If the children are of African or Native American descent, they learn that their ancestors lost badly and ingloriously, but that was all for the best anyway. The historical record often does not agree with these kinds of conclusions. The English newcomers sent to Roanoke Island in 1584 by Sir Walter Raleigh are a case in point. What these pioneers did was self-destruct over their own love of possession. When a silver cup allegedly disappeared, the Roanoke men roared out of their tiny enclave, muskets, and torches in hand, to destroy their Indian neighbors’ village and crops. This blazing display of European possession-mania cut the colony off from the one local source of help.
When the Spanish Armada severed the settlement’s connection to British ports, it withered and died. Roanoke Island became famous as”the lost colony”.
In light of this unacceptable object lesson for children, school texts prefer to begin US history with another colony, Captain John Smith’s Jamestown, Virginia, founded in 1607. Captain Smith was sent out by a London joint-stock company seeking profits from colonization. Smith sailed with an overload of failed aristocrats and settled on land owned by the Algonquin Confederacy.
Trouble began when the newcomers refused to plant, build, or exert themselves. Iron pistol in hand, Captain Smith ordered his lazy gentlemen to “work or starve.” Time and again the English were rescued from starvation through the generosity of the Algonquin Confederacy, which provided corn and bread. The foreigners responded by refusing to share their advanced agricultural tools with the Indians and violence soon broke out.
At Roanoke Island colonization proved a total failure. At Jamestown, what collapsed was the European “work ethic.” No wonder some scholars decided that US history did not begin until the arrival of the hard-working Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower in 1620. Leaping over events can avoid some unpleasant conclusions about early European motives, character, and success.