The Island of California, Spanish hysteria, and Russian Oppression

A major theme in this week’s reading is the presence of paranoia among the Spanish and their uneasy feelings toward British (Hudson Bay Company) as well as the Russians. By the early 1600s, the Spanish had built a true empire in North America with its core centered in Mexico. With such a large empire and vast amount of territory, the Spanish had been stretched relatively thin and decided not solidify their presence in California despite multiple explorations in the 1540s. They did, however, create New Spain as a buffer zone between their crown jewel of Mexico and other foreign nation establishments. Contrary to Spanish beliefs, the British and Russians were much further away from Spanish settlements and did not seek to significantly expand their western territories. In fact, the Russian settlements were confined to a small portion of Alaska and the British owned Hudson Bay Company had not surpassed the Rocky Mountain area. In response to this invented pressure, the Spanish established permanent settlements in California in order to solidify power via religious missions with the first one being constructed in 1697. Also, Taylor points out that during the 18th century Enlightenment, the Spanish were even skeptical of the efforts made by European nations to explore western territories to create maps and discover new wildlife. I find the sense of suspicion that swept through the Spanish Empire in North America unwarranted and entertaining in a way.
The most interesting aspect of the reading to me was the way Taylor includes information of Russians persecuting Siberians as well as other foreign groups throughout their conquest of eastern Asia and settlement of Alaska. Over the course of the semester, we have read and discussed numerous accounts of Spanish and English persecution of native peoples (such as the Aztecs, various Native America groups, and slaves). Taylor, for once, provides information (although scant) suggesting that other power hungry groups oppressed people when possible. Although I appreciate Taylor’s decision to include Russian mistreatment of Siberians, I am disappointed that he did not elaborate on it further. Taylor has gone into great and even gruesome detail when describing the living conditions of slaves, massacring of Aztecs, or systematic persecution of the Indians by the Spanish conquistadors or English colonizers. However, Taylor fails to give the Siberians or Aleutians comparable attention in this reading.
Lastly, I would like to discuss the Spanish’s absence of knowledge of western North America and their stellar map-making in regard to California. As my classmate JaNewton pointed out, the Spanish’s true motivation for settling California was not in the name of Catholicism but in fear of Russian colonization in the Pacific Northwest. Along with labeling California as a desolate wasteland filled with wilderness, the Spanish decided to make it an island as well. The actions of the Spanish empire in western North America and especially California truly convey their paranoia and unrest during the 17th century.

What In The World Is Russia Doing Here?

Up to this point, the entire focus of this class has been on the colonization of America. That is logical considering that this is American history, but the history thus far has not really been American. Rather, it has been a conglomerate of European explorations, European politics, and European settlement. Chapter 19 was no different, but this final chapter ended the colonial period in an intriguing way.

Spain had played a role in the colonies up to this point, but they started to get worried. Spain “owned” a lot of land towards the west coast. I say “owned” because technically they claimed the land and it was theirs, but the Spanish really had no idea how much land was actually their. So when rumors spread that Russia and Britain were coming after their landed, they assumed that “the Russians and British were closing in on California and would soon outflank New Mexico and attack precious Mexico” (Taylor 445). First off, what in the world is Russia doing in this book? Russia was definitely not a country I expected to hear, or had ever heard, in connection to colonial history. Also, it always amazes me how little they knew about the layout of the country, as seen by the map of the island of California ( However, the Spanish did expand with their missionaries up the coast of California. They claimed the land by establishing little missionaries scattered up the coast of a vast territory.

Somehow Russia decides to rear its ugly head in the colonies. Now considering I had never heard of Russia being in America this early, I was intrigued to see what they brought to the table. I very quickly learned two major themes. The first is that the Russians are just like every other country that settled near natives. They were brutal, cruel, and effective in dealing with natives. They used natives to get the goods they needed and took advantage of them, just like every other society we have studied thus far. Secondly, Russia created a sense of urgency for the Spanish. Sarah Funderburg puts it eloquently in her most recent post, “the rumor that the Russians were rapidly expanding their land-holdings (or establishing them at all) motivated the Spanish to increase their aggressive expansion.” The Russians, to me, did not add much to the conversation about colonization. It seems as if they were another card in the deck.

Russia, Spain, Britain, France, etc. all seem to go the same way about colonization. As our talk of American colonization comes to end it is very clear. Now, just as Taylor does I will conclude with a brief mention of Revolution. Now, it is time to revolt against the British crown and become the United States of America.

The Westward Expansion

After reading so much about the British colonial conquests of the 17th and 18th century along the east coast of the United States, I had almost forgotten about anything in America at the time that existed west of the Mississippi. During this era, the Spanish took it upon themselves to maintain their superiority in North America by conquering most of the western United States, securing themselves as the most important colonizers on the continent. In this chapter we are also introduced to another player, the Russians, and their colonization of Alaska.

Throughout all of the North and South American colonies of the 17th and 18th century, one common theme that unites all of the settlements (with the possible exception of New France) was the use of excessive violence when conquering new territories. As Alan Taylor writes in his history American Colonies, the Spanish “heard alarming rumors of Russian and British advances towards the West Coast of North America” (Taylor, 445), which prompted them to colonize at a faster, more violent rate. I believe this shows a deep insecurity on the part of the Spanish colonial exploits, who were determined to demonstrate their superior colonizing skills through any means necessary, even if that resulted in them “rap[ing] Quechan women and brutally whipp[ing] native men who protested” (Taylor, 459).

I was surprised with Taylor’s devoted a portion of the chapter to Russian settlements in North America (particularly Alaska), as I was unaware they conquered any land. I enjoyed reading WEKING’s analogy where he compared the Russian promyshlenniki to Spanish conquistadores in terms of violence of cruelty to the local Indian population. Taylor writes that “the promyshlenniki became notorious for their brutality to native peoples and for the rapidity with which their operations harvested wild animals to local extinction,” (Taylor, 447), showing a complete disrespect for not only the native peoples, but for their land too. Through reading all the chapters devoted to different European colonies, it seems as though most Europeans believed they were automatically a more sophisticated group of people than their native counterparts, and it was almost their duty to “save” them by forcing their practices on the Indians. The Russians were apparently no different.

The intertwined nature of religion and Spanish colonial conquests has always been an interest of mine. Religious conversion played an important role in the conquering of Spanish Latin America and continued to be important as the Spaniards colonized out west. As EVFARESE noted, it was clearly in the best interest of the Catholic Church to fund these overseas expansions, as they had the potential to gain many more followers. Overtime, the Indians eventually became dependent upon the missions, as Taylor writes, “by introducing free-range livestock [among other resources], the Hispanics narrowed the Indian’s ability to live outside the missions,” (Taylor, 461), detailing the full extent of Spanish control in America.

Winning the West

Taylor brings an interesting perspective to the colonization of America in this chapter, especially when it comes to Russian attempts to reach America. It was unknown to me that Russia had even made significant attempts colonize America but Taylor makes it clear that they were very set on crossing the Bering Strait. By doing so the Russians “hoped to prove that they belonged, culturally and politically, to Europe.(Taylor 447)” There were many similarities to what the Russians were doing and what the Spanish were doing in their imperial quests. Taylor mentions that “the Russians resembled the Spanish Conquistadores of Mexico.(Taylor 447)” But the comparison made between the French and the Russians doesn’t hold up. It is interesting that these countries, who were quite a ways away from each other and who didn’t have contact in the New World would have such similar tactics and goals.

The Spanish fear of the Russians was unwarranted though. I agree with JeLaws that the false claims about Russian expansion forced the Spanish to colonize more quickly, but I do not believe that is the only reason that the Spanish colonized California. The Spanish were always looking for ways to expand and to hopefully stumble upon more of the mineral wealth that they had found in Mexico. So when they heard that someone else might be encroaching on land that they wanted they used it as an excuse to push forward, establishing missions as they went.

The Spanish missions were a new way that the Spanish were using to claim land. They were used to “help” the natives embrace christianity and force them to become more like the Spanish. Although this was the primary goal they were also important to the Spanish government because they were an easy way for the Spanish to control the natives, and therefore control the land more easily. The natives became dependent on the missions making it easier for the Spanish to get what they wanted.

Conquest of California

The Spanish’s interest in gaining California is interesting. The Spanish were dominant in Mexico and afterwards, Cortes turned his gaze northward up the coast of California. In the early to middle part of the 17th century, the Spanish were exploring up the coast of California, looking to see what the land there was like. They found a land that, to them, did not seem worthy of their attention or further exploration. The Spanish Empire was stretched very wide at this point and it was probably a smart decision to focus themselves on what they had already gained. As JaNewton points out, it was the threat of the British and the Russians that scared the Spanish into returning to explore California. I think it is interesting to look at the competitiveness of the Spanish and how that forced them into gaining as much land as they could before the British or the Russians could get there.

This also points to the vast lack of knowledge of the Pacific coast of North America. The Spanish had heard that the Russians were moving into North America via modern day Alaska and they felt threatened even though the two empires were thousands of miles away from each other. Also this is an example of how communication might have been exaggerated as there were only “a few dozen Russian traders” (445) in pursuit of sea otter pelts for commercial trade. Clearly, a few dozen men over 3,000 miles away shouldn’t be much of a threat, but the Spanish were very eager to keep their land and not let anyone get it. The Spanish needed this land to act as a buffer between their precious Mexico and the Hudson Bay Company and whoever else may be to the north and the more land they have, the bigger the buffer is. They were also intent on gaining more and more land in the New World to compete with the thriving colonies of the British. I think the Spanish felt threatened by the success of the British colonies and were determined, due to their competitive nature, to outdo them and become more successful, and that meant gaining new territory and new Christians.

The other important aspect of the Spanish colonization up the coast of California was the fact that they were spreading Christianity through missions. Although these missions were tough to maintain, the Catholic Church in Rome was willing to help out as they might get more followers. The missions played a major part in forming relationships with the natives of California and many became dependent upon them for providing them with easy food. They were, however, put to work and became at great risk for contracting a myriad of diseases. The Spanish missions were integral in making their stamp on the coast of California as many of them are still standing today, reminding all Californians and Americans who was there first.

Religious Passion in the North, Religious Apathy in the South, and Witchcraft

A major theme of this week’s reading is the spread of religious fervor in the New England and Mid-Atlantic areas throughout the 18th century and its impact on colonial life. Although previous religious movements had taken place all over the world, the one in the British Colonies is unique. Rather than spreading across the entire east coast, the Awakening was confined to areas where places of worship and people were closer together and overall, more likely to interact. While the Northern people were captivated by the speeches of George Whitefield and the pamphlets and papers distributed by people like Benjamin Franklin, Southern people were noticeably less moved. Communities in the South were much more spread out, which made spreading the religious movement throughout the region an extremely difficult task. This movement was also original because it involved people forming many different strands of a religious belief. Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists each separated from Protestantism yet all of them remained connected because they all had branched off of Catholicism. Rather than the groups becoming homogenized with each other they became homogenized against the British homeland, which is what makes the Great Awakening so revolutionary.
Taylor depicts the Great Awakening’s appeal to Northern people most effectively through primary sources. Benjamin Franklin’s refusal to donate money followed by his sudden willingness to empty his pockets (348) along with Nathan Cole’s recollection of a “heart wound” (349) were both extremely helpful in demonstrating the power that orators held over colonists who were both educated and uneducated. Massachusetts Reverend Peter Thacher’s account of the newfound appreciation and involvement in religion by males also strengthens Taylor’s argument of a formidable religious presence in the North and religious indifference in the South. Although succinctly, Taylor does an exceptional job explaining why speakers like Whitefield did not experience the level of success in the South as he did in the North.
In conclusion, I would like to comment on the ongoing debate over whether or not the Great Awakening in colonial New England and the witch hunts of the late 17th century have a cause-and-effect relationship. As my classmate Amgaither pointed out, the New England area was composed of more educated, community oriented, and religiously active people. These factors primed the area for such momentous religious occurrences in both cases but one did not cause the other.

Shocking Similarities and Awakening

After nearly a century on the continent, European colonists in America had gradually become more proficient in maintaining settlements in the New World and were well on their way to establishing their own nation independent of European influence. Before this could happen, the Salem Witch Trials and The Great Awakening took place, radically altering the religious and supernatural mindset of the inhabitants of the Americans before the Revolution.

In Alan Taylor’s American Colonies, he described the process of this religious revival best when he wrote “after significant lags and regional exceptions, we find a dramatic, widespread, and increasingly synchronized outburst of revival religion.” (Taylor, 339). In a sense, this rebirth of religious devotion in the 1700s has set the tone for the relatively conservative and widespread religious devotion that still exists strongly in the Unites States today.

I found it interesting how the readings were divided between Taylor’s description of The Great Awakening and the four external essays concerning the Salem Witch Trials. Much like EVFRASER, WIROBERTSON, ROMANGONE, CHMASONE and SHCALLAWAY, I too believe that the two events were absolutely interrelated. For better or for worse, religion (particularly Christianity) overtime has used scare tactics as a means of gaining support (e.g. the fear of going to Hell, natural superiority). I believe the Salem Witch Trials and the fear of being persecuted in such a harsh manner was an extension of this scare tactic in an attempt to homogenize society. In her essay “Confess or Deny? What’s a “Witch” to Do?” Elizabeth Reis writes “ministers made it perfectly clear that intimacy with Satan ended one’s chance attaining saving grace and damned one to enter an eternity in hell.” Ministers could easily take advantage of this fear in their sermon. They could use it to not only add members to their church, but to strengthen the congregation’s devotion. By persecuting supposed witches for their supposed worship of Satan and other occult practices, churches in the Americas made it clear how they viewed those with different spiritual views, and how through their preaching they are simply trying to save them.

Finally, I found Taylor’s section on George Whitefield especially interesting. His description of him “drawing immense crowds too large for churches” (Taylor, 347) and as a “charismatic and moving speaker” (Taylor, 347) who would move across America delivering his sermon would be just as accurate in describing a notable 21st century Evangelical preacher today as it was back then. Whitefield in a sense almost set the archetype for modern-day “megapreachers” (as we call them in Canada) all the way down to their association with political figures (in Whitefield’s case it was Benjamin Franklin) and strong concern with their public image.

Religion and Witches

In a recent post Amgaither continued the debate on this blog about whether the witch trials and evangelical great awakening have a cause and effect relation. She believed that the two events did not have a cause and effect relationship which I believe to be incorrect. She makes the point that both the Great Awakening and the witch trials happened in the same place merely because the conditions there were ripe for both of these events. But I believe there is more to it than that, and that the witch trials and the evangelical preaching of the time period both had more influence over other because they were going on around the same time period.

I found the most interesting of the witchcraft articles to be the one written by Elizabeth Reis because I felt like it dealt with the relationship between the witch trial and the Great Awakening very well. Reis mentioned at one point that “Ministers spoke of the devil’s proximity in their weekly sermons and they articulated the notion that his presence was ubiquitous.” I think this is an accurate way to describe how the Great Awakening helped the witch craze to reach even greater heights. People lived in fear of the devil and his control because much of the Great Awakening dealt with the devil and how he was out to get people. Pastors and religious leaders were trying to scare people into becoming better Christians. Although this did lead to more devout religious practices in many cases it also led to a heightened “awareness” of the devil. Taylor mentioned that how ministers tried to “shock their listeners” and it worked. It shocked them so much they began seeing the devil where it didn’t really exist.

In chapter 15 Taylor discusses in great detail the evangelical awakening that occurred early in the 18th century. This time of religious renewal, marked by a fire and brimstone type of preaching, was called the Great Awakening. The effect that the Great Awakening had on the witch craze wasn’t a one way street. It was more of a cycle in which as the heightened fear of the devil grew people began to see witches everywhere, which in turn led to more fear of the devil. Taylor did a good job of using quotes from people in this time period to show how intense the sermons were at that time. People were legitimately very scared of hell and so it influenced their every day activities. I think without each other the Great Awakening and the witch craze would not have been as important as they were.

Taylor, Chapter 15 / Norton, “Witchcraft”: A Supernatural Inclination

Sherwood Callaway
HIS 141, Blog Post 4

In the colonies, the advent of evangelical Christendom can be plausibly linked to heightened paranoia regarding witches on the grounds of their common “experimental” nature.

Taylor juxtaposes evangelicalism with its conservative counterpart, rationalism. He describes the former as “cultivating a spontaneous, direct, and individual religious experience” (343). Plainly, evangelicalism embraced superstition to an almost unprecedented level, arguably rivaling the mystic spirituality of Medieval Christendom. Furthermore, evangelical Christians were extremely emotionally invested in their worship. Rationalism, on the other hand, “held that God created the natural universe and thereafter never interfered with its laws” (344). Rationalists “found guidance” in understanding the methods of science and order (344). They condemned evangelicals as “enthusiastic,” or fanatical—and not entirely without fair reason.

I have little evidence to support the following claim, but I found the prospect much too intriguing to ignore: Could the “experimental” nature of evangelicalism have contributed to the rationalization of witchcraft in colonial New England? I believe so.

Consider a few hard facts:

1) Evangelicalism emerged most prominently in the Congregational communities of New England. For example, the evangelical George Whitefield had little success in the southern colonies, “because most Anglicans distrusted his emotional preaching and ecumenical support… [and the south] also lacked the dense settlement and many printing presses” (348). In New England, however, these essential elements were present, and he achieved much larger audiences.

2) Norton writes in her essay Witchcraft in the Anglo-American Colonies that “the vast majority of known witchcraft cases arose in Massachusetts or Connecticut or developed among Puritan New Englanders.” Furthermore, to extend my tentative comparison of evangelicalism and medieval Christendom, she explains: “only New Englanders established the sorts of small, relatively self-contained communities that in Europe tended to generate witchcraft charges.” Norton suggests that these communities facilitated interaction between neighbors, which facilitated conflict between neighbors, which—when coupled with the unpredictable hardships of colonial life, and a pre-enlightenment worldview—likely escalated into accusations. Quite frankly, the farming societies in the Chesapeake and the Carolinas were not as conducive.

So it is clear that New England was more evangelical, and also more prone to witchcraft charges. But the question remains: was this relationship a correlation or causation? A partial causation, I would bet—contribution is probably a better word.
I’m interested to hear the perspectives of my fellow students on the issue.

Rise of the Plantation Elite

In his discussion of the Chesapeake colonies, Taylor discusses the rise of the ruling plantation elites who would go on to form the basis of the Antebellum South’s title-less aristocracy. The Chesapeake colonies saw a brief period of social mobility in the formative years of the colonies, during which time many of these elites made their place, a combination of freed servants and the initial planters who hired these servants formed the basis of this elite, but those who would come to the Chesapeake colonies after this brief period found the period of social mobility to be very short  lived, as usable land vanished, thus leaving a growing divide between the wealthy landowners possessed plenty of good land to grow tobacco, and those with little or no land who were struck with poverty. This growing divide was further widened by the Governor of Virginia, who gave out vast land grants to his favorites among the plantation elite, which resulted in growing tensions between the ruling class and the lower classes, as well as those landowners dissatisfied with their position, ultimately resulting in Bacon’s rebellion and the recall of the governor. After this rebellion the planter elite underwent a major change, as they moved to build solidarity with the lower classes by developing a genteel manner and emphasizing shared racial bonds and their differences, conflicts, and superiority towards the Indians and Africans.

Unlike Virginia, the Carolinas did not start off with a planter elite at odds with the poorer common planters and servants, rather from the beginning the Carolinas  the planters found a need for the commoners as they feared the possibility of slave and Indian alliances , and knew that they needed white commoners to help defend them against these dual threats. The fear of slave revolt drove these  planter elites to greater solidarity with the white commoners and also drove them to attempt to set black slaves and Indians at odds with each other  by offering indians rewards for black slaves being returned and declaring war on Indians who harbored black slaves. The plantation elite were able to fully establish their power, eventually overriding the Lords Proprietor and controlling the majority of political power within the Carolinas.