Our nation takes pride in its history of nonconformity and equality. Throughout our history, America has been known as the “land of the free, home of the brave,” and the “sweet land of liberty.” The Declaration of Independence is often considered a great statement of this liberty and justice that is promised to all, as this often quoted discourse proclaims:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Within these words that are contained in the founding documents of our country, some lofty ideals are set forth and pledged for “all men,” though certainly the sentiment didn’t extend to poor men, brown skinned men, or any women, as we all know. Anyone who understands even the basics of American history has at least some knowledge of slavery, the Civil War, and women’s suffrage. But, being the historical document that it is, we dismiss these ugly aspects of our heritage, and look more to the Constitution and Bill of Rights as the supporting documents and primary examples of our so called advanced and civilized society.
But even with the ending of slavery, the granting of voting rights for women, the various civil rights campaigns and other social movements that have helped establish more rights for individuals other than wealthy white males, have we really done any better to secure the Rights of the People? Even if the People were to conclude that the Form of Government we have in place has become destructive toward our Rights to pursue Life, Liberty, and Happiness, would we or could we ever hope to alter or abolish it and institute a new Government? The fight for American Independence staked claim to this political philosophy, but what we have today seems more in line with the monarchy that European settlers sought to escape during the beginnings of our country.
As the story goes, the early American colonists came to the New World to seek opportunities and to evade religious persecution, among other things. Some colonies would succeed, others failed miserably, as conflicts with native peoples, pestilence and fighting created difficult living conditions for those hoping for a new life. One such settlement, known as the Roanoke Colony or simply the Lost Colony, was once thought to have been inexplicably left behind during the three year absence of the settlement’s governor. John White was his name, and he had gone back to England for supplies, where he was waylaid for a few years, and “when he stepped ashore on August 18, 1590, he found the settlement looted and abandoned. The vanished colonists had left behind only two clues to their whereabouts: the word ‘Croatoan’ carved on a prominent post and ‘Cro’ etched into a tree,” according a recent story in National Geographic.
There is now some convincing evidence to support speculations that some of the inhabitants of Roanoke Island had joined and assimilated with Native Americans about 50 miles away on Hatteras Island. The National Geographic article quoted above discusses an archaeological dig conducted by a group called the First Colony Foundation who have found evidence “to support an interpretation that a few of the Lost Colonists were present for some time on a site in the area concealed on a 16th century map made by John White, the colony’s governor and grandfather of Virginia Dare.” Not only is this find significant for determining the history and mysterious fate of the first English child born in the British Colonies of the New World, Virginia Dare, but it may also give us some insight into how humans prefer to live, given the opportunity to abandon social class and hierarchy.
To the early American settlers, the native peoples who inhabited the New World must have seemed primitive. But in the extended absence of their leader, the Roanoke Colony most likely found that the approach to living that their native counterparts took was actually much better than their own. If they only joined the natives for their own survival, surely they stayed with them and assimilated into their communities because they found that their way of life was much more satisfying, sustaining, and egalitarian. Essentially, the equality and liberty expressed in what would become the Declaration of Independence already existed within the wilderness that civilization came to the Americas to tame. As society continues to struggle toward making the promise of freedom extend to each and every one (or not), even to this day, perhaps what we really need to do is drop out and go to Croatoan.