A People’s History – Chapter 1, on women in Native American society

Here is Zinn on women’s role in Iroquois society:

Women were important and respected in Iroquois society. Families were matrilineal. That is, the family line went down through the female members, whose husbands joined the family, while sons who married then joined their wives’ families. Each extended family lived in a “long house.” When a woman wanted a divorce, she set her husband’s things outside the door. Families were grouped in clans, and a dozen or more clans might make up a village. The senior women in the village named the men who represented the clans at village and tribal councils. They also named the forty-nine chiefs who were the ruling council for the Five Nation confederacy of the Iroquois. The women attended clan meetings, stood behind the circle of men who spoke and voted, and removed the men from office if they strayed too far from the wishes of the women. The women tended the crops and took general charge of village affairs while the men were always hunting or fishing. And since they supplied the moccasins and food for warring expeditions, they had some control over military matters. As Gary B. Nash notes in his fascinating study of early America, Red, White, and Black: “Thus power was shared between the sexes and the European idea of male dominancy and female subordination in all things was conspicuously absent in Iroquois society.” (Zinn 20)

And here is Edmund S. Morgan in American Slavery, American Freedom  regarding the Native Americans around the Virginia colonies:

House and furniture alike could be put together without heavy labor. Building them was women’s work.

Men provided clothing in the form of skins taken in the hunt. But Indians, like well-to-do Englishmen, apparently regarded hunting as sport. Hunting grounds might be some distance from the village; and when hunting season came round, the whole tribe picked up and moved, the women preceding the men in order to build temporary housing. The hunt itself was a cooperative venture among the men, in which they set fire to an area, enclosing a group of deer or driving them into the water, where they could be killed from canoes. The men were also in charge of fishing, which they did with weirs and nets, as well as with spears and hooks. But the Virginia Indians did not rely on hunting or fishing for most of their food. They relied principally on the nuts and fruits they gathered and on the corn, beans, and squashes or melons that they grew. Tending the crops was also women’s work.

Indeed, nearly any activity that could be designated as work at all was left to the women. They were the principal means of production in Indian Virginia, Having acquired a wife (for whom he may have had to pay a bride price), a man counted on her to support him. He could make canoes, weapons, and weirs without losing his dignity, but the only other labor he ordinarily engaged in was clearing fields for planting, and the method employed made this less than arduous. Clearing consisted merely of girdling the trees and burning brush around them to hasten their death. The next year the women worked the ground between the trees, using a crooked stick as a hoe and planting corn, beans, squash, and melons all together in little hills. (Morgan 51)

Edmund S. Morgan is not some far right wing or some obscure irrelevant historian. He was Emeritus Professor of History at Yale University, where he taught from 1955 to 1986. Additionally, Morgan is directly quoted by Zinn no less than five times through A People’s History of the United States.

A People’s History – Chapter 2, Drawing the Color Line

I put the last part of Chapter 1 on hold for a few weeks. Was getting exhausting correcting every single sentence.

So I’m going to start posting some stuff on Chapter 2. Chapter 2 of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States is called Drawing The Color Line. The chapter is Zinn’s imagining of the origins of racism and racial tensions in the United States. It is a chapter about the origins of the Atlantic slave trade and the institution of slavery in the New World, particularly in British colonies of North America.

These posts on Chapter 2 will appear over the next couple weeks in no particular order. I may publish a more coherent response to Chapter 2 of Zinn’s book in the future. But, for now, it will just be my initial notes.

One of Zinn’s theses in Chapter 2 is that slavery in the America’s was uniquely bad in all the world. He writes:

African slavery is hardly to be praised. But it was far different from plantation or mining slavery in the Americas, which was lifelong, morally crippling, destructive of family ties, without hope of any future. African slavery lacked two elements that made American slavery the most cruel form of slavery in history: the frenzy for limitless profit that comes from capitalistic agriculture; the reduction of the slave to less than human status by the use of racial hatred, with that relentless clarity based on color, where white was master, black was slave. (Zinn 27)

There is a lot to unpack in those few short sentences, so bear with me.

Zinn finds American slavery to be “the most cruel form of slavery in history” for two reasons: it was apparently driven by capitalism or free markets – which I will get to in a minute – and it was underpinned by racism.

My first thought is that Zinn’s argument is a bit of a tautology. ‘Why was American slavery so bad? Because of the racism. Why did America have such a problem with racism? Because slavery.’

Beyond that, I could ask the question posed by Zinn any number of ways. I could say ‘American slavery is hardly to be praised. But it was far different from slavery in Arabia. American slavery lacked an element that made Arabian slavery the most cruel form of slavery in history: the castration of all men and boys, and the sexual exploitation slavery of the women.’

And really, I could restate this sort of argument a dozen times over with different points.

Stefan Molyneux over at Freedomain Radio has already done several of the restatements for me: 

American slavery lacked an element that made Arabian slavery the most cruel form of slavery in history: “While many children were born to slaves in the Americas, and millions of their descendants are citizens in Brazil and the USA to this day, very few descendants of the slaves that ended up in the Middle East survive.” (Molyneux, Slavery 32:45)

American slavery lacked an element that made Arabian slavery the most cruel form of slavery in history: “While two out of every three slaves shipped across the Atlantic were men, the proportions were reversed in the Muslim slave trade. Two women for every man were enslaved by the Muslims.” (Molyneux, Slavery 32:45)

American slavery lacked an element that made Arabian slavery the most cruel form of slavery in history: “While the mortality rate for slaves being transported across the Atlantic was as high as 10%, the percentage of slaves dying in transit in the Trans-Sahara and East African slave trade was between 80 and 90%.” (Molyneux, Slavery 32:45)

American slavery lacked an element that made Arabian slavery the most cruel form of slavery in history: “While almost all the slaves shipped across the Atlantic were for agricultural work, most of the slaves for the Muslim Middle East were for sexual exploitation as concubines, in harems, and military service.” (Molyneux, Slavery 32:45)

American slavery lacked an element that made Arabian slavery the most cruel form of slavery in history: “Most slaves who went to the Americas could marry and have families, most of the male slaves destined for the Middle East were castrated; most of the children born to the women were killed at birth.” (Molyneux, Slavery 32:45)

Now, if you found yourself reading the paragraphs above and asking “What is the Arabian slave trade?” Then I highly recommend you watch or read Molyneux’s entire presentation on slavery. I will try to avoid completely regurgitating his work here.

Zinn tells readers about the horrifying death count from the Atlantic slave trade, and the tallies are just gruesome:

By 1800, 10 to 15 million blacks had been transported as slaves to the Americas, representing perhaps one-third of those originally seized in Africa. It is roughly estimated that Africa lost 50 million human beings to death and slavery in those centuries we call the beginnings of modern Western civilization, at the hands of slave traders and plantation owners in Western Europe and America, the countries deemed the most advanced in the world (Zinn 29).

What we aren’t told is the broader context of the global slave trade. For example that Muslims enslaved over 150 million Africans and at least 50 million people from other parts of the world, and that very nearly every slave taken from Africa to the Muslim world died within a few years of capture. According to Stefan Molyneux,

In about 1810, Louis Frank observed in Tunisia that most Black children died in infancy and that infinitesimally few reached the age of manhood. A British observer in Egypt, some thirty years later, found conditions even worse. He said, ‘I have heard it estimated that five or six years are sufficient to carry off a generation of slaves, at the end of which time the whole has to be replenished.’

And now onto Zinn’s declaration that  it was “capitalistic agriculture” which drove the American slave trade. Let’s put it right up front, capitalism and free markets are the antithesis of slavery. Only with government intervention and backing could slavery exist. Otherwise slaves would simply go find other work. Again, Molyneux:

The Atlantic slave trade, rather being the result of a market process, developed under the confluence of two non-market factors. First of all, slavery already existed in the tribal African societies, which were the sources of the slaves, before the arrival of the Europeans. Second, the slave trade was not founded by private firms but was established by the colonial powers which instituted monopolies to exploit the indigenous slavery. The Dutch West India Company was chartered in 1621, and the Royal Company of Adventurers for the Importation of Negroes was formed in 1662. (Molyneux, Slavery 33:56)

More over, it required all sorts of non-capitalistic, non-free market supports to keep slavery going in the British colonies of North America and later in the United States: government forced slave catching gangs and legal prohibition on manumission to name but two.

So, was American slavery “the most cruel form of slavery in history”? I will leave that to question to someone more wise than I.

What is certain is slavery was NOT a byproduct of capitalism or free markets. Slavery is the exact opposite of free markets.

Beyond that, I’m not sure how much the slaves being forced into mining camps or sugar plantations or cotton fields in the Americas or the slaves in the Muslim world having their penis and testicles removed and their children aborted at birth were concerned with the level of racism in the hearts of their slave masters.

Was it some consolation to the men and women being sold into bondage that their masters still saw them as human beings as they castrated and raped them?

Use in Schools – A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Some of the Schools and School Districts around the country using Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States in the curriculum:

The School District of Philadelphia Assigns the Book to Highschool students.

Constitution High School assigns the first three chapters to students taking 11th grade AP US History as summer reading ahead of the course.

As part of the school district’s “Read for Your Life” Campaign for Literacy, Bartram High School included A People’s History on a reading ‘Wish List.’

Miami-Dade County Public School System

Ronald W. Reagan/Doral High School Cambridge AICE Social Sciences 2014 Summer Reading List AICE American History (11th Grade)

MAST @ FIU Biscanye Bay Campus AP US History 2015-2016

MAST @ FIU Biscanye Bay Campus AP Government & Politics: US

Miami Northwestern Senior High School United States History

TERRA Environmental Research Institute (Secondary School) Social Sciences and TV Production

Los Angeles Unified School District

East Los Angeles Performing Arts Academy at Estaban E. Torres High School 11th Grade History

Abraham Lincoln High School Complex Thematic Units Humanitas

The Humanitas Academy of Art and Technology 11th Grade History

Belmont High School attendance area within the Pico Union community of Los Angeles PERFORMING ARTS AND DESIGN TECHNOLOGY 10th Grade World History, English and Design

Belmont High School attendance area within the Pico Union community of Los Angeles School of Social Justice 11th Grade

Seattle Public Schools lists Zinn’s website among its Global Education Curriculum Resources

Popularity – A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Daniel J. Flynn

Executive director of Accuracy in Academia and author of the newly released, :Why the Left Hates America: Exposing the Lies That Have Obscured Our Nation’s Greatness.”

The New York Times’s reviewer (no doubt a cousin of Jayson Blair) declared that the book should be “required reading” for students. Professors have heeded this counsel. Courses at the University of Colorado-Boulder, UMass-Amherst, Penn State, and Indiana University are among dozens of classes nationwide that require the book. The book is so popular that it can be found on the class syllabus in such fields as economics, political science, literature, and women’s studies, in addition to its more understandable inclusion in history.

Amazon.com reports in the site’s “popular in” section that the book is currently #7 at Emory University, #4 at the University of New Mexico, #9 at Brown University, and #7 at the University of Washington. In fact, 16 of the 40 locations listed in A People’s History’s “popular in” section are academic institutions, with the remainder of the list dominated by college towns like Binghamton (NY), State College (PA), East Lansing (MI), and Athens (GA). Based on this, it is reasonable to wonder if most of the million or so copies sold have been done so via coercion, i.e., college professors and high school teachers requiring the book. The book is deemed to be so crucial to the development of young minds by some academics that a course at Evergreen State decreed:

This is an advanced class and all students should have read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States before the first day of class, to give us a common background to begin the class.

Sam Wineburg

Margaret Jacks Professor of Education and a professor of history at Stanford University, and the director of the Stanford History Education Group. He is the author of dozens of scholarly articles and the award-winning book Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts.

Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States has few peers among contemporary historical works. With more than 2 million copies in print, A People’s History is more than a book. It is a cultural icon. “You wanna read a real history book?” Matt Damon asks his therapist in the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting. “Read Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. That book’ll… knock you on your ass.”

The book’s original gray cover was painted red, white, and blue for its Harper Perennial Modern Classics edition in 2003, and it is now marketed with special displays in suburban megastores. A week after Zinn’s death in 2010, A People’s History was number 7 on Amazon’s bestseller list – not too shabby for a book first published in 1980.

Once considered radical, A People’s History has gone mainstream. By 2002, Will Hunting had been replaced by A.J. Saprano, of the HBO hit The Sapranos. Doing his homework at the kitchen counter, A.J. tells his parents that his history teacher compared Christopher Columbus to Slobodan Milosevic. When Tony fumes “Your teacher said that?” A.J. responds, “It’s not just my teacher – it’s the truth. It’s in my history book.” The camera pans to A.J. holding a copy of A People’s History.

 In the 32 years since its original publication, A People’s History has gone from a book that buzzed about the ear of the dominant narrative to its current status where, in many circles, it has become the dominant narrative. The book appears on university reading lists in economics, political science, anthropology, cultural studies, women’s studies, ethnic studies, Chicano studies, and African American studies, in addition to history. A People’s History remains a perennial  favorite in courses for future teachers, and in some, it is the only history book on the syllabus.

In 2008, the National Council for the Social Studies invited Zinn to address its annual conference – the largest gathering of social studies teachers in the country. Zinn’s speech met with raucous applause, after which copies of A People’s History were given out to attendees courtesy of Harper Collins. Writing in the organization’s newsletter, its president Syd Golston hailed Zinn as “an inspiration to many of us.” Back in 1980, who could have predicted that a book that cast the Founding Fathers as a shadowy cabal who foisted on the American people “the most effective system of national control devised in modern times” would one day be featured on the National History Education Clearinghouse’s website, an initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Education?

David Green

Professor of journalism and media studies and of history at Rutgers and the author of Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image (Norton), among other books.

[Matt] Damon later turned the book into a History Channel series, and in time it also launched a raft of spin-offs. By Zinn’s final years—he died in 2010—the franchise was earning him some $200,000 annually.

Chris Beneke and Randall Stephens

Chris Beneke is an associate professor of history and sports history at Bentley University and the author of Beyond Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism. Randall Stephens is the author (with Karl Giberson) of The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.

What exactly is it about Barton’s and Zinn’s versions of history that inspire such uncompromising, take-no-prisoners fervor? And how do they manage to wield so much influence, given the widespread skepticism about their accuracy?

Partisanship is the first answer that comes to mind. Barton and Zinn have served as eloquent and vocal supporters of right- and left-wing causes respectively, and both have reworked the past for transparently political purposes. Each has offered conclusions that resonate with his audiences’ beliefs. Whatever the validity of their claims, in other words, many readers apparently think they should be true. (It’s also likely that partisanship accounts for some proportion of votes against Barton and Zinn’s credibility.)

But that’s only part of the explanation. There’s a more insidious mechanism that helps explain both the passionate support these authors inspire and the well-founded suspicion that they are fudging the record. In short, Barton and Zinn have each crafted a sort of Da Vinci Code history. Nearly everyone knows the basic plotline of that bestselling Dan Brown novel, which leads readers via a highly dubious series of clues to the previously undisclosed origin of Christianity while unraveling the malicious web of deception that concealed it for centuries.

Adapting this gripping storytelling approach, Barton and Zinn offer audiences the illusion that they have been hoodwinked by undisclosed authorities — Ivy League academics, textbook authors, the New York Times, eighth-grade social studies teachers, parents. They give readers the intellectual self-assurance that accompanies expertise without the slog of unglamorous study required to attain it.

The message is that you, dear reader, know something that the vast majority of unenlightened chumps do not. For devotees of Barton and Zinn, it’s as though a switch has been flicked and everything in a darkened room illuminated. (Barton compares his labors to those of a soldier who discovers an IED and then alerts others.)

Now, Barton and Zinn aren’t conspiracy theorists exactly, but they press the same psychological buttons. Barton’s hyper-patriotic Christian founding narrative and Zinn’s unmasking of elite white male criminality offer the dual satisfaction of solving a mystery and showing up a teacher. This double-win is so sweet that readers might not wish to entertain any non-complying facts, and so easy that wrestling with more complicated accounts will seem pure drudgery. Read Barton and you see vividly how pointy-headed secularists stole our Christian heritage from us. Read Zinn and you understand how capitalism has robbed us of justice itself. Scales fall from your eyes.


Zinn on Columbus and slavery – Rebutted, Part 3

In Part 3 of Zinn on Columbus and slavery, I briefly summarize the fate of the fort Columbus left on Haiti, La Navidad; I then look at the so-called “great slave raid of 1495” and the gold-mining schemes; then end with an address of Zinn’s claim that Columbus and his men committed genocide against the peoples of the Caribbean. Primary source material for this and most of other posts regarding Columbus come from this translation of Columbus’ log, his biography by his son, and letters from other eye witnesses, The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus translated by J. Cohen.

You can find Part 1 here, and Part 2 here. For a complete list of all my posts about Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, go here.


Zinn writes about the first European fort in the Western Hemisphere being looted and burned, with the whole settlement killed, in retaliation for brutalizing the natives in the area. The trouble is, while many of the settlers may well have done all the things Zinn claims, there is substantial evidence in Columbus’ own logs and second hand accounts written by his son and others to indicate the attack on the fort was actually perpetrated by a rival clan to the one in control of the area where Fort La Navidad was built.

In the opening pages of his book, Zinn states the following:

Because of Columbus’s exaggerated report and promises, his second expedition was given seventeen ships and more than twelve hundred men. The aim was clear: slaves and gold. They went from island to island in the Caribbean, taking Indians as captives. But as word spread of the Europeans’ intent they found more and more empty villages. On Haiti, they found that the sailors left behind at Fort Navidad had been killed in a battle with the Indians, after they had roamed the island in gangs looking for gold, taking women and children as slaves for sex and labor.

The facts. The first signs that all was not well at Fort Navidad came a few days before Columbus actually arrived back to the site of the fort. They stopped for a couple days at a harbor called Monte Christi, about seven miles from Fort Navidad, on the north coast of Haiti. While there, Columbus’ men came across four corpses, two of which appeared to have been bound and hanged. At least one of the corpses was so well preserved they saw it had a large beard, noteworthy because the natives of Haiti did not wear beards (Cohen Page 143):

During their inspection of the river and the land some of our men found two corpses at a place near the bank, one with a noose round his neck and the other with his feet tied. This was on the first day. On the next they found two other corpses further upstream, one of which was so well preserved that it was possible to see that he had been heavily bearded. Some of our men suspected the worst and with justification, for the Indians have no beards, as has already been observed.

Upon arriving at Fort Navidad, Columbus then found the place burned to the ground. The whole scene was suspicious for several reasons. One, Columbus had made a mutual protection pact with the king of that region, so that just the Spanish settlement was destroyed and little else was a odd. Next, it did not appear to be an accident, as Columbus’ men found inside the fort evidence of intentional torching of the thatch roof, and third, the king of the region, Guacamari, though apparently alive and aware of Columbus’ arrival, did not come to greet the explorers (Cohen Page 146):

Next morning we were waiting for Guacamari to come, and in the meantime several men landed, on the Admiral’s orders, and went to the place where they had often been in the past. They found the palisaded blockhouse in which the Christians had been left, burnt, and the village demolished by fire, and also some clothes and rags that the Indians had brought to throw into the house.

Also noteworthy, we see the Arawaks in this particular part of Haiti behaving uncharacteristically timid. The Caribs were from the start afraid of explorers, and the few Arawaks Columbus had visited up to this point in his second voyage continued to act with the same friendliness and openness as on his first voyage. But oddly, the Arawaks in the area of Haiti where Fort Navidad was built suddenly were acting different than they had on the first voyage (Cohen Page 146):

The Indians whom they met there went about very warily and did not dare to come near us, but ran away. This seemed a bad sign, for the Admiral had told us that on our arrival so many canoes would put out to come alongside and see us that we should not be able to fend them off, as had been the case on the previous voyage. When we saw that they were now very shy with us, we came to the worst conclusions.

Columbus’ men also began finding many personal effects of the explorers left at Fort Navidad in the homes of villagers in the area, items one would not expect them to trade (Cohen Page 147):

Some of us went with him along the coast, examining the country until we came to a small village of seven or eight houses which the Indians had abandoned when they saw us coming…

In these houses we found many possessions of the Christians, which it was incredible they should have bartered, among them a very fine Moorish cloak, which had not been unfolded since it had been brought from Spain, and also stockings and pieces of cloth and an anchor from the ship which the Admiral had lost there on the previous voyage and other things which greatly strengthened our suspicions. On examining the contents of a wicker basket which they had carefully sewn up and well concealed, we found the head of a man, carefully wrapped.

Columbus was then told a tale about some Arawaks coming from somewhere else and attacking not only Fort Navidad, but all the people of this area, even injuring the king (Cohen Page 146):

Nevertheless that day we made advances to them and threw them some small things, such as hawks’ bells and beads, in order to reassure them. Two or three of them, including Guacamari’s cousin, became sufficiently confident to enter the boat and came aboard the ship. When asked about the Christians, they answered that they were all dead. Although one of the Indians who had come with us from Castile had reported that he had learned this from the two natives who had come to the ship and remained alongside in their canoe, we had not believed the story. Guacamari’s cousin was asked who had killed them. He replied King Caonabo and King Mayreni and that they had burnt down the village. He said that many Indians had been wounded and that Guacamari himself had a wound in the thigh and was at present at another village where he proposed to go immediately and call him. He was given some presents and departed for the place where Guacamari was.

The explorers find out where some more of the settlers bodies are, and continue to suspect it was not an attack by a rival tribe, but was the locals that killed the settlers (Cohen Page 147):

That day we again visited the place where the village had been and found many Indians there who had gained confidence and were bartering gold. They had bartered almost a mark’s worth. We learnt that they had pointed out where eleven Christians lay covered with grass that had grown over them. They all told us through an interpreter that Caonabo and Mayreni had killed them, but complained at the same time that the Christians had taken three or four women apiece, from which we concluded that they had been murdered out of jealousy.

Eventually they found the king of the area. Though he lay in bed with his legs wrapped as if injured, and telling just such a story, when they unwrapped the wound to attempt to help him, they found no wound at all and suspected it was all a made up story (Cohen Page 147-150). Here is Dr. Chanca’s – one of the Queen official physicians who was present on the second voyage – summary (Cohen Page 150):

What had occurred remained uncertain, for the facts were still not known, though there were many undoubted signs that some hostile people had attacked Guacamari. Consequently the Admiral could not decide what to do. He and many others thought that for the present and until the facts were better known it would be best to dissemble. When they learned the truth they could demand whatever reparation they chose from him.

A couple days later, Columbus took all his ships a few miles up the coast, though staying within the area controlled by the tribe of Guacamari, to look for a good spot for a new settlement. They continued to find contradictory evidence of the fate of La Navidad (Cohen Page 151):

On arriving we discovered that the inhabitants of the village had all fled, but we found an Indian hidden in the undergrowth with a gaping dart wound in his back which had prevented him from escaping any further. The Indians of this island fight with darts which they shoot from slings like those with which small boys shoot in Castile. They can shoot both far and accurately, and for a people without iron weapons they can certainly do great damage. This man said that he had been wounded by Caonabo and his people and that they had burned Guacamari’s houses. Since we understood them so little and their equivocal statements were so obscure, we have not yet been able to determine the truth about the death of our men, nor did we find a suitable site for a settlement near that harbour.

In the Spring of 1494, Columbus took an expedition to find the Cibao region, which was purportedly rich in gold. Columbus established the fort of Santo Tomas (present day Janico in the Dominican Republic) in the region controlled by one of the chiefs claimed by Guacamari to have raided La Navidad. Just a couple weeks later a report came in that seemed to reinforce the story that is was not the locals led by Guacamari that killed the settlers at La Navidad (Cohen Page 165):

On Tuesday, 1 April, however, there came a messenger sent by Pedro Margarit from the fort of Santo Tomas, where he had been left as captain, with news that the Indians of the district were fleeing from their villages and that a cacique called Caonabo was preparing to come and burn the fort. But the Admiral, knowing that these Indians were cowards, did not make much of this rumour, especially as he trusted in the horses, of which the Indians were much afraid, fearing that they would eat them.

It was not until a year later, in March 1495, that Columbus finally learned the fate of La Navidad (Cohen Page 189):

Caonabo confessed to the murder of twenty of the Christians who had remained with Arana in the town of Navidad on the Admiral’s first voyage, when he discovered the Indies, and that afterwards, under pretence of friendship, he had come to spy out the town of Isabela, though the Christians had suspected his purpose in doing so: which was to see how best he could attack it and repeat what he had previously done at Navidad.


This is the part where the most legitimate criticism of Columbus can be levied. He did things which even by the standards of his own country in his own time were frowned upon, and he would later pay a price for the crimes committed under his Admiralty. These legitimate criticisms of a flawed man get obscured in a book where every single action of Columbus is made to look evil, with the over all aim of ascribing guilt for Columbus’ faults to all the pale skinned men of modern America.

However, it is critical to note before I go any further, I have not yet been able to find any original source for Zinn’s claim of a “great slave raid” taking place in 1495. There are many references to this event across the internet. However, the references seem invariably to lead me back to Zinn’s own book. There is even a reference to this raid on wikipedia, however, the citation is for a children’s book of all things. Once (or should I say if) I find the actual source for this account, I will update this section. Until then, this section focuses on the subjugation of the people of Hispaniola and the force labor in the Cicao region.

Zinn Page 4:

Now, from his base on Haiti, Columbus sent expedition after expedition into the interior. They found no gold fields, but had to fill up the ships returning to Spain with some kind of dividend. In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route. The rest arrived alive in Spain and were put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town, who reported that, although the slaves were “naked as the day they were born,” they showed “no more embarrassment than animals.” Columbus later wrote: “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”

In Columbus’ biography written by his son, Hernando Colon, there is a reference to several chiefs being sent back to Spain in 1495. Columbus returned to Hispaniola after several months exploring Cuba and Jamaica. He returned to find the new fort Santo Thomas in the Cibao region of the island (present day Dominican Republic) to be in chaos, with the man he appointed to lead gone back to Spain, the men there restless and committing crimes against the natives, and the natives retaliating with brutality in kind (Cohen Page 187):

As a result every Spaniard went out among the Indians robbing and seizing their women wherever he pleased, and doing them such injuries that the Indians decided to take vengeance on any Spaniards they found isolated or unarmed.

The cacique of Magdalena, whose name was Guatigana, killed ten Christians and secretly ordered the firing of a house in which forty men lay sick.

On the Admiral’s return, this cacique was severely punished. Although it was impossible to lay hands on him, some of his chieftains were seized and sent to Castile in the four ships which Antonio de Torres took home on 24 February 1495.

Six or seven other caciques were also punished for injuries done to the Christians in various parts of the island. Indeed they had killed a great number, but would have killed many more if the Admiral had not arrived in time to prevent them. He found the island in a bad state: the Christians were committing innumerable outrages for which they were mortally hated by the Indians, and the Indians were refusing to return to obedience. All the caciques and kings had agreed not to resume obedience, and this agreement had not been difficult to obtain. For, as we have said, there were only four principal rulers under whose sovereignty all the rest lived.

According to Hernando Colon, Shortly there after, 3 of the 4 major chiefs on the island began plotting retaliation against Columbus. Tensions built until war broke out (Cohen Page 87):

On 24 March 1495, therefore, the Admiral left Isabela, prepared for war. He took with him as ally Guacanagari, who was most eager to conquer his enemies, although this might have seemed a very difficult undertaking, since they had assembled more than 100,000 Indians and the Admiral had with him 200 Christians, twenty horses and about the same number of hunting dogs.

When the infantry squadrons of both armies [Columbus split his force in two, with half under his brother’s command] had attacked the mass of Indians, and they had begun to break under the fire of muskets and crossbows, the cavalry and hunting dogs charged wildly upon them to prevent them re-forming. The Indians fled like cowards in all directions, and our men pursued them, killing so many and wreaking such havoc among them that, to be brief, by God’s will victory was achieved, many Indians being killed and many others captured and executed.

Having captured Caonabo and one of his brothers, he sent them to Spain, since he did not want to execute justice on so important a person without the knowledge of the Catholic sovereigns.

That must be the “slave raid” to which Zinn refers. Zinn then continues (Zinn Page 4):

But too many of the slaves died in captivity. And so Columbus, desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death. The Indians had been given an impossible task. The only gold around was bits of dust garnered from the streams. So they fled, were hunted down with dogs, and were killed. Trying to put together an army of resistance, the Arawaks faced Spaniards who had armor, muskets, swords, horses. When the Spaniards took prisoners they hanged them or burned them to death.

The passage above is largely accurate, with two caveats.

1) There was plenty of gold on Hispaniola. Per Wikipedia:

Miguel Diaz and Francisco de Garay discovered large gold nuggets on the lower Haina River in 1496. These San Cristobal mines were later known as the Minas Viejas mines. Then, in 1499, the first major discovery of gold was made in the cordillera central, which led to a mining boom. By 1501, Columbus’ cousin Giovanni Colombo, had discovered gold near Buenaventura, the deposits were later known as Minas Nuevas. Two major mining areas resulted, one along San Cristobal-Buenaventura, and another in Cibao within the La Vega-Cotuy-Bonao triangle, while Santiago de los Caballeros, Concepcion, and Bonao became mining towns. The gold rush of 1500-1508 ensued.

Ferdinand “ordered gold from the richest mines reserved for the Crown.” Thus, Ovando expropriated the gold mines of Miguel Diaz and Francisco de Garay in 1504, as pit mines became royal mines, though placers were open to private prospectors. Furthermore, Ferdinand wanted the “best Indians” working his royal mines, and kept 967 in the San Cristobal mining area supervised by salaried miners.

In fact, gold exploiting operations have started and stopped on the island all the way through the present year.

2) The last two sentences in the Zinn passage above appear to refer back to the war between Columbus’ men plus the tribe of Guacamari against the 3 allied tribes in March 1495.

Beyond that, some additional context is in order. The people of Hispaniola were not a homogeneous blob. The natives on the North West coast, where Columbus landed and built a fort during his first voyage turned out to be quite a bit different from the people of the Cibao region. As I have already pointed out, the people of Cibao turned out to be the ones that went over into the territory where La Navidad was located and attacked the natives there and also destroyed the fort left by Columbus and killed all his men.

Later, when Columbus went to establish ties with the people of Cibao in the spring of 1494, and build a fort there, it was not two weeks before rumors began circulating that the chief of Cibao intended to attack the new fort.

The chief of the region also gave permission to his people to trick some of Columbus’ men, pretending to help them ford a river, then actually stealing all their stuff. Columbus ultimately decided against any punishment for the theft (although one of Columbus’ men did cut off the ear of one of the natives during the dispute) (Cohen Page 168).

In retaliation for the arrest of the chief, men from the area then kidnapped five of Columbus’ men, though the men were eventually rescued (Cohen Page 168).

Columbus then left for several months to explore Jamaica and Cuba. While he was gone, the man he left in charge in Cibao at fort Santo Tomas allowed the settlement to deteriorate to the point where many settlers began committing various atrocities against the natives and the natives began retaliating (Cohen Page 187).

When Columbus returned, he found the man he left in charge had taken off for Spain and most of the island in chaos, with 3 of the 4 regions of the island now actively plotting against the Spanish settlers.


Zinn Page 4:

In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.

When it became clear that there was no gold left, the Indians were taken as slave labor on huge estates, known later as encomiendas. They were worked at a ferocious pace, and died by the thousands. By the year 1515, there were perhaps fifty thousand Indians left. By 1550, there were five hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks or their descendants left on the island.

The encomienda system set up on Hispaniola in last years of the 15th century was certainly immoral, violent, and brutal.

Zinn is fixates on this word. While he never explicitly says “Columbus committed genocide,” he does everything short of that (Zinn Page 7):

In his popular book Christopher Columbus, Mariner, written in 1954, he tells about the enslavement and the killing: “The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide.”

One can lie outright about the past. Or one can omit facts which might lead to unacceptable conclusions. Morison does neither. He refuses to lie about Columbus. He does not omit the story of mass murder; indeed he describes it with the harshest word one can use: genocide.

To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to deemphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves—unwittingly—to justify what was done.

(Zinn Page 17) Was Morison right in burying the story of genocide inside a more important story of human progress? Perhaps a persuasive argument can be made—as it was made by Stalin when he killed peasants for industrial progress in the Soviet Union, as it was made by Churchill explaining the bombings of Dresden and Hamburg, and Truman explaining Hiroshima. But how can the judgment be made if the benefits and losses cannot be balanced because the losses are either unmentioned or mentioned quickly?

Just ask yourself if this passes the bullshit test. 1,200 explorers, many of them sick all the time from exhaustion, starvation, and tropical diseases managed to roam around Haiti hacking people up to the tune of 125,000 people? That is more than 170 deaths per day of the native population. Compare that to estimated U.S. combat deaths in World War 2 averaged just over 200 per day. That is enormous.

Some key points developed below:

1) Columbus’ role is overblown. He died in 1506, and so can not be held in contempt for what took place after his death. During his life, he spent most of his time continuing to explore. He was principally an explorer, and a very poor administrator. The evolution of the settlements on Hispaniola were not part of the grand plan of an evil super villain.

2) The encomienda system was frowned upon by the crown, as well as by many in the church. While an active debate did rage in those days over the legitimacy of slavery in Christian doctrine, that was the exception for the era, with most other parts of the world having no such issues with slavery. The first Bishop of the new world, Las Casas, was a huge advocate for the rights of the native people of the new world, advocating first for the end of their enslavement, then later for the end of slavery as an institution. Again, a position unheard of in the rest of the world at that time. Judge these people by the standards of their time, not yours.

3) Even to the extent the church and the crown can be held liable, the word genocide is hyperbolic, not fitting with the technical legal definition of the word, because no individual, nor the Spanish government or the Catholic church had it as their mission to destroy the Arawak people, if they even thought of them as a distinct people.

4) The numbers reported are highly exaggerated, most likely. It is generally accepted that writers of that time exaggerated their numbers. Many of the deaths were likely from disease. The island is likely to have been deserted by many people as well. And there are passing mentions of this, though these mentions are never then considered in the conclusions. Overall, the number of people killed by the Spanish during this era on Hispaniola is likely greatly exaggerated.

5) The Taino/Arawak are not extinct – culturally or genetically.

Stefan Molyneux:

As far as the guilt religion goes, if you’re on the left, if you’re a cultural Marxist, if you’re a socialist, if you’re on the left, in general you want to push these numbers [pre-Columbian population estimates in the new world] as high as humanly possible so that it makes a stronger case for the population decline… the higher you can get the initial numbers, the more you can make the case for genocide, so, on the left there is incentive to push these numbers up.

Not sure this discussion belongs right here particularly, but I’ll leave it here for the moment. There is a real problem, one that is most often brought up tongue in cheek, about how to deal with the American left being pro-immigration today, but seemingly outraged over the immigration to America by Europeans hundreds of years ago. And the corollary, the American right being generally skeptical of mass immigration today, but finding itself defending against all sorts of attacks by leftists of European migration to the new world as colonial, genocidal and the all the rest.




From repeatingislands.com:

Bartolomé de las Casas, a Dominican friar, in 1542 wrote a treatise entitled, “Brief account of the destruction of the Indians.”  This report, along with many personal audiences with King Carlos V, influenced the Royal Court to issue the New Laws of Indies, which forbade enslavement of Native Americans, and theoretically limited labor demands placed on them by Spanish officials.


Genocide is a technical term. Genocide was never official policy of Spain, nor is there any evidence whatsoever to support the proposition that it was the goal or aim of Christopher Columbus. And this matters a great deal. The legal definition of genocide includes intent. Intent must be present for an accusation of genocide to be legitimate. Spain acceded to the genocide convention September 13, 1968. That is more than 462 years after Columbus’ death.

Did Columbus commit genocide? Let us look at the actual definition of genocide in law:

The international legal definition of the crime of genocide is found in Articles II and III of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Article II describes two elements of the crime of genocide:

1) the mental element, meaning the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”, and

2) the physical element which includes five acts described in sections a, b, c, d and e. A crime must include both elements to be called “genocide.”

Article II:  In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

So, did Columbus commit genocide? Well, did Columbus have the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”? No. Therefore, he did not commit genocide.

Stefan Molyneux:

When it comes to blaming white people for all of this later, it’s completely illogical, immoral and not even remotely in accordance with international law. In fact it’s very much against it. There’s not such thing in international law as collective guilt. The genocide convention has explicitly ruled that only individual people can be charged with genocide and not an entire group, not an entire race.


Disease played a huge role in wiping out the population

Abbot, Elizabeth (1 April 2010). Sugar: A Bittersweet History. Penguin. (Location 455 on Kindle):

They had no immunity to the smallpox, bubonic plague, yellow fever, typhus, dysentery, cholera, measles and influenza that germinated aboard filthy ships laden with sick and sickening sailors and colonists, putrid, maggotriddled food, ailing livestock, flea-ridden dogs and cats and legions of enterprising rats. A single epidemic could kill off more than half of any village. In 1518, smallpox wiped out 90 percent of Hispaniola’s remaining Tainos.

Lord, Lewis (January 21, 2007). “A Conqueror More Lethal Than the Sword”. US News and World Report.

The No. 1 force that conquered the Americas was not a weapon the conquerors from Europe relied on—the likes of guns, swords, or even the holy word. Instead, it was something inadvertent: the cataclysmic loss of native life from smallpox, measles, typhus, and other Old World diseases to which Indians had never been exposed.

“History of Smallpox – Smallpox Through the Ages”Texas Department of State Health Services.

The first recorded smallpox outbreak in Latin America occurred in 1507, when Spanish explorers brought the disease to Hispaniola. The natives lacked immunity to smallpox and entire tribes were extinguished. The population of Hispaniola, estimated to be 300,000 in 1492, had reportedly decreased to less than a 1,000 by 1541.


What had happened to all those people. Well, as we were taught in 4th grade, the Spanish style of conquest included intermarriage with the native population. Women were not even normally allowed to travel on the explorations unless they were married. That meant that men who settled in the new world took native wives. The supposed genocide of Taino people was in many ways more a story of intermarriage, of a melting pot. Census records account for neither a Spaniard nor a Taino when recording a person born to a Taino mother and a Spanish father, but instead record a mestiza. There are different ways to look at this practice. For cultural anthropologists, which I am not, this seeming erasure of a distinct history may be a tragedy, even a “genocide.” For someone who tends to be creeped out the identity politics of the modern American left, there is something very positive is this sort of practice.

A comment from a Puerto Rican that captures this sentiment well:

We as a people don’t consider ourselves “white” “black” or “American Indian”. Me for example, I look white, but my dad and grandfathers were “black”, my mom and grandmothers were “white”. What am I? Neither. Just Puerto Rican. What is Puerto Rican?—-the mix between Spanish, African and Taino races and culture.

The census forms don’t have a proper classification for us. Everybody just goes: “well, I’m light skinned, so I’ll pick white.” Or “I’m dark skinned, so I’ll put black”. A proper classification would be “Mestizo” or mixed. We are joined by tradition, customs, history and culture, not race. That’s why racism is almost non-existent here. Same goes for Cuba and Dominican Republic but not Haiti or Jamaica.


This is from Cuba: Exploring the History of Admixture and the Genetic Basis of Pigmentation Using Autosomal and Uniparental MarkersGot it, Columbus was mainly on Haiti, but we have to use what we’ve got. What they show is that even today, 8% of Cuban genes are Native American.

We carried out an admixture analysis of a sample comprising 1,019 individuals from all the provinces of Cuba. We used a panel of 128 autosomal Ancestry Informative Markers (AIMs) to estimate the admixture proportions. We also characterized a number of haplogroup diagnostic markers in the mtDNA and Y-chromosome in order to evaluate admixture using uniparental markers. Finally, we analyzed the association of 16 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) with quantitative estimates of skin pigmentation. In the total sample, the average European, African and Native American contributions as estimated from autosomal AIMs were 72%, 20% and 8%, respectively.

That study also found the native American women were marrying the European explorer men more than vice versa, which isn’t really all that noteworthy since there weren’t many European women on those first explorations, and certainly not any looking for husbands:

We identified a clear sex-biased pattern in the process of gene flow, with a substantially higher European contribution from the paternal side than the maternal side, and conversely higher Native American and African contributions from the maternal side than the paternal side.


15% of Dominicans has Taino genes not found anywhere else, according to research began in 2006 which also determined that another 15% conserve Euro-Asian genetic characteristics, whereas most of the Dominican population, 70%, has DNA of African origin.

“The study demonstrates that indigenous mitochondrial DNA exists in Dominican society today, that DNA is unique and those genetic variants exclusively Dominican must exist,” said research team leader Dr. Juan Carlos Martinez-Cruzado, head of the Biology Department of Puerto Rico University in Mayaguez.

The results of the “Continental origins of the first populations of the Caribbean islands and the migratory movements which formed them. DNA in Dominican Republic,” were presented Wednesday night by Martínez-Cruzado and Dr. Fermín Mercedes de la Cruz, of the University UCE of San Pedro (east).

According to this website, tracingafricanroots.com, the researchers current sample of 45 Haitians shows 0.1% Amerindian DNA. If we apply that to Haiti’s population of 10 million, we are talking about only 10,000 equivalent of Amerindians living in present day Haiti.


The average Puerto Rican individual carries 12% Native American, 65% West Eurasian (Mediterranean, Northern European and/or Middle Eastern) and 20% Sub-Saharan African DNA.


From Discover Magazine:

A friend pointed me to the heated comment section of this article in NatureRebuilding the genome of a hidden ethnicity. The issue is that Nature originally stated that the Taino, the native people of Puerto Rico, were extinct. That resulted in an avalanche of angry comments, which one of the researchers, Carlos Bustamante, felt he had to address. Eventually Nature updated their text:

CORRECTED: This article originally stated that the Taíno were extinct, which is incorrect. Nature apologizes for the offence caused, and has corrected the text to better explain the research project described.

Here’s Wikipedia on the Taino today:

Heritage groups, such as the Jatibonicu Taíno Tribal Nation of Boriken, Puerto Rico (1970), the Taíno Nation of the Antilles (1993), the United Confederation of Taíno People (1998) and El Pueblo Guatu Ma-Cu A Boriken Puerto Rico (2000), have been established to foster Taíno culture. However, it is controversial as to whether these Heritage Groups represent Taíno Culture accurately as some Taino groups are known to ‘adopt’ other native traditions (mainly North American Indian). Many aspects of Taino culture has been lost to time and or blended with Spaniard and African culture on the Caribbean Islands. Peoples who claim to be of native descent in the islands of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and Eastern Cuba attempt to maintain some form of cultural connection with their historic identities. Antonio de Moya, a Dominican educator, wrote in 1993, “the [Indian] genocide is the big lie of our history… the Dominican Taínos continue to live, 500 years after European contact.”

From repeatingislands.com:

At least 61% of the people of Puerto Rico carry Native American DNA. In the Dominican Republic traditional Taino festivals have become popular events for entire communities.  In all the Greater Antilles Islands, archaeology and architectural preservation have proven to be effective tools for promoting heritage tourism and cultural pride.  During this process, anthropologists have discovered that many cultural traditions long thought to be Spanish or African in origin, were actually Native American, as Richard Thornton reports.

Throughout much of the 20th century, anthropological orthodoxy assumed that the Taino People were extinct.  This belief had no basis in fact, and in recent decades, scientists have found extensive evidence of both Taino DNA and traditions. In 1993 Dominican scholar, Antonio de Moya wrote, “the extinction of the Taino is the big lie of our history . . . Tainos continue to live in Dominica today.”

Much that is unique about the cultural traditions of Puerto Rico, Dominica and Cuba can be traced to their Taino heritage.

Anthropologist Pedro J. Ferbel-Azacarate documented that in rural villagers of Cuba, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico retain Taino architecture, words, foods, farming practices, medicine, fishing techniques and oral history.  There is very little Native American influence in Haiti.