Refusing Jamestown revisionism: four hundred years after the founding of Jamestown, revisionists are accusing those first English settlers of genocidal racism, but a look at the facts tells a different story.
Let's face it. We're spending millions of dollars and entirely too much energy on a place that few people outside of Eastern Virginia ever heard of, much less care about. Thus for a whole year or more we shall celebrate the fact that a bunch of British buffoons who knew nothing of what they were doing colonized a swamp for the sake of Christianizing Indians.
These attacks aimed at Jamestown's founding and founders weren't isolated incidents. Attendees of the public "commemoration" of Jamestown would soon perceive--via their public tour guides and literature--that Jamestown was founded by greed-driven, racist, egotistical invaders who were bent on dominating or destroying the noble natives. Contrast this message with Jamestown's Tercentennial 100 years ago, which was a joyous celebration that gave thanks for God's guidance. For the Tercentennial, three million Americans traveled to visit the first permanent English colony in America, which served as a springboard for the development of American civilization. Theodore Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington, and Mark Twain gave orations. The Jamestown church was rebuilt in preparation for the event, joining a surviving tower from 1644. The 300th anniversary monument, a 103-foot obelisk, was inscribed with advice from the Virginia Company exhorting settlers "to serve and fear God the giver of all goodness, for every plantation which our heavenly father hath not planted shall be rooted out."
To continue this legacy of gratitude, Douglas Phillips, president of Vision Forum, an organization dedicated to the rebuilding of the Christian family, along with 11 other groups, planned an alternative celebration last June to remember Jamestown's Christian heritage.
John Eidsmoe, a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel and Oak Brook College law professor, conducted walking tours of Jamestown and lectured for the celebration. "As recently as the 1907 celebration, the Jamestown settlers were hailed as heroes who brought Christianity and the common law to the western hemisphere," Colonel Eidsmoe told THE NEW AMERICAN. "A century later they are accused of greed, exploitation, and even genocide. Jamestown hasn't changed. We've changed. No nation can long survive if it teaches its children to hate their ancestors and be ashamed of their heritage, but the politically-correct crowd has conned us into doing exactly that."
How have we changed? Let's investigate some of the revisionist claims.
Gold as Motive?
The magazine Colonial Williamsburg claims that "the Virginia Company's Jamestown was driven by the hunt for gold and other get-rich-quick schemes." In reality, although profit was a natural motive, the story starts with an Anglican minister and cartographer, Richard Hakluyt. England was "more indebted" to Hakluyt for her colonies, wrote historian William Robertson, "than to any man of that age." Hakluyt wanted to spread the Gospel to every nation. He spent nearly his entire adult life learning languages, translating, interviewing, and writing dozens of books, all to motivate his countrymen to colonize the New World as a mission-business venture. Hakluyt chastised the previously failed English colony at Roanoke, saying greed had been their downfall: "In our own discoveries we had not been led with a preposterous desire of seeking rather gain than God's glorie." He reminded readers "that Godliness is great riches, and that if we first seek the kingdom of God, all other things will be given unto us."
Hakluyt helped found the Virginia Company, the group of London merchants who funded the Jamestown colony. He is likely the author of the 1606 charter which bases the official legal reason for settlement on the Great Commission (Jesus' commandment to his disciples to carry the Gospel to all people everywhere):
in propagating the Christian religion to such people as live in darkness and miserable ignorance of the true knowledge and worship of God and may in time bring the infidels and savages living in those parts to human civility and to a settled and quiet government.
Furthermore, the 17th-century organizers in the Virginia Company did not see business and faith as mutually exclusive. Filmmaker and author Geoffrey Botkin commented to THE NEW AMERICAN on the 17th-century view:
In the minds of the settlers, and in the minds of the visionaries who stimulated the settlement, there was no separation between the duties a Christian has to his family, his occupation, and to the evangelization of his area. They didn't say, "church matters belong in the church and that's it, that's religion ... then we've got this London Company that does the business aspect of life." All of that was highly integrated.
This integration is evident in the Virginia charters, statements of a private company, which address evangelization, honor for the king, establishing trade with natives, and republican representative government. The Virginia Company sent craftsmen to make glass and harvest timber. They encouraged exploration for gold, which turned out to be a fruitless and deadly waste of time. Colonists then turned to farming and livestock. But these enterprises ultimately failed to provide a substantial income. Investors did not receive a return until settler John Rolfe discovered tobacco cultivation.
Not all of Jamestown's founders could be said to be Christian. While nearly all Virginia Company documents are more devout than many modern church writings, some of the recruited settlers didn't share such pious sentiments. For example, John Smith disparagingly described as "little better than Atheists" those men who mocked the seasick pastor, Reverend Hunt.
Racism and Holocaust
A Jamestown curriculum at jamestownjourney.org, the "official education curriculum website of 'America's 400th Anniversary,'" has children discuss ethnocentrism, or superiority over other groups. Students "make a connection with the Jamestown experience" by discussing modern conflicts including "Nazi Germany," "Ethnic Cleansing in Rwanda," and "Gay Rights." The implication is clear: the Jamestown settlers were allegedly motivated by racist beliefs similar to those of Nazis and the architects of the Rwandan genocide. Not only that, the sacred cow of secular liberalism, "gay rights," is served up as a specious parallel with English-Indian conflicts.
To be sure, the writings of settlers display some bias against the natives, but it was a bias based on religion rather than skin color. The Virginia Company called for converting the Indians to Christianity. A company publication stated: "The principle and main ends ... were first to preach and baptize into Christian religion and by propagation of the gospel, to recover out of the arms of the devil a number of poor and miserable souls wrap'd up unto death in almost invincible ignorance."
This "invincible ignorance" included ritual torture, infanticide, and other immoral practices. Henry Spelman, an English teenager traded to the Powhatans to learn their language, wrote that the Indians in coastal Virginia "worship the devil." Spelman lived among the "naturals" for two years. He described Indian customs related to the corn harvest, games, marriage, buildings--and child sacrifice. Concerning the last, he recorded: "After the bodies which ate offered are consumed in the tire ... the men depart merrily, the women weeping."
Of course, in our politically correct times, converting the Indians to Christianity is itself viewed as racist. But from a Christian perspective, what could be more loving than to bring Christianity to a people who had never even heard of it?
Those who charge the early Jamestown settlers with racism ignore the fact that the colony welcomed America's first recorded interracial marriage between Pocahontas and John Rolfe. A letter from John Rolfe asked the governor permission to marry the Indian princess--on the basis of her conversion to Christianity! He wrote in 1615 that their union would be "for the good of this plantation, for the honor of our country, for the glory of God." The Rolfes' example of marriage based on unity of faith, regardless of ethnic origin, stood as legal precedent for over 50 years.
Marital integration was accepted and even encouraged in early Jamestown. Author Tim Hashaw writes in The Birth of Black America: "Spanish spies reported back to King Philip III that the English of Virginia had determined to intermarry with the native population to create a Christian mestizo, of Creole, society in which both English men and women were permitted to marry natives."
Hashaw, a descendent of the first Africans to arrive in Virginia, recounts records of black servants who earned their freedom, owned land, married white of black women, and paid for the passage of black and white servants to work their plantations. Slave laws were not codified until the late 1600s, after a massive immigration of English nobility moved to Virginia.
As part of the claims of ethnocentrism and racism that were promulgated, the May 2007 issue of National Geographic charged the Jamestown colonists with "ecological imperialista" and with taking the land from the hunting-gathering natives. The cover reads, "Jamestown: The Real Story: How settlers destroyed a native empire and changed the landscape from the ground up." Their weapons, as the article reveals, were fences, earthworms, and domestic animals.
European settlement did change the landscape. English law, impacted by the Bible, regarded ownership of land as a possession and an inheritance.
The Powhatans, by contrast, "owned" the land only as long as they were using it before moving on--as National Geographic points out. According to the curriculum at jamestownjourney.org, the Indians of the Jamestown area practiced "communal ownership," believing that "the land belonged to everyone and therefore to no one. However the land was sometimes loosely the property of a certain tribe."
In fact, the tribes were dominated by battle and bloodshed. Bones found at Abington, Virginia, give mute testimony to different groups who lived there, possibly predating the Powhatan. Doug Phillips, a native Virginian and graduate of the College of William and Mary who has led tours in Virginia and New England for the last decade, pointed out that "we have burial grounds of people who appear to be pygmies as well as people who appear to be giants. Were they displaced? Did the Indians take the land from them? We don't know. But we need to have a certain amount of humility when we talk about stealing the land, robbing the land, inherent rights ownership of anything like that."
Other "commemoration" claims went beyond accusing the Jamestown settlers of racism, equating their actions virtually with genocide. At a federally funded "Jamestown 400" signature event, "State of the Black Union," Virginia Governor Tim Kaine told the participants and a C-SPAN audience that in earlier celebrations, "we did not tell the whole story." Governor Kaine then introduced a panel that included the Reverends Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Otis Moss to tell "the whole story." Moss then described Jamestown as a "holocaust" and a "lynching."
In reality, the Virginia Company urged peace with the natives, instructing, "In all your passages you must take great care not to offend the naturals [i.e., natives]." But peace was temporary. The Indians in Tidewater, Virginia, were often hostile. An attempted genocide happened in 1622, led by warrior Chief Opachancano. The massacre, intended to wipe out every settler, killed one-fourth of the population. In three-and-a-half hours, 347 men, women, and children were dead. The test of the colonists were saved by the warning of Chanco, a Christian Indian boy.
Moreover, native peoples in Virginia in the 1600s were not living lives of peace and harmony before the arrival of the settlers. The tribes were consumed by internecine warfare. Chief Powhatan, who ruled over 30 Indian tribes, including the powerful Powhatan tribe itself, had nearly wiped out two entire tribes around the time the English landed.
Christian leaders were incensed at the portrayal of the Christian colonists as rapacious. "For the first time in our nation's history, our officials are not happy about our birthday--in fact, they are ashamed of it," said Doug Phillips. In response to the public apathy and antagonism toward the founding of what became the United States, Vision Forum, along with 11 other groups, held the previously mentioned "Jamestown Quadricentennial." This event was a celebration to remember Jamestown's Christian heritage and what that has meant for America.
Over two years in the planning, "The Jamestown Quadricentennial" was, according to Phillips, an event "in the spirit of the best of America's historic jubilee and centennial celebrations." It kicked off with a reenactment of the first landing as settlers arrived in boats, planted a cross, and dedicated the land to Christ. Speakers reminded participants that Jamestown was America's first practice of the Common Law and republican representative government.
Phillips told THE NEW AMERICAN: "We are putting on the Jamestown Quadri-centennial so that we can leave a legacy of gratitude for future generations.... We want the record to be preserved." Over 4,000 gathered for the weeklong celebration. Held in the historic triangle of Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown, the festivities featured 35 two-hour Faith and Freedom tours, over 20 speakers, and dramatic presentations, including the Marriage of Pocahontas performed by the Academy of the Arts, and fireworks. The Grand Marshall of events was Harrison Tyler, the grandson of the 10th president and a descendant of Pocahontas.
A Jamestown Children's Monument, paid for by the one-dollar donations of mostly home-schooled children, was unveiled by descendants of John Rolfe and Pocahontas, at Fort Pocahontas, part of Sherwood Forrest, President John Tyler's estate. The monument is topped with a granite Bible opened to Psalm 78, a psalm that commands fathers to tell their history to their children "that they will set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments."
One side of the monument is inscribed with the words of Jamestown's visionary founder Richard Hakluyt, an inscription that encapsulates the true spirit of the Jamestown settlement:
Wee shall by plantinge there inlarge the glory of the gospel, and from England Plante sincere religion, and provide a safe and a sure place to receave people from all partes of the worlds that are forced to flee for the truthe of God's worde.
Regina Seppi, a free-lance writer, is a student of history and current events.
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|Title Annotation:||CULTURE WAR|
|Publication:||The New American|
|Date:||Sep 17, 2007|
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