A Celebration of Women Writers

"The Finding of the New World." by Miss Jane Meade Welch.
Publication: Eagle, Mary Kavanaugh Oldham, ed. The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893.. Chicago, ILL: Monarch Book Company, 1894. pp. 30-31.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 30] 



In the attempt to connect the New World with the Old in remotest times, it is almost impossible to find a clue that leads to documentary history. Nearly every European nation claims a hero, or group of heroes, who reached America before Columbus' time, and every eastern Asiatic race makes a similar claim. Of all these alleged pre-Columbian voyages to America, the only one that rests on actual proof is that of the Norsemen. But Leif Ericsson's chance finding of the North American coast somewhere between Cape Breton and Point Judith, led to no permanent colonization, and did not impress itself upon the mind of Europe outside the Scandinavian peninsula. Hence it should not be mentioned in the same breath with Christopher Columbus' heroic venture. He sailed the Sea of Darkness, on the faith of a conviction, and "reunited two streams of human life that had flowed apart since the glacial age," establishing a permanent connection between the eastern and western halves of our planet.

A long chain of circumstances led to his discovery of America. The closing of the eastern way to the orient through the taking by the Turks of Constantinople, made it necessary to find a new passage to the Indies. Years were given to the effort to find one by circumnavigating Africa, and one daring captain after another sailed down the gold coast. While these expeditions were going forward, Christopher Columbus, who may have taken part in one of them, was dwelling on the neighboring island of Porto Santo. There, three hundred miles out upon the Sea of Darkness, the idea of sailing due west to the Indies shaped itself in his mind.

The story of Christopher Columbus' repeated rebuffs need not again be rehearsed. As an example of courage he is pre-eminent, and no ingenuity of argument can take from him his glory. Like Newton in the discovery of the law of gravitation, he did a thing that could be done but once.

When Columbus landed on the island of Guanahani, he there found a new race of human beings whom he described as "gentle and uncovetous." They were of a reddish hue, with small deep-set eyes, high cheek bones, straight black hair, and almost no beard. Our double continent was truly the great world of the red men, for with the exception of the sub-arctic Eskimo, they were its sole inhabitants. This continent belonged to them. Their houses, while they varied in degrees of develop- [Page 31]  ment, were essentially the same, whether they were the skin lodges of the most northern tribes, or the pueblos of the Aztecs. They were communal houses, in which dwelt several, sometimes a great many, related families.

Upon this communal household was built their political fabric. The lowest political unit in ancient America was the exogamous clan, next came the phratry, and then the tribe. With the exception of the Iroquois league and the Mexican confederacy, the tribe was the highest political organization in ancient America. According to the scientific definition of civilization, there was no such thing in ancient America. The tribes highest in development, social and political, were those in the Cordilleras, running from the New Mexican tableland through Peru. Those lowest in development were found, where many of them are still found, west of the Rocky Mountains, in California, and in the valleys of the Columbia, Yukon and Athabascan rivers. Large unexplored fields yet await the investigation of archaeologists and geologists in both North and South America. But the work thus far accomplished has convinced the majority of historians there never was a pre-historic American civilization. That Aztecs, Mayas and Incas were Indians no less than were Algonquins or Iroquois.

Many of these groups, particularly Peruvians, Mayas and Aztecs, presented strange incongruities of culture, but, tested by strict scientific standards, they were not civilized. As to whence these aborigines came, and how long they had inhabited America before they were found by the Spaniards, and succeeding Portuguese, French and English explorers, science has not yet been able to yield what is to all minds a satisfactory answer. Discoveries made by geologists in the past few years have altered our attitude toward these questions. It is certain, however, that they had been here a long time. The inhabitants of ancient America were indigenous.

[Page 30] 

Miss Jane Meade Welch is a native of Buffalo, N. Y. She was born March 11, 1854. Her parents were Thomas Cary Welch and Maria Allen Meade. She was educated at the Buffalo Seminary and Elmira College. She has traveled extensively in America and in Great Britain, France, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany. Her profession is that of lecturer. She is the regular lecturer on American History at the Buffalo Seminary, St. Margaret's school, Buffalo; Mrs. Sylvanus Reed's school, New York; The Misses Masters' school, Dobbs Ferry, and Ogontz school, Pa. She has also lectured at Cornell University. She is the first American woman to lecture at Cambridge, England, or whose work has been accepted by the British Association. Her address is Buffalo, N. Y.

* [What here appears is a synopsis of the address, the object of which was to present the latest opinions concerning the origin and degree of culture attained by America's early inhabitants.]


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom