US Environmental History: Inviting Doomsday

By John Wills | Go to book overview

Prologue: The Invitation

Back in the 1600s, the ‘New World’ of America furthered the expansion of the Old World. Caught within the colonial gaze of the period, dignitaries and explorers alike envisaged America as a realm to be moulded in the European image. They categorised the mystery territory as a prize to be had in the competitive theatre of global expansion. Colonial boosters hoped the country might facilitate fresh trade routes and furnish vast mineral wealth. Settlers imagined an old and familiar rural landscape made anew. Trade, Christianity and empire coalesced, and together forwarded an experimental takeover of new land. For individual colonists, boarding galleons about to travel the Atlantic in the early seventeenth century, ‘New America’ came to embody many positive Old World attributes: property, fortune, and a way to impress the Crown. America invited speculation, excitement and conquest. But with the advent of New World conquest came a hidden invitation. Among the hubris of colonial chatter, the charters of European nations, and the kegs of salted meat and gunpowder, each vessel carried something darker and more sinister. The colonists departing for American shores had invited doomsday on board. Caught within the expansive schemes for new America were the seeds of environmental doomsday. Disaster could be found in the hopes and fears of European colonists, and also in their plans.

The colonial mindset cast America as a doomsday landscape long before arrival or development. On board the Susan Constant,

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