December 1986 | Volume 38, Issue 1
Ken Stein of Berkeley, California, has sent us an excerpt from an almanac published by Nathaniel Ames in Boston in 1758. Ames gives over the last few pages of his booklet to a discussion of “ America ”—“ Its Past, Present and Future State .”
At the time Ames was writing, the Present State looked none too bright to him: although the year would end with the British beginning to win the war against the French, it opened with the Colonies feuding and the future far from certain.
Therefore, writes Stein, “Ames’vision of the future is especially remarkable. Reading the closing words he wrote to all of us 228 years ago gave me a warm shiver. And perhaps, too, some reason for hope.”
So here are Ames’s good wishes; and with them come ours too.
AMERICA is a Subject which daily becomes more and more interesting—.—I shall therefore fill these Pages with a Word upon its Past, Present and Future State.
I. First of its Past State: Time has cast a Shade upon this Scene.—Since the Creation innumerable Accidents have happened here, the bare mention of which would create Wonder and Surprize; but they are all lost in Oblivion: The ignorant Natives for Want of Letters have forgot their Stock; and know not from whence they came, or how, or when they arrived here, or what has happened since:—Who can tell what wonderful Changes have happen’d by the mighty Operations of Nature, such as Deluges, Vulcanoes, Earthquakes, &c.! —Or whether great Tracts of Land were not absorbed into those vast Lakes or inland Seas which occupy so much Space to the West of us.—But to leave the Natural, and come to the Political State: We know how the French have erected a Line of Forts from the Ohio to Nova-Scotia , including all the inestimable Country to the West of us, into their exorbitant Claim.—This, with infinite Justice, the English resented; & in this Cause our Blood has been spill’d: Which brings to our Consideration,
II. Secondly, The Present State of NORTH-AMERICA .—A Writer upon this present Time says, “The Parts of North-America which may be claimed by Great-Britain or France are of as much Worth as either Kingdom.—That fertile Country to the West of the Appalachian Mountains (a String of 8 or 900 Miles in Length) between Canada and the Missisippi , is of larger Extent than all France , Germany and Poland ; and all well provided with Rivers, a very fine wholesome Air, a rich Soil, capable of producing Food and Physick, and all Things necessary for the Conveniency and Delight of Life: In fine, the Garden of the World!”—Time was we might have been possess’d of it: At this Time two mighty Kings contend for this inestimable Prize:—Their respective Claims are to be measured by the Length of their Swords.—The Poet says, The Gods and Opportunity ride Post; that you must take her by the Forelock being bald Behind.—Have we not too fondly depended upon our Numbers?—Sir Francis Bacon says, The Wolf careth not how many the Sheep be:’ But Numbers well-spirited, with the Blessing of Heaven will do Wonders, when by military Skill and Discipline, the Commanders can actuate (as by one Soul) the most numerous Bodies of arm’d People:—Our Numbers will not avail till the Colonies are united; for whilst divided, the Strength of the Inhabitants is broken like the petty Kingdoms in Africa .—If we do not join Heart and Hand in the common Cause against our exulting Foes, but fall to disputing amongst ourselves, it may really happen as the Governour of Pennsylvania told his Assembly, ‘We shall have no Priviledge to dispute about, nor Country to dispute in.’—
III. Thirdly, on the Future State of NORTH-AMERICA .—Here we find a vast Stock of proper Materials for the Art and Ingenuity of Man to work upon:—Treasures of immense Worth; conceal’d from the poor ignorant aboriginal Natives! The Curious have observ’d, that the Progress of Humane Literature (like the Sun) is from the East to the West; thus has it travelled thro’ Asia and Europe , and now is arrived at the Eastern Shore of America . As the Celestial Light of the Gospel was directed here by the Finger of G O D, it will doubtless, finally drive the long! long! Night of Heathenish Darkness from America :—So Arts and Sciences will change the Face of Nature in their Tour from Hence over the Appalachian Mountains to the Western Ocean; and as they march thro’ the vast Desert, the Residence of wild Beasts will be broken up, and their obscene Howl cease for ever; —Instead of which, the Stones and Trees will dance together at the Music of Orpheus ,—the Rocks will disclose their hidden Gems,—and the inestimable Treasures of Gold & Silver be broken up. Huge Mountains of Iron Ore are already discovered; and vast Stores are reserved for future Generations: This Metal more useful than Gold and Silver, will imploy Millions of Hands, not only to form the martial Sword, and peaceful Share, alternately; but an Infinity of Utensils improved in the Exercise of Art, and Handicraft amongst Men. Nature thro’ all her Works has stamp’d Authority on this Law, namely, “That all fit Matter shall be improved to its best Purposes.”— Shall not then those vast Quarries, that teem with mechanic Stone,—those for Structure be piled into great Cities,—and those for Sculpture into Statues to perpetuate the Honor of renowned Heroes; even those who shall NOW save their Country.— O! Ye unborn Inhabitants of America! Should this Page escape its destin’d Conflagration at the Year’s End, and these Alphabetical Letters remain legible, —when your Eyes behold the Sun after he has rolled the Seasons round for two or three Centuries more, you will know that in Anno Domini 1758, we dream’d of your Times .