Thomas Davis on the differing visions of European settlers
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Q: What was the vision of the first Spaniards who came over -- and how did it differ from other Europeans who came to the New World?
A: I think the first Europeans who came had very different visions. In the beginning, there was a real lack of understanding of what the place was and what its dimensions were. So that exploration is an ongoing process, and it's a process that's going to go on until the 19th century. And that's the concept one needs to keep in mind. Different people saw different things.
The early Englishman would come over, see something different from the Spaniards. The Spaniards see an area where they can gain wealth: they're looking for gold and silver, the commodities that they can put on the ships and take back with them. Cortez shifts that paradigm, creates plantations and settlements. And the English come over with a notion of initially doing what the Spanish had done. And Virginia is supposed to be a place where gentlemen can come over, find gold and silver, put it in their backs or get on the next ship sailing back to London and settle down with their fortunes.
That changes by 1630, when Massachusetts Bay is settled. And the notion there is that whole communities come over, and that's the real difference in Massachusetts Bay: entire communities, not simply families but whole communities. And there really is a sense of creating a New England, and people are familiar with the notion of the Puritans and the idea of creating a place that's going to be better than the old place, which is having problems of urban overcrowding, unemployment, and moral decay and decline.
Thomas J. Davis
Professor of History
Arizona State University
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