Credit for colonization -- why do the Pilgrims get it? Why are the Pilgrims, and not earlier Europeans, seen as the founders of the United States? 

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There is a difference between how history is written and how we as a nation choose to remember it. History has, for more than fifty years, rejected the notion that New England somehow represented the birth of America. Many historians have even argued that in terms of developmental models, most...

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There is a difference between how history is written and how we as a nation choose to remember it. History has, for more than fifty years, rejected the notion that New England somehow represented the birth of America. Many historians have even argued that in terms of developmental models, most of the colonies had more in common with the Chesapeake (large indentured and enslaved labor forces, elite consolidation of power, etc) than with New England. South Carolina, at least for the first few decades of its history, had more in common with Barbados than other colonies. But Americans, as pohnpei observes, would rather remember the New England colonies, which they associate with religious liberty (wrongly), a "city on a hill," and the Puritan work ethic, than the Chesapeake colonies. It's part of American exceptionalism. 

 

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History is written by whoever is in power.  (Is not the word story part of this word?) So, since the English who came to America were the main recorders of U.S. history, Jamestown is listed as the first settlement and all the other details follow.   In truth, St. Augustine was founded before Jamestown, but the Spanish had it, and they have not written any American history.  So, Jamestown stays in the history books.

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Generally, we associate the pilgrims with religious freedom.  We often make the same associations of religious freedom and freedom in general with our founding fathers.  The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and other important founding articles are generally associated more with the ideals of the pilgrims.  Since it was these articles that founded this country, we view these ideals in a different light than simply discovery.  The early Europeans certainly began colonization and establishing a new life here, however they didn't really have a hand in founding the country we now live in.

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There is some famous literature relating to the Pilgrims also, such as The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter that helps keep the Pilgrims in our mindset.


They seemed to be a stronger colony than Jamestown also. For better or for worse, their religious heritage makes them more memorable.

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As a former American history teacher, I would say that the founders in Jamestown get more credit in the textbooks simply because they preceded the Pilgrims by about thirteen years.  I agree with the above statements that popular culture tends to relate more to the Pilgrims so they get a little more play in that arena.

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The answer to this depends a bit on which "earlier Europeans" you are talking about.  I'd say the Pilgrims get more credit than the Jamestown settlers because their story fits better with our national identity.  We say that they came for religious freedom, which fits well with our vision of ourselves as the land of freedom.  The Jamestown people, coming simply for wealth, don't fit so well so we don't talk about them as much.  

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