The Barbarous Years

The Barbarous Years

The Peopling of British North America : the Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675

eBook - 2012
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aBernard Bailyn gives us a compelling account of the first great transit of people from Britain, Europe, and Africa to British North America, their involvements with each other, and their struggles with the indigenous peoples of the eastern seaboard. They were a mixed multitude--from England, the Netherlands, the German and Italian states, France, Africa, Sweden, and Finland. They moved to the western hemisphere for different reasons, from different social backgrounds and cultures, and under different auspices and circumstances. Even the majority that came from England fit no distinct socioeconomic or cultural pattern. They came from all over the realm, from commercialized London and the southeast; from isolated farmlands in the north still close to their medieval origins; from towns in the Midlands, the south, and the west; from dales, fens, grasslands, and wolds. They represented the entire spectrum of religious communions from Counter-Reformation Catholicism to Puritan Calvinism and Quakerism. They came hoping to re-create if not to improve these diverse lifeways in a remote and, to them, barbarous environment. But their stories are mostly of confusion, failure, violence, and the loss of civility as they sought to normalize abnormal situations and recapture lost worlds. And in the process they tore apart the normalities of the people whose world they had invaded. Later generations, reading back into the past the outcomes they knew, often gentrified this passage in the peopling of British North America, but there was nothing genteel about it. Bailyn shows that it was a brutal encounter--brutal not only between the Europeans and native peoples and between Europeans and Africans, but among Europeans themselves. All, in their various ways, struggled for survival with outlandish aliens, rude people, uncultured people, and felt themselves threatened with descent into squalor and savagery. In these vivid stories of individual lives--some new, some familiar but rewritten with new details and contexts--Bailyn gives a fresh account of the history of the British North American population in its earliest, bitterly contested years.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2012
ISBN: 9780307960825
Characteristics: 1 online resource

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IndyPL_JordanH Sep 29, 2019

A fine European-centered account of the colonial period of eastern North America. However, as historians such as Daniel Richter have pointed out, Bailyn marginalizes and distorts the role played by Native Americans and African Americans in the development of the earliest European colonies in North America. American Indians- sketched in a single chapter that feels like it was glued onto an earlier manuscript- are described as violent mystics seeking an ancient and natural balance with nature. The surviving records paint a more human picture of a people attempting to balance new power centers against each other for their own best interests. Wars against whites weren't merely blood vengeance quests to bring balance to the mystic universe, but instead represented nationalist attempts to stop what the Indians knew were peoples determined to take more and more land.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the book is on the level of language. The Barbarous Years correctly describes the violence of the early years of American colonization and the way whites couldn't claim to be less violent than their native rivals, however, the term's clear link to historical descriptions of Native Americans is a winking assertion and appeal to readers' beliefs in the barbarity of Indians, and this is unfortunate.

Bailyn does offer a tremendous description of the religious and political turmoil that defined the Puritan experience in New England, but don't expect the latest research on Native Americans of African Americans in early years of European colonization.

Oct 13, 2018

The best historic drama about the settling of America I've ever read. Little that you were taught in school is as complete as this tale. The rivalries, the conflicts, the back stories help to convey the complexities that shaped the early colonies. An excellent tale that draws you in and keeps you reading.

roycerowe Nov 19, 2012

Mr. Bailyn is at his best writing about New England—familiar terrain—and recounting the travails and then rapid growth of the Massachusetts Bay Colony after 1620. This section could stand on its own as a short book on the subject: The author colorfully portrays the Puritan leaders, their propensity for schism and the relentless struggles between doctrinal compromisers and the pure of heart. Puritans eagerly resorted to flogging, dismembering and burning their opponents. These were barbarous years indeed.

Throughout the book, Mr. Bailyn patiently explains the origins of the people who migrated to America. Readers learn which regions of England, the Netherlands and Scandinavia produced the most migrants, which social classes were best represented, and the extent to which young males predominated within various migrant flows.


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