This Sunday we celebrate Independence Day 2021, another July 4th celebration of our country’s independence from England. I think it’s time we rethink what we thought we knew about how we got started and how our beginning impacts life today. In the 1600 and 1700’s, hundreds of European ships sailed west, filled to capacity with immigrants hoping to secure a better life for themselves and establish what is today the United States of America.
By the mid-1700’s those immigrants concluded the oppression from the British Empire had become intolerable. Patrick Henry’s cry, “Give me liberty or give me death,” rang out and resonated with enough young men that we eventually gained our independence from Mother England. Ironically, today we count England as one of our strongest allies in the never-ending battle against evil and tyranny.
Millions and Millions of Immigrants
In the 1800s millions more immigrated into this new nation. Some were recruited as cheap labor to build the nation’s infrastructure. Others came to escape hardships in their home countries or in response to tales of fortunes to be made in America.
On my father’s side of my family, I am the second generation born in the U.S.A. One branch of mother’s family got here 12 generations ago, over a century before there was a United States. The ancestors in the other branch of her family came from England around the time of Revolutionary War. That must have made for some interesting dinner table conversations.
In January 1776 English born political writer Thomas Paine soared into fame with the publication of his Common Sense pamphlet. He made a case for independence from England at a time when most colonists thought of themselves as part of the British Empire. He wrote about a new way of thinking. “Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America. This new world hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe.”
Not Such a New World
All well and good, and prose that stirred up the sort of passionate patriotic fever we continue to witness now three-and-a-half centuries later. However, there is another part of the story we generally overlook. For starters, this “new world” was only new to Europeans. Others had been here for more centuries than anyone could calculate at that time.
Ever heard about Awashonks? Probably not unless you have Native American heritage or are a serious scholar of earliest American history. She was a female sachem – leader – among the Sakonnet tribe in Rhode Island. In her society women made decisions about the use of land, because land produced food, and food gave life; just as women give life through birth. People did not own land, though they did have a sense of who used what land to supply the basic necessities of life. The Europeans introduced the concepts of titles, deeds, and ownership of property.
In August 1671, Awashonks sent a letter to Plymouth Governor Thomas Prence about a council held in Plymouth a month earlier. In July the newly formed “Council of War” decided to march into her territory and force her into submission. Around a hundred English colonists claimed they had stakes in the Sakannet land, granted to them by their fathers, and surveyed and divided, without her consent.
Her name appears in official records from the 1600s more than any other Native American woman, but few school children learn it. She was married to Sakonnet sachem Tolony and assumed his role as sachem when he died.
Celebrate and Reconsider
This Independence Day we have much to celebrate. COVID-19, though not entirely eradicated, is less a threat than it was a year ago, at least among the fully vaccinated. The economy seems to be slowly improving. Children are again enjoying typical summer time activities.
Yet we also have serious challenges. You’d think the experiences of our ancestors would make us sympathetic to the plight of immigrants today. Desperate people continue to seek freedom from violent, oppressive and abusive situations in their home countries. Unless we descend from Native Americans or Africans brought here against their will on slave ships, most of us carry within us the DNA of immigrants. Often our ancestors came because doing so was their best hope of any kind of a decent life. That is the same reason modern migrants risk everything to come.
What kind of people have we become when we respond to poverty as a criminal and political problem rather than a social one? We’ve blamed the poor for being poor too long. Jesus is often quoted out of context for saying, “The poor will always be with you.” That statement gets used to justify ignoring the great economic injustices that trap and enslave people in grinding poverty. One side effect of generational poverty is generational mental health problems.
Did you know that if you apply for help to address mental illness you are restricted to $1,200 a month in income while you wait for help? Not much you can do with that amount of money today. Are you paying attention to how much it costs to rent an apartment or buy a house today?
Today’s homeless problems are an extension of tensions dating back to when the first European explorers saw this fertile, lush continent and started dividing it up among themselves, regardless of the impact on Indigenous people or the future vitality of the land. The rich owned land; everyone else tried to gain access to it.
Going Forward Together
Arguments, disputes, and wars over who has the right to control the land date back to the beginning of time. This hear, as we wave those flags, set off those fireworks, chow down those hotdogs and hamburgers, we might also consider rethinking what it means to be patriotic. What do we mean when we proclaim liberty and justice for all? Who do we include in “all?” What lessons we can learn from our ancestors?
I’ve been fortunate to travel in many other countries and I always grateful to come through customs with my USA passport to return home again. I know how fortunate I am to possess a United States passport. Yet, I also know we’ve got some deep scars in our collective past. I for one am grateful for the current trend to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about our history.
God bless America. And every other nation and every other people who share this global village.
Thank your for dropping by today. Some of the information for this post came from Our Beloved Kin by Lisa Brooks. I hope you have a safe and joyous celebration of our country’s independence. If you enjoyed this, why not share it with a friend. If you got it from a friend, you can sign up for your own weekly free posts at How Wise Then.
Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures
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