Myths and Folklore in (or about) Early America

During the week leading up to this Blogpost, we will be covering a lot of ground in class as we begin Unit Two. We will be starting this work by exploring the folklore of the American frontier, then move on to consider the tragic realities of life for the millions who lived under the yoke of slavery and Jim Crow laws. As you will learn, race itself is essentially a “myth,” yet racism is a very unfortunate reality for many, even today, as Ta-Nehisi Coates makes very clear in Between the World and Me (the book that will be the centerpiece of this second unit). In your very first assigned reading this semester, Robert Brockway mentioned that myths were central to the cultures of the ancient world, but there are many stories or traditions from the “new world” that “have mythic overtones and intentions” – quasi-mythical premises that are seen in songs and stories, scientific studies, legal pronouncements, philosophical systems, historical theories, and political ideologies.

With this in mind, your task in this blogpost is twofold (and your write-up itself should be two separate parts):  1)  Compare/contrast the folktales of early America (featuring Davy Crockett, Paul Bunyan, and/or Daniel Boone) with the myths of the “old world” that have been our focus so far this semester.  What does such a comparison reveal about these early American tall tales, about early America itself, and/or about the history and development of myths all over the world?  2)  I recently heard a Stockton student reference the idea that there were “Irish slaves” in early America. In fact, this idea has been debunked and is, sadly, often cited in support of nationalist or even white supremacist causes. The fact of the matter is that, as historian Liam Hogan notes, “There is unanimous agreement, based on overwhelming evidence, that the Irish were never subjected to perpetual, hereditary slavey in the colonies based on notions of ‘race.’ “  What are some other “myths” or stories that influence the early years of America, for good or ill?  What kinds of “tall tales” fueled social injustices before, during, and after the founding of the United States.  And how do such far-fetched “myths” continue to cause problems for us today in the twenty-first century?