HILL: ‘1620’ history versus ‘1619’ fiction 

FILE - In this May 21, 2016, file photo, Nikole Hannah-Jones attends the 75th Annual Peabody Awards Ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. It has its religious and historical roots in the Jamestown, Virginia, and Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, settlements in 1619 and 1620, respectively. 

Historical revisionists such as Nikole Hannah-Jones and The New York Times have sought to overturn the meaning and tradition of Thanksgiving as well as the entire establishment of the American colonies by publishing what generously can be called a fictional account of the founding of America, the 1619 Project. 

“The goal of the 1619 Project is to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year. Doing so requires us to place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.” 

The key phrase in their mission statement is “the story we tell ourselves.” There is no crime in using fictional stories in historical settings to convey a particular political or philosophical view ― Mark Twain did it in “Huckleberry Finn” and became America’s greatest writer. 

Peter Wood’s “1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project” takes a sharp ax to the premise of the 1619 Project that America was founded solely to establish a nation built on the backs of black slaves. Wood destroys their argument with solid verifiable data and facts, as well he should since he is the president of the National Association of Scholars. 

There were no slaves on the ships which delivered colonists to Jamestown in 1619. There were no African slaves on the Mayflower when it landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. There were no African slaves in the Dutch colonies of Breukelen, Haarlem and Waal Straat (Brooklyn, Harlem and Wall Street) in New York which were established starting in 1609. 

None of the settlers in Virginia, Massachusetts and New York came to the New World specifically to establish a slaveocracy as Hannah-Jones and The New York Times postulate. They came to get away from personal and religious persecution in the Old World and to establish a new life for themselves and their families. 

The roughly 25 slaves who did land in 1619 in Jamestown were brought, perhaps inadvertently, by pirates who had pillaged a slave ship in the Caribbean and then were traded for food and provisions. Soon after, six more African slaves were brought to Jamestown, again by pirates, this time from the Spanish slave ship, San Juan Bautista which was headed to Veracruz, Mexico, where they most certainly would have died in the silver mine operations there. 

The British common law which prevailed at the time in the colonies afforded most, if not all, of these landed slaves the opportunity to be freed from indentured servitude after a period of time which is borne out by subsequent legal records and history.  

Had America been founded solely as a white man’s slavocracy, none of these African slaves would have been allowed any freedom whatsoever. It wasn’t until almost a half-century later that slavery in the South started to become the wretched institution it was for two centuries in America. 

Native Americans had been enslaving conquered tribes for centuries before the Mayflower hit the shore and continued to do so until the mid-19th century in America. There was no mention of Native American slavery in the 1619 Project. 

America was founded as a dream for equality, justice and fair play from the beginning. The Mayflower Covenant stated those who signed it would “solemnly and mutual covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony, unto which we promise all due submissions and obedience.” 

Those were the foundational principles of America from the beginning in the three colonies mentioned above. Those were the principles on which the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were debated and finalized. Those were the principles to which the United States of America were returned in 1865 after the Civil War.  

There is no need to make up history to tell everyone how horrible slavery was in the American South and still is in many parts of the globe. There is a pressing need to find ways to “combine ourselves together into a civil body politic.” The New York Times and Hannah-Jones can start the 2023 Project and help us find out.