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Vantage Points of History

This paper considers the life experience and how it differed for women, Native Americans, blacks, and whites in Colonial America.


It’s said that the victors get to write history, and in large part it’s true. We don’t generally think of the history of the West from the Apache’s viewpoint, for instance. Let’s consider briefly what life was like for Native Americans, whites, women, African-Americans; elites and commoners. Let’s also think about how memory plays tricks on our perceptions of events.


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The experiences of the groups listed above were very different, and yet it’s almost impossible to generalize about any of them, and say that it was “all bad” or “all good,” with the possible exception of the Native Americans, for whom the arrival of the Europeans was almost universally a disaster.

The Native Americans in many cases were friendly to the newcomers, helped them, gave them food, and were directly responsible for their survival. Their “reward” for their generosity was often conflict and death. In the Chesapeake area, for example, the Algonquian tribes faced a protracted war with the English. Other tribes died of the diseases that the Europeans brought to them. The Native Americans suffered greatly in Colonial America, as indeed they have throughout American history.

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Let’s consider the people who really were at the top: the rich white men. (Nothing much changes, does it?) It was rich white men who wrote the Constitution since only landowners were considered “stable” enough to deal with the task of making laws. It was felt they had a real stake in the future of the country and could be trusted to work for the betterment of all.
Women in Colonial America had no legal standing; they belonged to their husbands. Although obviously, they influenced their society indirectly, it took them until the 20th Century to win the right to vote, and that was after nearly 80 years of struggle.

The African-American experience in Colonial America was not completely devoid of merit. In the Chesapeake area, we find a society in which the white settlers in the area treated blacks as equals. There was a great deal of intermingling on social occasions, some interracial relationships; in one case a black man won a legal case against a white man.

Elsewhere, though, blacks fared badly, as the institution of slavery was put in place in American society from the very beginning. The Spanish enslaved the Native Americans, but the English brought slaves from Africa, and that led to the institution as we know it from the Civil War era.

Memory is tricky. We tend to remember things as we think they were, not as they were. We also tend to remember the things that are most flattering to us, and to the people we admire. That’s why, since America tends to respect its European heritage but not its native one, we don’t get things from the Native American view. Because women remain essentially powerless, we get few things from the woman’s viewpoint; and because we consider blacks inferior, we see little from their view. We must guard against what is almost a built-in prejudice to see everything from the rich white male’s perspective.

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America’s strength, we hear, is its diversity. It should be important enough to us to make sure that that becomes more than a slogan.

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Vantage Points of History. (2021, Feb 17). Retrieved March 22, 2023, from