A Voyage Long and Strange
Rediscovering the New World
By Tony Horwitz
Thorndike Press, Large Print Edition (2009), 695 pages
Genre: History, American
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - September 22, 2009
Most people have no notion of what occurred during the century between Columbus’ discovery of America in 1492 and the arrival of the Mayflower in 1620, or the events in America before Columbus. Tony Horwitz tells the interesting tales of the many dirty and disease infected Europeans who came to America before the Pilgrims in 1620 searching for gold for wealth, grapes for wine, Indian converts to save for Christ, a cure for syphilis, and slaves.
At first glance this history may seem ponderous, but this misconception disappears even after reading part of the first page. The book is written well, with wit and humor and with a scope of interesting details. Horwitz visited the sites that he discuses and describes what and whom he sees in a way that helps the reader understand the history that he is narrating.
The Pilgrims who came to America from England were not the first to settle in this country. Many Europeans preceded them. The Europeans reached half of the forty-eight continental United States. They introduced horses that the Indians had never seen, despite cowboy movies, pigs and diseases.
The first European city in America was not Plymouth, but St. Augustine, founded by the Spanish who celebrated a thanksgiving meal with the Indians fifty-six years before the Pilgrims allegedly did so at Plymouth. There is no proof that the pilgrims had such a ceremony. Anti-European bias probably caused the true history to be forgotten. Moreover, people are wrong who think that the first English colony in America was at Plymouth.
Jamestown preceded Plymouth by thirteen years and was the first permanent English colony in America. In fact, when the Pilgrims disembarked from the Mayflower and came ashore, an Indian who spoke English that he learnt at Jamestown greeted them. These late arrivals were able to find large areas of free land because the diseases brought by the Europeans had killed so many Indians in the area.
The mortality rate at Jamestown was 80 percent and in Plymouth, half the Mayflower passengers died within six months of landing.
Plymouth was not alone in being incorrectly credited. The Norseman Leif Eiriksson discovered the eastern part of the continent long before the time of Columbus. The newly found land was called Newfoundland. However, the general area that the Norsemen settled – which some historians claim reached into northeastern United States was called Vineland because the Norsemen found good grapes and fertile soil in the land that they could use to make wine. Scientists found remains and confirmed that there was a Norse settlement in Newfoundland around the year 1000.
Columbus did not arrive until half a millennium later. While many Americans think that he discovered the United States, the truth is that we do not know exactly where he landed, but it was probably in the Bahamas, four hundred miles southeast of Florida, and he never set foot on United States soil. Columbus was generally wrong: he thought he traveled to India and he thought the world was shaped like a pear.
It was the Spaniard Ponce de Leon who was the first European to enter what later became the United States. He came to Florida in 1513, a century before the English arrived. He named the area Florida because of the many flowers that he saw. He was insulted in the press and a disparaging legend grew up that he traveled throughout Florida looking for a cure for impotence, a story that was latter changed to a search for a fountain of youth.
Horwitz tells how the Spanish explored and settle in America long before the English set foot on American soil, how they butchered and mistreated Indians, and how, among other atrocities, the first recorded sex between a European and an American, an Indian, was rape.
Horwitz also relates the history of the French settlement in Florida in 1564, generations before Jamestown and Plymouth. The French began their settlement with peaceful relations with the Indians, but it did not take long before they also began to kill them.
The English came to North Carolina in 1584, also long before the famed settlements, not to seek a safe place to worship or settle, but a land to plunder.
People will surely end reading this history being struck, and perhaps even bothered, by all the facts that were never mentioned in their high school classes and maybe even somewhat angered over the misinformation they were taught. Horwitz’s book is an enjoyable way to set this matter straight.
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of fifteen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides, the latest being Maimonides: Reason Above All, published by Gefen Publishing House, www.israelbooks.com.