originally posted Oct. 9, 2006
Since childhood, a few events stood out as particularly important to me concerning America’s history. Although I was never all that great on remembering actual dates, events themselves and people involved intrigued me; aiding me in memorization. The few dates that did stick were probably due to the yearly celebration involved, and after all these years (nearly 45) I still remember all three of them!
Fourth of July celebrations with fireworks was a colorful reminder of our country’s independence. I could be a proud American because we were an independant nation under God! Learning this date was easy as it was done in stages, of course, July 4th and then adding the 1776. That wasn’t so difficult.
1620. The date of the Pilgrim’s landing in America, was learned early on along with some interesting historical facts. Raised in Massachusetts, I visited Plymouth Rock countless times in my youth during family outings, school “field trips”, etc. I still recall the anticipation over seeing the rock with the year “1620” engraved right on it, leaving an indellible visual memorial in my mind. That was easy. And I trusted the evidence that I saw with my own eyes – the rock solid truth!
Interestingly enough, as a child I always equated Thanksgiving itself with the year 1620, hence learning that the history of the celebration had an evolution as such. As a child it never concerned me, it helped me remember the date, the Pilgrims and why they came here in the first place, and of course, Thanksgiving. One year at Thanksgiving I even dressed up like a Pilgrim and was proud to know the year they arrived. I had memorized it, of course! I grew up and married Bradford, a direct decendant of Gov. William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth colonists who did celebrate a non-reoccuring three day harvest feast of thanksgiving with their native neighbors in 1621. My oldest son’s middle name is also Bradford. He made a little clothes pin doll of Gov. William Bradford when he was in the second grade. It goes on our Christmas tree every year even though Gov. Bradford forbade the celebrating of Christmas, as true Puritans would. Both our son’s work at Governor’s Restaurant (no relation), sometimes on Thanksgiving, but not on Christmas.
Back to the timeline. The year that America was discovered, as celebrated on Columbus Day each year, I believe, was the very first important historical date I learned – via the rhyming prose I learned at “Happy Hours Kindergarten” . . .
“In Fourteen Hundred and Ninety-two,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He sailed and sailed
and sailed and sailed,
and found this land for me and you!”
The recitation of this verse was sometimes followed in tune by . . .
“This land is your land,
this land is my land,
from California, to the New York Island,
from the Redwood Forrest,
to the Gulf Stream Waters,
this land was made for you and me!”
Christopher Columbus found America for you and me! Or so I thought. While true, that Admiral Columbus discovered America in 1492, I discovered that he was not the original “discoverer” of our country! This revelation tossed my sails. For how long had this very date and event anchored me to pride in my country? Now I was lost at sea. Me, and how many others?
This revelation caused me to wonder what else I learned in grade school that I accepted in innocence as the gospel truth. The necessity of long division. That I must memorize the times tables. That our country would be converting to metric by the time I was an adult. The definition of “psychodelic” according to my art teacher. That David Cassidy loved me back. That I could be the president some day. That man actually walked on the moon – though I saw it with my very own eyes on TV some say it was a hoax. That humans evolved from monkeys – and the great quest to find the missing link. What else?! Educated minds want to know!
Ok. Now that the truth has been exposed, I have had quite some time to adjust to the idea and reframe my historical timeline. I am now ready to share my story . . .
The discovery. It was during my second education as a homeschool mom. A multi-disciplinary unit study on Explorers was the theme. This is when I learned many things I was not taught correctly the first time around, including the truth of America’s discovery.
I recalled how I was so vulnerable, taking at face value what my teachers taught me. I chastised myself for doubting the intuition I had, even as a child, when it occurred to me that if the Indians (as we used to call them) were here before the Pilgrims, that they had found America first. What happened to “finder’s keepers”. I had learned that in school, too. Now I was on a quest. Far be it from me to teach my children false information.
I charted my course. I decided I would just have to investigate these things on my own and verify the sources. Hoyt and Rhinehart would not suffice, I had the world at my fingertips. Log on.
I hoisted my sails. Using the most current reliable resources and verifiable information I sailed the waters of the world wide web, for we all know that everything there is true. Sea monsters aside, I found a plethora of historical text, archaelogical evidence, authentic testimonies, etc. that had been researched on the subject and revealed some fascinating facts. Land ho! I shant write a treatise to convince you, but feel free to do your own research to corroborate the validity of my conclusions.
The discovery. What my sources revealed were that although Christopher Columbus, a remarkable explorer, did unexpectantly find his way to America, he went to his death adamant that he had not found a new continent, rather an alternative route to Asia. Talk about denial. Contrasting the validity of the Pilgrim landing in Plymouth, Columbus’ first landfall remains and issue of uncertainty, although it was somewhere in the Bahama Islands. Although this inadvertant discovery of his was notable, it seems that the New World found him, rather than he it. Lest we be too harsh on him, his voyages were still remarkable, his determination admirable, and his error due to pre-Copernicous navigational methods, corrected only after his death and literally changed the shape of the world.
So then, who was the first discoverer of the Americas? One may truly never know. My unestablished theory was that the individuals were transplants from the Tower of Babel, but that’s a blog for another day. Among the first noted discovers were Amerigo Vaspucci and the Vikings, a perhaps even the ancient Phoenecians. Vaspucci found and explored the South and Central Americas in about 1500 making these continents and their inhabitants of native peoples known to Europe. The continents were named America by a cartographer who attributed Vaspucci with their discovery. Viking explorer Bjarne Herjulfson sighted the New World we know as North America and 10 years later Leif Eriksson landed and explore the place for himself. In about the year 1000 Eriksson established the first settlement in North America, specifically L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, and called it Vinland the Good. Incidently, it remains uncertain whether “Vinland” was meant to describe the area of wine/grapes or grass/pasture that was found as the Vikings explored the northeast coast of North America from Newfoundland, CA to Virginia, USA.
Conclusion. I was pleased to discover the duplicity of my husband and children’s roots in America’s history, as not only were their ancestors Pilgrims, they were Vikings as well. As for me, I have my own American heritage to be proud of as my ancestors were also very early settlers of New England, and immigrants at other significant times in history as well. I am learning new dates all the time! Lest I boast, for someone with a time sense deficit, this is quite profound! I can assert, not only that the Pilgrim’s landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts in the year 1620, but have come to the knowledge of various explorers of America with a new reference of time to place my facts on. I am anchored.
I know and I believe. Yet, I have learned too, that just because something is true, does not necessarily cause one to believe. One of my sons never used to believe in Eskimos, despite the evidence. It was quite sad. He thought they were imaginary, like Gnomes. It may have had something to do with that he never believed in Santa Claus, as we chose to tell the true characters and events of Christmas to celebrate by – an event that itself split time.
Exploring this subject further . . .
Eskimos, regardless if one believed they existed, did. These industrious people were some of the earliest inhabitants of North America. Tribute to theses Inuit peoples (“Inuit” means “real people”) and other Native Americans is now commemorated on September 4th – a national holiday which I did not know even existed, yet am glad it is! However, there were prior civilizations known even to the Inuit who themselves “discovered” and drove away the Thule people who they acknowledged as the first inhabitants, and the Thule were preceeded by the Dorcet Culture.
The celebration of Columbus Day prevails despite the controversy over the actual deservedness of it whereas he is hailed the discoverer of America. Which now seems ludicrous to me. At least Amerigo Vespucci got the country named after him, although prior to the Revolutionary War many folks referred to our country as “Columbia”. Solution? A “Discoverer’s Day” holiday. That would perhaps be more appropriate, don’t you agree? Hawaii celebrates this in lieu of “Columbus Day” as Columbus did not discover that specific land and its indiginous peoples. Captain James Cook did. Despite the distain many have for both of these men due to their having committed acts of violent subjugation of native peoples (Vikings also share that innoble reputation), all those adventurous pioneers who “discovered” and explored our great continent are still admired. After all, they made the New World known to the Europeans, thus bringing many families like mine here as colonists and immigrants to enjoy the benefits of this bountiful land. The whole lot of them, Columbus, Cook, Cortez, Hudson, Pilgrims, Lewis & Clark, and the thousands of folks who exlored the American frontiers all made significant contributions in the discovery of the American continents, deserving recognition if not for their own sake, to encourage others to keep exploring!
Additional Ponderings . . .
>> If “the Indies” was named “Asia” at the time of Columbus’ landing in the Americas would the Indians have been called Asians? Thus, Pilgrims & Asians, Cowboys & Asians, “One little, two little, three little Asians . . . “
>> My sons have embarked on there own journey. I wonder, has my challenging assumptions of truth and teaching my children to think critically and creatively given them tools to help them in their own life quest? What lands will they discover, what oceans will they explore, what truths will they embrace? Do they remember any dates at all?????
>> Disclaimer – This article was in no fashion intended to disrespect the sincerity and intelligence of my school teachers, some of whom my children also had as teachers.