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HISTORY OF AMERICA.
COLUMBUS in his third voyage, having attained the great object of his ambition, by discovering the continent of America; his success produced a number of adventurers from all nations; the year before this, Sebastian Cabot, in the service of Henry the Seventh of England, discoveredi the Northern continent, of which it is intended Dow^eWplicitly to trea^. „ T^He questions which first present themselves to our notice -are, From what part of the Old World has America been peopled? and how accomplished? Few questions in the,history of mankind have been more agitated than these. Philosophers and men of learning and ingenuity, have been speculating upon them ever since the discovery of the American islands by Columbus. But notwithstanding all their labours, the subject still affords an ample field for the researches of the man of science, and for the fancies of the theorist.
It has been long known that an intercourse between the old Continent and America, might be carried on with facility, from the north-west extremities of Europe, and the north-east boundaries of Asia. In the year 982 the Norwegians discovered Greenland, and planted a colony there. The communication with that country was renewed in the last century by Moravian missionaries, in order to propagate their doctrines in that bleak uncultivated region. By them we are informed that the north-west coast of Greenland is separated from America by a verynarrow strait; that at the bottom of the bay it is highly probable they are united; that the Esquimeaux of America, perfectly resemble the Greenlanders, in their aspect, dress, and manner of living; and that a Moravian missionary, well acquainted with the languageof Greenland, having visited the country of the Esquimeaux, found to his astonishment, that they spoke the same language,and were, in every respect the same people. The same species of animals, are also found in the contiguous regions. The bear, the wolf, the fox, the hare, the deer,the roe-buck,and the elk, frequent the forests of North America, as well as those in the north of Europe.
Other discoveries have proved, that if the two continents of Asia and America be separated at all, it is only by a narrow strait. From this part of the old continent also, inhabitants may have passed into the new; and the resemblance between the Indians of America, and the eastern inhabitants of Asia, would induce us to conjecture, that they have a common origin. This opinion is adopted by the celebrated doctor Robertson, in his History of America. The more recent and accurate discoveries of that illustrious navigator, Cooke, and his successor Gierke, have brought the matter still nearer to a certainty. The sea, from the south of Behring's straits,to the crescent of isles between Asia and America, is very shallow. It deepens from these straits (as the British seas do from those of Dover) till the soundings are lost in the Pacific Ocean; but that does not take place but to the south of the isles. Between them and the straits is an increase from 12 to 54 fathoms, except only of St. Thaddeus-Noss, where there is a channel of a greater depth.
From the volcanic disposition, it has been judged probable,not only that there was a separation of the continents at the straits of Behring, but that the whole space from the isles to the small opening, had once been occupied by land; and that the fury of the watery element, actuated by that of fire, had, in some remote times, subverted and overwhelmed the tract, and left the islands to serve as monumental fragments.
There can be no doubt that our planet has been subject to great vicissitudes since the deluge: ancient and modern historians confirm this truth, that lands are now ploughed, over which ships formerly sailed; and that they now sail over lands, which were formerly cultivated: earthquakes have swallowed some lands, and subterraneous fires have thrown up others; the sea retreating from its shores, has lengthened the land in some places, and encroaching upon it in others, has diminished it; it has separated some territories, which were formerly united, and formed new bays and gulphs.
Resolutions of this nature happened in the last century. Sicily was united to the continent of Naples, as Eubcea now the Black sea, was to Boeotia. Diodorus, Strabo, and other ancient authors say the same thing of Spain, and of Africa; and affirm, that by a violent irruption of the ocean upon the land between the mountains of Abyla, and Calpe, that communication was broken, and the Mediterranean sea was formed. Among the people of Ceylon, there is a tradition, that a similar irruption of the sea, separated their island from the peninsula of India; the same thing is believed by those of Malabar, with respect to the Maldivian isles , and by the Malayans, with respect to Sumatra.
The count de BufFon is certain, that in Ceylon the earth has lost thirty or 40 leagues, taken from it by the sea. The same author asserts, that Louisiana has only been formed by the mud'of rivers. Pliny, Seneca, Diodorus, and others, report innumerable examples of similar revolutions.
In the strait which separates America from Asia, many islands are found, which are supposed to be the'mountainous parts of land, formerly swallowed up by earthquakes: which appears the more probable, by the multitude of volcanoes, now known in the peninsula of Kamtschatka. It is imagined, however, that the sinking ofthat land and the separation of the two continents, has been occasioned by those great earthquakes, mentioned in the history of the Americans: which formed an sera almost as memorable as that of the deluge. We can form no conjecture of the time mentioned in the histories of the Toltecas, or of the year I. Tecpatl, when that great calamity happened.
If a great earthquake should overwhelm the isthmus of Suez, and there should be at the same time, as great a scarcity of historians, as there were in the first age of the deluge, it would be doubted in three or four hundred years after, whether Asia had ever been united by that part to Africa; and many would firmly deny it.:
Whether that great event, the separation of the continents, took place before, or after the population of America, it is impossible to determine; but we are indebted to the above-mentioned navigators, for settling the long dispute about the point from which it was effected. Their observations prove, that in one place the distance between' continent and continent is only thirty-nine miles; and in the middle of this narrow strait, there are two islands, which would greatly facilitate the passage of the Asiatics into the New World, supposing it took place in canoes, after the convulsion which rent the two continents asun'der.
... It may also be added, that these straits are even in the Summer, often filled with ice; in winter frozen over, so as to admit a passage for mankind, and by which quadrupeds might easily cross, and stock the continent. But where from the vast expanse of the north-eastern world, to fix on the first tribes who contributed to people the new continent, now inhabited from end to end, is a matter that has baffled human reason. The learned may make bold and ingenious conjectures, but plain good sense cannot always accede to them. . * - . . ,
As mankind increased in numbers, they naturally protruded one another forward. Wars might be another cause of migrations. No reason appears, why the Asiatic north might not be an offia'na vivprum as well as the European. The overteeming country to the east of the Riphean mountains, must have found it necessary to discharge its inhabitants: the first great increase of people were forced forwards by thenext to it; at length reaching the utmost limits of the Old World, found a New one, with ample space to occupy unmolested for ages; till Columbus, in an^vil hour for them, discovered their country; which brought again new sins and new deaths to both worlds. It is:impossible, with the lights which we have so recently received, to admit, that America could receive its inhabitants (that is, the bulk of them) from any other place than eastern Asia. A few proofs may be added, taken from the customs or dresses, common tothe inhabitants of both worlds. Some have been long extinct in the old, others remain in both in full force. . ,
The custom of scalping, was a barbarism in use with the Scythians, who carried about them at all times this savage mark of triumph. A little image found among the Kalmucs, of a Tartarian deity, mounted on a horse, and sitting on a human skin, with scalps pendant from the breast, fully illustrates the custom of the ancient Scythians,