A Student of History

June 14, 2007

Forgetting a colonial city

Filed under: Historic Places — John Maass @ 2:36 pm

I just got a letter from Charles F. Bryan, Jr.  He is the President and “CEO” of the Virginia Historical Society.  (Isn’t it odd that a society for the study of history needs a “CEO”?)  Mr. Bryan wrote to me (and thousands of others) to ask me if I knew “that the English establishment of Jamestown in 1607 was quickly followed by the French who established Quebec in 1608, and then the Spanish who pushed north from Mexico to establish Santa Fe in 1609.” 

It seems that in the rush to be first mentality at the VHS, they have forgotten St. Augustine, which preceded Jamestown.  It was founded in 1565, forty-four years prior to the landing and settlement by the English in Virginia.  “Funny” how the VHS mentions the Spanish in New Mexico, but not the Floridians who preceded the Virginia location. 

Line of Cannons

I e-mailed the VHS with my thoughts, and got this response:

We’re quite explicit in the book and exhibit about why St. Augustine is not included.  First, they had their 400th anniversary 42 years ago.  We don’t say that Jamestown, Quebec, and St. Augustine were the first settlements in the new world, just three that coincided and whose 400th anniversaries therefore coincide. 

In our view, St. Augustine always was part of the Caribbean world.  It “faced” the Caribbean and was a Spanish outpost to protect their shipping lanes.  It did not “face” the interior of North America and there was no significant migration of either Hispanic people or culture from there into the hinterland of North America.  The center for the diffusion of Hispanic culture into America north of Mexico was Santa Fe, notwithstanding iis being founded 44 years later than St. Augustine. 

We explain our view carefully in the exhibition and companion book.  One may not agree with us, but St. Augustine was carefully considered. 

I found this answer to be unsatisfactory, so I responded as such: “It is good to know that the research was done on St. Aug., but I think the interpretation is very contorted in order to suit the “Virginia First” perspective.”

This illicited the following snippy answer, about which you can make your own conclusions: 

If we wanted to take a chauvinistic approach toward Virginia, we wouldn’t have included Quebec and Santa Fe at all.  To most people, the striking thing about this exhibit is the concept that the settlement of North America was multicultural and multidirectional, not simply a westward movement from a single starting point. 


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