Forts Of The Americas

On their weathered stone battlements can
be read the whole history of the three-century
struggle for supremacy in the New World

On the northwest shoulder of South America, looking out over the blue waters of the Caribbean, an ancient citadel stands guard above a Spanish city. Three thousand miles to the north, where the Gulf of St. Lawrence meets the gray rollers of the North Atlantic, the guns of another once-menacing fortress stare sullenly across a bleak, empty sea. The tropical city is Cartagena, Colombia. The northern bastion is Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, once called the “Gibraltar of the West.” Read more »

Good Fences

The first settlers marked the borders of their lives with simple fences that grew ever more elaborate over the centuries

Good fences make good neighbors,” wrote Robert Frost, and he meant that fences did more than just enclose space; like his woods and roads, they bounded a social and psychological landscape. That fences also form a kind of historical document is suggested by the photographs on these pages. Read more »

Indians In The Land

Did the Indians have a special, almost noble, affinity with the American environment—or were they despoilers of it? Two historians of the environment explain the profound clash of cultures between Indians and whites that has made each group almost incomprehensible to the other.

When the historian Richard White wrote his first scholarly article about Indian environmental history in the mid-1970s, he knew he was taking a new approach to an old field, but he did not realize just how new it was. “I sent it to a historical journal,” he reports, “and I never realized the U.S. mail could move so fast. It was back in three days. The editor told me it wasn’t history.” Read more »

Does A Freeborn Englishman Have A Right To Emigrate?

Just before the Revolution, newly studied documents reveal, the flight of British subjects to the New World forced a panicky English government to wrestle with this question

In the early 1770s it still seemed likely that the struggle between Britain and her American colonies would be peacefully resolved. If it had been, history would have recorded far more clearly a remarkable development that was temporarily cut off by the Revolution. This development was a flood of immigration to British mainland North America and a sudden and immense spread of settlement in the backcountry of the coastal colonies and in the trans-Appalachian West.Read more »

Roanoke Lost

Four hundred years ago the first English settlers reached America. What followed was a string of disasters ending with the complete disappearance of a colony.

Roanoke is a twice-lost colony. First its settlers disappeared—some 110 men, women, and children who vanished almost without a trace. Ever since, it has been neglected by history, and few Americans of today are aware that the English tried and failed to colonize this continent long before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. Four hundred years ago, between 1584 and 1587, Sir Walter Raleigh and his associates made two attempts to establish a settlement on Roanoke Island, in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. One colony returned to England; the other disappeared in America.Read more »

Lost Words Of Colonial America: A Glossary

LANGUAGE EVOLVES so rapidly that today we can no longer even understand some of the words the American colonists brought with them from Europe or devised to fit their lives in the New World. Here are some startling or amusing examples:

 

American Legion ( n. ) Read more »

The Tempest

The storm that wrecked the Virginia-bound ship Sea Venture in 1609 inspired a play by Shakespeare— and the survivors’ tribulations may well have sown the first seeds of democracy in the New World

The story of the British ship Sea Venture is one of history’s most remarkable sagas, an almost unbelievable tale of shipwreck, endurance, and human resourcefulness. But it is more than that. The fate of the survivors of the Sea Venture reverberates in literature, in political theory—in the very founding of America. Read more »

Day By Day in a Colonial Town

How Hadley, Massachusetts, (incorporated 1661) coped with wolves, drunks, Indians, witches, and the laws of God and man.

DURING THE FIRST half of the nineteenth century, there lived in the Connecticut River valley of Massachusetts a scholar and country editor with an insatiable curiosity about the region in which he lived. His name was Sylvester Judd, and his work, except for one posthumous and locally printed history of the nearby village of Hadley, Massachusetts, is practically unknown.Read more »

The Lion’s-eye View

A British Officer Portrays Colonial America

We owe a considerable debt to the British army for our visual perception of the eighteenth-century American scene. Among the officers London posted to North America were a number skilled with sketch pad and paintbrush who spent off-duty hours recording the landscape around them and the campaigns in which they fought. None of these soldier-artists was more observant than Thomas Davies, Royal Artillery. Read more »

Puffing Through The American Past

Within a century after Columbus and his crew first encountered Cuban natives “with a firebrand in the hand and herbs to drink the smoke thereof,” much of Western civilization had taken to tobacco in all its forms—an addiction brought back to the New World in which the sotweed had been discovered. Tobacco was colonial America’s chief export and it remains— pace the Surgeon General—a steadily expanding, multibillion-dollar industry.Read more »