some of the articles provided by the student claim that the Thanksgiving of 1637 was to give thanks that Indians were killed,[34] but this is also in error. It was called to give thanks for the end of the Pequot War.[35]

The Pilgrims lived in harmony with the Wampanoags from the time of their 1621 treaty, through the 1623 and 1637 conflicts, and until the long peace finally collapsed in 1675 with King Philip’s War. Today, revisionist scholars such as James D. Drake, Daniel R. Mandell, and Jill Lepore claim that this conflict was the result of Indians pushing back against greedy land-grabbing colonists, with the Indians simply trying to regain territory that was rightfully theirs.[36]

But such a portrayal is wrong. For example, Pilgrim Governor Josiah Winslow avowed that at the outbreak of the war:

I think I can clearly say that before these present troubles broke out, the English did not possess one foot of land in this colony but what was fairly obtained by honest purchase of the Indian proprietors.[37]

If King Philip’s War was not retaliation for the unjust seizing of Indian land by colonists, what was its cause? The answer is simple: Christian missionaries. Metacom—chief of the Wampanoag Indians and grandson of Massasoit, who took the English name King Philip —recognized that missionaries were converting Indians to Christianity, which was changing some behaviors. This threatened their traditional way of life.

Prior to becoming Christians, Indians often engaged in immoral practices such as the prolonged barbarous torture of captives.[38] Missionaries sought to end such practices by converting Indians and teaching them Christian morals.[39] Missionaries, including John Eliot, Thomas Mayhew, and Andrew White worked extensively with various tribes and had great success in converting Indians to Christianity. By 1674, Eliot’s Christian villages of “praying Indians” in Massachusetts numbered as many as 3,600 converts.[40] It was in the following year (1675) that Metacom, fearing that Christianity would change Indian culture,[41] launched ferocious surprise assaults against settlers in the region,[42] seeking to exterminate all English colonists in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

Numerous places in New England were suddenly and unexpectedly attacked. Colonists were murdered and their belongings burned or destroyed.[43] This included even the town of Providence, where Roger William’s own home was burned.[44] Significantly, Williams had always been on the best of terms with the Indians, not only having purchased his colony from them[45] but also having championed Indian rights and claims.[46] Yet, regardless of how well Christian settlers had previously treated Indians, Christians were all to be exterminated; their very existence was perceived as a threat to Indian practices.

King Philip’s War cannot be accurately characterized as Indians versus the English, however, for many of those attacked were themselves Indians—but they were Christian Indians. They, like the settlers, were targeted, hurt, or killed by their unconverted brethren.[47] To secure their own lives and safety, many of the converted Indians fought side-by-side with the colonists throughout the conflict,[48] and the war eventually ended when Metacom was killed by another Indian.[49]

Returning to the objections raised by the student, it is true that Pilgrims and Puritans killed Indians—but in the context of a just and defensive war. The war lasted about fifteen months, and early in the war more settlers died than did Indians—largely because of the surprise attacks. In fact, of the ninety towns in Massachusetts and Plymouth Colony, twelve were totally destroyed and forty more attacked and partially destroyed.[50] But eventually the colonists assembled local militias and fought back in an organized fashion, finally gaining the upper hand. By the conclusion of the war, 600 settlers and 3,000 Indians had been killed—the highest casualty rate by percentage of total population of any war in American history.[51]

This information about King Philip’s War is not to suggest that the amount of land owned by Indians was not decreasing; it was. But the diminishing land holdings in this region during this time was definitely not for the reason we are often told today. Indian land was fairly purchased by settlers, not stolen.[52] Early historian George Bancroft (1800-1891), known as “The Father of American History”[53] for his systematic approach to documenting the story of America, confirmed that Indian lands were indeed shrinking because the Indians’ own “repeated sales of land has narrowed their domains” to the point where “they found themselves deprived of their broad acres, and by their own legal contracts driven, as it were, into the sea”[54] (emphasis added).

This is not to say that land was never stolen from Indians. Some definitely was. For instance, during the heyday of westward expansion that began in the early nineteenth century, the Indian removal policies of Andrew Jackson certainly violated private property rights,[55] and such policies became the rule rather than the exception, forcibly driving Indians from their lands in Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, and elsewhere across the Southeast.[†] By 1845, the term “Manifest Destiny” was coined to describe the growing notion that it was America’s “destiny” to spread westward, and that nothing—including Indians—should be allowed to stand in the way. As a result, the Biblical view of purchasing private property from its owner was replaced with the anti-Biblical notion that “possession was nine-tenths of the law” and therefore whoever could take and hold the land was its “rightful” owner.[56]

The 19th century deterioration in relations between Americans and Indians over unjust land seizures occurred most commonly two centuries after the Pilgrims. The original treaty the Pilgrims negotiated with the Indians lasted for 54 years until the Indians broke it; and in general, the Pilgrim and Puritan killings of Indians occurred in their own self-defense primarily against the perfidious unprovoked attacks from Metacom’s Indians, and then in ending the war he had started. We find no historical basis to support the general claim made in the articles provided by the student, and certainly no evidence to support the overall tone of the claims in those internet posts.


[*] The author owns one of the nation’s largest private libraries of Founding Era materials, containing over 100,000 originals, or copies of original documents that predate 1812. Among these holdings are multiple original signed deeds in which Indians willingly and voluntarily sell their land to settlers. One example is an Indian deed dated February 9, 1769, and signed by four Indian leaders from the Aughquageys tribe, selling 300,000 acres—or nearly 470 square miles of land—to settlers in New York. The land-area sold by the Indians in just this one transaction was the equivalent of modern Los Angeles or San Antonio, was larger than modern New York City, and seven times larger than modern Washington DC. There are hundreds of such deeds, legitimately transferring land by mutual agreement and purchase from various Indian tribes to colonists/settlers.

[†] Among the other original documents in our library, we also possess land deeds from the state of Georgia selling parcels in Cherokee-held lands directly to settlers, seeking to drive the Cherokee from their homelands.


Endnotes

[1] “Vault: S1:E10 – Thanksgiving,” GlennBeck (at: https://www.glennbeck.com/content/gb_videos/s1e10-thanksgiving/) (accessed on December 27, 2016).

[2] The websites the student included were:

1.       Thanksgiving, a day of mourning for Native Americans: https://www.salon.com/2016/11/23/thanksgiving-a-day-of-mourning-for-native-americans/

2.       American Indian Perspective on Thanksgiving: https://nmai.si.edu/sites/1/files/pdf/education/thanksgiving_poster.pdf

3.       Do American Indians Celebrate Thanksgiving?: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/dennis-w-zotigh/do-american-indians-celebrate-thanksgiving_b_2160786.html

4.       For Me, Thanksgiving Is A “Day Of Mourning”: https://www.refinery29.com/2016/11/130572/day-of-mourning-thanksgiving-protest-native-americans

5.       First Thanksgiving: https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/history/first-thanksgiving/

6.       The REAL Story of Thanksgiving Introduction for Teachers The Plymouth Thanksgiving Story: https://www.manataka.org/page269.html

7.       For National Day of Mourning, Native Americans highlight their struggles: https://www.metro.us/boston/for-national-day-of-mourning-american-indians-highlight-their-struggles/zsJpkv—Q2Rg789wZSCBU/

8.       National Day of Mourning Reflects on Thanksgiving’s Horrific, Bloody History: https://www.boston.com/news/local-news/2014/11/26/national-day-of-mourning-reflects-on-thanksgivings-horrific-bloody-history

9.       Why these Native Americans are spending Thanksgiving marching and mourning, not celebrating: https://fusion.net/story/371773/native-americans-thanksgiving-plymouth-mourning/

10.    National Day of Mourning: https://www.uaine.org/

11.    Local Native Americans consider the history of Thanksgiving: https://pilotonline.com/life/holidays/local-native-americans-consider-the-history-of-thanksgiving/article_982d6590-fe10-57c8-b0b3-170e4d743490.html

[3] This oration is available in its entirety here: https://books.google.com/books?id=oy9cAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA1&#v=onepage&q&f=false.

[5] An Oration Delivered at Plymouth December 12, 1824, by Edward Everett (at: https://books.google.com/books?id=wiVob3vXftAC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false).

[6] An Address, Delivered Before the New England Society, in the City of New York, December 25, 1839, by Robert C. Winthrop (at: https://books.google.com/books?id=KjvgALUiLqoC&pg=PA2#v=onepage&q&f=false).

[7] The Age of the Pilgrims: The Heroic Period of Our History: An Address Delivered in New York Before the New-England Association, December, 1843, by Rufus Choate, beginning on page 371 (at: https://books.google.com/books?id=8ssnAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA371#v=onepage&q&f=false).

[8] Oration Delivered Before the New England Society, In the City of New York, At Their Semi-Centennial Anniversary, by Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1855 (at: https://books.google.com/books?id=VVNIAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA3#v=onepage&q&f=false).

[9] The Memory of our Fathers. A Sermon Delivered at Plymouth, on the Twenty-Second of December, 1827, by Lyman Beecher (at: https://books.google.com/books?id=f3GLfji3qPMC&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false).

[10] Speech of Mr. Webster, at the Celebration of the New York New England Society, December 25, 1850, by Daniel Webster; beginning on page 496 (at: https://books.google.com/books?id=vRs7AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA496#v=onepage&q&f=false).

[19] For example, Samaset and Squanto are both mentioned in William Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation (Boston: 1856), pp. 93-95; Squanto is called Tisquantum in Mourt’s Relation or Journal of the Planation at Plymouth (Boston: John Kimball Wiggin, 1865), pp. 102, 106. Mourt’s Relation also mentions Hobamak (also known as Hobbamock), p. 123.

[20] James Thacher, History of the Town of Plymouth, from its First Settlement in 1620 to the Present Time (Boston: Marsh, Capen & Lyon, 1835), p. 138.

[21] George Bancroft, History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1848), Vol. I, pp. 350-351.

[22] William Gammell, Makers of American History: Roger Williams (New York: The University Society, 1904), pp. 61-62.

[23] G. H. Hollister, The History of Connecticut, From the First Settlement of the Colony to the Adoption of the Present Constitution (New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1855), pp. 18-19, 96.

[24] Samuel M. Janney, The Life of William Penn: With Selections from His Correspondence and Autobiography (Philadelphia: Friends Book Association, 1882), pp. 121-122, 442; George Bancroft, History of the United States of America (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1848), Vol. II, pp. 381-382.

[25] Samuel M. Janney, The Life of William Penn: With Selections from His Correspondence and Autobiography (Philadelphia: Friends Book Association, 1882), p. 442: “It appears that Penn, before his return to England in 1684, had taken measures to purchase the lands on the Susquehanna from the Five Nations (Iroquois) who claimed a right to them by conquest…Governor Dongan, having made the purchase, conveyed the same to William Penn, by deed dated January 13, 1696, in consideration of 100 [pounds] sterling. The Susquehanna Indians did not recognize the right of the Five Nations to make this sale; and, in order to satisfy their demands, Penn entered into a treaty with two of their chiefs, named Widnpah and Andaggy Innekquagh, whose deed, dated September 13th, 1700, conveys the same lands and confirms the bargain and sale made to Governor Dongan. But it appears there was still another chief claiming an interest in those lands, viz. Connoodaghoh, king of the Conostoga or Minquary Indians. This sachem, on company with the king of the Shawnese, the chief of the Ganawese, inhabiting at the heads of the Potomac, the brother of the emperor of great king of the Onondagoes, Indian Harvey, their interpreter, with others of the their tribes to the number of forty, met Penn and his council in Philadelphia on the 23d of 2d month, (April) 1701, and entered into a treaty of amity, in which they also confirmed the sale of the lands on the Susquehanna.”

[26] Jeremy Belknap, The History of New Hampshire (Dover, NH: J. Mann & JK Remick, 1812), pp. 16-17.

[27] John Warner Barber, The History and Antiquities of New England, New York and New Jersey (Worcester: Dorr & Howland & Co, 1841), p. 66.

[28] W. H. Carpenter and T. S. Arthur, History of New Jersey (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co., 1853), pp. 25, 27-28.

[29] William Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation (Boston: 1856), p. 131.

[30] William Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation (Boston: 1856), pp. 351-342, 356-357. 131.

[31] William Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation (Boston: 1856), pp. 349-361; The History of New England from 1630 to 1649 by John Winthrop, James Savage, editor (Boston: Phelps and Farnham, 1825), Vol. I, pp. 222-226.

[33] For an account of the non-involvement of the Pilgrims in the 1837 Pequot War, see: William Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation (Boston: 1856), pp. 355-356, “The Court here agreed forthwith to send 50 men at their own charge; and with as much speed as possible they could, got them armed, and had made them ready under sufficient leaders, and provide a bark to carry them provisions & tend upon them for all occasions; but when they were ready to march (with a supply from the Bay) they had word to stay, for the enemy was as good as vanquished, and there would be no need”; The History of New England from 1630 to 1649 by John Winthrop, James Savage, editor (Boston: Phelps and Farnham, 1825), Vol. I, p. 226: “Upon our governor’s letter to Plymouth, our friends there agreed to send a pinnace, with forty men, to assist in the war against the Pequods; but they could not be ready to meet us at the first.”

[34] See, for example, Thanksgiving, a day of mourning for Native Americans: https://www.salon.com/2016/11/23/thanksgiving-a-day-of-mourning-for-native-americans/; The REAL Story of Thanksgiving Introduction for Teachers The Plymouth Thanksgiving Story: https://www.manataka.org/page269.html; National Day of Mourning Reflects on Thanksgiving’s Horrific, Bloody History: https://www.boston.com/news/local-news/2014/11/26/national-day-of-mourning-reflects-on-thanksgivings-horrific-bloody-history.

[35] The History of New England from 1630 to 1649 by John Winthrop, James Savage, editor (Boston: Phelps and Farnham, 1825), Vol. I, p. 226, entry for March 15, 1637: “There was a day of thanksgiving kept in all the churches for the victory obtained against the Pequods, and for other mercies.”

[36] James D. Drake, King Philip’s War: Civil War in New England 1675-1676 (MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999), pp. 1, 30-31; Daniel R. Mandell, King Philip’s War: Colonial Expansion, Native Resistance, and the End of Indian Sovereignty (MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), pp. 27, 30; Jill Lepore, The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity (Random House, 2009), “What’s in a Name?”  More reputable writers have made similar claims.  See, for example, Francis Jennings, The Invasion of America; Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975), pp. 128, 144-145; New England Encounters: Indians and Euroamericans ca. 1600-1850. Essays Drawn from The New England Quarterly, Alden T. Vaughan, editor (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1999), pp. 61-64, David Bushnell, “The Treatment of the Indians in Plymouth Colony”; Karen Ordahal Kupperman, Indians and English: Facing Off in Early America (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2000), p. 239.

[37] James Thacher, History of the Town of Plymouth, from its First Settlement in 1620 to the Present Time (Boston: Marsh, Capen & Lyon, 1835), p. 138; Abiel Holmes, The Annals of America from the Discovery by Columbus in the Year 1492, to the Year 1826 (Cambridge: Hilliard & Brown, 1829), p. 383.

[38] See, for example, accounts such as:

·         Franklin B. Hough, A Narrative of the Causes which Led to Philip’s Indian War, of 1675 and 1676, by John Easton of Rhode Island (Albany, NY: J. Munsell, 1863), pp. 143-144, an eyewitness account dated February 25, 1675: “Thomas Warner one of the two that came down from Albany and had been prisoner with the Indians who arrived here this morn, being examined, faith, that he was one of the persons that begin sent out from Hatfield where the English Army lay, to discover the enemy, but a party of Indians waylaid them, and shot down 5 of their company, and took 3 of which he and his comrade are two, the 3rd they put to death, the 9th was an Indian that came with them and escaped away. That the Indians lay still two days after they were taken, and then a party of about 30 with whom he was marched to a river to the north-east from thence about 80 miles called Oasuck, where about a fortnight after the rest of the army came to them, having in the mean time burnt two towns: they killed one of the prisoners presently after they had taken him, cutting a hole below his breast out of which they pulled his guts, and then cut off his head. That they put him so to death in the presence of him and his comrade, and threated them also with the like. That they burnt his nails, and put his feet to scald them against the fire, and drove a stake through one of his feet to pin him to the ground. The stake about the bigness of his finger, this was about 2 days after he was taken.”

·         John S. C. Abbott, The History of King Philip (Harper & Brothers, New York, 1857), pp. 317-318, where Abbott, using the words of Cotton Mather, describes Indian tortures: “They stripped these unhappy prisoners, and caused them to run the gauntlet, and whipped them after a cruel and bloody manner. They then threw hot ashes upon them, and, cutting off collops of their flesh, they put fire into their wounds, and so, with exquisite, leisurely, horrible torments, roasted them out of the world.”

·         Richard Markham, A Narrative History of King Philip’s War and the Indian Troubles in New England (New York: Dodd, Mean & Company, 1883), pp. 241-242, describing an event at the beginning of King Philip’s War: “A little after the middle of April [1676] Sudbury was attacked…Captain Wadsworth with fifty men had been dispatched from Boston that day to strengthen the garrison at Marlborough. After his company reached Marlborough, more than a score of miles from Boston, they learned that the savages were on their way against Sudbury…A small party of Indians encountered them when about a mile from their destination, and withstood them for a short time, but yielding to their superior numbers retreated into the forest. Wadsworth and his men followed, but when they were well into the woods suddenly found themselves the centre of five hundred yelling demons, who attacked them on all sides. They made their way to the top of a hill close at hand, and for four hours fought resolutely, losing but five men, for the savages had suffered severely in the first hand-to-hand attack, and feared to come to close quarters. As night came on the enemy set fire to the woods to the windward of their position. The leaves were dry as tinder, and a strong wind was blowing. The flames and smoke rolled up upon the devoted band, threatening their instant destruction. Stifled and scorched, they were forced to leave the hill in disorder. The Indians came upon them so like so many tigers, and outnumbering them ten to one in the confusion slew nearly all. Wadsworth himself was slain. Some few were taken prisoners, and that night were made to run the gauntlet, and after that were put to death by torture.”

[39] See, for example, J. W. Barber, United States Book; Or, Interesting Events in the History of the United States (New Haven: L. H. Young, 1834), p. 53; and Methodist Quarterly Review: 1858, D. D. Whedon, editor (New York: Carlton & Porter, 1858), Vol. XL, pp. 244-245: “In a short time, under the labors of Eliot, hundreds of Indians renounced their heathenism and embraced Christianity. As early as 1660 he had gathered ten settlements of Indians, who were comparatively civilized, and under religious influence…In 1675 King Philip’s War broke out. The missionary settlements of Eliot were in the center of the theater of this war. Many of the Christian Indians would have remained neutral; but Philip attacked them, and drove them into hostility; the commotions that followed not only prevented the progress of the Gospel, but destroyed much that had been done. War blasted all these opening religious prospects of the poor Indians; and war provoked, too, by the aggressions of the white man.”

[40] Gustav Warneck, Outline of a History of Protestant Mission from the Reformation to the Present Time (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1903), p. 165.

[41] J. W. Barber, United States Book; Or, Interesting Events in the History of the United States (New Haven: L. H. Young, 1834), p. 53n; John S. C. Abbott, The History of King Philip (Harper & Brothers, New York, 1857), pp. 171-172.

[42] J. W. Barber, United States Book; Or, Interesting Events in the History of the United States (New Haven: L. H. Young, 1834), pp. 53-54; Richard Markham, A Narrative History of King Philip’s War and the Indian Troubles in New England (New York: Dodd, Mean & Company, 1883), pp. 109-110.

[43] Franklin B. Hough, A Narrative of the Causes which Led to Philip’s Indian War, of 1675 and 1676, by John Easton of Rhode Island (Albany, NY: J. Munsell, 1863), p. 42, a letter dated June 29, 1675, pp. 176-177, “Record of a Court Martial, Held at Newport, R.I. in August, 1676, for the Trial of Indians charged with begin engaged in Philip’s Designs”; William Hubbard, A Narrative of the Indian Wars in New-England from the First Planting Thereof, in the Year 1607, to the Year 1677 (Danbury: Stiles Nichols, 1803), p. 64, notes from a meeting of the commissioners of the united colonies held at Boston, Sept. 9, 1675, pp. 77-78.

[44] National Park Service, “Frequently Asked Questions,” Roger Williams National Memorial Rhode Island (at: https://www.nps.gov/rowi/faqs.htm) (accessed on January 9, 2017). See also Welcome Arnold Greene, The Providence Plantations for Two Hundred and Fifty Years. An Historical Review of the Foundation, Rise, and Progress of the City of Providence (Providence, RI: J.A & R.A. Reid, 1886), p. 42.

[45] William Gammell, Makers of American History: Roger Williams (New York: The University Society, 1904), pp. 61-62.

[46] Romeo Elton, Life of Roger Williams (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1852), pp. 21, 33-34, 39-41, 44-45.

[47] Methodist Quarterly Review: 1858, D. D. Whedon, editor (New York: Carlton & Porter, 1858), Vol. XL, pp. 244-245; John S. C. Abbott, The History of King Philip (Harper & Brothers, New York, 1857), pp. 187-190, 216.

See, for example, Rev. John Holmes, Historical Sketches of the Missions of the United Brethren, p. 210, “With a view to execute their horrid purpose, the young Indians got together, chose the most ferocious to be their leaders, deposed all the old Chiefs, and guarded the whole Indian assembly, as if they were prisoners of war, especially the aged of both sexes. The venerable old Chief Tettepachsit was the first whom, they accused of possession poison, and having destroyed many Indians by his art. When the poor old man would not confess, they fastened with cords to two posts, and began to roast him at a slow fire.”; pp. 210-211, “During this torture, he [Chief Tettepachsit] said, that he kept poison in the house of our Indian brother Joshua. Nothing was more welcome to the savages than this accusation, for they wished to deprive us of the assistance of this man, who was the only Christian Indian residing with us at that time….We knew nothing of these horrible events, until the evening of the 16th, when a message was brought, that the savages had burned an old woman to death, who had been baptized by the Brethren in former times, and also that our poor Joshua was kept close prisoner.”; p. 139, “Their external troubles, however, did not yet terminate. They had not only a kind of tax imposed upon them, to show their dependence on the Iroquois , but the following very singular message was sent them: “The great head, i.e. the Council in Onondago, speak the truth and lie not: they rejoice that some of the believing Indians have moved to Wayomik, but now they lift up the remaining Mahikans and Delawares, and set them down also in Wayomik; for there a fire is kindled for them, and there they may plant and think on God: but if they will not hear, the great head will come and clean their ears with a red-hot iron (meaning they would set their houses on fire) and shoot them through the head with musquet-balls.”

[48] Increase Mather, The History of King Philip’s War (Albany: J. Munsell, 1862), pp. 49-50, 127-128, 184; Henry William Elson, History of the United States of America (The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904), p. 122; George Madison Bodge, Soldiers in King Philip’s War (Boston: 1906), pp. 34, 37, 104.

[49] John S. C. Abbott, The History of King Philip (Harper & Brothers, New York, 1857), p. 361.

[50] John Fiske, The Beginnings of New England (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company,, 1890), p. 240.

[51] James David Drake, King Philip’s War: Civil War in New England, 1675-1676 (The University of Massachusetts Press, 1999), pp. 1–15.

[52] See, for example, George Bancroft, History of the United States From the Discovery of the American Continent (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1848), Vol. II, p. 99.

[53] See, for example, “George Bancroft,” Encyclopedia Britannica (at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/George-Bancroft-American-historian) (accessed on December 30, 2016);

[54] George Bancroft, History of the United States From the Discovery of the American Continent (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1848), Vol. II, p. 99.

[55] William Garrott Brown, Andrew Jackson (New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1900), pp. 130-131; William Graham Sumner, American Statesmen: Andrew Jackson (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1899), pp. 224-229.

[56] See, for example, the Cherokee nation in Georgia. Georgia passed laws dividing Cherokee land up in various counties and put those lands in control of the state. Andrew Jackson, the president at that time, did not interfere with the Georgia laws and would not enforce or support the Supreme Court’s decision that declared this Georgia law unconstitutional. William Garrott Brown, Andrew Jackson (New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1900), pp. 130-131.

* Originally published: Feb. 23, 2017.

* This article concerns a historical issue and may not have updated information.