Conquest of America
I have noticed one difference between many Americans and Europeans, those raised and educated in Europe seem more aware of the history of their land. They have been exposed to the richness of history, the battles and conflicts that forged their countries. The History Channel continues their incredible series of informative yet highly entertaining documentaries of the past. In their latest opus, Conquest of America they take the audience on journey back in time, before the nation of the United States was even a glimmer of an idea. In order to present such an epic story realistically they have split this documentary into four parts, each focusing on a different geological region of this country; the Southwest, the Southeast, the Northeast and finally the Northwest. Each segment details the political and human struggle to bring this land under the rule of a conquering nation.
In the mid fifteen hundreds the Spanish have conquered the gold laden lands of the Aztecs and the Incas. Moving into what is now Mexico and later into the southwestern portion of what now is the United States men known as the Conquistadors became extremely wealthy and powerful men but filling the Spanish coffers with what appeared to be an endless supply of gold. One such man, featured here, was Francisco Vazquez de Coronado. Young, determined and ambitious Coronado was both politically and socially very well connected. At this time the promise of what was to the north of Mexico had reached the Spanish colonies, tales of even more wealth to be had for the taking, Coronado wanted to be among the first to grab at this means to fame and fortune. The stories of a vast lost city of gold where fueled when two men, survivors of an ill fated expedition to the west coast of Florida escape the slaughter of their party, making their way through the many tribes of Texas and finally into Spanish held territory. Combined with legends such as the seven cities of Spain who fled the Moslem invasion o the eight century, relocating to a land where the sand was made of gold dust. Events and circumstances where now just right so that legend, religious fervor and lust for gold to cause Coronado and his men to head north to seek the expansion of the Spanish empire and ensure their own futures.
Both the Spanish and the French had established firm footholds on the wealthy islands of the Caribbean. Moving to the north they both found themselves in a rich peninsula, Florida. The Spanish were anxious to create and hold a colony on this new land but they found their rival back home, the French, where they as well, organized and ready to make they new land their own. The French colony of Fort Caroline, near present day Jacksonville, was to become the focal point for this conflict, extended from Europe to the shores of the new world. The Spanish where obtaining much of their national wealth from the treasure routes back from their American colonies and outposts. The French found a lucrative endeavor in attacking the Spanish source of money. Attacking the Spanish fleets, often in the form of privateers, the French managed to diminish the Spanish plunder by as much as twenty percent. France was itself in the midst of internal conflict. The protestant Huguenots where fighting the predominately Catholic rule. When the Protestants are defeated they hope to restore their lost wealth and position by joining expeditions into the new world. The stage is set with a growing number of French colonists in Florida and the Spanish ready to do anything to supplant them. Fleets from both countries rush to the eastern shores of America and continue the long animosities in this new land.
In the early sixteen hundreds the Dutch, Spanish and French were viding for a portion of the incredibly rich East Indies trade routes. The trick to true success was to discovery a northern water passage to Asia. The Spanish and Portuguese held an iron hold on all the southern routes that where available. Henry Hudson set out to find a way to navigate through North America to the bountiful lands of Asia and the East Indies. There where three ways to make this voyage that where popular back then. One was straight through the North Pole, holding to the theory that the constant sunlight would keep the route free of ice. Another was to go east over Russia and the final one west to America finding a water channel across the continent and on to the East Indies. While the two previous episodes of this series dealt with battles between nations Hudson more often found his wars where against the harsh conditions of these remote locations. A true explorer he never gave up his search.
The early seventeen hundreds found Russia as the only major nation without a hold in the conquest of the new lands. Ruler Peter the Great was fascinated with the prospect that the old and new worlds where connected by land at any point. Enlisting the talents of Danish captain Vitus Bering an expedition is mounted out of Saint Petersburg, across the frozen Siberian landscape and onward to the Pacific Ocean. As a new nation was forming in America the secrete source of furs, a source held confidential for twenty years, was out and the rush was on to secure this coastline. This tale would conclude almost one hundred years later when gold was discovered in mill owned by John Sutter and the great Californian gold rush was on.
Most of the exploration of this continent was done by accident, basically people not sure of where they where going but certain that great wealth was just around the next bend. The History Channel shows these names that we may have come across in old school text books and the flesh out real human beings. That is what I have always enjoyed about their presentations; they bring true humanity to history. People and places become real, motivations are not always noble but they are presented in these features warts and all.
This is a series that should not be missed. The format is the familiar mixture of live action re-enactments and the talking heads of numerous experts. The attention to details in fantastic, they quality to the live action segments is such that you get the feeling that you are there watching the events unfold. With so much empty viewing hours on the hundreds of cable channels it is reassuring that the History Channel can be depended on for quality programming such as this series. Do you self and your family a favor, gather in front of the television for a couple of nights and watch this series, get a little education and understanding about this land while having a great time watching fascinating tales of conquest.