A schedule full of evening meetings meant I didn’t have a great deal of time to write this past week. Full weeks like this always build up some stress 1, and by the time I return home I’m often too mentally wiped to get my thoughts out of my head.
What the week did offer, in the place of writing, was some time to catch up on my reading. I’ve been stacking up a pile of history and theology books for the last year, and moving through them at a pace a great deal slower than I am accustomed 2. To rectify this deficiency in my personal discipline, I took the opportunity to shift my mental weariness into contemplation. I read.
Specifically, I finished a book I’ve been pouring through for far too long, The Barbarous Years, by Bernard Bailyn. This volume chronicles the growth of what would become known as British North America in the years between 1600 and 1675. As the name implies, this period of North American history was noted for its barbarity, rather than its civilization. European and Native American cultures clashed in wars of shocking ferocity, to the point of deliberate genocide. Different European empires also clashed with each other — initiating small, but brutal, wars between colonies. And even among populations of Europeans from the same colonial powers greed, hatred, and violence were often key features of life.
Bailyn paints a picture of a new world coming into being which overturned into which any social norm was imported. Native American, European, and African peoples 3 were forced together and formed a cultural storm which was so severe I’m shocked anything survived its wrath. By the time of the restoration of royal power happened in England 4, however, a new society had begun to coalesce from the barbarity of the earliest settlements. It was decidedly anti-native, and increasingly built upon slave labor, but stable. That stability would be the crucible out of which both the opportunity and dark legacy of an American culture would emerge. My home state of Pennsylvania, having been founded after the Restoration, is itself a legacy of this earlier period. Because of this, the material in this work has piqued my interest for delving into my home’s earliest history.
The Barbarous Years is not an easy read. In fact, it is disturbing period of history. And yet the story of the early 17th Century is part of North America’s legacy, and should be owned by all it has touched. This way we can learn from the blindspots of the past, and perhaps prevent ourselves from repeating them in the future. This is well worth the time to read.