Monday, November 23, 2009 11/23/09 - the pilgrims and columbus

In today's Thanksgiving encore excerpt - the
discovery of America. Author Tony Horwitz
muses on the discovery of America after
hearing from a Plymouth Rock tour guide named
Claire that the most common question from
tourists was why the date etched on the rock
was 1620 instead of 1492:

" 'People think Columbus dropped off the
Pilgrims and sailed home.' Claire had to
patiently explain that Columbus's landing and
the Pilgrims' arrival occurred a thousand
miles and 128 years apart. ...

"By the time the first English settled, other
Europeans had already reached half of the
forty-eight states that today make up the
continental United States. One of the
earliest arrivals was Giovanni da Verrazzano,
who toured the Eastern Seaboard in 1524,
almost a full century before the Pilgrims
arrived. ... Even less remembered are the
Portuguese pilots who steered Spanish ships
along both coasts of the continent in the
sixteenth century, probing upriver to Bangor,
Maine, and all the way to Oregon. ... In
1542, Spanish conquistadors completed a
reconnaissance of the continent's interior:
scaling the Appalachians, rafting the
Mississippi, peering down the Grand Canyon,
and galloping as far inland as central
Kansas. ...

"The Spanish didn't just explore: they
settled, from the Rio Grande to the Atlantic.
Upon founding St. Augustine, the first
European city on U.S. soil, the Spanish gave
thanks and dined with Indians-fifty-six years
before the Pilgrim Thanksgiving at Plymouth.
... Plymouth, it turned out, wasn't even the
first English colony in New England. That
distinction belonged to Fort St. George, in
Popham, Maine. Nor were the Pilgrims the
first to settle Massachusetts. In 1602, a
band of English built a fort on the island of
Cuttyhunk. They came, not for religious
freedom, but to get rich from digging
sassafras, a commodity prized in Europe as a
cure for the clap. ...

"The Pilgrims, and later, the Americans who
pushed west from the Atlantic, didn't pioneer
a virgin wilderness. They occupied a land
long since transformed by European contact.
... Samoset, the first Indian the Pilgrims
met at Plymouth, greeted the settlers in
English. The first thing he asked for was

Tony Horwitz, A Voyage Long and
Strange, Henry Holt, Copyright 2008 by
Tony Horwitz, pp. 3-6.


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