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Chapter 3: American Empires: “Mother Countries and Daughter Colonies: Let the Conflict Begin”

As Voltaire pointed out, the ideals expressed in salon society were at odds with the reality of the time period. While preaching of liberty and human rights at home, across the world Europeans were enforcing slavery and a brutal policy of maintaining empire. At the same time that they were focusing on their own rights, Europeans were taking human rights away from millions of non-Europeans.

How could Europeans justify this hypocrisy?

In essence, the Europeans viewed non-Europeans as less than human. Just as Europeans “naturally” were guaranteed rights, non-Europeans “naturally” did not deserve the same, because of their “inferior” race and culture from the European viewpoint. The only way that non-Europeans could “improve” was simply to become like Europeans. Then, perhaps, they might be closer to being considered “fully human.”

The Europeans were not fully successful in this goal, however. In the United States in particular, they produced a country based in European, Western traditions—with European language, dress, and religion—but still reflecting much of the “wildness” and independence that the Europeans saw as the enemies to the social “order” of the Enlightenment.

In order to understand the partially-accomplished nature of this European goal, it is first necessary to understand that the United States today was actually composed of several different European empire territories: namely, the English, French, Spanish, and Dutch colonies of the 16th-18th centuries. [You can add Sweden, Denmark, and Russia if you really want to get technical.]

Secondly, to understand the frustrations that the Europeans felt, the central metaphor of this American empire is helpful: the “mother country” was back in Europe and the “daughter colonies” were in the “New World” of the American continents. This mother-daughter relationship is a good metaphor, particularly during the “adolescence” of the New World during the Enlightenment, when the “mom” and her “daughters” did not always agree.

[Empire—a method of influencing/dominating other societies/nations outside of a “mother country’s” boundaries; though they have similarities, modern empires should not be confused with ancient empires like the Hellenistic, Roman, or Han Empires]

Fundacion_de_SantiagoNatives_guiding_french_explorers_through_indianaSalem_shipping_colonial_colorHenry Hudson meeting with Native Americans along the Hudson River, 1609. Hand-colored woodcut of a 19th-century illustrationMestiso_1770

“Melungeons”: The Colonial American Melting Pot

In the Appalachian mountain regions of present-day Virginia/North Carolina/Tennessee, a certain ethnic group commonly known as “Melungeons” exhibits ethnic traits that no neighboring people possess: the skin color, hair type, and nose size of these peoples is so dissimilar that a variety of theories emerged to explain how such a people could have developed in the isolated mountains of the American continent. One fanciful theory had it that the “Melungeons” were actually descended from the Middle East: in the 16th century, the Muslim empire of Ottoman Turks was at war with Spain, and many Turks were captured as slaves and sent back to Spain and—eventually—to the Spanish colonies in the New World. A group of these Turkish prisoners supposedly helped Sir Francis Drake, English “privateer” (pirate), carry out his daring raid of Spanish gold supplies in Colombia. Drake supposedly freed and brought aboard some 300 Turkish ex-slaves and promised to take them back to England and, from there, to their homeland. However, no record or trace of them was discovered in Europe. The theory has it that, on his way back to England from Colombia, Drake checked in on the new English colony of Roanoke (present-day North Carolina) and forced the Turks ashore to make room for English colonists and supplies, abandoning the Turks in unfamiliar territory, several thousand miles away both from Europe and from their former masters in South America. In order to survive, these Muslim Turkish ex-slaves fled inland, to the mountains, where they lived with the Native Americans of the Appalachians and became part of the tribes—hence the “Melungeons” and their unique physical appearance.

As it turns out, DNA testing in the past decade has revealed a much less adventurous story: there is no trace of Middle Eastern genes in the “Melungeons.” Instead, they appear to have been the result of intermarriages mainly between African-Americans and Caucasians from colonial days… What does this say about “American identity”?

16 thoughts on “3.1”

  1. It is crazy to me how the people back in this day could think that making people that are different slaves. It just is not right and I don’t know how they didn’t notice that from the beginning.

  2. Did the idea of “European superiority” continuate/create the roots for the deep racism in America? Were the superiority ideals sent into the daughter colonies before the rift between the motherland and the colonies happened?

  3. I found it interesting that the mother country maintained management over the daughter colonies despite disagreement. Did the daughter colonies not attempt independence because they didn’t have the central support and leadership or were there other reasons?

  4. I connected the European’s superior viewpoint to the non-European people as a whole to the idea of geocentrism as in they thought they were the best and the center of all people and everything just revolved around them.

  5. America and England are “melting pots” of different races, ethnicities, and cultures. No one person is the same. England realizes this but only applies it to people that live in England or act like people who live in England. The hypocrisy in that era is ridiculous but even worse are the people in America who made the Native Americans slaves after escaping their own unjust situations in England. The lesson learned is that people only believe in doing good as long as it serves them.

  6. It says that slaves could “improve” and become “more European”. But what is the basis of improving and becoming more European? What happens when you do improve do you then become a free European or do they just essentially pat you on the back and tell you to get back to work?

  7. My question is, how didn’t anyone realize the irony between preaching all of these new human rights in salons but still allowing slavery? I know that slavery was so common everywhere at the time, but didn’t anyone stop to think that the action might be going against their own beliefs?

  8. How did Europeans understand is this person European or not? He can look like one and learn the language perfectly, How did they know is he europea or not?

  9. The whole idea of non-europeans needing to integrate themselves more into the “European culture” of the time just to be accepted as humans is bizarre to me. I think this shows how a small group of bad people can influence a whole continent’s worth of people to set themselves so far apart from others. It shows how easily people’s ideas can be skewed by someone in power and just how tunnel-visioned people may become.

  10. What about the lower-class European citizens? Even if they are still European aren’t they also looked down upon by the higher class?

  11. Were there people a little bit European and a little bit not? just confusing everyone for no reason. Were these people dumb to not realize that treating a person as less wasn’t right. like making their life living hell because they simply just didn’t think? did brain cells just come later on? was it in the water to make people dumber than rocks?

  12. It’s fascinating that although Europeans were preaching liberty and human rights worldwide, they were instead enforcing slavery and a brutal policy of maintaining an empire. Europeans preached about equality but viewed non-Europeans as less than human. Non-Europeans naturally did not deserve the same treatment as Europeans, which was highly hypocritical and insincere. At the time, to be appropriately treated like a European, did you just need to be born and raised in the culture, or did your social class affect your image as well? Also, did other non-European cultures despise Europe at the time because of their views? Was any conflict or war created, or did people simply view this as a norm? How did Europe’s opinions on others affect their relationship with different cultures regarding trading, alliances, etc?

  13. Did the Europeans think that discriminating against “non-Europeans” would help them accomplish anything? Like, make life easier, or make certain places less populated?”

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