While Henry Nash Smith saw the westward pull of the garden as a phenomenon of the 19th century, it has been a part of America from the beginning. Many of the earliest English explorers characterized the New World as an earthly paradise or recovered Eden. This was probably, at least in part, an attempt to encourage private investors to subsidize new explorations--ventures in which England's Queen Elizabeth was reluctant to risk state funds. But also evident in these reports is a sense of awe at the natural abundance of the new land, and an undercurrent of excitement about what these resources could mean to the fledgling English Empire.
Smith notes that the first American writers to describe the "trans-Allegheny settlements in Kentucky" (in the 18th century) were "preoccupied with the beauty and fertility of the land" rather than with the implications of westward expansion for the growing society (129). Similarly, the first English explorers of the eastern shore of the New World were fascinated by the abundance before them. The following excerpts from the first English explorations of the new world illustrate the merging of America and the Garden of Eden in the English Renaissance mind. This conflation of America and Eden laid the foundation for the 19th-century myth of the garden in the west.
Arthur Barlow's Report (1584)
In the summer of 1584, having obtained a charter from the Queen, Sir Walter Raleigh sent Captains Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlow to explore the eastern shore of the New World. Their mission took them along what is now the coast of North Carolina. Upon their return in September, 1584, Barlow submitted a report to Raleigh extolling the virtues of the land Raleigh dubbed "Virginia." He describes a land of "sweet smells," overflowing with grapes and an "incredible abundance" of animals, "the best in all the world." The soil is also "the most plentiful, sweet, fruitful, and wholesome of all the world," and naturally yields three annual harvests with little effort on the part of the planters. Barlow finds the natives "most gentle, loving, and faithful, void of all guile and treason and such as lived after the manner of the Golden Age," in a land in which "The earth bringeth forth all things in abundance as in the first creation, without toil or labour."
One imagines that the Native Americans would have disagreed with Barlow's enthusiastic estimate of the amount of labor required to coax a living from the soil. But the significance of Barlow's report lies not in its accuracy, but in his interpretation of what he saw. Captain Barlow looked at sixteenth-century America and saw paradise, just as (as Smith notes) John Filson looked westward to 18th-century Kentucky and saw a land "like the land of promise, flowing with milk and honey . . ." (129).
Thomas Hariot's Report (1585)
In 1585, when Raleigh made his first attempt to establish a permanent colony in the New World, he sent 25-year-old Thomas Hariot as a historian and surveyor. In the year he spent as a colonist, Hariot made a detailed catalog of the New World's natural resources, addressed to the "Adventurers, Wellwillers and Favorers of the enterprise for the inhabiting and planting in Virginia." Hariot's report, published in 1588 and 1590, is less awestruck in tone than Barlow's, and begins to suggest the social and economic implications of the New World's wealth. In fact, Hariot sees the new world in terms of commodities: the three chapters of his report are "Merchantable commodities," "Commodities for sustenance of man's life," and "Commodities for building and other necessary uses."
While he, too, describes the New World as a land of remarkable abundance with a gentle climate, Hariot chastises those who returned from the New World disappointed that it was not the labor-free paradise they expected:
many that after golde and siluer was not so soone found, as it was by them looked for, had little or no care of any other thing but to pamper their bellies; . . . . Some also were of a nice bringing vp, only in cities or townes, or such as neuer (as I may say) had seene the world before. Because there were not to bee found any English cities, norsuch faire houses, nor at their owne wish any of their olde accustomed daintie food, nor any soft beds of downe or fethers; the countrey was to them miserable, & their reports thereof according.
Hariot does see the New World as a paradise, but it is a paradise of opportunity--one that must be made, not found. Henry Nash Smith might well have been speaking of Hariot rather than Rev. James Smith when he wrote "the writer has clear intimations of the future. He knows that the pioneers whith their axes and plows will convert the forests to farmlands . . ." (132).
Michael Drayton's Ode to the Virginian Voyage (1606)
Written a year before the founding of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World, Drayton's Ode encourages England's "brave heroic minds" to pursue honor for their country by subduing "Virginia/ Earth's only paradise." Barlow's report must have been a source text for Drayton--he refers to the same images: "fruitful'st soil," "Without your toil/three harvests," a "golden age" and even the " luscious smell/ Of that delicious land." Drayton, like Hariot, sees the future of English society shaped by this new frontier, and calls upon the the settlers to bring forth heros "And plant our name/Under that star/Not known unto our north," and crown new poets with "Apollo's sacred tree" in the new land.
Drayton's Ode suggests that the garden of the New World will bring greatness to English society much the same way that Smith notes Freneau and Brackenridge did in 1771. (125)
A Brief History of the European Myth of the Garden | The Political Garden | Conclusion