Monday, September 28, 2020

My "1584 Project"

Remember when the peerless New York Times journalist put up her "1619 Project" and the editors announced it thus?

The 1619 project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative. [emphasis added]

Yes, of course, that bold bit has since been memory-holed. Because reasons, chiefly because a lot of historians weighed in and said this narrative is, as they say in Critical-Theory-Land, "overdetermined." And, I understand, the chief writer in the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones, has taken her Twitter feed private, because reasons.

I get all this. It's because we humans all want to recite "the story so far," the comforting story about how "we" -- whoever "we" happens to be -- are the culmination of the history of the world so far. Educated blacks like HNJ want a narrative special to them. And our liberal friends are deeply in love with the "oppressed peoples, allies, white oppressors" narrative which is all about how liberals are the saviors of the world because they are the allies of the oppressed peoples and plucked them from out of the clutches of the eevil white oppressors.

The purpose of the 1619 Project is, of course, to throw offal on the "founding narrative," that the American people are the best people in the world, the United States is the best country in the world, and our founders are the best politicians in the world.

Which is really cool if you are a liberal, but not so much fun if you are, say, a gap-toothed white redneck. Where do you fit in to all this virtue-signaling?

Enter my "1584 Project." You see, it may very well be that August 20, 1619 marked the arrival of the first slave ship in North America. But back in 1584 the first ships from England arrived off the coast of North America to found the Roanoke Colony.

What was the Roanoke Colony? According to La Wik, It was the brain-child of Sir Walter Raleigh, who was awarded a charter by Queen Elizabeth I to "discover, search, find out, and view such remote heathen and barbarous Lands, Countries, and territories ... to have, hold, occupy, and enjoy." He sent an expedition out in 1584 which made landfall at "Port Ferdinando" by Roanoke Island. Raleigh's people spent the next couple of years trying to establish a colony, but gave up, probably abandoning a few colonists to their fate.

But what was this colonization all about? If you read Nancy Isenberg's White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, it is all about the problem of "waste population" in England in the 16th century.

I know, let's tell a story.

Back in 1000, let us say, the Brits lived in a pure feudal system where they lived as serfs in a medieval manor. They could, if they chose, become slaves of their lord, and get their three squares a day directly from the loving lord rather than scratching for it as agriculturalists farming the open field system.

But in the 12th century, according to La Wik, "some fields in England tilled under the open field system were enclosed into individually owned fields." Then came the Black Death and that really got the break-up of the feudal system going.

Many farms were bought by yeomen who enclosed their property and improved their use of the land. More secure control of the land allowed the owners to make innovations that improved their yields.

The nobles also liked the enclosure concept. Their idea was to enclose land so they could graze sheep. This became a political issue by 1500, so that in his Utopia Thomas More could speak of how when gentlemen "that carry about with them... a great flock or train of idle and loitering serving men" die, their heirs "thrust [them] out of doors."

And what do they do, these landowners?

[They] leave no ground for tillage: they enclose all into pastures... and leave nothing standing but only the church to be made into a sheep-house.

The money, says More, is in the growing "of the finest and the dearest wool" and that is what the "noblemen and gentlemen" were doing. Not coincidentally, the first vagabond act was passed in 1495.

To add insult to injury, monarchs in the 16th century started disarming their nobles and creating national armies. This created another reason for nobles to kick their "idle and loitering serving men" out of doors.

By 1584, Richard Hakluyt in his "Discourse Concerning Western Planting" proposed not just the advantage of merchants and artisans improving the waste lands of the Americas, but the benefit of exporting the human detritus from the improvement and enclosure movement. Isenberg:

[T]he bulk of the labor force was to come from the swelling numbers of poor and homeless... Idle and unused they were waiting to be transplanted to the American land and be better... put to use.

Then the convicts. Here is what Hakluyt planned for them in America.

Among the first waves of workers were the convicts, who would be employed at heavy labor felling trees and burning them for pitch, tar, and soap ash; others would dig in the mines for gold, silver, iron, and copper. The convicts were not paid wages. As debt slaves, they were obliged to repay the English commonwealth for their crimes by producing commodities for export.

Anyway, after the Roanoke Colony failed the Brits tried again with Jamestown, founded in 1607. It struggled as badly as Roanoke, but then in 1609 John Rolfe introduced a strain of tobacco from Bermuda, and "tobacco quickly became the new gold --  the ticket to wealth."

But for that the planters needed labor, and so they pleaded for "more indentured servants and laborers, who, like slaves were sold to the highest bidder." Actually, the normal game was that men that did not pay for their own passage to the Americas paid instead with a term of indentured labor. And contracts of indenture bound servants to their masters and even their heirs. If an indentured servant died, his wife and children were expected to work out the term of indenture.

So the waste population of England was not that different from the conquest slaves of West Africa.

Of course, some of the indentured servants escaped, and learned to live off the grid as squatters and crackers.

They lived off the grid... disappeared into unsettled territory and squatted down... anywhere and everywhere.

As early as the 1750s they were called the "scum of nature" and "vermin"; they had no means of support except theft and license.

Thus the whole pejorative vocabulary of White Trash, from Nancy Isenberg:

Waste people. Offscourings. Lubbers. Bogtrotters. Rascals. Rubbish. Squatters. Crackers. Clay-eaters. Tuckies. Mudsills. Scalawags. Briar hoppers. Hillbillies. Low-downers. White [n-word]. Degenerates. White trash. Rednecks. Trailer trash. Swamp people. 

Don't you think it is time for a new movement among the elite, to champion the White Trash against their oppressors? Oh wait. In that case the moral narrative would be about "oppressed white trash, gentry oppressors, and don't cares."

Did you know about the "maroons?" They were communities of escaped African slaves all up and down the eastern coast of the Americas. They usually lived just far enough out of town that the powers-that-be wouldn't be bothered to bother them.

So really, the maroons were the same as the white trash, the squatters and crackers, that lived far enough out of town that the powers-that-be wouldn't bother them. Both white trash indentured servants and negro slaves were useful to the ruling class to work in their money-making plantations, if they could keep them from escaping.

In my narrative of The Story So Far, I reckon that, at some point, the benefit of slave labor began to burn out. Eventually the powers that be started to realize that free labor was much more profitable than slave labor. And so indentured servitude and slavery became a scandal to the great and the good.

However, I maintain that the pendulum has swung back somewhat to feudalism, for in my critique of the left as a Great Reaction, I call socialism a return to slavery and the welfare state a return to feudalism. In the welfare state the workers give a lot of their wages back to the government in return for benefits. And what is that, in effect, but a kind of quasi-serfdom?

There seem to be only two ways of recalling the past. Either it was a golden age or it was a shameful barbarism. Or both.

But I think a better way is to be understanding about the past. It was what it was. We should be hesitant to praise it unduly, and we should be disinclined to sneer at it.

For who knows how our own age will be judged by those that come after us.

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