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Nov-16-2013 13:07printcomments

The Discovery of America

I once spent a year in Philadelphia - I think it was on a Sunday - W.C. Fields

A scene of Columbus landing in America, believing he had reached Asia.
A scene of Columbus landing in America, believing he had reached Asia.

(DAYTONA BEACH) - America was discovered by nomads who crossed a land bridge to Alaska 10,000 years ago. They came on foot, before the invention of the wheel or the horse Some of them may have come from as far away as India, which may explain why they called themselves Indians. Their ethnic origin has been widely debated, although since they wore feathers in their hair, they definitely weren't Chinese. They did talk funny, but so does everybody in southeast Asia.

These paleoamericans came to the New World looking for a Northwest Passage to Europe, in search of silks and spices, and especially gold. In East Asia, people had only plain cotton clothes, bland rice and copper coins with holes punched through them, which were not very satisfactory as legal tender, because they were only worth like a penny, so it took a cartload to buy anything and as we've just noted there weren't any carts. They definitely needed gold.

They believed that the world was flat, as did most Europeans at the time, although none of them had ever been as far west as Europe, not to mention the Middle East or, as they called it, the Middle West.

These adventurers called themselves paleoamericans, because this was the Paleolithic Period. That's also the origin of the expression “paleface,” which they later dubbed anybody they didn't like, such as the paleoeuropeans who arrived much later.

They migrated all over Turtle Island, their whimsical name for North America, ending up as far south as Argentina, which they called Turtle del Sud. After the arrival of the paleoeuropeans, they became paleocatholics.


Within 21 years of Columbus' landing in Puerto Rico, Florida was named Turtle Peninsula and 44 years later, just north of Daytona Beach, the paleos founded what they thought was the first modern metropolis in North America, called at St. Augustine.

St. Augustine just never made it as a major center, like Albuquerque or Los Angeles, both of which were discovered by the Spaniards as well. So eventually it was handed over to the French, and then the British, followed by the Americans, and finally to retired Canadians. Nobody seemed to want it, including the Indians, who considered it a tourist trap.

There followed 100 years or so of exploration by the Spanish, Dutch, English, French, Swedish and Portuguese Empires. The Swiss, as usual, couldn't be bothered and preferred to remain neutral, prompting Dante to reserve a place for them in his Inferno.

All of these paleos introduced new and innovative ideas and practices to the native population, such as horses, cattle and hogs, in addition to scalping and European diseases. One European custom was introduced with great ceremony - the presentation of blankets, which had been first infected with small pox, as a means of crowd control and land acquisition.

The Indians reciprocated by freely giving the visitors their tobacco, introduced through a native rite known as “smoking the peace pipe.” It was a major icon in the indigenous culture, but not addictive because, like Bill Clinton much later, they didn't inhale.

Later, the white man adapted this custom by inventing cigarettes, which developed into a major industry, eventually contributing to the discovery of lung cancer, and the even greater American counter-culture of class action lawsuits. Meanwhile, the Dutch had made the biggest coup of all when thy founded the settlement of New Amsterdam by acquiring from the Manhattan Indians, who were camped along 34th Street, all the territory between Fulton Street and Central Park West.

The Indians once again prospered from this friendly rivalry, because they considered the $24 worth of trinkets not a full price, but rather just a down payment, although they didn't tell the Dutch. As Calvinists and regular churchgoers, the Dutch were to leave behind this legacy of fair play after the British asked them to leave in 1684.

The Dutch triumvirate of church, culture and commerce has lived on in generations of statesmanlike politicians - the Roosevelts, Teddy, Franklin and Eleanor, and also Martin Van Buren, whose administration was transformational, bestowing western lands upon all the Indians east of the Mississippi, mostly Cherokee, provided of course that they hike the 1,700 miles to get it. Some of them made it, and became wealthy ranchers like Ben Cartright.


New France was colonized by the French, but there were few inhabitants, only northern Indians who were useful allies against the British from Toronto. This has little to do with American history, until later, when the decision was made to launch a pre-emptive invasion of Canada (long before John McCain's time) because the arquebus was considered a weapon of mass destruction.

The Mayflower, which transported Pilgrims to the New World, arrived in 1620, and shortly after mysteriously sank in Plymouth Harbor, marking what the Indians called “Thanksgiving.” The name and bank holiday stuck.

During the first winter at Plymouth, about half of the Pilgrims died. This led to a severe labor shortage, which was partially offset by the introduction of slavery and indentured servants from Europe.

The first English colony was established in 1607 on the James River with the unusual name of Jamestown, because of the English king, James I. The Virginia colony remained relatively inactive until later in the century, when a new wave of settlers followed the cigarette craze. "I'd walk a million miles for a Camel" was a slogan introduced by an Arab immigrant who started Virginia's first ad agency. The new settlement on the Charles River was named Charleston, after James' grandson Charles I, by the same imaginative settlers. Over the following 150 years, 50,000 convicts were introduced to the colony, which contributed further to the growing American Spirit. These settlers had to contend with the constant threat of native uprisings, which occurred as a protest to all that cheap labor. These included the Powhatan Uprising in Virginia, King Philip's War in New England and the Yamasee War, wherever Yamasee was. Probably Tennessee.

After the Indians were put down, an intense wave of religious fervor rose up to take their place. Some historians consider religious fervor to be just as patriotic as war, and equally constructive. After 1630, Puritans followed the Pilgrims in Massachusetts, Congregationalists took hold in New England, German and Dutch Reformed settled in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, and Catholics congregated by default in Maryland. American Evangelicals followed later, gradually giving way to Southern Baptists. And finally, Scottish Presbyterians typically opted for the far more frugally-priced land on the frontier.


With this religious outpouring, which served to bring the people together, the stage was set for political integration and a yearning for more autonomy as a nation. Besides, King George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763 laying down the law and stabilizing relations with the Indians. He should have done them one at a time, because the colonials didn't stand still for his laying down the law, while the Indians refused to be stabilized.

The last straw was the Stamp Act of 1765, a tax imposed on all stamp collectors in the British Colony. (To pay for the winning of the Seven Years' War.) Just as George Bush later did with Iraq, the British hadn't even included the Seven Years' War in the budget.

That did it. Americans directed all of their resentment toward the British Parliament, which was telling the colony what to do. Instead, the Americans decided to create a Congress that would tell them what to do, and a Supreme Court that would tell them what not to do.

The result was the Second Congress, allowing the Democrats to form a caucus for the first time. The American Revolution started immediately, perhaps the last time both sides of the House or the Senate agreed on anything.

The Revolutionary War was pretty exciting. First, General Washington lost New York City in a pitched battle, but in 1776 he recaptured New Jersey by crossing the Delaware. The British thought that was a fair exchange, being by this time sophisticated New Yorkers and not caring that much for life in Trenton. Besides, Washington had a lot of support, particularly at Princeton and among the Sicilian population around Teaneck.

The thirteen colonies declared their independence in 1776, but it took until 1783 to wind things up. The French also brought in Spain and the Netherlands (still upset over losing Manhattan after their $24 investment), so the British were outnumbered and retreated to Canada, where they are still in charge, although not officially.

George Washington was a superbly skilled tactical general, organizer and administrator, who like Lyndon Johnson was adept at getting the Congress and the state governments to work together. Strategically, he outmaneuvered the British, forcing them out of Boston in 1776 (although they didn't mind leaving), whipping the second and third British armies at Saratoga and Yorktown by 1781, and limiting the British control to New York, which didn't even have a subway system at that time.

The Father of Our Country retired quietly to his farm in Virgina and unlike Douglas MacArthur, simply faded away. That is, until he was elected President. The new nation was conceived in liberty and dedicated to proposition that all rich white guys were created equal, since they of course were the framers of the Constitution.

Democratic principles were to come much later, when the Federalist Party expired for lack of interest.

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Bill Annett grew up a writing brat; his father, Ross Annett, at a time when Scott Fitzgerald and P.G. Wodehouse were regular contributors, wrote the longest series of short stories in the Saturday Evening Post's history, with the sole exception of the unsinkable Tugboat Annie.

At 18, Bill's first short story was included in the anthology “Canadian Short Stories.” Alarmed, his father enrolled Bill in law school in Manitoba to ensure his going straight. For a time, it worked, although Bill did an arabesque into an English major, followed, logically, by corporation finance, investment banking and business administration at NYU and the Wharton School. He added G.I. education in the Army's CID at Fort Dix, New Jersey during the Korean altercation.

He also contributed to The American Banker and Venture in New York, INC. in Boston, the International Mining Journal in London, Hong Kong Business, Financial Times and Financial Post in Toronto.

Bill has written six books, including a page-turner on mutual funds, a send-up on the securities industry, three corporate histories and a novel, the latter no doubt inspired by his current occupation in Daytona Beach as a law-abiding beach comber.

You can write to Bill Annett at this address: bilko23@gmail.com

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