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How Our East Was Won


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How Our East Was Won


The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: the Conflict of Civilizations, 1600–1675, Bernard Bailyn, Alfred A. Knopf, 640 pages


By Gene CallahanOctober 23, 2013


Bernard Bailyn is one of the giants of early American historical scholarship. In recent years he has been engaged in a project “to give an account of the peopling of British North America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.” Barbarous Years is the most recently released product of that effort. As we have come to expect from Bailyn, it is a magisterial work, which, for any reader interested in this period, more than repays the serious attention it requires. (The book is over 500 pages and dense in detail.)


Barbarous Years covers the period from the first permanent English settlements on the continent through King Phillip’s War. Besides discussing the English in the Chesapeake area and New England, this work also considers the Swedish and Dutch settlements along the Delaware and Hudson rivers. (South Carolina, founded in 1670, is left out.) Throughout this period the European toehold on the edge of the North American continent was precarious, and it was the sense of fragility, as well as the mutual incomprehension between the Europeans and Indians, that, Bailyn contends, made these years “barbarous.” Everything was uncertain in the new world being created by this clash of cultures. The constant threat felt to the very existence not just of oneself but of one’s whole community led to desperately brutal acts on the part of natives and newcomers alike. Scissors-32x32.png


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