Envisioning America Review

I really enjoyed reading and looking at this book. It was surprisingly easy to read and interesting to see first hand accounts of what the early English settlers thought of the New World and the natives that lived there for so many years. Obviously, the settlers really indulge their audience with their descriptions of the natives, citing them as savages with “brutus ignorance” and people “clothed in loose mantles made of deere skin.” From these descriptions, these savages seemed very primitive and almost incoherent to a functioning life.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be a Native American when all of a sudden a massive ship full of weird looking people draped in extravagant cloth were to take your land or community that your ancestors had toiled endlessly to create. I bet that would be like an alien race landing on our planet and saying, “hey this is ours, time for you to move on.” But the English felt justified in their actions.

John Winthrop even addressed this issue by objectifying England’s right to claim land that was not theirs. His rebuttal to his own objection (kind of weird how he wrote this) is “that which lies comon & hath never been replenished or subdued is free to any that will possesse and improve it, for god hath given to the sonnes of men a double right to the earth.” I mean, really? He also goes on to say that the English will provide more benefits for the natives than the land that they are actually on and that God has swept the natives with a plague leaving little inhabitants. These were all justifications to protect the English from any guilt that they might have had.


John Winthrop and his gigantic ruff (collar).


I wonder if the English had any idea that they were the ones to blame for the plague that was brought upon the natives. I mean, they must’ve suspected it a bit. If the natives were the only ones getting sick, then… it had to have been the English. Plagues just don’t happen. I guess that’s a bit modern to think that way, but nevertheless the English were so unrepentant for their doings. I wonder if they even thought they were doing anything wrong? It does seem as if there is a hint of guilt in Winthrop’s objections, however he makes it clear that there is no wrongdoing within his answers.

With hindsight bias, we can look back and say, “yeah, that was probably not the nicest way of handling foreign land,” but this was the seventeenth century. Empire was on their mind. No matter what, the end justified the means.

One thought on “Envisioning America Review”

  1. I also took a particular interest at how the English saw the Natives. It seemed to me that the English believed that the Natives were simply in the way of what the settlers were trying to achieve. The illustrations provided in this book are very interesting in the way that they depict the natives. It was really cool that we were able to see these illustration in the rare book room in the library! And yes in hindsight I’m sure some of the settlers would try and change the way they approached the Natives!

Leave a Reply