When was the country we now know as the United States first settled?
If you said 1620 for the Pilgrims you are way off.
“The country we now know as the United States”, which I will call America for the rest of this post, was first settled by Asians thousands of years ago. When the Pilgrims landed, America already had millions of people. Like, say, Squanto, who taught them how to live in America.
The Pilgrims were not even the first white people. There were white people already living in:
- Albany, New York
- Sante Fe, New Mexico
- St Augustine, Florida
- Jamestown, Virginia
- San Juan, Puerto Rico
There were already Jews in New Mexico, Filipinos had already arrived in California and there were blacks living in Virginia, Florida and Puerto Rico. People who would become Chicanos were already in the south-west. All here before the Pilgrims came over on the Mayflower.
In Canada, just so you know, there white people already living in Nova Scotia and Quebec and English-speaking people in Newfoundland.
If you look at the European settlement of America in the 1610s and 1620s, the Pilgrims do not stick out:
- 1610 – Kecoughtan, Virginia – English
- 1610 – Santa Fe – Spanish
- 1615 – Fort Nassau – Dutch
- 1620 – Plymouth Colony – English
- 1622 – Province of Maine – English
- 1623 – Portsmouth – English
- 1623 – Stage Point – English
- 1623 – Dover – English
- 1623 – Pannaway – English
- 1623 – New Castle – English
- 1623 – Fort Nassau – Dutch
- 1624 – Governors Island – Dutch
- 1625 – New Amsterdam – Dutch
- 1626 – Salem – English
The Pilgrims were part of a white wave.
Pilgrim society did not even grow to take over the rest, making it the true starting point of what we now know as White America. In New England it was quickly overtaken by the Puritans, who came in the 1630s. And neither had much to do with the early history of the American South.
If the Pilgrims had failed, as Champlain had in Massachusetts in 1606, American history would have been much the same.
So why the Pilgrims? Why do they get so much attention? Because of Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving was a New England holiday made national by Lincoln during the civil war. The Pilgrims did not become a part of it till the 1890s.
Thanksgiving – the holiday, the Pilgrim story, all of it – functions as an origin myth. But whose origin myth? Well, since Thanksgiving as we know it, down to the cranberries, comes from Northern Wasps, it is their origin myth. After destroying the South in the civil war they pretty much ran the country for a hundred years, so their origin myth has become the country’s origin myth. Even though not everyone came over on the Mayflower, even though many came before the Mayflower.
Feel the hype: Because of Thanksgiving schoolchildren all over America learn about the Pilgrims and Squanto and the Mayflower and Plymouth Rock and all the rest. So the Pilgrims become far more important in people’s minds than they were back in the 1600s.