Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Early English Colonies

Before the arrival of the English most of the coastal Indians of the Massachusetts to Virgina area lived is small villages such as this.

Sir Walter Raleigh tried to establish a successful English colony in North America several times. All were failures, but he is credited with introducing smoking to the court of King James. James thought smoking was a vile, disgusting and unhealthy habit (he was a few centuries ahead of the times on this thought).

The establishment of the "Lost Colony of Roanoke" in 1587, was the most famous failure of the early English colonial attempts. Established on an island off the coast of modern day North Carolina, Roanoke had the distinction of having the first European born in North America, Virginia Dare.

The last contact with the colonists was when their ship left for England in 1587, for needed supplies. The attack of the Spanish Armada delayed the return of the relief ship until 1590. What they found was that the 100+ colonists had disappeared, no sign of violence or struggle was found although much of the housing and fortifications of the colony had be dismantled. The only clue was the word "Croatan" carved on a tree post. Although both the English and the Spanish (the former to rescue the survivors and the latter to destroy the interlopers into land claimed by Spain) searched for additional clues to the colony's disappearance for many years, the mystery has never been solved to this day.

Jamestown-Virginia 1607, was the first successful English Colony in the New World. It was touch and go for several years but thanks to the strong leadership of Capt. John Smith and initial friendly relations with the local Powhatan Tribes the colony slowly grew.

The marriage of Pocahontas and John Rolfe was hoped to continue peaceful relations with the local Indians.

The peace failed with the death of Pocahontas' father, Chief Wahunsonacock (more commonly known as Chief Powhatan). Increased resentment between the colonists and Indians over cultural misunderstandings and land use rights lead to several small violent clashes. The final breach occurred in 1622, with the Jamestown Massacre, where 347 of the European colonists (25% of the Population) were killed and many captured by the Powhatan Indians under the leadership of Chief Opechancanough (the Uncle of Pocahontas).

The true saviour of the colony was the the cash crop-tobacco. Aways a money maker, tobacco earned Virginia the title "the Colony Built on Smoke."

Plymouth Plantation in 1620, was established by religious discontents, the "Pilgrims" (also known as Separatists) and some adventurers from England.

Arriving on the Mayflower, the colonists were at first dismayed to learn that they were not in Virginia where their contract for settlement gave them a legal claim.

Upon their own authority the men of the colony wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact,establishing a "Body Politic" with equality for all. These action is seen as the beginnings of American independent thought that would lead to the Revolution and US Constitution.

The first Thanksgiving was a celebration of the first harvest in the new colony and the survival of the same.

After the English Civil War of the 17th Century, the new Government of Cromwell became interested in the Caribbean and its treasures. A series of attacks led to the capture of Jamaica from Spain by the English in 1655, by troops under General Robert Venables. The new English colony was an immediate money maker with its vast sugar plantations and as a haven for pirates and privateers raiding the rich seas of the Spanish Main.

The use of sugar plantation slaves in Jamaica like these was the norm throughout the Spanish, Dutch and English colonies on the islands of the Caribbean from Cuba to Grenada.

Family crest of Sir George Calvert, Lord Baltimore, original sponsor and his son Sir Cecil, the founder of Maryland.

In the new colony of Maryland, the Act of Toleration in 1649, became the first law of religious toleration in the New World. This act was originally only for Christians that believed in the trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the concept was later expanded to all European and finally all religions that is now formalized in the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution.

French and Dutch Explorations of the New World

Jacques Cartier claiming the land of Canada for France in 1534.

The explorations of Jacques Cartier.

By 1615, Samuel de Champlain had settled future Montreal, explored the Lake Huron, Lake Ontario and Lake Champlain. All the while solidifying the French claims to what would later be the American North East.

Fr. Jacques Marquette & Louis Joliet extended the claims of France through the Great Lakes to the northern half of the Mississippi River.

A missionary as well as an explorer, Fr. Jacques Marquette converted many to the Catholic faith.

Robert de La Salle completed the exploration of the Mississippi River and claimed the Louisiana Territory for France.

Ever the explorer, La Salle pushed his men to the limits trying to extend his countries claims to the vast midlands of the unknown North American continent. In the end his own men killed him so that they could at last return to France.

Henry Hudson

On his two North American explorations he discovered and named the Hudson River (claimed for his Dutch sponsors) and Hudson Bay (claimed for his English sponsors).

As with many explorers, he died searching the unknown-in his case he was abandoned by his crew and disappeared from history on the vast unknown seas of the New World.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Conquest of the Inca

Atahualpa, 13th and last fully independent Inca Emperor. Defeated his brother Huáscar in a civil war completed just as Pizarro entered the empire.

Francisco Pizarro conquistador in his fifties who decided on one last throw of the dice to find and conquer new lands for God, Glory and Gold. He will have three great advantages over the Incan Empire- a "modern" military with the latest weapons (warhorses, wardogs, crossbows, muskets, cannons, steel weapons, steel & iron armor)  and tactics, European diseases (smallpox being the most deadly) that had recently devastated the Empire and the Incan Civil War that had  further disrupted the Incan government and military.

With a force of less than 200 conquistadors (at least sixty of which were cavalry) and one cannon, Pizarro began the hazardous march into the land of the Inca. 

Destruction of Atahualpa's guards and his capture by the Spanish conquistadors of Pizarro. The capture and subsequent murder of the Inca emperor put Pizarro in virtual control of the empire. The ransom of 22,000 lbs of gold and 44,000 lbs of silver did not save the life of Atahualpa but it did make the conquistadors filthy rich. The value in today's money paid to each of Pizarro's cavalry men for the capture of the emperor was over 1.5 million dollars, each infantryman received around a million dollars worth of gold and silver.Pizarro's share was around 100 million and the "King Fifth" (the amount of all New World income paid directly to the king of Spain) was close to 1/4 billion dollars. Not bad for one days fighting.

Loading Spanish galleons with the kings fifth of the initial Inca treasure taken by Pizarro and his conquistadors. While the people of the Inca would futilely attempt to resist the Spanish for the next thirty years, their empire was for all intents an purposes conquered in that one fateful battle where a handful of Spaniards changed the history of the South America.

Pizarro would rule his new conquests for less then ten years before his greed and mismanagement brought his own destruction, not at the hands of the Indians he had conquered but by that of his own comrades. Pizarro's murder by his captains and officers that he cheated and mistreated. His greed lead to his death after he had succeeded in one of the greatest conquests in the Age of Colonialism.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Inca was not the name of the people, rather "Inka" was the title of the ruler.  The Spanish mistakenly called the people this title.  The people of the Inca referred to their empire as Tawantinsuyu, which meant "four parts together," as the empire was divided into four major administrative centers.
Inca gold representation of the Sun god.  As with the Aztec's, gold was so plentiful in the Inca Empire it had little value except to make into pieces of art, both religious and for personal use.
Inca silver ancestor gods.

Inca gold cup with the Sun god Inti. The vast treasure in silver and gold art works of the Inca drew the avarice attentions of the Spanish Conquistadors.

The "Lost City" of Macu Picu is an example of the sophisticated engineering feats of the people of the Inca Empire.

The quality of their stone construction techniques was so great that these buildings have withstood more than 500 years of the ravages of nature, including numerous earthquakes.

One of the greatest accomplishments of the Incan engineers was the massive road network of over 6000 miles that tied the empire together.

One of the best sources of our knowledge of the Inca comes from their burial sites.  Those of the rich and powerful have large stores of items that tell much about their culture and technologies.

Inca Fortress of Sayhuman at Cusco is another example of the precise stone work that was a hallmark of the engineering skills of the people of the Inca.

The massive size of the stones (many weigh over twenty tons) is readily noticeable in this picture.

Lama, the largest pack animal in Pre-Columbian America. It is one of the wonders of these impressive people that  their massive stone engineering works were completed without assistance of any large draft animals.
Note the terraced fields in the background that date to the time of the Inca Empire.. The use of terraced farm land greatly improved the available food for the Inca Nation.

Time line of Inca Culture. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Major Results of the Conquest of Mexico

The century+ old Aztec Empire was completely destroyed in less than two years by the Spanish under Cortez.

The Aztec Empire was replaced by the new Spanish Empire. Mexico became New Spain and much of the rest of the Americas came under Spanish rule. Mexico would not gain its independence until the 1820's and the last Spanish colonies in the New World (Cuba and Porto Rico)would not be lost until 1898.

The beautiful works of art that Aztecs made of gold became a lure to the conquistadors who lusted for wealth.

For more than two centuries, the Spanish would take tons of gold from their new colonies. This wealth would pay for wars, palaces and all forms of pleasures,
enriching the coffers of the Europeans and funding more colonial conquests.

The great engineering works of the Aztecs and the beautiful city of Tenochtitlan were smashed and replaced by European structures.

The ruins of the Temple Mayor, once almost 200 feet high, stand mute testimony to the destruction of the Aztec culture.

The religion of blood sacrifice and multiple gods died as had so many of its victims-seeped in blood.

Catholic priests and missionaries converted the peoples of the new Spanish Empire. The Roman Catholic religion replaced the gods of old.

War, slavery, maltreatment and most deadly of all-diseases of the "Old World" for which the peoples of the Western Hemisphere had no immunities, decimated the populations of the new colonies. With the loss of 90% of the work force new sources of labor would be needed.

Slaves from Africa were seen as the best choice for much needed labor in the "New World." Africans were inexpensive and coming from tropical climates were thought to be less susceptible to the fevers and diseases that were deadly to the Europeans ( yellow fever being the most feared). For the next three centuries, tens of millions of slaves would be taken to the Americas as more and more colonies were established by the Europeans.

The conquest of the Aztecs established a pattern to follow for the European nations greedy for wealth, new lands and prestige. "Modern" European weapons, and the organization of powerful colonial powers would set out to conquer the rest of the known and unknown World. For three centuries the European empires would grow, numerous wars would be fought (culminating in the greatest war in history, World War Two), countless millions would die and the World would be changed for ever.