A few days ago, Minnesota University Press sent me a review copy of a new book by David M. Kreuger called Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America, out this month. The book’s title is a bit of a bait-and-switch since it’s actually an academic investigation into the ways that Minnesotans, primarily of Scandinavian heritage, have employed the Kensington Rune Stone to create and re-create a pseudo-historical narrative that changes in time with surrounding social concerns. I’m about halfway through, and it’s a great read so far. I’ll post more about it after I’ve finished the book. But today I’d like to look at something that Kreuger mentioned in passing, a pamphlet called An Attempt to Shew That America Must Be Known to the Ancients by Samuel Mather (Cotton’s son) and published in Boston in 1773.
I’d never heard of this brief pamphlet, but it was a fascinating read. It draws on English and Spanish claims that can be found in the works of John Dee and Francisco Lopez de Gόmara, but what is most impressive is that the “evidence” Mather marshals is the same evidence still used by fringe diffusionists 240 years later! Quite literally nothing changes in fringe literature.
Mather begins by rehearsing the story of Madoc’s alleged discovery of America, and he supplements it with the claim from the hoax Zeno Narrative that the Zeno Brothers reached what is now northern Canada in the 1300s. These two pieces of alleged evidence are extremely familiar to fringe theorists of today, and indeed the Zeno Narrative (a sixteenth century hoax) stands behind all of the Templar-Sinclair transatlantic conspiracies.
He goes on to cite the famous passage of Pomponius Mela (De situ orbis 3.45) claiming that some Indians blew ashore in Belgium in 60 CE. Following Gόmara almost verbatim, he identifies these Indians as being Native Americans of Labrador. Dozens of fringe writers have repeated this claim, and I wrote an article about it back in 2013. He goes on to identify Atlantis as the Americas: “And indeed, if this Island was larger than Libya and Asia, as Plato has acquainted us, it looks as if it were really America, or reaching so far as to be closely connected to it.” To support this, he asserts that Hanno the Carthaginian, whom mainstream scholars acknowledge to have sailed to sub-Saharan Africa, actually crossed the Atlantic and reached Brazil. He also supposes that some Phoenicians settled in America—the most popular diffusionist claim historically, but one rarer today, though popping up twice on America Unearthed. He further asserts that mentions of travels to islands like Hyperborea (specifically, Aelian, Various Histories 3.18) are also mentions of the Americas—claims we see rehearsed in fringe literature down to today.
Mather further mentions the discovery of flood myths among Native Americans as proof of their ancient connection to a global catastrophe—a claim dating back to the conquistadors and used as recently as last month in Graham Hancock’s Magicians of the Gods. He concludes by trying to force mentions of the Americas into biblical references to the “ends of the earth,” and adapts and adopts Spanish claims that some of Jesus’ disciples traveled to the Americas to spread the Word. The upshot of his claim is that the Native Americans are therefore not ignorant savages who could be saved but rather apostates who must be killed. This politically motivated pseudohistory recurs in modern times in the myth of the “white gods,” now turned from early Christian missionaries to Ignatius Donnelly’s white Atlanteans and Graham Hancock’s white sages from a lost super-civilization.
That the purpose was explicitly political ought to be clear from the fact that the tract lures readers in with the promise of diffusionist history before switching halfway through to a lengthy “appendix” on the governance of the thirteen colonies. Situating America as a land once colonized by ancient non-British people, once blessed by the Word of God, and now restored by the new Americans creates a political call to action. For, if America had been known to the ancients, then the British claim to the land by right of first discovery is weakened, eventually justifying independence from the Crown.
What is most interesting is that the brief 25 pages of diffusionist claims in Mather’s pamphlet contain pretty much every major argument hyper-diffusionist historians would use for the next 240 years. Mather was not original; his were neither the first nor the last claims of their kind. But they are a fascinating look at how bad ideas shape propaganda and calcify into received “wisdom.” If you throw in Samuel Mather’s father Cotton’s belief in Nephilim-giants, you have the whole fringe history shebang all in one family!
10/1/2015 11:35:53 am
I believe America IS the lost continent of Atlantis, however Atlantis was not destroyed in a great flood, rather it was the rapid expansion of the Atlantic sea floor that pushed America to its current location. Of course to ancients the rapid expansion of the Atlantic sea bed and the rushing in of sea water would look like a flood and as they watched America/Atlantis move farther away the curvature of the Earth would give the illusion the continent was sinking into the sea, just as the story claims.
10/1/2015 11:54:19 am
North America separated from Eurasia to become its own continent during the mid-Cretaceous period. Since that time, any further movement of the continent due to plate tectonics would be imperceptible to the human eye.
An Over-Educated Grunt
10/1/2015 12:13:01 pm
No, no, they separated during the Hyborean Age, and the fossils found throughout the Americas are the remnants of the ancient Serpent-Folk. This is how Kull, King of Atlantis, was able to interact with Hyboreans and Serpent-Folk both, but Conan interacted less with Atlanteans, and by the end of the Hyborean Age, Atlantis had passed fully into myth. It's also why Cotton Mather's kin, in contact as they were with Solomon Kane, were able to discern these patterns. Probably also helps that they were in New England, which obviously has genius loci issues, what with the number of Colours from Outer Space and Dagon-cults and witch-houses and whatnot.
10/1/2015 12:33:28 pm
10/1/2015 01:37:45 pm
And why textbooks need to be updated. When I was in school, they taught us the only parts of the Americas that were above sea level during Kull's day were the mountaintops, then known as the Pictish Isles! Can you imagine such an outdated theory?
10/1/2015 02:13:04 pm
Only Me, the evidence is in the stories passed down through the generations. The flood, Atlantis sinking into the see, the similarity in the building off pyramids, mounds, and myths of peoples separated by an ocean. Obviously these people shared a common land sometime in the distant, forgotten past.
10/1/2015 02:25:40 pm
"... the evidence is in the stories passed down through the generations."
10/1/2015 02:28:31 pm
OVER EDUCATED GRUNT - I am sure that if you travelled back in a time machine all of your smug beliefs would become shattered. Similar to the way that astronomers had to re-write all their textbooks following the Voyager Satellite travels across the Solar System during the 1970s, that relayed the proper information that was not based on any theories.,
An Over-Educated Grunt
10/1/2015 02:33:33 pm
That's nice, sweetheart.
10/1/2015 02:40:35 pm
Joe, my comments are not based on personal beliefs, my comments are based on simple creativity displaying the ease with which someone can "spin a yarn" to explain virtually anything he or she wishes regarding the fringe theories.
10/1/2015 02:58:11 pm
Scarecrow, Grunt was giving a loose recounting of the fictional history of Robert E. Howard's Thurian and Hyborean ages.
An Over-Educated Grunt
10/1/2015 03:45:56 pm
To be fair, a hard and fast recounting of Howard's timeline would pretty much defeat the purpose of episodic pulp sword and sorcery by tying it to mundane concerns like "rationality."
10/1/2015 04:02:47 pm
Ancient Aliens could do a whole episode about how Yag-Kosha was really a pilot wearing an oxygen mask. And Graham Hancock's pre-flood empire simply *must* have been Aquilonia. =P
10/1/2015 07:14:07 pm
It's very fashionable to claim the Ancient Astronaut pundits were all inspired by Lovecraft. But I don't believe it.
10/1/2015 07:39:00 pm
We all know that Erich Von Daniken borrowed the Ancient Astronaut theory from Brinsley Le PoerTrench and M K Jessup.
10/1/2015 07:54:04 pm
Bergier and Pauwels are cited by name in Chariots of the Gods; Lovecraft is cited by name in Morning of the Magicians.
An Over-Educated Grunt
10/1/2015 09:24:43 pm
"It's very fashionable to claim the Ancient Astronaut pundits were all inspired by Lovecraft. But I don't believe it."
10/1/2015 08:11:47 pm
Brinsley Le Poer Trench's The Sky People was published in 1960.
10/1/2015 08:21:12 pm
It appears to me your claim "We all know that Erich Von Daniken borrowed the Ancient Astronaut theory from Brinsley Le PoerTrench and M K Jessup" is equally tenuous. Just seeing that Trench and Jessup released their books at roughly the same time as Pauwels and Bergier isn't strong enough on its own to say one pair of individuals influenced AAT more than the other.
10/1/2015 08:21:27 pm
Ancient Astronauts began with M K Jessup and Brinsley Le Poer Trench. Pauwels and Bergier tried to patchwork it with Lovecraft, as was their literary style.
10/1/2015 08:26:41 pm
Pauwels and Bergier cannot be cited as proof positive that the Ancient Astronauts pundits were inspired by Lovecraft. That's only an example of the literary style of mystification of Pauwels and Bergier and nothing else.
10/1/2015 08:34:30 pm
Daniken would never admit to having read Jessup or Le Poer Trench,
10/1/2015 08:36:38 pm
They all borrowed from Blavatsky, Fort, Shaver, etc., and Lovecraft borrowed from Blavatsky secondhand as well. There were many different ancient astronaut theories in the 1940s and 1950s, but Pauwels and Bergier had the most influential, and they came to it from Lovecraftian fiction, dating back to Bergier's interest in Lovecraft from the 1930s.
10/2/2015 04:42:08 am
I have the first UK English translation of "Chariots of the Gods" published in 1969 and in his Bibliography to that edition Daniken credits Pauwels & Bergier as well as Robert Charroux's One Hundred Thousand Years of Man’s Unknown History (Histoire inconnue des hommes depuis cent mille ans, 1963),
10/2/2015 06:27:06 am
Of course he credits them. Charroux's publisher threatened to sue because of the wholesale borrowing, so they were added to the bibliography for the English edition. Charroux, too, borrowed from Pauwels and Bergier, his acknowledged influences.
12/23/2015 11:48:58 pm
DaveR, that's inspired!
12/28/2015 10:35:28 am
10/1/2015 01:26:12 pm
So the whole incestuous nature of fringe conspiracy theories that perpetually interbreed and feed off each other, started with the Mathers. And here I was casting the blame for instigating that trend on Blavatsky. Hmm.
10/1/2015 02:25:12 pm
Blast! I have just discovered the theory that Mount Sinai could have been Mount Etna - that castigates Mainstream Position with the Fringe Theory Position.
10/1/2015 03:06:17 pm
A Google Books search reveals that "An Attempt to Shew That America Must Be Known to the Ancients" featured in numerous American library collections, both academic and private. (FWIW there are also a couple of copies in the British LIbrary).
10/2/2015 01:49:13 pm
Much as I love this blog, to which I sometimes make irreverent comments, I wish those who do make contradictorily comments to do their research first, Jason does his research, a failure of many 'blog responders'. Jason is a formidable adversary if you challenge history. Love the discussions but lets keep to the established facts, and potential REALISTIC hypotheses and not try to emulate Walt Disney, and chase a fortune based, no matter how appealing, on fantasy.
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