sabato 16 febbraio 2013

The Story of America (1920)

This morning, while I was organizing one of my bookcases, I found this volume, quintessentially Italian-American — bilingual, in fact. The Story of America / La Storia dell’America by Alberto Pecorini was published here in Boston in the year 1920.  Italian on the left, English on the right.  With great pleasure I share an excerpt from it with you. 


When the Turks captured the city of Constantinople in the year 1453 and became masters of the eastern Mediterranean, the decadence of the maritime cities of Italy began: Venice, Genoa, Pisa and Amalfi, which had become very wealthy during the middle ages, by reason of trade with the East.

The nations of western Europe, Spain, France, England and Portugal, which had seaports on the Atlantic, began to consider the possibility of exploring this vast ocean, which was then entirely unknown beyond the Canary Islands to the south and Iceland to the north.

The opinion of some of the most daring navigators of the time was that, by sailing towards the west, one might reach the eastern coast of Asia, visited a century before by the Venetian navigator, Marco Polo, and thus it would be possible to reestablish the trade between Europe and Asia, which had been interrupted by the Turkish conquests.

Of these navigators the most persevering was Christopher Columbus, a Genoese, who, after having tried in vain to secure ships in his own country, made his way from court to court in the principal countries of Europe where he was opposed and ridiculed by the scientists of that time. At last he succeeded in persuading Queen Isabella of Spain to give him three ships, with a crew of one hundred and twenty men and provisions for one year, with which he sailed from the Spanish port of Palos on August 3, 1492. After ten weeks of sailing toward the west, during the night of October 12, 1492, Columbus saw a distant fire from the poop of his own ship Santa Maria, and the following morning land was seen. It was an island and Columbus named it San Salvador, taking possession of it in the name of the King of Spain. After having visited the coasts of Cuba and Hayti [sic], Columbus returned to Europe where he was covered with honors. He made in all four voyages for the King of Spain; during the third he discovered the mainland of South America. He was assailed on all sides by the envy and greed of adventurers and court officials; he died poor and almost forgotten, without knowing what enormous influence over the destiny of mankind his discovery was bound to have.

The sovereigns of Europe began immediately to prepare ships and to send men to take possession of the new lands of the West, which were supposed to be very rich in gold and precious stones, and their rivalry was the cause of the first explorations of the American continent. The Tuscan navigator, Americus Vespucius, in the service, at different times, of the kings of Portugal and Spain, discovered, the year after Columbus, and explored the coast of the South American continent, especially of Brazil, and it is from Americus that the name America is derived. The Venetian navigator, John Cabot, in the service of the King of England, was the first to explore, in 1498, the coast of North America from Labrador to the region of New England. The Florentine navigator, John da Verrazzano, by order of the King of France, explored, in 1534, the coast of Canada and as far south as New York bay.

These discoveries and explorations did not serve, however, any other purpose than that of establishing the rights of dominion of the various sovereigns of Europe over the new lands. Nobody thought that the real wealth of the American continent was to be derived from tilling the soil and through colonization; captains and adventurers came, with their armed men, to seek for gold and silver and the Spanish conquests in South America especially were made for this purpose.


More than a century passed after John Cabot's first voyage of exploration, before any attempt at colonization was made in North America by the English government. At last in the year 1606 the King of England, James I, authorized the organization of two companies for settling in America. These two companies were called the London Company and the Plymouth Company. The first was to colonize the territory from the mouth of the Potomac River to Florida and the second the territory from the mouth of the Hudson River to Canada.  These boundaries were changed by successive charters, but they covered the coast from the settlements in the South to the French in the North. The territory assigned to the London Company was called Virginia (after the "Virgin Queen" Elizabeth of England), and it was agreed that the emigrants settled there should be considered English citizens resident in America, and should, therefore, enjoy all the rights which they possessed in the mother country.

On New Year's Day 1607, the first emigrants, one hundred and five in number, left London to go to Virginia, under the leadership of Captain John Smith. Having reached their destination, they settled by the James River, named for the King of England, where they founded the town of Jamestown, the first settlement by the English in the territory which is now the United States.

Unfortunately these emigrants were not agriculturists; they had come to America to make their fortune quickly and go back to England. Finding themselves without food, they had to depend on the help of the Indians, who, thanks to the ability of Captain Smith, did not destroy the new colony. The first settlers of Jamestown were joined by others in a few years, and when it was found that the soil of Virginia was well adapted to the cultivation of tobacco, which had begun to be highly prized in Europe, the future of the colony was assured. After 1616 the cultivation of tobacco constituted the principal source of wealth for the colonists.

It became common for many sons of English noblemen and gentlemen to ask and obtain land grants in Virginia and to move to the new country. Usually they established themselves along some river, where ships could come directly from England to load tobacco and other colonial products and to deliver the manufactured goods, of which the settlers were in need. These plantations were very large and the houses distant from one another.

The sudden agricultural success of the colonists of Virginia made them feel acutely the need of cheap labor. The laborers who came from England were not sufficient; and besides, those who immigrated into Virginia as laborers very soon found the way to become themselves owners of land, and, in their turn, were in need of laborers. So it happened in the year 1619 there was brought to the coast of Virginia the first cargo of negro slaves. These were bought on the coast of Guinea in Africa at a price which would be equivalent to-day [1920] to a little more than a dollar a head, and the colonists of Virginia paid to the slave merchants the same price which was then given for a good horse.

In this way a new people came into existence throughout the territory of the London Company, free and courageous. Little by little they became rich; their great drawback was that there existed in their midst the institution of slavery, which, on account of the need of labor, was sanctioned by the law.

In the meantime the Plymouth Company had been considering the way to colonize the territory granted to it. In the year 1620 it was offered the opportunity of establishing a colony of English settlers. These belonged to a company of people known by the name of Pilgrims. During the reign of James I these people had united and had affirmed their independence of the official Church of England, holding the principle that the government of the church should not be monopolized by the hierarchy, but should depend upon the will of the people, as expressed freely and democratically in their congregations. On account of these opinions, the Pilgrims had been compelled to leave England and to take refuge in Holland in 1608, where they had been permitted to conduct worship in their own way.

The exiled Pilgrims did not like, however, to remain among foreigners and therefore they proposed to emigrate to America and found a colony under the sovereignty of the King of England, in which church as well as civil government should be freely administered according to their ideas. So it happened that they left Holland in July, 1620, and went to Plymouth in England, and from that seaport they sailed on board the ship Mayflower, for America, reaching the coast of Cape Cod in the present State of Massachusetts at the end of November.

Finding that the coast was not sufficiently protected from the winds, and that the land was not fertile, they crossed the bay and landed finally on December 21, 1620, on the spot where now is the town of Plymouth. Before landing they got together and signed a covenant pledging themselves to submit to the laws which should be passed by vote of the majority in the assembly of the freemen, who must be church members; in which assembly, according to democratic principles, all the ordinances necessary for public order and for the peaceful development of the colony should be discussed and approved.

The Pilgrims were as a rule poorer than the English colonists who landed in Virginia, but intellectually and morally they were much superior to them and all through the history of the United States their influence has been felt more deeply than that of any other immigrant element. Having come not to get rich and go back to the mother country, but to establish a free and well governed society in America, they went immediately and willingly to work and steadily developed their organization, being favored by the fact that their leaders, instead of being adventurers, were pious men devoted to the public good. The first winter of the new colony was very severe; almost one half of the Pilgrims died, and among them, the first governor, John Carver. To protect themselves from possible attacks by the Indians, the men organized a militia, but the Indians did not prove to be enemies of the new colonists. In the spring of the year 1621 Governor Bradford, who had been elected to succeed Carver, signed with Massasoit, the chief of the Indians of the region, a treaty of peace and friendship, which remained in force for half a century. The Pilgrims were soon followed by other English immigrants, who were called Puritans, who were also opposed to the government and doctrines of the Church of England. More than a thousand of these people came over, with horses, cattle and agricultural implements of all kinds. The first party settled under Governor Endicott, at Salem, 1628; a second party under the leadership of John Winthrop founded the town of Boston in 1630.

In time Pilgrims and Puritans were joined together in the same commonwealth with the same democratic form of government. In the center of every village there was the meeting house for the town meeting, which was also used as a church; and generally as a school; around it there were built the houses of the settlers and in later days a school. The severity of the climate contributed to make the colonists more united in the North, while the mildness of the climate in Virginia allowed the colonists to spread over much larger territory. At first only church members were admitted to the town meeting; but as soon as the number of settlements increased, it became impossible to assemble them all at the same time and place; therefore a representative government was inaugurated, each community electing its representatives; and thereby all the colonists were able to take part in public life by the votes of their representatives, independently of their church connections or affiliations. In this way after having affirmed the principle of democracy, the colonists adopted the principle of complete religious liberty, though they did not put it into practice as regarded Quakers and other sects.

In 1635 three thousand immigrants arrived from England and as there was no more free land in eastern Massachusetts, some of them settled in the fertile valley of the Connecticut River and there they founded the three towns of Hartford, Wethersfield, and Windsor. In 1639 these three towns united under one government and adopted a covenant or constitution, which is one of the early examples of a written constitution for a democratic government. One was granted by the London Company to Virginia, 1621, another was the covenant drawn up by the Pilgrims on the Mayflower.

In this way the English colonists continued developing themselves in the territory at present known as New England, between the French, who had established themselves in Canada in 1608, and the Dutch, who had settled along the Hudson River in 1623. For fear of being injured by these two rivals of England, the English settlers decided to unite the various colonies into a kind of defensive federation and their representatives met in Boston in 1643, when they signed a pact of federation, which may be considered as the first step towards American union.

The climate and the geographical position of New England did not favor agriculture as much as industry. The abundance of water power and timber contributed to its development. Fishing was very profitable and a great trade in salted fish was established from the beginning, both with the other colonies on the seaboard and with Europe and the West Indies.

When the English colonies both in the North and in the South were beginning to prosper, a new immigrant element came from England and settled in the central section of the Atlantic coast. These new immigrants were called Quakers and belonged to a religious sect which originated in England, where they were persecuted on account of their peculiar ideas. The Quakers were, however, a people rigidly honest and hardworking; they believed that all men should be absolutely equal and therefore that titles of nobility should not exist; they used with all people "thee" or "thou" in addressing them. They were peaceful to the extent that they refused to pay taxes if the money was to be used in making war. They led a pious life and they considered it a crime to use an oath in court or in any other circumstance. In their private life they were guided by the precepts of the Bible, which they interpreted in a rather literal and primitive way. During the reign of Charles II, William Penn, the younger son of an English admiral well esteemed at the court of England, was converted to the doctrines of this sect. Upon agreement with Penn the King consented to cede to him, in place of a certain sum due him by the government, a large tract of land in America, to the west of the Delaware River, that he might establish there a colony of Quakers. The colony was started in the year 1682 on this territory, which was given the name of Pennsylvania and in the following year the town of Philadelphia was founded. On the east bank of the river was a flourishing colony of Swedes, Welsh and some English which was sometimes assigned to New York and sometimes to Pennsylvania and became known later as New Jersey.

Although Penn, as the proprietor of the colony, was appointed its governor and had a certain influence upon the laws, yet from the start a democratic form of government was established and, in general, all public matters were discussed and approved by the representatives of the people. The peaceful disposition and the industry of the Quakers enabled them to maintain good relations with the Indians and soon colonists began to come to Pennsylvania from Sweden, Wales, Germany and Holland. The fertility of the soil and the most favorable geographical position made the extraordinary development of Pennsylvania possible, and Philadelphia soon became one of the largest towns of America.

On the south of Pennsylvania, east of the Potomac River and on both sides of Chesapeake Bay, the colony of Maryland was already flourishing. This colony had been established in 1634 by Lord Baltimore, an eminent English Roman Catholic, who, in order to find a refuge for the Catholics (who were persecuted in England after the Protestant reformation), obtained from King Charles I in 1632 a charter authorizing him to settle with Catholic colonists the territory about Chesapeake Bay. The rights accorded by the King to Lord Baltimore, as proprietor of the new colony, were very important. He had even the right to coin money and it was established that the colonists should not be taxed in any way without the consent of their representatives. From the beginning, religious liberty for all sects existed in this colony of Maryland. In the early years of the Seventeenth Century, Holland, which was then a great naval and commercial power and the strongest rival of England on the seas, sent the navigator, Henry Hudson, to explore the American coast to try to find a northwest sea way to Asia. Hudson sailed up the river, which now bears his name, to the point where is now the city of Albany, where he built a fort and established a trading post with the Indians, whom he treated well.

In 1623 a company organized in Holland for trade with the West Indies began to send its first colonists to America. Some of these established themselves along the Delaware River, others at the mouth of the Hudson River, on Long Island and on the Island of Manhattan.

In 1626 Peter Minuit, governor of these small colonies that the Dutch government had called New Netherlands, bought from the Indians for merchandise of the value of about twenty-four dollars the land of the island of Manhattan and there founded the town of New Amsterdam, which is now New York.

The Dutch, however, had neither the intention nor the possibility of settling the territory claimed by them. Their settlements were made for trading posts for furs and other raw products brought in by the Indians.

After thirty-eight years of life, in 1664 New Amsterdam was still a small village, inhabited mostly by Dutch traders. In the year 1664 the King of England, Charles II, during an interval in the wars between England and Holland, sent a fleet to occupy New Amsterdam, claiming the right to this country derived from the explorations of John Cabot. Having conquered the territory of the New Netherlands he gave it to his brother the Duke of York and it was called New York, a name which was also taken by the small Dutch town, destined to become the greatest city of the American continent.

The territory that formed North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia was owned by the English; the Scotch and the Protestant Irish settled the first State, while to Georgia and South Carolina came many Huguenots, the French Protestants, to escape the persecution in France which followed the revolution of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.

These then were the thirteen colonies: MASSACHUSETTS, NEW HAMPSHIRE, RHODE ISLAND, CONNECTICUT, NEW YORK, NEW JERSEY, DELAWARE, PENNSYLVANIA, MARYLAND, VIRGINIA, NORTH and SOUTH CAROLINA and GEORGIA. The land which was later Maine, was part of Massachusetts and the territory of Vermont was owned by New York and New Hampshire.

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