Early America

Introduction to Early America (beginnings to 1750)

Similar to most stories, the narrative of America has two sides- those who were already in North and South America and the Europeans who arrived to create permanent settlements. While we don’t know exactly when the original inhabitants of the American continent arrived, we can see the impacts of their existence through their descendants’ existences, mythology, history, and culture. The Native Americans were largely separate hunter-gathering tribes that spoke different languages and had different cultures in different regions. Their ways of life were prosperous and specific to the region they lived or migrated around. Those that settled in the eastern region of North America had been on their for generations while those in the west tended to migrate around a sector of land for years. Native Americans living in South America grew in technology and population, expanding to form empires and cities. They had been in the Americas for centuries before Europeans attempted to create permanent settlements rather than just explore like the Norse and other Scandinavian groups. The Europeans arrived sometime in the late 1500’s to early 1600’s, the first permanent settlement being established in 1565. Tensions developed between European settlers and Native Americans due to the Europeans’ behavior towards the Native Americans on both North and South America. Although the French had amicable relationships with the Native Americans in North America, the English and Spanish settlers had largely negative responses to those living on the land they wanted to possess. The English worked to remove Native Americans from their lands whereas the Spanish enslaved and killed off the majority of South American empires and tribes. Each European group in the Americas developed and eventually resulted in new nations following several wars for independence, one such being the American Revolution.

Critique of Cabeza De Vaca’s Opinion in His Exploratory Narrative

During the age of European conquest in the world during the 1700’s, Spain sent explorers over to the Americas. One such explorer, Cabeza De Vaca, was tasked with documenting his exploration into the desert lands of modern-day Mexico and Texas. De Vaca’s exploratory narrative illustrates his beliefs and opinions about his surroundings and the Native Americans he met in a derogatory way. His diction in certain passages of the book clearly outline his opinion of the nomadic Native Americans, focusing especially on their behavior when mourning a loved one’s death and when treating De Vaca and his men like gods during an outbreak of European diseases. This diction reflects on the view of Native Americans that many British and Spanish colonizer held during the Early American era. Although De Vaca shows concern about the Native Americans’ salvation, most likely due to his Catholic background, he chose to portray the tribes he came across as easily conquerable. This type of portrayal is what influenced Spain to invest more into colonization efforts, directly resulting in increased European immigration efforts. While De Vaca continued to travel across the future-Texan lands, he detailed his experiences from being forced into slavery, discovering more Native American settlements, and what the environment was like, advertising the land to Spain.

By Sebastiano del Piombo (Sebastiano Luciani)

Literary Themes: Native Spirituality, Symbolism, and Values; Catholic Spirituality; Puritan Plain Style, Puritan Spirituality, Original Sin; Pilgrim Spirituality, Protestant Work Ethic.

Although there was a clear devide between the Christian immigrants coming into the Americas and the Americans already present upon their arrival, all cultures present in their own form of literature and beliefs helped shape the Early American Period. Christian immigrants, whether Protestant or Catholic, held tightly to their beliefs, detailing God’s glory in their literature and daily lives. Some examples of Christian literature during the Early American period would be Edward Taylor’s works and Anne Bradstreet’s works, mentioned below this paragraph. In the same way, Native Americans held to their faiths in their spoken and written literature and in their daily lives. A few examples of Native American verbal history transcribed from this time period would be the Navajo origin myth, the Modoc’s myth, and the Onondaga myth, all mentioned below this paragraph. The themes that both of these General people groups and their literature present– work ethics and spiritualities for example– directly reflected the separated, yet similar factions of Early America.

History of Early Native Americans: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/us-history/precontact-and-early-colonial-era/before-contact/v/native-american-societies-before-contact

Key Authors and Their Works:

The Onondaga- The Earth on Turtle’s Back (retold by Micheal Caduto and Joseph Bruchac)

The Modoc- When Grizzlies Walked Upright (retold by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz)

The Navajo- The Navajo Origin Legend (retold by Washington Matthews)

Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca- A Journey Through Texas

Lopez de Cardenas- A Land So Strange

Edward Taylor- Huswifery

Anne BradstreetTenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, By a Gentleman of Those Parts; To My Dear and Loving Husband

Original Myth

Long ago, there existed no sound. Colors of the darkened orb that was the earth goddess were muted, lacking anything to make them stand out. The sun goddess continued to try to color the earth goddess but ultimately failed as she was sad, lacking something but not knowing what yet. Then, one of the Beautiful Creatures living on the earth goddess took a bamboo chute and started chipping away at it until it became a wooden flute. The goddess of wind circled the earth goddess and inspected the wooden flute. As she flew through the flute, a beautiful sound cam from it. The earth goddess suddenly added a shock of vibrant colors to her trees and flowers and berries, surprised by the pleasant noise. The goddess of wind instructed the Beautiful Creature to chip out small holes on the bamboo cylinder. After it was finished, the goddess flew through the flue again while the Beautiful Creature held down several of the holes. A beautiful melody rang out in the universe and the earth goddess was so pleased, she blessed the Beautiful Creature’s crops and the mountains the goddess of wind loved to play around. Although the earth goddess loved the sound, it could only be played so often as it hurt her when she blessed those on her so often. Her colors remained vibrant forever since despite this, coming to life with oranges and reds during the season of music, a time when crops finish growing and are finally plucked from their waiting places. All the inhabitants of the earth goddess love the season of music and of blessing.

Time Travel Narrative

As lovers of modern technology, it would be hard to transplant anyone from the twentieth or twenty first century into an era before electricity, running water, a democratic government over a large section of the world, or factories. However, I would enjoy learning firsthand about how the events of Cabeza De Vaca’s adventure took place. To see the events from a differently biased perspective could rewrite history. To see how the various Native American groups treated De Vaca and how he and his crew treated them in turn, it could chance the European perception of Native Americans. To know each detail of the journey, even those overlooked, would be enriching and changing.

Fun Facts

  1. The cultivation of maize, or corn, allowed for many groups of Native Americans to settle down in the Southwest (Notes).
  2. The Norse found the Americas first out of all the Europeans since they arrived some time around 1000 C.E. (Notes).
  3. The European Renaissance happened less than a century before Europeans started recolonizing the Americas (Notes).
  4. Spain resulted in exploration westward to give something back to the Pope (Notes).