Mayflower Compact

November 21st marks the anniversary of the signing of the Mayflower Compact. To understand the significance of this date, you need to know the history of the Pilgrims who wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact.

The Pilgrims were mainly English Dissenters who attended churches that did not belong to the Church of England. One objection they held was to any monarch being head of the church. This viewpoint was contradictory to an English law stating that if “any of Her Majesty’s [Queen Elizabeth I] subjects deny the Queen’s ecclesiastical supremacy…they shall be committed to prison without bail.”  Years of enduring government persecution led the Pilgrims to [shake] off this yoke of anti-Christian bondage” and move to Holland, where they found religious toleration. After 12 years in Holland they decided to move to America where they could freely worship God, raise Godly children, and share the Christian Gospel with others.

They arranged for two ships to carry them to America: the Speedwell and the Mayflower. But the Speedwell developed leaks in two separate departure attempts and was sidelined. The Mayflower alone set sail for America in September 1620 with 102 “Pilgrims and strangers” (1 Peter 2:11, from which the Pilgrims took their name). It took 66 days for the Pilgrims on the Mayflower to reach America.

(Their trip across the Atlantic was treacherous, with constant storms. In fact, at one point the main beam of the ship broke. Not having the tools necessary to make the repairs, the ship’s crew used the large jackscrew of the Pilgrims’ printing press to raise the beam into place where it could be secured – thus saving the ship and the lives of those on board.)

The Pilgrims were sailing for the northern parts of the Virginia Colony, but fierce winds blew them hundreds of miles north. They finally put ashore at Cape Cod, but in an area not under the authority of the Virginia Colony, they had no official governance. So before leaving the Mayflower, the Pilgrims drew up their own governmental compact, which declared:

Having undertaken for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith, and the honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents [that is, by this legal document and charter] solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic…

This document — signed on November 21, 1620 (November 11 by the old calendar) — became known as the Mayflower Compact. It became the first purely American document of self-government that (to borrow words later employed by Abraham Lincoln) was “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” (America’s other governing documents had been written in England by English officials in order to govern the Americans.) Additionally, the Pilgrim’s document placed American self-government firmly on a Christian foundation. The Mayflower Compact is definitely worth being honored.

* Originally Posted: Nov. 2020

A Tale of Two Cities: Jamestown, Plymouth, and the American Way

The Pilgrims

Embarkation of the Pilgrims

By the time it’s all said and done, very few years have been as momentous as 2020. Between pandemics, riots, elections, it might be easy to forget the path that has led America to this position. But, 2020 was also the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims landing upon our shores.

These religious dissidents hardly seem the heroes of an epic stretching across centuries, thousands of miles, and millions of people. However, it is no exaggeration to say that their courageous voyage fundamentally altered the direction of the world. The diminutive beginnings at Plymouth Rock represent the proverbial mustard seed that would eventually grow into a mighty tree of liberty.

The Pilgrim story is one of faith through hardship, and endurance through persecution. They were the first to risk their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor” for the establishment of freedom on American shores.1 Due to their religious beliefs differing from the state-mandated doctrines set by the King, they were persecuted and oppressed. William Bradford, the future governor of Plymouth, explained how, “some were taken and clapped up in prison, others had their houses beset and watched night and day, and hardly escaped their hands.”2

Persecution

William Brewster

After years of harassment, this congregation of pious dissenters was eventually chased out of England by King James in 1607. They fleed to the city of Leiden, Holland for twelve years. Even though they no longer lived in England they still felt called to minister to their countrymen. So Pilgrim leader William Brewster began clandestinely printing religious books which would then be smuggled back into England. Needless to say, their contraband writing and “illegal” speech infuriated the King and officials in the Church of England. Although in a different country, they still were not free from the King of England’s reach. He sent out agents to uncover who was responsible for these “dangerous” opinions.3

Upon discovering the press of William Brewster in Leiden, James pressured the authorities to crack down on the Pilgrim enclave. Seeing the precariousness of their situation, the Pilgrims sent a delegation to England. They proposed a compromise in which they would travel to America in exchange for their religious freedom. Miraculously they secured an agreement. Now, they would have a place to practice their beliefs without interference from the King. In return, they had to give fifty-percent of their earning to the crown.4

Travel to America

With this plan the Pilgrims had to chart a new course through dangerous waters. Some decided to stay behind and others could not come. Then one of their boats was unable to make the trip—possibly due to sabotage—so even more were kept from the pilgrimage. By the time the Mayflower carried its collection of Pilgrims and Strangers (the name given to the other colonists who weren’t a part of the dissenters) only 104 souls embarked from the shores of the Old World.5 As Alexis de Tocqueville described so well in his monumental work, Democracy in America, the Pilgrims sought, “a land so barbarous and so abandoned by the world that they might yet be permitted to live there in their manner and pray to God in freedom.”6

Over the next year, from the voyage to the First Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims suffered from innumerable hardships. They steadily lost many of the men, women, and children. When they eventually celebrated the first successful harvest with their Native allies the following year, hardly 50 Pilgrims had survived.7 The fact that any of them survived is remarkable, but when placed within context it becomes undeniably miraculous.

Native Americans

Prior to the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus the Native Americans largely lived in a state of nearly continual and bloody conflict. Tribe against tribe, nation against nation, the Indians waged war over resources, land, and honor. Cannibalism, slavery, and human sacrifice were unfortunately common.8 Agricultural learning was still in its early stages of development. Their technology was centuries behind Europe when the two civilizations met. Indeed, the natives lacked items such as gunpowder, ocean-fairing vessels, or even wheeled transportation. There was no such thing as the peaceful and tranquil “noble savage.” The Native Americans were very much people—undeniably flawed, and in every way in as much need of the redeeming sacrifice of Christ as everyone else.

Pilgrims Vision

Signing the Mayflower Compact

It was on this land that the hardy Pilgrims—outcasts from their homeland and fugitives from tyrants—set their hopes. Their vision was twofold. On the one hand they hoped to carve out a home for themselves and their children where they could worship God in their own way instead of having their religious beliefs dictated to them by the King. On the other hand, the Pilgrims sincerely wished to bring the hope of Christianity to the native people.9 The Mayflower Compact explained that all that they had sacrificed, all they had suffered, and all they had risked was for “the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith.”10

Pilgrims Actions

These goals caused the Pilgrims to make many developments and advancements in the fields of government, education, religious freedom, human rights, and political liberty. When it came to relations with the surrounding Native American tribes, the Pilgrim’s Christian foundation enabled them to forge the longest lasting peace treaty in early American history and successfully begin evangelism efforts.11 Taking the Bible as the guide book to every major facet of life—a map to creation authored by the Creator—the Pilgrims instituted the free market, the institutional independence of the church from the dictates of the government, stronger protections for private property, and public education.12 In 1641 they also passed possibly the first anti-slavery law on the continent making “man-stealing” a capital offence.13

In fact, when a slave ship came to them in 1646, the Pilgrims prosecuted the slavers and liberated the slaves.14 Although far from perfect—for all have fallen short and sinned (see Romans 3:23)—those early beginnings of anti-slavery sentiment eventually led to the New England area being the first places in the modern world to abolish slavery, with Massachusetts specifically ending the institution in 1783—a full 50 years before England, which was the first independent nation to abolish slavery.15

Jamestown

However, the Pilgrims were not the only people to colonize the New World. As Tocqueville noted, America contains, “two principal offshoots that, up to the present, have grown without being entirely confused—one in the South, the other in the North.”16 In 1607 a group of merchants and traders had occupied land given to them in the New World by the King of England founding the colony of Jamestown, Virginia. Having different motivations, desires, and hopes, the colonists of Jamestown acted dramatically differently from the later Pilgrims.

Instead of coming for religious freedom, the Jamestown colonists largely came as agents of the King for the purpose of economic profit and trade. Thus, slavery was introduced early into Jamestown and protected by their legal codes. Their relations with the native tribes was markedly more contentious, tragic, and warlike. The lack of a Biblical structure and spiritual motivations created a vastly different environment.

Pilgrims vs Jamestown: The Fruits

These two seeds sprouted two rival trees which both sought to dominate the fertile land that eventually became the United States. From Jamestown the crooked and perverse Tree of Slavery began to creep across the young country. Plymouth, however, a different sort of plant took root. Based upon their dedication to the Bible, the Tree of Liberty first budded in the fields plowed by the Pilgrims. As the Scriptures say, “a tree is known by its fruit,” (Matthew 12:33), and the product of Jamestown and Plymouth differ drastically from one another.

This map from 1888 perfectly illustrates this duality in the American identity—a tale of two cities. The map was created only a generation after the Civil War, which itself was but the cataclysmic struggle between the heirs of the differing philosophies of Jamestown and Plymouth. Designed to teach their children about the history behind the war, it traces the heritage for the South back to Jamestown and the North to Plymouth. Going further, the map highlights the fundamental difference between purpose of founding each colony. While Jamestown was established for mammon [worldly riches], Plymouth was planted upon the Bible.

Slavery

Jamestown and Mammon

From these two very different places, two trees sprouted and stretched across the country. From Jamestown grew the Tree of Slavery, whose poisoned branches produce pain, suffering, and evil. The fruit of slavery include: avarice, lust, ignorance, superstition, sedition, secession, treason, and rebellion. All who eat from this tree unrepentant are warned that their ultimate destination will surely be Hell.

The other seed, the one planted in Plymouth, leads to a much different kind of banquet. The Tree of Liberty produces: free schools, intelligence, knowledge, obedience to law, free speech, equal rights, contentment, love of country, industry, philanthropy, sobriety, benevolence, morality, happiness, justice, patience, virtue, charity, truth, faith, honor, hope, peace, joy, and light. Eventually take those who partake of this tree will at least have the taste of immortality, for such things all sprout from the fountainhead of Christ.

The Problem

Plymouth and the Bible

Today Americans find themselves upon a ship beset and besieged on all sides by turbulent storms and crashing waves. The ones who built this boat, the Founding Fathers, made it sturdy and with great wisdom, but it is up to us to decide where we will put ashore—and into which city will we disembark. Will it be Jamestown or Plymouth? Which tree will we take the fruit from?

There are many today who mistake the Tree of Slavery for one of security. There are serpents which crawl around deceiving many with high sounding nonsense. “Surely you will not die!” (Genesis 3:4). But death will be the least of our concerns if we chose that path. The sad and tragic histories of Germany, Russia, Venezuela, and more bear ample witness to what happens when nations eat of the fruit of slavery and oppression. We must not be similarly deceived.

The Solution

We must once again set a course towards the Tree of Liberty. It is undoubtedly the more difficult of the two paths. The voyage to this New Plymouth may be dangerous, we may be beset by innumerable hardships, and there is no guarantee that we all will make it through that first perilous winter—but freedom is irreplaceable. It is only in a state of liberty that humanity can make good the assertion that “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”17

On the 400th Anniversary of our Pilgrim forefathers planting this small seed of freedom in a world of tyranny and oppression, let us “combine and covenant ourselves together”18 once again in order to turn their tree into an orchard so that all may partake in this feast of liberty. If we work diligently, the harvest will allow us to finally join together in a new day of genuine and heartfelt Thanksgiving just like those pious heroes did some four centuries ago.


Endnotes

1 “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America,” 1776, The Constitutions of the Several States of America; The Declaration of Independence (Philadelphia: J. Stockdale, 1782), 5, here.

2 William Bradford, The History of Plymouth Plantation (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1856), 10.

3 Ashbel Steele, Chief of the Pilgrims: Or The Life and Time of William Brewster (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott and Co., 1857), 171-180, here.

4 William Bradford, The History of Plymouth Plantation (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1856), 46.

5 “List of Mayflower Passengers,” Society of Mayflower Descendants in the State of New York: Fourth Record Book (October 1912): 167-178, here.

6 Alexis de Tocqueville, trans. Harvey Mansfield, Democracy in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 32.

7 Walter Wheeler, An Illustrated Guide to Historic Plymouth Massachusetts (Boston: The Union News Company, 1921), 57-58, here.

8 See, for example, Jonathan Richie, “Before the West was Won: Pre-Columbian Morality,” WallBuilders (October 12, 2019): here; Fernando Santos-Granero, Vital Enemies: Slavery, Predation, and the Amerindian Political Economy of Life (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009), 226-227.

9 Joseph Banvard, Plymouth and the Pilgrims (Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1851), 25.

10 Henry Dexter, editor, Mourt’s Relation; or Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth (Boston: John Kimball Wiggin, 1865), 6.

11 David Bushnell, “The Treatment of the Indians in Plymouth Colony,” The New England Quarterly 26, no. 2 (1953): 193-194, 207, here.

12 Cf., David Barton and Tim Barton, The American Story: The Beginnings (Aledo: WallBuilders Press, 2020), 79-80.

13 ed. Francis Bowen, Documents of the Constitution of England and America, from Magna Charta to the Federal Constitution of 1789, (Cambridge: John Bartlett, 1854), 72; see also, Jonathan Richie, “America’s Exceptional History of Anti-Slavery,” WallBuilders (April 6, 2020): here.

14 Nathaniel Shurtleff, Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England (Boston: William Whites, 1853), 1.168, 176.

15 For more see, Jonathan Richie, “America’s Exceptional History of Anti-Slavery,” WallBuilders (April 6, 2020): here.

16 Alexis de Tocqueville, trans. Harvey Mansfield, Democracy in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 30.

17 “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America,” 1776, The Constitutions of the Several States of America; The Declaration of Independence (Philadelphia: J. Stockdale, 1782), 1, here.

18 Henry Dexter, editor, Mourt’s Relation; or Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth (Boston: John Kimball Wiggin, 1865), 5-7.

Biblical Truth: Society’s Abandonment of it and the Christian’s Duty to Grasp It and Never Let Go

This is a part of our Alumni Series of articles written by past participants of the WallBuilders/Mercury One Summer Institutes (formerly the Leadership Training Program).

By Erin Hogan – Class of 2016

Truth. The 1828 Webster definition of truth states that it is, “Conformity to fact or reality; exact accordance with that which is, or has been, or shall be.” The modern dictionary says, “the true or actual state of a matter: conformity with fact or reality; verity.”

John C.P. Smith in an article titled “What is Truth” (Smith, 2015) said biblical truth is “inextricably linked to the dependable, unchanging character of God. You can trust everything He says; He never lies; He always keeps His Word; He’s faithful to all His promises.” Biblical truth says that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). The Bible also says that Jesus is the truth (John 14:6).

We see what the world did to the incarnate truth. They crucified Him. Is this not a picture of what we are seeing in our world today? The crucifixion of biblical truth? There are two ways that I see biblical truth being exploited today. Let’s take a look at these:1

Truth is being distorted.

Progressives are pushing for Christians and people of faith to accept liberal ideologies like the LGTBQ movement or else suffer the consequences. Many cry out for the Christian to love, and yet in their demand for Christians to follow love, they miss the biblical and godly definition of love. It is because of love that Christians and people of faith decry the dereliction from the Bible that is personified in the LGTBQ movement and the progressively liberal ideas of today.

A recent example of distorting the truth would be society’s embrace of Cultural Marxism. The outcry and demand for people to apologize amidst anarchy or the call to defund the police is really a call to pander to a rebellious generation of all ethnicities who want things handed to them while ignoring the real issues of justice, social reform and those who are hurting in our society.

In confronting Cultural Marxism, Dr. Voddie Baucham said:

“There’s no such thing as social justice, people. In fact, in the Bible, justice never has an adjective. There’s justice and there’s injustice, but there’s not different kinds of justice.”

Many modern churches and Christians have fallen for these mistruths, erroneously slipping away from the solid biblical truth that we are called to uphold.

We also see truth being mishandled in our government. This is nothing new, but with the recent SCOTUS decisions regarding “sexual orientation,” “gender identity” and abortion, we see a moving away from historic and constitutional truth as well as biblical truth. Originalism is hanging by a thread while most of our justices claim stare decisis (a Latin phrase meaning “to stand by the decided things) and precedent of past erroneous legal decisions in making their rulings today. We have seen examples of this in recent SCOTUS cases like: R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and June Medical Services v. Russo.

In both of these cases, the truth was extremely distorted—all to fit the current narrative of the progressive definition of truth. Justice Thomas was right in his dissent on June Medical Services v. Russo when he said, “Because we can reconcile neither Roe nor its progeny with the text of our Constitution, those decisions should be overruled.” (JUNE MEDICAL SERVICES L. L. C. ET AL. v. RUSSO,, 2020) The Constitution must be the guide, especially when the precedent is unconstitutional.
Dr. Voddie Baucham once said, “Culture doesn’t dictate truth; the gospel dictates truth.” That leads us to the second threat to biblical truth in our society.2

Truth, and those who profess it, are being attacked and exploited.

Cutting off Christian thought and opinion from the public sphere has been a prevalent issue for many years. We have seen that in our universities, government buildings, the military, and public schools. Sadly, our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are facing opposition to the truth in a much harsher way, with many giving their lives or spending long jail sentences to uphold it.

LGBTQ progressives are pushing their agenda into our businesses, schools, and churches as they seek to shut the mouths of citizens living out their faith in the public sphere.

 

Our history is also being attacked. Winston Churchill knew, that in his day, not learning from history was a dangerous thing.  That is why he once said, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it” to the House of Commons in 1948 after having faced two great world wars. Unfortunately, his statue is one of many that has been vandalized in the recent riots. This, the statue of a man who helped to save the world.

If we destroy our history, whether that be tearing down statues because it offends us or distorting history textbooks because it doesn’t fit into our political narrative and agenda then we are destined to repeat it and will end up somewhere that is unrecognizable.

So, what do we do about this? What are Christians to do?

What Do We Do?

Something that I have learned is that truth is not a free for all. There aren’t numerous truths or truths for each person. There is only one truth.

Truth must be sought out and properly handled so that it is not distorted amongst the wide and varied array of voices and mistruths exhibited in our culture today. In Proverbs 23 it says to, “Buy the truth, and do not sell it; get wisdom and instruction and understanding.” Truth is not something to be toyed with. It is to be sought out, and then grounded in so that we can speak it out boldly.

When it comes to biblical truth, we are to ground ourselves in it by studying “to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). We’re also commanded to pray for our leaders so we can live a peaceable and quiet life (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We are to pray for an environment where we can live peaceable and quiet lives in all godliness. The apostle Paul was telling this to the Christians who were facing heavy persecution in that day.

We should also look to our roots and the rich history that we have. Today, many are pointing only to the bad things of history of which this country and so many others are guilty of. America is not perfect and never has been. But it is still one of the only countries in the world that has sought to repair its wrongs and continue to wave the flag of freedom for ALL. We are a country that can fix itself because of the way that our system was set up by our founders. Our people can confront a wrong and deal with it. We can vote bad people out of office. We can peacefully protest. We can even run for office. This is why our nation is so great.

When we look into the good things about America, we see so many examples of people who had courage, self-sacrifice, compassion, and strength. Our nation has faced many foes inside and outside of this country and America has faced everyone, and with God’s help, we are still going to face the things that threaten to destroy this nation and its livelihood by standing firm on truth.

Working for a biblically conservative organization that focuses on changing public policy and educating citizens on current issues, we see a lot of activists either distorting or attacking the truth. That is why we seek to promote traditional family values and biblical thought in the halls of state government to help preserve the foundations of this nation. That is something we can all do. And it doesn’t have to be only through government policy; it needs to start in our communities.

Christians must get out to vote and call out their elected officials at the state and federal levels when they go a direction that hurts the nation. We must study our history so we can tell the next generation where we came from. That way they will know where to go in the future.

Most importantly, we must go back to the gospel and spread it like wildfire so that the heart condition of this country can be restored to God. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way to do that.

I pray that this nation is no longer “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4:14), but that it can once again be led by the truth in all its dealings.

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of WallBuilders. 


Endnotes

1June Medical Services L. L. C., Et Al. v. Russo, 18-1323 (Supreme Court June 29, 2020). Retrieved from Supreme Court of the Supreme Court of the United States: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/18-1323_c07d.pdf.

2Smith, J. C. (2015, April 17). What is Truth. Retrieved from Answers In Genesis: https://answersingenesis.org/hermeneutics/what-is-truth/.

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

An Appeal to Heaven Flag

During the early days of the War for Independence—while the gun smoke still covered the fields at Lexington and Concord, and the cannons still echoed at Bunker Hill—America faced innumerable difficulties and a host of hard decisions. Unsurprisingly, the choice of a national flag remained unanswered for many months due to more pressing issues such as arranging a defense and forming the government.

However, a flag was still needed by the military in order to differentiate the newly forged American forces from those of the oncoming British. Several temporary flags were swiftly employed in order to satisfy the want. One of the most famous and widespread standards rushed up flagpoles on both land and sea was the “Pinetree Flag,” or sometimes called “An Appeal to Heaven” flag.

As the name suggests, this flag was characterized by having both a tree (most commonly thought to be a pine or a cypress) and the motto reading “an appeal to Heaven.” Typically, these were displayed on a white field, and often were used by troops, especially in New England, as the liberty tree was a prominent northern symbol for the independence movement.1

In fact, prior to the Declaration of Independence but after the opening of hostilities, the Pinetree Flag was one of the most popular flags for American troops. Indeed, “there are recorded in the history of those days many instances of the use of the pine-tree flag between October, 1775, and July, 1776.”2

Some of America’s earliest battles and victories were fought under a banner declaring “an appeal to Heaven.” Some historians document that General Israel Putnam’s troops at Bunker Hill used a flag with the motto on it, and during the Battle of Boston the floating batteries (floating barges armed with artillery) proudly flew the famous white Pinetree Flag.3 In January of 1776, Commodore Samuel Tucker flew the flag while successfully capturing a British troop transport which was attempting to relieve the besieged British forces in Boston.4

The Pinetree Flag was commonly used by the Colonial Navy during this period of the War. When George Washington commissioned the first-ever officially sanctioned military ships for America in 1775, Colonel Joseph Reed wrote the captains asking them to:

Please to fix upon some particular color for a flag, and a signal by which our vessels may know one another. What do you think of a flag with a white ground, a tree in the middle, the motto ‘Appeal to Heaven’? This is the flag of our floating batteries.5

In the following months news spread even to England that the Americans were employing this flag on their naval vessels. A report of a captured ship revealed that, “the flag taken from a provincial [American] privateer is now deposited in the admiralty; the field is a white bunting, with a spreading green tree; the motto, ‘Appeal to Heaven.’”6

As the skirmishes unfolded into all out warfare between the colonists and England, the Pinetree Flag with its prayer to God became synonymous with the American struggle for liberty. An early map of Boston reflected this by showing a side image of a British redcoat trying to rip this flag out of the hands of a colonist (see image on right).7 The main motto, “An Appeal to Heaven,” inspired other similar flags with mottos such as “An Appeal to God,” which also often appeared on early American flags.

For many modern Americans it might be surprising to learn that one of the first national mottos and flags was “an appeal to Heaven.” Where did this phrase originate, and why did the Americans identify themselves with it?

To understand the meaning behind the Pinetree Flag we must go back to John Locke’s influential Second Treatise of Government (1690). In this book, the famed philosopher explains that when a government becomes so oppressive and tyrannical that there no longer remains any legal remedy for citizens, they can appeal to Heaven and then resist that tyrannical government through a revolution. Locke turned to the Bible to explain his argument:

To avoid this state of war (wherein there is no appeal but to Heaven, and wherein every the least difference is apt to end, where there is no authority to decide between the contenders) is one great reason of men’s putting themselves into society and quitting [leaving] the state of nature, for where there is an authority—a power on earth—from which relief can be had by appeal, there the continuance of the state of war is excluded and the controversy is decided by that power. Had there been any such court—any superior jurisdiction on earth—to determine the right between Jephthah and the Ammonites, they had never come to a state of war, but we see he was forced to appeal to Heaven. The Lord the Judge (says he) he judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon, Judg. xi. 27.8

Locke affirms that when societies are formed and systems and methods of mediation can be instituted, armed conflict to settle disputes is a last resort. When there no longer remains any higher earthly authority to which two contending parties (such as sovereign nations) can appeal, the only option remaining is to declare war in assertion of certain rights. This is what Locke calls an appeal to Heaven because, as in the case of Jephthah and the Ammonites, it is God in Heaven Who ultimately decides who the victors will be.

Locke goes on to explain that when the people of a country “have no appeal on earth, then they have a liberty to appeal to Heaven whenever they judge the cause of sufficient moment [importance].”9 However, Locke cautions that appeals to Heaven through open war must be seriously and somberly considered beforehand since God is perfectly just and will punish those who take up arms in an unjust cause. The English statesman writes that:

he that appeals to Heaven must be sure he has right on his side; and a right to that is worth the trouble and cost of the appeal as he will answer at a tribunal that cannot be deceived [God’s throne] and will be sure to retribute to everyone according to the mischiefs he hath created to his fellow subjects; that is, any part of mankind.10

The fact that Locke writes extensively concerning the right to a just revolution as an appeal to Heaven becomes massively important to the American colonists as England begins to strip away their rights. The influence of his Second Treatise of Government (which contains his explanation of an appeal to Heaven) on early America is well documented. During the 1760s and 1770s, the Founding Fathers quoted Locke more than any other political author, amounting to a total of 11% and 7% respectively of all total citations during those formative decades.11 Indeed, signer of the Declaration of Independence Richard Henry Lee once quipped that the Declaration had been largely “copied from Locke’s Treatise on Government.”12

Therefore, when the time came to separate from Great Britain and the regime of King George III, the leaders and citizens of America well understood what they were called upon to do. By entering into war with their mother country, which was one of the leading global powers at the time, the colonists understood that only by appealing to Heaven could they hope to succeed.

For example, Patrick Henry closes his infamous “give me liberty” speech by declaring that:

If we wish to be free—if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending—if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon—we must fight!—I repeat it, sir, we must fight!! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts, is all that is left us!13

Furthermore, Jonathan Trumbull, who as governor of Connecticut was the only royal governor to retain his position after the Declaration, explained that the Revolution began only after repeated entreaties to the King and Parliament were rebuffed and ignored. In writing to a foreign leader, Trumbull clarified that:

On the 19th day of April, 1775, the scene of blood was opened by the British troops, by the unprovoked slaughter of the Provincial troops at Lexington and Concord. The adjacent Colonies took up arms in their own defense; and the Congress again met, again petitioned the Throne [the English king] for peace and settlement; and again their petitions were contemptuously disregarded. When every glimpse of hope failed not only of justice but of safety, we were compelled, by the last necessity, to appeal to Heaven and rest the defense of our liberties and privileges upon the favor and protection of Divine Providence; and the resistance we could make by opposing force to force.14

John Locke’s explanation of the right to just revolution permeated American political discourse and influenced the direction the young country took when finally being forced to appeal to Heaven in order to reclaim their unalienable rights. The church pulpits likewise thundered with further Biblical exegesis on the importance of appealing to God for an ultimate redress of grievances, and pastors for decades after the War continued to teach on the subject. For example, an 1808 sermon explained:

War has been called an appeal to Heaven. And when we can, with full confidence, make the appeal, like David, and ask to be prospered according to our righteousness, and the cleanness of our hands, what strength and animation it gives us! When the illustrious Washington, at an early stage of our revolutionary contest, committed the cause in that solemn manner. “May that God whom you have invoked, judge between us and you,” how our hearts glowed that we had such a cause to commit!15

Thus, when the early militiamen and naval officers flew the Pinetree Flag emblazoned with its motto “An Appeal for Heaven,” it was not some random act with little significance or meaning. Instead, they sought to march into battle with a recognition of God’s Providence and their reliance on the King of Kings to right the wrongs which they had suffered. The Pinetree Flag represents a vital part of America’s history and an important step on the journey to reaching a national flag during the early days of the War for Independence.

Furthermore, the Pinetree Flag was far from being the only national symbol recognizing America’s reliance on the protection and Providence of God. During the War for Independence other mottos and rallying cries included similar sentiments. For example, the flag pictured on the right bore the phrase “Resistance to Tyrants is Obedience to God,” which came from an earlier 1750 sermon by the influential Rev. Jonathan Mayhew.16  In 1776 Benjamin Franklin even suggested that this phrase be part of the nation’s Great Seal.17 The Americans’ thinking and philosophy was so grounded on a Biblical perspective that even a British parliamentary report in 1774 acknowledged that, “If you ask an American, ‘Who is his master?’ He will tell you he has none—nor any governor but Jesus Christ.”18

This God-centered focus continued throughout our history after the Revolutionary War. For example, in the War of 1812 against Britain, during the Defense of Fort McHenry, Francis Scott Key penned what would become our National Anthem, encapsulating this perspective by writing that:

Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”19

In the Civil War, Union Forces sang this song when marching into battle. In fact, Abraham Lincoln was inspired to put “In God we Trust” on coins, which was one of his last official acts before his untimely death.20 And after World War II, President Eisenhower led Congress in making “In God We Trust” the official National Motto,21 also adding “under God” to the pledge in 1954.22

Throughout the centuries America has continually and repeatedly acknowledged the need to look to God and appeal to Heaven. This was certainly evident in the earliest days of the War for Independence with the Pinetree Flag and its powerful inscription: “An Appeal to Heaven.”


Endnotes

1 “Flag, The,” Cyclopaedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the Political History of the United States, ed. John Lalor (Chicago: Melbert B. Cary & Company, 1883), 2.232.
2 Report of the Proceedings of the Society of the Army of the Tennessee at the Thirtieth Meeting, Held at Toledo, Ohio, October 26-17, 1898 (Cincinnati: F. W. Freeman, 1899), 80.
3 Schuyler Hamilton, Our National Flag; The Stars and Stripes; Its History in a Century (New York: George R. Lockwood, 1877), 16-17.
4 Report of the Proceedings (1899), 80.
5 Richard Frothingham, History of the Siege of Boston, and of the Battles of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1849), 261.
6 Frothingham, History of the Siege of Boston (1849), 262.
7 Frothingham, History of the Siege of Boston (1849), 262.
8 John Locke, Two Treatises of Government (London: A. Millar, et al., 1794), 211.
9 Locke, Two Treatises (1794), 346-347.
10 Locke, Two Treatises (1794), 354-355.
11 Donald Lutz, The Origins of American Constitutionalism (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1988), 143.
12 Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, August 30, 1823, National Archives.
13 William Wirt, The Life of Patrick Henry (New York: McElrath & Bangs, 1831), 140.
14 Jonathan Trumbull quoted in James Longacre, The National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans (Philadelphia: James B. Longacre, 1839), 4:5.
15 The Question of War with Great Britain, Examined upon Moral and Christian Principles (Boston: Snelling and Simons, 1808), 13.
16 Jonathan Mayhew, A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers (Boston: D. Fowle, 1750) [Evans # 6549]; John Adams to Abigail Adams, August 14, 1776, National Archives.
17 Benjamin Franklin’s Proposal, August 20, 1776, National Archives.
18 Hezekiah Niles, Principles and Acts of the Revolution in America (Baltimore: William Ogden Niles, 1822), 198.
19 Francis Scott Key, “The Defence of Fort M’Henry,” The Analectic Magazine (Philadelphia: Moses Thomas, 1814) 4:433-434.
20 B. F. Morris, Memorial Record of the Nation’s Tribute to Abraham Lincoln (Washington, DC: W. H. & O. H. Morrison, 1866), 216.
21 36 U.S. Code § 302 – National motto.
22 Dwight Eisenhower, “Statement by the President Upon Signing Bill To Include the Words “Under God” in the Pledge to the Flag,” June 14, 1954, The American Presidency Project.

Lemuel Haynes

July 18th marks the anniversary of the birth of Lemuel Haynes in 1753. Most Americans probably don’t know who this man was, but his is a story definitely worth noting!

Lemuel Haynes was a black American, abandoned at five months old by his parents and hired as an indentured servant. During his years of service, he was treated well and given the opportunity to attend school — a rare experience for blacks in that day. Haynes showed a talent for preaching from a young age and was frequently called on to give sermons and to proofread the sermons of others.

When his term of indenture ended, he enlisted as a Minuteman in the American War for Independence and participated in the siege of Boston and the expedition against Fort Ticonderoga. Decades later, while giving a sermon in his church celebrating George Washington’s birthday, he recounted his own service:

Perhaps it is not ostentatious [bragging] in the speaker to observe that in early life he devoted all for the sake of freedom and independence, and endured frequent campaigns in their defense, and has never viewed the sacrifice too great.

It was in 1785 that he became an ordained minister. During his decades of service as a pastor, as a black American he led churches that were all-white and some that were mixed (whites and blacks worshiping together — a circumstance many are unaware existed in America). He was a remarkable pastor and leader, and his churches experienced revival and growth — evidenced by an 1803 letter he penned:

Not a day nor night in a week but people would crowd to meetings. The great inquiry among the youth and others was, “What shall we do to be saved?” Children of eleven and twelve years of age seemed to be more engaged about religion than they were before about their play. The minds of the people in general were attentive. My house has been often thronged with people who desired to discourse about religion…Thus it has pleased the Lord to do wonders among us, to the praise of His glorious grace.

In 1804, Lemuel received an honorary Masters degree from Middlebury College — the first black man to receive a degree of higher education in America. (One of the amazing items in WallBuilders’ collection is a Bible handbook signed by Lemuel Haynes.)

Lemuel Haynes died in 1833, leaving behind a legacy of sacrificial service for both God and country. This American hero deserves to be remembered today!

People of Faith During COVID-19

Throughout both American and world history, the Church has arisen and become a much-needed leader in times of crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic provides us another such opportunity to be a shining light to people and communities. Gratefully, we have seen many churches across the nation rolling up their sleeves and taking the lead in extending God’s love to others and truly helping those in need during this difficult time.

We’ve compiled a list of actions that people of faith have taken to meet community needs in a practical way. Please use it to take action and serve others.

  1. Help those laid off from work.
    Some churches can financially bless workers who have been laid off by offering them jobs around the church, giving a one-time monetary gift, dropping off a load of groceries and paper-goods, bringing them a gas gift card, or helping them network within the church body to find and provide opportunities for those individuals to take on new jobs, even limited or part time opportunities, working from home. You can also provide them with lists of local resources like food pantries or places that offer free meals. Up to forty percent of all jobs are related to the service industry, and this area has been hit particularly hard in recent days, so this segment of the population may especially need help.
  2. Meet the needs of widows.
    Remember the widows, and especially elderly widows, within the community. Call them and ask how you can help meet their needs. Help limit the need for them to leave their homes and be exposed to the virus. Offer to drop off groceries, meals, medications, and so forth—or have groceries delivered. Have someone from the church mow their lawn or shovel snow from their driveway (weather dependent, of course). Have someone offer to drive them to any appointments they might have.
    If they have children, drop by a goodie bag for the kids that might have games or puzzles or things that they can do during this time off from school. If you have people in your church who are willing to babysit, consider asking if they would offer a day of babysitting services for these families for free.
  3.  Help the elderly.
    Consider setting up a hotline for the elderly to call if they need food or medications. Volunteers can deliver these essentials to their house or utilize grocery store delivery services. Check to see if assistance is needed in taking them to doctor appointments. Identify the needs of the elderly in your community and work together as a church body to meet them. While nursing homes are being extremely cautious, call your local nursing home and ask for the activity director and find out if you can bring them games or books or puzzle books.
  4. Sanitize and disinfect public spaces.
    If you have people with hazmat certifications, ask the city, governments, hospitals, schools, parks, if your church can assist cleaning a public space.
  5. Support small businesses.
    Due to the hysteria, countless businesses are suffering financially during this time – especially small businesses! Consider encouraging your congregation to buy gift cards to local restaurants or businesses right now that can be used later and help financially alleviate some of their current losses. If it’s a local restaurant, consider submitting a large order that can be delivered to families in need of help.
  6. Assist working parents.
    Many families have children who must now stay home from school while the parents are still working. Consider donating a day of babysitting or offering volunteers from the church to babysit for parents who cannot stay home with their children.
  7. Create Family Activity Kits.
    Consider putting together activities for families while they are home. Some ideas include boxes with Scripture readings, instructions for some fun games, worship songs, devotionals, snacks for the kids, and notecards to write encouraging notes to others that can be picked up from the church. Consider having the childrens’ pastor or leader create a special video lesson just for the kids that they can watch at some point during the week.
  8. Help the homeless.
    Consider purchasing food from restaurants and delivering it to homeless shelters or food banks, take them a bag of non-perishable food and toiletry items, or give them a gift card to a local grocery store.
  9. Donate blood!
    Many blood drives have been canceled because of the coronavirus and blood banks are in need of donation! Call your local blood bank and find out what they need and put the word out to your church members!
  10. Activate people to keep praying.
    Keep a running list of people and their specific needs and regularly distribute them to parishioners, encouraging your church to pray for them. People in your church could adopt a nursing home to pray for or those with weak immune systems, government officials who are making critical decisions, or someone suffering from COVID-19 in your community. While offering prayers are important, keeping them going is even more important.
  11. Serve healthcare workers.
    Many healthcare works will be very busy in the coming weeks, and many are placing themselves directly in harm’s way, giving tireless hours.  Consider how you could help healthcare workers you are already in relationship with while they work more during this time. You could offer to babysit their children, provide a meal, or simply send them a note of encouragement. Find out what their needs are and help meet them so they can in turn help those who are ill.
  12. Utilize the giftings in your church!
    Do you have someone who knows how to make homemade hand sanitizer? Ask them if they’d be willing to make some to pass out to those in need. Do you have people who babysit? Ask them if they’ll donate their services. Do you have mechanics? Ask if they can help with oil changes for those who have been laid off or for the widows/single parents/elderly. Do you have counselors? Ask if they’ll donate some sessions for those who need help or encouragement! Ask the youth group to write encouraging notes that can be passed out to first responders and medical workers, along with goodie baskets (with pre-packaged food or items like pens and highlighters and notepads so as not to cause concerns about germs!). This isn’t dependent on church leadership, but rather on the leadership involving those in their congregation who can and will help!

We will not fear during the time because we hold to the promises and truth found in the Word of God.

  • “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” – 2 Timothy 1:7
  • “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9
  • “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

We encourage you to read what CS Lewis and Martin Luther said about panic and pandemics in their day.

If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. – James 2:15-17

Religious Freedom Day

Religious Freedom Day is celebrated in America each year on January 16, the date of the 1786 passage of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom.

Thomas Jefferson was one of America’s strongest voices in support of public religious expressions and religious freedom, but today has been transformed by the media and ill-informed or ill-intentioned academics into someone who was hostile to public religious expressions. But the truth is just the opposite.

Jefferson’s documented record is that he openly promoted the use of the Bible in schools, religious meetings in public buildings, and the study of the Bible for all Americans. As he told a noted political leader, “I have always said, and always will say, that the studious perusal of the Sacred Volume will make better citizens, better fathers, and better husbands.”

(For an accurate view of Jefferson’s beliefs on faith and so many other areas, obtain the best-selling book The Jefferson Lies.)

Jefferson believed that one of the important aspects of religious freedom is to protect the right of religious conscience from government interference. Yet today, too many government officials and bureaucracies routinely attack this right, especially when it conflicts with their pro-homosexual, pro-abortion, pro-secular views about issues ranging from wedding bakers and florists to nurses who refuse to participate in abortions. But Jefferson pointedly declared, “[I]t is inconsistent with the spirit of our laws and Constitution to force tender consciences.

Many other Founding Fathers also acknowledged the importance of the right of conscience:

[T]he consciences of men are not the objects of human legislation. . . . For what business, in the name of common sense, has the magistrate. . . . with our religion? William Livingston (Signer of the Constitution)

Government is instituted to protect property of every sort. . . . Conscience is the most sacred of all property. James Madison (Signer of the Constitution, 4th President of the United States)

Let’s remember that the foundation of all of our religious liberties is the right of religious conscience — a right long protected in America’s governing documents.

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.

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

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.