Early exploration to the New World paved the way to a great nation, and as Americans we should be diligent in guarding the “dream”. Navigating across treacherous seas toward an uncertain end was no endeavor to be taken lightly. When asking about what drove the exploration and colonization of America, we must be cautious of what we think we know. In “The Journey of Coronado,” Pedro CastaÃ?Â±eda writes: “Ã¢Â?Â¦most people very often make things of which they have heard, and about which they have perchance no knowledge, appear either greater or less than they are” (29). It would be judicious for us all to examine the motivation(s) behind the missions, if not for the sake of learning, then to honor those whose actions, though sometimes less than noble, nonetheless allowed us privileges not afforded to citizens of other nations. Additionally, it is imperative that we realize that one reason alone could not possibly have borne such a giant as America, just as a body without a head and legs cannot propagate generations.
Explorers were, we must assume by nature, dreamers who were extraordinarily passionate about the prospect of pursuit and discovery of new lands. For these brave pioneers, the mere idea of embarking on a journey to unfamiliar territory must have caused a great sense of exhilaration, in spite of the dangers that they knew lay ahead. Christopher Columbus wrote, “I did not sail upon this voyage to gain honor or wealthÃ¢Â?Â¦I came to Your Highnesses with true devotion and with ready zealÃ¢Â?Â¦” (Baym, et al 37). According to The Norton Anthology of American Literature, John Smith was intrigued by tales of exploration, and at the young age of thirteen may have made an attempt to join an expedition (Baym, et al 103-20).
Some of these journeymen were no doubt seeking notoriety and glory for their discoveries, perhaps dreaming of having lands named in their honor. The Log of Christopher Columbus is a journal that chronicled his first voyage, and gives an account of one of his captains, Martin Alonso PinzÃ?Â³n. Columbus is at first impressed with PinzÃ?Â³n’s skill, but becomes increasingly troubled by “his independence” (Columbus 64). It seems that PinzÃ?Â³n dreamed of being the first to sight new regions, oftentimes sailing ahead of the others in order that he might be the first to identify land (Columbus 67). In fact, PinzÃ?Â³n abandoned Columbus, and sailed off with the Pinta, in an act of betrayal (Columbus 113). We also know that these new territories were often named after the Kings who granted the charters (e.g. Jamestown), likely because it was the Kings’ desires for such eminence.
Traveling great distances overseas required ships that could sustain the stresses of such long journeys. Prince Henry of Portugal dreamed of overseas advances, and is thought to have financed efforts to build better ships and invent more efficient navigational tools (Goldfield, et al 16). By the start of the sixteenth century, advances in shipbuilding and design, along with the inventions of the magnetic compass and astrolabe (a tool that allowed seafarers to know their position at sea in relation to a star), afforded sailors the ability to venture farther than was possible before (Goldfield, et al 17).
Expeditions to the New World could prove to very profitable materially, as it meant that trade routes could be increased, new lands could be conquered and claimed, and treasures such as gold or precious stones might be found. However, excursions of this magnitude necessitated a great deal of financial support. Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain dreamed of gaining wealth and power, as well as sending missionaries to Asia for the cause of Christianity, and agreed to support Columbus and his expedition to find a westward passage to Asia (Goldfield, et al 17). Investors bought shares in the Virginia and Plymouth Companies, dreaming of making a profit in return, which enabled settlers to colonize abroad (Goldfield, et al 42). King Francis I dreamed of expanding France into the New World, as well as hoped to stop the progress of Spanish expansion, so he invested in an expedition led by Giovanni da Verrazano to map the eastern coast of the New World (Goldfield, et al 27).
Many Europeans dreamed of the opportunity to make a better living, but Europeans that weren’t lucky enough to be wealthy at birth didn’t have the opportunity to overcome poverty by working hard (Shaw). In John Smith’s “A Description of New England”, he offers hope to those desiring a more prosperous life, painting a titillating picture of the virtues of purchasing one’s own land and “building a foundation” (Baym, et al 114). Lured by this dream, thousands of people immigrated to the North American Colonies between 1620 and 1640 to escape the waning economy of England (Goldfield, et al 48).
Perhaps the dream most widely recognized is the one of religious freedom. Those who didn’t agree with the manner in which the Church of England was operating separated and formed a group known as the Puritans. One of these groups of Puritans, the Scrooby separatists, left England to escape persecution and moved to Holland, where they were able to worship in peace (Goldfield, et al 49). However, certain religious practices there were not in keeping with the Puritan’s devoutness, and they worried about being absorbed into secular life. In “Of Plymouth Plantation” written by William Bradford, he wrote of the Separatists’ dream of keeping their beliefs and values alive, as some of their children were influenced and drawn away by the “manifold temptations” and “evil examples” surrounding them (Baym, et al 160). Some of them enlisted the support of the Plymouth Company and sailed on the Mayflower to realize their dreams.
But a dream without hard work and endurance is doomed to fail. When Sir Walter Raleigh sent men to colonize Roanoke Island in 1585, most of them were not willing to grow their own crops; instead they expected to live off of the Indians. When the treasures they had read about weren’t so easily found, they gave up and moved back to England (Goldfield, et al 29). Bradford said it well when he admitted that “all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties and must be both enterprised and overcome with answerable courages” (Baym, et al 161).
America is the dream; it is the dream realized by those who took a bold leap long ago. It continues to be a dream realized by millions of people today. We see that there were many dreams that sparked initiative for exploring and colonizing the New World, but each of these dreams by itself would hardly propel such a successful movement.
Baym, Nina, et al. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 6th ed. Vol. A. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. 103-05.
Bradford, William. “Of Plymouth Plantation.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 6th ed. Vol. A. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. 157-96.
CastaÃ?Â±eda, Pedro. The Journey of Coronado. March of America Facsimile Ser. 13. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, Inc, 1966.
Columbus, Christopher. “Letter to Ferndinand and Isabella Regarding the Fourth Voyage.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Eds. Nina Baym, et al. 6th ed. Vol. A. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. 34 -37.
Columbus, Christopher. The Log of Christopher Columbus. Trans. Robert H. Fuson. Maine: International Marine Publishing, 1992.
Goldfield, David, et al. The American Journey. Third ed. Vol. I. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2004.
Shaw, Anamaria. “The Natives and the Explorers.” Class Notes. 2005. 29 Aug., 2005. .
Smith, John. “A Description of New England.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 6th ed. Vol. A. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. 114-17.