October 31, 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. The 16th century is a fascinating era of big personalities, schisms, and upheavals, many of which led to the birth of the modern world. Biographies and historical narratives bring the past to life, and many new books are being published to commemorate this crucial time in Western history.
Twenty years before Jamestown was founded, over 100 women, men, and children came to Virginia to try their luck at starting a colony. They arrived on the stormy shores of what we know now as North Carolina. They were not the first to land there. Two years before, another group of colonists, all men, gave up trying to settle Roanoke Island and sailed back to England. The supply ships arrived too late to save the abandoned first colony, but they left behind fifteen soldiers to mind the fort who soon vanished into the wilds, driven off by an Indian attack.
History, particularly popular history, need not be dull, something that Cormac O’Brien demonstrates readily in his book, The Forgotten History of America. Written in a conversational tone and broken into vignettes, old history is made new when written this way. Even so, it’s not the standard stuff taught in schools. It’s about wars and both sides in those wars, reaching back to the country’s colonial beginnings in the 16th century. With personalities writ large on both sides and a good understanding of the differences in modern and historical society, O’Brien leads his readers on journeys back in time:
It begins with the first permanent European settlement in North America:
Pedro Menedez de Aviles anxiously paced the deck of his flagship, San Pelayo. Two days earlier, off the coast of Florida, he had gone ashore and met with Indians who offered valuable information about the prey he was desperately seeking. Now, confident of success, he led his five vessels northward along the coastline, scanning the beaches for any sign of European settlement. The day was September 4, 1565, and Menendez was hunting heretics.
By Thomas Hariot
The Second Part
CONCERNING SUCH COMMODITIES AS VIRGINIA
IS KNOWN TO YIELD FOR FOOD AND THE SUSTENANCE
OF LIFE, CUSTOMARILY EATEN BY THE NATIVES
AND USED BY US WHILE WE WERE THERE
FIRST, CONCERNING SUCH AS ARE SOWN AND FARMED.
Pagatowr is a kind of grain. It is called maize in the West Indies; Englishmen name it Guinea wheat or Turkey wheat, after the countries from which a similar grain has been brought. This grain is about the size of our ordinary English peas and, while similar to them in form and shape, differs in color, some grains being white, some red, some yellow, and some blue. All of them yield a very white and sweet flour which makes excellent bread. We made malt from the grain while we were in Virginia and brewed as good an ale of it as could be desired. It also could be used, with the addition of hops, to produce a good beer. The grain increases on a marvelous scale-a thousand times, fifteen hundred, and in some cases two thousand fold. There are three sorts, of which two are ripe in ten, eleven, and, at the most, twelve weeks, when their stalks are about six or seven feet in height. The third one ripens in fourteen weeks and is ten feet high. Its stalks bear one, two, three, or four heads, and every head contains five, six, or seven hundred grains, as near as I can say. The inhabitants not only use it for bread but also make food of these grains. They either parch them, boiling them whole until they break, or boil the flour with water into a pap.