July 30: The Beginnings of Manifest Destiny


Today we got an an account of Sir Humphrey Gilbert's kind of disastrous 1583 voyage to Newfoundland, where he claimed a fishing port for the British Crown -- which, arguably, began the great English-language adventure in North America that will soon end when English is superseded by Klingon and Leet.

In some ways the money quote from this passage could be this. To set up the clip, let me say that one of the boats in the expedition is in trouble:

...the men in the Swallow were very near scanted of victuals, and chiefly of apparel, doubtful withal where or when to find and meet with their Admiral, they besought the captain that they might go aboard this Newlander, only to borrow what might be spared, the rather because the same was bound homeward. Leave given, not without charge to deal favourably, they came aboard the fisherman, whom they rifled of tackle, sails, cables, victuals, and the men of their apparel; not sparing by torture, winding cords about their heads, to draw out else what they thought good....
Then, having "borrowed" everything, they got back on the Swallow, which promptly sank. Once again, as with Raleigh's near-simultaneous description of his voyages in the Caribbean, you get the sense of how Deadwood-like the whole colonization business was. Maybe one of the reasons we don't have space colonies is that we've been sending the wrong people up -- Mars needs to be settled by guys who like to wrap cords around people's necks.

But, notwithstanding the above, or the bad omen part where Gilbert really wants to sail to Florida, but only has enough food to sail to Newfoundland, to me the money quote is this:
...it seeming probable by event of precedent attempts made by the Spaniards and French sundry times, that the countries lying north of Florida God hath reserved the same to be reduced unto Christian civility by the English nation...whensoever afterwards the Spaniards, very prosperous in all their southern discoveries, did attempt anything into Florida and those regions inclining towards the north, they proved most unhappy... as if God had prescribed limits unto the Spanish nation which they might not exceed; as by their own gests recorded may be aptly gathered.
God has saved this part of the New World for the English (a sentiment still popular among the anti-immigrationists, I guess). In fact, this document exists to plead the case that, while Spanish disasters to settle North America are proof of God's dislike, Gilbert's disaster doesn't prove that at all, you just need to read a little closer.

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