By Paul Semonin
In 1801, the 1st whole mastodon skeleton was once excavated within the Hudson River Valley, marking the climax of a century-long debate in the United States and Europe over the id of a mysterious creature referred to as the yankee Incognitum. lengthy ahead of the dinosaurs have been stumbled on and the proposal of geological time received forex, many voters of the recent republic believed this legendary beast to be a ferocious carnivore, able to crushing deer and elk in its ''monstrous grinders.'' throughout the American Revolution, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson avidly accrued its bones; for the founding fathers, its tremendous jaws symbolized the violence of the wildlife and the rising nation's personal desires of conquest.
Paul Semonin's energetic historical past of this icon of yankee nationalism specializes in the hyperlink among patriotism and prehistoric nature. From the 1st fist-sized teeth present in 1705, which Puritan clergyman claimed was once proof of human giants, to the clinical racialism linked to the invention of extinct species, Semonin strains the evangelical ideals, Enlightenment idea, and Indian myths which led the founding fathers to view this prehistoric monster as a logo of nationhood.
Semonin additionally sees the secret of the mastodon in early the US as a cautionary story concerning the first flowering of our narcissistic fascination with a prehistoric nature governed via ferocious carnivores. As such, American Monster bargains clean insights into the genesis of the continued fascination with dinosaurs.
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Extra info for American Monster: How the Nation's First Prehistoric Creature Became a Symbol of National Identity
The place were the Bone lay was 25 paces, according to which the Monster was judged above 60 or 70 foot high,” he noted in his diary, greatly augmenting Johannis Abeel’s original estimate of a “corpse” thirty feet long. In the year since New York Governor Cornbury’s letter to the Royal Society, Dutch settlers had noticed the interest that these rarities were attracting among New Englanders, and three days after Koon’s visit, two other Dutchmen brought yet another tooth to Taylor’s house. 11 After graduating from Harvard College in 1671, Taylor became the minister of the newly organized Congregational Church in Westfield, a trapper’s settlement located on the colony’s western frontier in the Berkshire foothills of the upper Connecticut River valley.
Taylor’s vision of “the Monster buried at Claverack” drew heavily on the Indian legends of a giant race of men. In his study Spirit of the New England Tribes, William S. 12 But by the time Taylor saw the giant tooth and bones from Claverack, the Indians had been driven out of the region, and settlers were already beginning to move through western Massachusetts into the Hudson River valley. THE GIANT OF CLAVERACK IN PURITAN AMERICA 21 When the Claverack monster captured his imagination, Taylor was already composing the lyrical poems that later made him the premier poet of the American colonies, even though none of his verses were published in his lifetime.
Belief in the savagery of prehistoric nature, as we shall see, had its roots in the master metaphor of early American national culture—the myth of wild nature, the idea that the New World was a wilderness inhabited by savages. Accordingly, during the nineteenth century, this concept served to justify the dominance of an industrial society in the name of piety and progress. This paradigm, which reached its full fruition in the ensuing age of Darwin and the dinosaurs, was ﬁrst articulated by “civilized” Anglo-Americans, who transformed a herbivorous, elephant-like creature into the terror of the antediluvian world.
American Monster: How the Nation's First Prehistoric Creature Became a Symbol of National Identity by Paul Semonin