- Virginia Johnson
History, particularly popular history, need not be dull, something that Cormac O’Brien demonstrates readily in his book, The Forgotten History of America. Written in a conversational tone and broken into vignettes, old history is made new when written this way. Even so, it’s not the standard stuff taught in schools. It’s about wars and both sides in those wars, reaching back to the country’s colonial beginnings in the 16th century. With personalities writ large on both sides and a good understanding of the differences in modern and historical society, O’Brien leads his readers on journeys back in time:
It begins with the first permanent European settlement in North America:
Pedro Menedez de Aviles anxiously paced the deck of his flagship, San Pelayo. Two days earlier, off the coast of Florida, he had gone ashore and met with Indians who offered valuable information about the prey he was desperately seeking. Now, confident of success, he led his five vessels northward along the coastline, scanning the beaches for any sign of European settlement. The day was September 4, 1565, and Menendez was hunting heretics.
What followed was the eradication of a fledgling French colony of Huguenots--Protestant religious dissenters--at Fort Caroline. The little colony also harbored corsairs which harassed the Spanish treasure fleets. Because they were heretics and because they threatened Spain’s wealth, they would be destroyed. In the process of doing so, Aviles would found St. Augustine, the first permanent European colony in North America.
St. Augustine. The Five Nations. New Amsterdam. Bacon’s Rebellion. Queen Anne’s War. Only the barest facts make it into basic American history textbooks about these events--the dates and the names. The reasons why and sometimes horrific details as to what really occurred are usually left out. Forgotten.
Cormac O’Brien succeeds in unearthing these stories--the truth being too complicated for quick surveys of history. He does not leave out the details that make the history come to life.