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The Barbarous Years

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The Barbarous Years

The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675
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Bernard Bailyn gives us a compelling account of the first great transit of people from Britain, Europe, and Africa to British North America, their involvements with each other, and their struggles with...
Bernard Bailyn gives us a compelling account of the first great transit of people from Britain, Europe, and Africa to British North America, their involvements with each other, and their struggles with...
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Description-
  • Bernard Bailyn gives us a compelling account of the first great transit of people from Britain, Europe, and Africa to British North America, their involvements with each other, and their struggles with the indigenous peoples of the eastern seaboard.
    They were a mixed multitude--from England, the Netherlands, the German and Italian states, France, Africa, Sweden, and Finland. They moved to the western hemisphere for different reasons, from different social backgrounds and cultures, and under different auspices and circumstances. Even the majority that came from England fit no distinct socioeconomic or cultural pattern. They came from all over the realm, from commercialized London and the southeast; from isolated farmlands in the north still close to their medieval origins; from towns in the Midlands, the south, and the west; from dales, fens, grasslands, and wolds. They represented the entire spectrum of religious communions from Counter-Reformation Catholicism to Puritan Calvinism and Quakerism.
    They came hoping to re-create if not to improve these diverse lifeways in a remote and, to them, barbarous environment. But their stories are mostly of confusion, failure, violence, and the loss of civility as they sought to normalize abnormal situations and recapture lost worlds. And in the process they tore apart the normalities of the people whose world they had invaded.
    Later generations, reading back into the past the outcomes they knew, often gentrified this passage in the peopling of British North America, but there was nothing genteel about it. Bailyn shows that it was a brutal encounter--brutal not only between the Europeans and native peoples and between Europeans and Africans, but among Europeans themselves. All, in their various ways, struggled for survival with outlandish aliens, rude people, uncultured people, and felt themselves threatened with descent into squalor and savagery. In these vivid stories of individual lives--some new, some familiar but rewritten with new details and contexts--Bailyn gives a fresh account of the history of the British North American population in its earliest, bitterly contested years.

    From the Hardcover edition.

 
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  • Chapter 1

    The Americans

    1

    They lived crowded lives. Few in number by modern demographic standards, even before European diseases tore through their villages like the wrath of God, their world was multitudinous, densely populated by active, sentient, and sensitive spir­its, spirits with consciences, memories, and purposes, that surrounded them, instructed them, impinged on their lives at every turn. No less real for being invisible, these vital spirits inhered in the heavens, the earth, the seas, and everything within. They drove the stars in the sky and gave life and sensibility to every bird, animal, and person that existed, and they were active within the earth's ­materials--­rocks, hills, lakes, and rivers--and in the wind, the cold, the heat, and the seasons.

    These purposeful, powerful spiritual forces that crowded the Indians' world required respect; care had to be taken not to offend them. One must act pru­dently, obey ancient precepts, learn complex prescriptions, and take advice from the gracious and sage. There were right ways and wrong ways. There were ­life-­giving empowerments and tangles of prohibitions. When the rules were broken, people suffered.

    The earth's generosity, on which survival depended, could be jealously withheld. Profligacy, waste, irreverence could offend. Though a community's life depended on the success of the hunt, one might not slaughter animals recklessly. They too were protected by patron spirits, by "elder brothers," by soul spirits of their kind capable of retribution for insults and wanton killings; they too had rights to life and, properly, only limited reasons for dying. Hunting therefore had its rituals: was in itself a form of ritual--­a religious, at times a mystic, rite essential not only for survival but also for the maintenance of order and balance in the world. So the Micmacs in Nova Scotia, out of respect for their prey, strove to prevent any drop of beaver blood from falling on the ground, and when that animal's flesh was boiled into soup, they were careful never to allow the broth to drip into the fire. They refused to eat the embryos of moose for fear of their mothers' retribution. Bones had to be disposed of with care. To treat these remains crudely, to throw them to the dogs or toss them about randomly, would offend the animals' kin and their presiding spirits, who would thereafter prevent their easy capture. So too the creative spirits, who watched jealously over the success of procreation, might resent the punishment of children and remove them from human hands; children were treated indulgently.

    Since the myriad, immanent spirits were everywhere alert, everywhere sensitive and reactive, the whole of life was a spiritual enterprise, and the rules of behavior had to be finely drawn. Propitiating the anima of beavers, who were greatly respected, was especially demanding, and there were significant distinctions: those that were trapped had to be treated differ­ently from those that were otherwise killed. There were special rules for dealing with birds and animals caught in nets; the sex of captured animals mattered in their treatment. Respectful of the animals' spirits, Penobscot hunters would not eat the first deer or moose they killed each season, the Chipaways in the north offered up to ritual the first fish caught in a new net, and Eastern Abenaki boys had to give away their first kill, however small. And everywhere great attention had to be given to the ways that bears, patrician animals, were killed and consumed. Before or after bears were slain (it made no difference which, since in either case their spirits were alive), they had to be addressed with ceremonial...

About the Author-
  • Bernard Bailyn did his undergraduate work at Williams College and his graduate work at Harvard, where he is currently Adams University Professor and James Duncan Phillips Professor of Early American History Emeritus. His previous books include The New England Merchants in the Seventeenth Century; Education in the Forming of American Society; The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, which received the Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes; The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson, which won the National Book Award for History; Voyagers to the West, which won the Pulitzer Prize; Faces of Revolution: Personalities and Themes in the Struggle for American Independence; To Begin the World Anew: The Genius and Ambiguities of the American Founders; and Atlantic History: Concept and Contours. In 2011 he received the National Humanities Medal.

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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675
Bernard Bailyn
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