Ask any United States citizen when America began, and those who regularly attended grade school will eagerly respond: “1776!”.
Ask them where it started, and their eyes will glaze over.
“Um, it started in America…..didn’t it?”
No, it began in Hungary with a little known lad called Emeric. He was born around 1007 and was the apple of his daddy’s eye. Sadly, Emeric barely made it to the age of twenty-four before impaling his buttocks on the tusks of a wild boar while out hunting one day; an unfortunate occurrence that resulted in his hasty demise. Thankfully, daddy was the king of Hungary and had influence, so after a few years they dug him up and Pope Gregory VII made him a saint.
This one divine act prevented the ‘New World’ from being named ‘Columbia’, in honor of Spain’s most famous adventurer (after Don Juan, that is) thus saving the world from geographical confusion, given the South American nation with that name just, so-to-speak, down the road.
(Not to be outdone, and determined to pay homage to the courageous explorer wrongly acknowledged as the first to set foot on American soil, the good citizens of the United States set about naming twenty-two towns, and a further forty-five places of interest, after Christopher Columbus).
Meanwhile, Saint Emeric rotted quietly away in his crypt, occasionally dishing out to the local peasantry as he did so, the odd cure for leprosy or gout. This earned him something of a posthumous reputation, devotedly fostered by the Church of Rome who helped spread word of Emeric’s saintly healing powers far and wide – or, at least, to the house of Lisabetta Vespucci, whose descendants went on to make a fortune manufacturing motor scooters.
Lisabetta lived in Florence, Italy. In 1454, she gave birth to a son. Mrs Vespucci, being a good Catholic woman, thought Emeric was a really nice saint and decided to name her baby after him. Unfortunately, schooling was poor in those days and she wasn’t too adept at spelling, so by the time of the christening, ‘Emeric’ had transmuted to ‘Amerigo’.
When little Amerigo grew up he become an explorer, sailed across the ocean, and discovered that the rather large landmass on the other side was a continent in its own right. On returning to Europe, he rapidly developed malaria and died within three years, without ever knowing the Latin version of his name, that he’d adopted, ‘Americus’, would become converted to the feminine, ‘America’.
It’s around this point our romantic saga degenerates into a sordid orgy of bloodletting. Once word of the new land spread around the globe there was a stampede to grab as much as possible before others moved in and purloined it first. In the ensuing melee, everyone failed to notice the property was already occupied. Consequently, when the locals turned up and informed the newcomers they were trespassing and would they please leave, it didn’t go down too well.
The red-skinned natives were a peaceable bunch in the main, but they got upset when the settlers kept stealing their food and raping their women. Unable to defend themselves against the superior muskets and cannons of the white settlers they eventually said, “Up yours, Joe,” and took themselves off into the bushes, from whence they’d pounce on unsuspecting white men and cut off all their hair. This resulted in the settlers getting very cold in the winter. Wives had to spend all their spare time knitting woolly hats to keep their men warm, which meant they were way too tired for sex, thus causing the men to become more and more frustrated. Eventually, it was decided the natives had to go.
Two methods were utilized to achieve this: germ warfare and orthodox firepower. The first was undoubtedly the most efficient, though its success left the settlers scratching their bald heads, as it was entirely accidental. European diseases, to which the natives had no immunity, killed them much more effectively than muskets and cannons ever could. By 1650, eighty percent of the natives had been seen off due to smallpox, typhus, influenza, and other nasties, so the rest decided, “Hell, it’s a big country, let’s go somewhere else.”
Thus, the settlers were left with no-one to fight – so they turned on each other. By this time they’d decided to call themselves ‘colonists’, for no better reason than they lived in ‘colonies’. As some colonies were British, and some were Spanish, and others were French it made sense for the British to fight the French and the Spanish to fight everyone.
After a while, the Spaniards got fed up with the French and British because they never washed and always smelled bad, so they packed their bags and trudged off to look for Mexico. The French had had enough of the British calling them “gay-boys” just because they wore white pantaloons and lace shirts, so they went to Canada where it was too cold to wash. This made the British very happy as they were left alone, didn’t have to wash at all, and there was no-one to complain about the smell.
Eventually, the British colonies expanded to total thirteen, a number which proved unlucky for the British monarch, George III. Britain, or just plain ‘England’ as it was at the time, had been going through a turbulent period prior to George III getting the job in 1760.
An earlier monarch, Charles I, had proved troublesome to the English congress, or ‘Parliament’ of his day. Parliament was really fed up with the Pope and all the fancy trappings of the Roman Catholic Church, to say nothing of its power, and had embraced the more left-wing, working class religion of Protestantism, that allowed folk to attend church in a casual shirt and old pair of jeans, rather than the Pope’s insistence on three-piece suit, white collar, and tie.
Charles I wasn’t happy about all these loose morals, and besides he adhered solemnly to the idea that kings were God’s anointed on earth, so what he said was gospel and to hell with Parliament. Consequently, after a bit of a ruckus, Parliament cut off his head and vowed, “No more bloody kings for us, mate.”
All this made Charles I pretty mad, but he felt much better when, after his death, the Pope declared him a saint, though unlike Emeric of Hungary, there’s no record he cured anyone of gout or leprosy, or for that matter was useful in any other way. Even so, Parliament relented and allowed his head to be sewn back onto his body, just so he looked presentable when the relatives visited.
The English are a sentimental lot at heart and after a decade or so decided having a king wasn’t such a bad idea after all, so they stuck Charles’s son, Charles II, on the throne. He lasted twenty-five years but proved as much a Pope-lover as his dad. Over the next thirty years England tried out a further four monarchs, but every one sided with the Pope and caused Parliament no end of trouble.
The good people of England got thoroughly fed up with being forced to wear their ‘Sunday-best’ to church and many of them decided they’d had enough, so emigrated across the ocean to the ‘New World’, where it was rumored no-one wore a suit to church and the oranges were big as footballs. It was a terrible disappointment when they arrived to discover there were no oranges and the Puritans had beaten them to it.
By the time George III ascended to the throne the English Parliament had joined forces with the Scots and decided it was much easier just to call the whole place, ‘Britain’. The Scots hated the Pope, which was a real bonus because by now Parliament was powerful enough to choose who would be king, and they decided on George III, because he didn’t really care much for the Pope either.
One thing that did make George III really mad, however, was all those unwashed Brits lounging around in the ‘New World’. The king loved wars and was delighted to declare Spain and France enemies of Britain. His Royal Navy would regularly beat-up the French and Spanish fleets in the English Channel, but out of spite they’d sail to the American coast and lay siege to the British settlers. This upset George III as it was costing a fortune in soldiers and ships to defend the colonies. He decided they’d jolly well have to pay for it themselves, through taxes.
Now George was quite a nice man most of the time, but rather given to personal vanity. So when a traveling salesman tried to flog him a new line in hair balm, the king couldn’t resist. He bought twenty barrels of the stuff and the salesman scampered off with a fat profit. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to George, the main ingredient of the balm was arsenic. It wasn’t long before the poison penetrated his skull and began sending him mad.
The king’s courtiers discovered he was mad when, one day, they saw him shaking hands with a tree, believing it was the King of Prussia. It was during one of these mad periods in George III’s reign that he decreed the American colonists would pay taxes on every sheet of paper they used. This was not a good idea. The colonists grew very upset. As most of the paper was used to make newsprint, the owners used their newspapers to berate George III and stir up the colonists, who by now were a considerable number.
In retaliation, the colonists decided they would no longer drink tea. A group of troublemakers and ringleaders began stirring things up, preventing British ships laden with tea from unloading their cargo at Boston, a port on the east coast of America. Some of the colonists boarded the ships at night and threw all the tea into the sea. In all, forty-five tons of tea ended up in the icy waters of Boston Harbor. It marked the moment in history when Americans began preferring tea with iced water, and their traditional hot drink became coffee.
While this may all seem very silly today, it was taken very seriously at the time. George III was most upset. He sent lots of British troops to ensure the colonists were adequately chastised for their bad behavior, but the unruly ‘Americans’ blew raspberries at the British and refused to take their punishment like a man. The result was the American Revolution. At least, that’s what those loyal to King George called it. To the population inhabiting the thirteen New World colonies, it eventually became known as the American War of Independence.
If the arsenic seeping through his scalp turned George Three mad, the American Revolution made him even more furious; especially when in 1776, the date burned indelibly into every American schoolkid’s brain, the colonists set up their own Parliament, or as they called it, ‘Congress’, and drew up a Declaration of Independence. George Three paced violently up and down his palace hallways, throwing anything he could lay his hands on at anyone who dared to confront him.
“How dare they?” he bawled, to no-one in particular, “They haven’t even WON yet!”
It was true. The Declaration of Independence may have been signed and sealed in 1776, but it was another seven years before the fighting stopped, Britain finally gave up, and sued for peace. During that time the Americans allied themselves with George III’s bitterest enemies, the French and the Spanish – though the Spanish only agreed on condition the British washed themselves at least once a week.
Finally, George III and Britain decided the new ‘United States’ could have its way and all parties shook hands and determined to be friends. All, that is, apart from the French who felt very left out so began their own revolution, insisting it would be even bloodier than the American one. It was, and from it arose a Frenchman from Corsica by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte, who rapidly became another thorn in King George’s side, one that would take his mind off his lost American colonies.
This then was how the great United States of America was founded by a bunch of malcontent ne’er-do-wells from Britain who hated wearing suits. They slaughtered the indigenous population, were too mean to pay taxes to their king, and stole the land from the English throne by joining forces with their homeland’s sworn enemies and driving their own kinsmen back into the Atlantic Ocean.
At least – that’s one version of the story!
**Originally written for Sparrow Chat’s ‘Bits & Bobs’ © 2009.