Smithsonian Magazine: The Shocking Savagery of America’s Early History

Documenting every fearful sermon
History • Views: 45,874
The ”peaceful” Pilgrims massacred the Pequots and destroyed their fort near Stonington, Connecticut, in 1637. A 19th-century wood engraving (above) depicts the slaughter. (The Granger Collection, NYC)

It’s all a bit of a blur, isn’t it? That little-remembered century—1600 to 1700—that began with the founding (and foundering) of the first permanent English settlement in America, the one called Jamestown, whose endemic perils portended failure for the dream of a New World. The century that saw all the disease-ridden, barely civilized successors to Jamestown slaughtering and getting slaughtered by the Original Inhabitants, hanging on by their fingernails to some fetid coastal swampland until Pocahontas saved Thanksgiving. No, that’s not right, is it? I said it was a blur.

Enter Bernard Bailyn, the greatest historian of early America alive today. Now over 90 and ensconced at Harvard for more than six decades, Bailyn has recently published another one of his epoch-making grand narrative syntheses, The Barbarous Years, casting a light on the darkness, filling in the blank canvas with what he’s gleaned from what seems like every last scrap of crumbling diary page, every surviving chattel slave receipt and ship’s passenger manifest of the living and dead, every fearful sermon about the Antichrist that survived in the blackened embers of the burned-out churches.

Bailyn has not painted a pretty picture. Little wonder he calls it The Barbarous Years and spares us no details of the terror, desperation, degradation and widespread torture—do you really know what being “flayed alive” means? (The skin is torn from the face and head and the prisoner is disemboweled while still alive.) And yet somehow amid the merciless massacres were elements that gave birth to the rudiments of civilization—or in Bailyn’s evocative phrase, the fragile “integument of civility”—that would evolve 100 years later into a virtual Renaissance culture, a bustling string of self-governing, self-sufficient, defiantly expansionist colonies alive with an increasingly sophisticated and literate political and intellectual culture that would coalesce into the rationale for the birth of American independence. All the while shaping, and sometimes misshaping, the American character. It’s a grand drama in which the glimmers of enlightenment barely survive the savagery, what Yeats called “the blood-dimmed tide,” the brutal establishment of slavery, the race wars with the original inhabitants that Bailyn is not afraid to call “genocidal,” the full, horrifying details of which have virtually been erased.

More: The Shocking Savagery of America’s Early History

Jump to top

Create a PageThis is the LGF Pages posting bookmarklet. To use it, drag this button to your browser's bookmark bar, and title it 'LGF Pages' (or whatever you like). Then browse to a site you want to post, select some text on the page to use for a quote, click the bookmarklet, and the Pages posting window will appear with the title, text, and any embedded video or audio files already filled in, ready to go.
Or... you can just click this button to open the Pages posting window right away.
Last updated: 2016-01-01 10:29 am PST
LGF User's Guide RSS Feeds Tweet

Help support Little Green Footballs!

Subscribe now for ad-free access!Register and sign in to a free LGF account before subscribing, and your ad-free access will be automatically enabled.

Donate with
PayPal
Square Cash Shop at amazon
as an LGF Associate!
Recent PagesClick to refresh
“Did You Even READ the Piece?” This Startup Wants to Make That Question Obsolete for Commentors Let’s be honest: Are you going to read this or skim this? In a land of feeds, tidbits, and bullet points, readers don’t often get to the end of a piece — let alone absorb each sentence along the ...
Thanos
1 day, 20 hours ago
Views: 158 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 1
Tweets: 1 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 0
Comments: 0
: 0
Young the Giant: Simplify (Official Audio) Young The Giant's official audio for their new single 'Simplify' - available now. Download / Stream 'Simplify': lnk.to Catch Young The Giant on Tour this fall with very special guest Lights!More info at: youngthegiant.com Site: youngthegiant.comFacebook: facebook.comTwitter: @youngthegiantInstagram: instagram.comYouTube: ...
Thanos
3 days, 5 hours ago
Views: 176 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 0
Tweets: 1 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 0
Comments: 0
: 0
Traveller - ‘Nobody Makes It Out’ (Live at WFUV)wfuv.org • Follow @wfuv: ow.ly Traveller performs "Nobody Makes It Out" live in Studio A. Recorded 5.9.18. Host: Alisa AliAudio: Caroline InzucchiCameras: Kristal Ho, Brian Gallagher & Kaylee KurkierewiczEditors: Kaylee Kurkierewicz & Brian Gallagher
Thanos
3 days, 6 hours ago
Views: 189 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 0
Tweets: 1 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 0
Comments: 0
: 0
Fantastic Negrito - the Duffler (Official Video) ‘The Duffler’ is taken from Fantastic Negrito's brand new album 'Please Don't Be Dead' out now. Order your copy here: fn.lnk.to Director: Freddy Macdonald Producer: Fred MacdonaldCinematographer: Sebastian KlingerEditor: Freddy MacdonaldProduction Company: Macdonald Entertainment Partners Check here for Fantastic ...
Thanos
3 days, 6 hours ago
Views: 155 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 0
Tweets: 1 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 0
Comments: 0
: 0
Facebook’s Screening for Political Ads Nabs News Sites… One ad couldn’t have been more obviously political. Targeted to people aged 18 and older, it urged them to “vote YES” on June 5 on a ballot proposition to issue bonds for schools in a district near San Francisco. ...
Thanos
4 days, 21 hours ago
Views: 212 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 1
Tweets: 13 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 0
Comments: 0
: 0
Stanford Prison Experiment: Why Famous Psychology Studies Are Now Being Torn Apart Sometimes pseudoscience makes it through to the text books, most often in the soft and social sciences. A new exposé based on previously unpublished recordings of Philip Zimbardo, the Stanford psychologist who ran the study, and interviews with his ...
Thanos
6 days, 16 hours ago
Views: 522 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 3
Tweets: 1 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 0
Comments: 0
: 0
Goliath Season 2 - Official Trailer In Season 2 of Goliath, Billy McBride takes on a new case, and the fight spills into the streets of Los Angeles and alleys of Venice Beach.Goliath returns 6/15 on Prime Video. » Stream Goliath 6/15 on Prime Video: ...
Thanos
1 week ago
Views: 453 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 0
Tweets: 1 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 0
Comments: 0
: 0
Wild Nothing - Letting Go "Letting Go" is the first single from Wild Nothing's forthcoming album, 'Indigo', out 08/31/2018 on Captured Tracks. Order here: wildnothing.lnk.to Follow Wild Nothing:wildnothingmusic.comwildnothingct.bandcamp.comfacebook.cominstagram.com@WildNothingopen.spotify.com Lyrics:It's getting hard for me to reframe all those shifting memoriesLike a music box that never ...
Thanos
1 week, 6 days ago
Views: 626 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 0
Tweets: 0 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 0
Comments: 0
: 0
Third Circuit Nominee Tries to Walk Back Past Comments, Writing Porter appeared before the Judiciary Committee Wednesday despite not receiving the approval of Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. Under the tradition known as the blue slip, the committee has in the past declined to schedule hearings for nominees who do ...
Thanos
1 week, 6 days ago
Views: 642 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 0
Tweets: 5 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 0
Comments: 0
: 0
Wrongfully Influencing a Private Entity’s Employment Decisions by The Executive When Donald Trump makes pro administration or pro republican, or anti democratic party demands, he is breaking the law. I invite those with some familiarity with how this is actually supposed to work to chime in. (a) Whoever, being ...
Unshaken Defiance
2 weeks, 5 days ago
Views: 832 • Comments: 1 • Rating: 9
Tweets: 1 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 0
Comments: 0
: 0