Skip to comments.Book Review: Discovering a Lost Heritage: The Catholic Origins of America
Posted on 09/02/2009 1:49:58 PM PDT by GonzoII
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Book Review: Discovering a Lost Heritage: The Catholic Origins of America
Posted By Eleonore Villarrubia On August 28, 2009 @ 2:24 pm In Articles, Book Reviews, Catholic America, History | 2 Comments
So, you think you know your American history? Well, this little gem of a book, a Catholic history of our country, will probably leave you quivering, both with shock at your lack of knowledge of some of the true facts of our past and with indignation that this information is not taught in American schools and is absent from standard textbooks. Why, you ask, did this happen? According to the author: Much of American history is, and has been for two centuries, taught from a Protestant-English viewpoint. To be more exact, U.S. history has been primarily taught from a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) perspective, and this has more often than not been anti-Catholic, or at the least, silent on the foundation of America as being originally Catholic.
Lets try a question from early New World history: Who were the first Europeans in New England? Standard answer: Pilgrims, escaping religious persecution in England, landed in Massachusetts in 1620.
That is not the correct answer. As early as the fifth century, a monk, whose name is unknown, and his companions, left evidence of their visit to the area of New Hampshire on a petroglyph. The message praising Christ the Lord is written in ancient Celtic. Natives told the early French explorers of this tradition among their people.
In the late sixth century we know that Saint Brendan, an Irish monk, and his companions, landed on the shores of America near what is now New Salem, New Hampshire. There they planted the Cross of Christ and explored the eastern coastline of North America. Saint Brendan himself recorded the events and descriptions of his explorations in his Saga.
Along about the year 1000, Catholic Norsemen from Scandinavia explored the coastline of the northern part of the east coast from Greenland, down to Nova Scotia and New England. Viking Leif Ericson, who was converted to the Catholic Faith by King Saint Olaf, took missionary monks with him on the voyage. Coastal Indians spoke to them of white, bearded men who wore robes and carried beads and crosses in procession. Was this the stuff of legend or were they speaking of their own times? While that question cannot be answered, surely the story had some basis in fact.
Almost one hundred years before Columbus voyage, a Scottish-Norse prince, Henry of St. Clair (or Sinclair) from the Orkney Islands off the northern coast of England, set off on an expedition to America and landed in present-day Nova Scotia. Being a good Catholic ruler, Henry also brought along missionaries who evangelized the gentle Micmac Indians while teaching them many practical skills as well. Evidence exists that the St. Clair party sailed farther south and established a settlement at the site that is today Newport, Rhode Island. One can see in this very American city the remains of a stone tower that once adjoined a church. This tower is not typical of early American architecture, being modeled after a church tower in Scotland, which in turn was modeled after the tower of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem; they are the worlds only structures built in this manner. (A photograph of the tower adorns the cover of this book.) More proof of St. Clairs visit to New England is a petroglyph found on a large rock near Newport. There one can see a large and detailed carving of the coat of arms of the Sinclair family. Although Henry founded several settlements, leaving a missionary at each, he was killed in a family dispute back home in the Orkneys; as a result, deprived of needed supplies, the settlements fell apart and the settlers vanished. The Spanish explorer Verrazano saw the tower in 1524 and encountered Indians he believed to be of mixed race, possibly descendants of the Scottish settlers of St. Clairs expedition.
Finally, by the 1570s, France had begun to send explorers and missionary priests to the New England area, where a Cross and French flag were planted near the Kennebec River in Maine and the land was claimed for Christ and France. What we now call New England was earlier known as Norumbega.
All these events happened before the Pilgrims!
Examples of historical distortion (or simply omission) abound in this fact-packed book. Here is another shocker: Did you know that whites were not the only slave owners in nineteenth century America? In 1830, the national census counted nearly 3800 black slave owners who, among themselves, held nearly 12,800 slaves. These were not even all in the South. In New York City that same year, eight free men of color owned seventeen slaves. In addition, there were many whites who were slaves, mostly despised poor Irish and Scottish Catholic immigrants who had no choice but to sell themselves into indentured servitude for life which amounts to slavery because of their destitute condition.
Any Catholic living in New England should be able to relate the history of anti-Catholicism that was traditional here. Samuel Adams wanted to establish laws specifically directed against Catholics in every state of the nation. John Jay, prior to becoming Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, did his best as governor of New York to deny Catholics rights of citizenship in his state. Too, in our own state of New Hampshire there was a clause on the books excluding Catholics from holding office as late as 1876. Not one of the proudest of the liberal traditions, is it? And the violent anti-Catholic activities of the Know-Nothing movement is (pardon the pun) well-known!
Of particular interest to this reviewer was the chapter on Texas. Our author explained how the Freemasonic government of the United States eventually annexed the territory, which had already been established as a Republic independent from Mexico and, as had been hoped by Texans, independent of the United States too. Manifest Destiny took care of that, as it did the entire southwest, wresting one third of what would be the United States from Mexico by means of President Polks Mexican-American war. The destruction of the Catholic/Spanish culture of the peaceful Indians of Florida is also a sad chapter in American history. Worse than that, in terms of the scale of the injustice, was the forced relocation of all Indian tribes east of the Mississippi to western reservations as outlined first by President Monroe in his 1825 report to the Senate on a plan of colonization or removal of said tribes. After the Civil War President Grant pushed a law that prohibited Catholic priests from ministering to Catholic Indians on the reservations; Protestant ministers were sent instead. Our Masonic political rulers were also eager to help their brothers south of the border to cut ties with the Catholic motherland. This is the main reason for the support that the United States supplied to the revolutionary movements in Latin American countries in their successful breaks from European colonizers. Although the Monroe Doctrine, as it came to be called, was not enforceable at the time it was proclaimed, it set the stage for a new sphere of influence in the western hemisphere where any colony that sought independence from European powers would have the backing of the United States.
A handy section at the end of the book called U.S. History Mythbusters is by itself worth the price of the book. It includes thirty-five common myths regarding our history, which are taken for granted as true by nearly all Americans, and their precise refutations.
This is such an essential little volume only 195 pages in length so packed with information that one has to ignore the few misspellings and typos within it. Adam Miller has done a wonderful service by providing us with such a well-researched, fact-filled production.
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Sounds like a very interesting read. Thanks for posting.
I hope the book is better than the reviewers knowledge of New Hampshire geography.
But what role did Catholics play in forming the institutions of this country? What, for example, did 6th century monks have to do with it?
I’m sorry, but this sounds a lot like Afro-centric history does to me. Interesting facts, but irrelevant to the mainstream of events.
Go St Augustine!
Our town and parish were founded by Spain in 1565, and we’re still going strong...
Do some research on Charles Carroll and see whether our nation would have survived its own birth without him...
Actually, the thinking of Jefferson and most of the other men of the Enlightment were very much shaped by the Catholic theory of natural law (which is essentially the basis of our Constitution and our country).
Jefferson and other people in the English speaking world were also very impressed by the writings of the 17th century Spanish Jesuit, Suarez, who was the first to come up with the idea of the “consent of the governed” as being a prerequisite for governance. He also developed the Christian theory justifying the overthrow of a despotic government.
I don’t know much about him but he is in just about every family tree I have. He has many, many descendants or people who claim to be.
“All these events happened before the Pilgrims!”
I was going to say that very specifically, the perspective is NEW ENGLAND Protestant.
Indeed, the impression that “pilgrims” were the 1st English settlement in NA is bogus.
The 1st being the mysterious Roanoke, NC and the 2nd - 1st permanent - being JAMESTOWN, VA. Note these were both “south” - indeed, pilgrims were aiming for VA.
But people continue to think of “Plymouth”, “Salem”, etc, when it comes to “1st American...”
Which trickles into the whole “Thanksgiving” thing. Never mind other items of culture, and you’ll find New England has ultimately dominated as far as telling the story.
Well, not mentioned is that the entire colony of MD was founded by Catholics for the purpose of providing Catholic refuge - along with “tolerance” for all, which England was not doing.
Indeed, a secret truth is that Maryland was NOT named for “Henrietta Maria” (bah! Why the 2nd name of a queen?) but for the Virgin Mary.
Oh, do the Democrats here go into shock when they hear that!
Make sure you have the correct Charles. He had to specify himself as “Charles Carroll OF CARROLLTON” to distinguish himself from his contemporary cousin, who replaced him in Congress.
He was the last surviving member of the Signers (he did not vote on it, having just been sent the very day it was signed by Hancock), and he laid the stone of the B&O Railroad in 1828.
Looks lame, but hey, there's a PreColumbian navigation of the Atlantic angle, so ping.
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Yes, but how does that compare to, say, the number of Anglicans and other Protestants.
The founders of America were overwhelmingly British Protestants, at least nominally.
this is not to disparage the contributions that others made, but still. The Spanish Catholics, the Mexican CAtholics, the Viking Catholics, and the Irish Catholics, etc., while they may have been here, even first, did not play a significant role in the founding of this country, whatever they may have done since.
I didn't intend to get into numbers just facts.
Of course Protestants out-numbered Catholics at the beginning of our Nation, but nonetheless, Catholics did contribute to its founding.
"The founders of America were overwhelmingly British Protestants, at least nominally."
I would add that the prayers of All our ancesters are what helped make this country great, Protestant or Catholic.
Well, I can’t disagree with that. Sure wish we had more praying today.
I try not to worry. John Carroll, another cousin, 1st archbishop of the USA, consecrated the USA to Virgin Mary (and thus is Mary the patron saint of the USA).
St. Augustine is the oldest continuing Christian settlement in the US.
New Salem, New Hampshire, is just across the border from Portsmouth, Massachusetts.
I would love to read this. Thanks for posting this.
The author is Adam S. Miller.
>> But what role did Catholics play in forming the institutions of this country? <<
Read Clarence Thomas’ discourses on St. Thomas Acquinas and Natural Law.
The anti-Catholic sentiments of early protestant settlers is understandable. My ancestors settled in Maine in 1626. One was a grandaughter of Thomas Cramner - former Archbishop of the church of England under Henry VIII. He was burned at the stake in a purge by subsequent Catholic rule. There was a whole cycle of bloody pursecution by Catholic rulers in English history. On the other hand, there was oppression by the likes of Protestant Cromwell.
Some of America’s history and a large portion of its political and intellectual origins on freedoms and the heritage of the “rights of Englishmen” has English roots. At least many permanent settlements in New England were driven by a desire to escape religious persecution.
Indeed, as a descendent of one of the immigrants on First Supply ship to Jamestown, I keep pointing out to my friends who claim descent from survivors of the Mayflower Expedition that my family was here to welcome those poor navigators. But, they don’t care.
I’m curious to know what happened to the builders of a Spanish Mission that once was in inland VA. Were all those earlier settlers absorbed into the indigenous Indian tribes, or massacred by them?
Thanks for posting that beautiful picture of the cathedral in St. Augustine. I had the privilege of visiting SA about 20 years ago, and I just love that town. I didn’t get to go to the cathedral, but I have always encouraged my friends from WI to visit historic SA. None of them ever do, however, preferring Miami, Palm Beach, and other districts.
And the Virginians had their own Thanksgiving feast at Berkeley Plantations — earlier than those poor navigators hanging out at Plymouth Rock.
I just figure that the Pilgrims had a better PR firm. After all, isn’t Madison Ave. in NY?
Worst of all is that the Yankees won the “civil war”. So, dominated by NEers, guess who wrote the history?
Thanksgiving was a very common practice. Yet it’s treated as if this was the only very special, rare Thanks to God ever presented. Heck, I find that when “history of (The) Thanksgiving” is told, suddenly they try to conflate other proclaimed thanksgivings (during the RevWar, e.g.) into the fold as if it “continued the tradition”.
Yes, and 1st they (NE pilgrims) went to Holland - from England.
So much for British tolerance!
(BTW, Henry VIII? No wonder. I don’t think Catholics liked that Henry made his own church just because he wanted divorces. The whole Anglican idea is a joke. It’s Catholicism with divorce.)
It was traditional shortly before the Revolution and in the early Republic because of the French and Indian Wars (what Churchill called "The First World War"). You can see the graves in colonial cemeteries.
By the Civil war the animus had ended in large parts of New England. When Catholics built St. Mary's on Hillhouse Avenue in New Haven--the best area of the city and a short walk from Grove St cemetery where 17th c divines were buried--the local paper defended Catholics from charges in the New York Times that Catholics were being uppity.
I believe that there is a record of the founders of St. Augustine, FL holding a Thanksgiving celebration during their early years. That would’ve been in the 1500s. Perhaps somebody can add the details.
The whole Catholic school system was started because of anti Catholic discrimination in the public schools.
It was always a tradition.
MD was founded as a “Catholic” colony (i.e., by Catholics with toleration - hence “the Free State”) in 1632, but by 1700 the Catholics who granted non-Catholics “tolerance” had been dislodged from any power positions and laws emplaced to keep them out. This didn’t change until the RevWar, essentially.
My larger point is, as is the case with other groups, that the history is distorted. There wasn't endless discrimination and violent hatred against Catholics. People got along more than they didn't. What made news and dominates history are the exceptions.
Parish Priest: Father Michael McGivney and American Catholicism showed the norm in New Haven in the second half of the 19th century. The relations between the old congregational churches on the New Haven Green and the upstart St. Mary's thoughtful, warm and touching.
I can't link directly but an article showing the other side is at the Library of Congress> The Nineteenth Century in Print> Periodicals.
Search for Our Roman Catholic Brethren. I. The Atlantic monthly. Volume 21, Issue 126, April 1868 by James Parton.
It is a wonderful essay. Full of praise for Catholic priests,lay Catholics, the Church and suggestions by Parton that his fellow Protestants adopt some Catholic practices
Thomas Aquinas was an American?
Let’s see. He died in 1274. What year did columbus discover America. It’s been a while, but I remember the ditty from school, “In 1492, columbus sailed the ocean blue”, or something like that.
No, St. Thomas Aquinas wasn’t an American. I never said he was. He DID, however, have a profound impact on the political and legal theory of our founding fathers.
Well, that was not the issue under dispute, as I understand it. However, neither do I dispute that the thinkers that came before had an influence on the the ideas of the founding fathers. Even Catholic, Jewsih, and possibly even Muslim ones.
And, of course, we all know that the Founders got their ideas about Constitutional governance from the Iroquois. ;). But what was the proportion of Iroquois, or any Native Americans for that matter, among them?
The fact is, that the vast majority of them were of a British Protestant background, and that is my point.
>> Well, that was not the issue under dispute, as I understand <<
Then maybe you should refrain from the snarky, sarcastic comments, because I was responding directly to the question, “[W]hat role did Catholics play in forming the institutions of this country?” I was not answering, “what were the demographics of the founding fathers?” Common law is an institution of this country which considerably predates the Constitution, and from which the Constitution depends.
You have a different understanding of the question than I do. Using your understanding, we could as well be talking about the role that the pagan Romans had on the founding of America. And come up with plenty of stuff. But actual Catholics were few enough on the ground at the founding of the United States. Not absent of course, there were plenty, but their influence was definitely not the major portion.
Don't make it personal; I'm not.
This is snarky:
“Thomas Aquinas was an American? Lets see. He died in 1274. What year did columbus discover America. Its been a while, but I remember the ditty from school, In 1492, columbus sailed the ocean blue, or something like that.”
Now I thought it was witty. My bad, I guess.
But TA wasn’t one of the founders was my point.
I am posting this reply to clear up the error which my astute critic, ALPHAPilot, caught. I have spoken to the book’s author, Adam Miller. The mistake is that the name of the town is actually North Salem, NH, not New Salem. In thispart of New Hampshire you will find what is referred to as “America’s Stonehenge.” It is even listed as such on my New Hampshire roadmap. The claim on the website of “America’s Stonehenge” is that there is evidence of an advanced, unknown people in that area dating from 4,000 years ago. BTW, ALPHAPilot, your correction of the factual error contains a grammatical error: reviewer’s is possessive; it needs an apostrophe. God bless you. Eleonore Villarrubia
That makes much more sense. As an airline pilot living in seacoast NH the geography was pretty easy. Unfortunately, I am the product of a public school education and english isn’t my strong point.
I’ve been to American Stonehenge, it’s an interesting place. I’ll have to check out the book.
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