A Ruralist’s Lament: Ship to Citadel

“Of the valley that was Paradise, they made a desert, and called it peace.”

– Kirkpatrick Sale

For the last several decades we’ve grown corn on this place. It’s long been traditional in this part of the northeast——just far enough south to permit corn agriculture. When Samuel de Champlain dropped anchor in the nearby Saco (“Chouaco”) River in 1604 and “encountered” the native locals he was careful to describe them as a settled people: “They plant their corn in May and harvest it in September….. The fixed abodes, the cultivated fields, and the fine trees led us to the conclusion that the climate here is more temperate and better…. than at other places on this coast….The Indians remain permanently in this place and have large wigwams surrounded by palisades….This place is very pleasant, and as attractive a spot as one can see anywhere.”

Other European travelers visited this New World bringing Old World diseases (and guns) along, which  decimated the original settlers here, leaving the farm fields to be “discovered” in the course of time by the alien immigrants of the day.

Further north in Maine there’s recently been a kerfuffle over the Penobscot Maritime Heritage Association’s organizing a “4-Port Loop”  visitation of the Nao Santa Maria; a replica of one of Christopher Columbus’ sailing ships on his 1492 “voyage of discovery.” A remnant Indian tribe here in the Pine Tree State was less than amused at the prospect of such a tone-deaf  triumphal pageant.

Local columnist Bill Nemitz observed that upon the Nao Santa Maria’s arrival, “….. Maine’s Native Americans objected to its presence. Given the pivotal role the ship’s historical namesake played in the eventual slaughter and subjugation of Native Americans far and wide, the Penobscot Nation took issue with the Nao Santa Maria plying up and down a river that runs like a vein through the tribe’s ancestral territory.”

The 4-Port-Loop tour was promptly canceled.

Some Mainers were reportedly unhappy and complained that perhaps the tribe was just too sensitive. Maybe this was yet another example of political correctness or cancel culture. Perhaps the  junket should be seen as “a teaching tool” and an occasion to contemplate the pros and cons of empire and conquest. Needless to say, the pros and cons differ markedly, depending upon from which end of the sword, musket ball, Predator drone, or Abrams tank one views the encounter.

But OK. As it happens Cristobal Colon, known to us as “Christopher Columbus,” was careful to write down his observations and exploits, as were his brothers and his son Fernando. These writings as well as those of Catholic priests such as Bartolome de Las Casas, would indeed provide a powerful “teaching tool” if anyone bothered to review them. Sadly, here in America The Dutiful, such study is rarely pursued——least of all in the corporate media.

In 1991, as the nation prepared to celebrate the Quincentenary, the 500th anniversary of “The Admiral,” Colon’s voyage, Kirkpatrick Sale’s “Christopher Columbus and the Conquest of Paradise” was published.

Sale describes how Colon’s venture, beginning on the island he called Espanola / Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic), “reveal(s) much of the character of the entire imperial experience….. They were years of violence and subjugation and that cruelty of human to human that comes to be known as….. The Black Legend— by which the Spanish were castigated for much of the 16th century. They were years of environmental despoliation and waste, of the ignorant and destructive transplantation of one culture and agriculture heedlessly upon another.”

Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” begins with Columbus’ exploits. He quotes the priest, Las Casas: “Endless testimonies…prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives….. But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle, and destroy; small wonder, then, if they tried to kill one of us now and then….. The admiral, it is true, was blind as those who came after him, and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians.”

The Santa Maria also played a historic role so far unreported here in Maine, but historically pungent. Zinn writes, “On Hispaniola, out of the timbers from the Santa Maria, which had run aground, Columbus built a fort, the first European military base in the Western Hemisphere. He called it Navidad (Christmas)…..”

The United States, following the admiral’s example maintains almost 800 military bases around the world. This, we are to understand, is what’s required to enforce the Biden administration’s “rules-based order.”   That would be what GHW Bush called “A New World Order.”  Same deal: “What we say goes.” (We make the rules.)

And, keeping a long tradition alive, when the US military gets deployed to “pacify” yet another resource-rich land the grunts still refer to their far-flung field of battle as “Indian country.”






Richard Rhames is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: rerhames@gmail.com