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When Europeans first arrived in North America, they faced a cold new world. The average global temperature had dropped to lows unseen in millennia, and its effects were stark and unpredictable: blizzards and deep freezes, droughts and famines, and winters when even the Rio Grande froze. This period of climate change has come to be known as the Little Ice Age, and it played a decisive role in Europe's encounter with the lands and peoples of North America. In A Cold Welcome, Sam White tells the story of this crucial period in world history, from Europe's earliest expeditions in an unfamiliar landscape to the perilous first winters at Santa Fe, Quebec, and Jamestown.
Weaving together evidence from climatology, archaeology, and the written historical record, White describes how the severity and volatility of the Little Ice Age climate threatened to freeze and starve out the Europeans' precarious new settlements. Lacking basic provisions and wholly unprepared to fend for themselves under such harsh conditions, Europeans suffered life-threatening privation, and their desperation precipitated violent conflict with Native Americans.
In the twenty-first century, as we confront an uncertain future from global warming, A Cold Welcome reminds us of the risks of a changing and unfamiliar climate.
List of Maps
1. Where Everything Must Be Burning
2. Such Great Snows We Thought We Were Dead Men
3. The Land Itself Would Wage War
4. Bitter Remedies
5. We Had Changed Summer with Winter
6. Destroyed with Cruel Disease
7. Our Former Hopes Were Frozen to Death
8. Winter for Eight Months and Hell for Four
9. Death Follows Us Everywhere
10. Such Wonders of Afflictions
Sam White is Associate Professor in the Department of History at The Ohio State University.
"In his deeply researched and exciting new book, A Cold Welcome, the historian Sam White focuses on the true stories of the English, Spanish, and French colonial expeditions in North America. He tells strange and surprising tales of drought, famine, bitterly cold winters, desperation, and death, while anchoring his research in the methods and results of the science of climate change and historical climatology [...] He weaves an intricate, complex tapestry as he examines the effects both of climate – meteorological conditions over relatively long periods of time – and of weather – the conditions of the atmosphere over a short term – on vulnerable colonists in North America in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries [...] His fresh account of the climatic forces shaping the colonization of North America differs significantly from long-standing interpretations of those early calamities."
– Susan Dunn, The New York Review of Books
"Meticulous environmental-historical detective work [...] White's aim is to show how the patterns of European colonization in North America in the century before 1620 were driven by the engagement between settlers and the climatic and environmental conditions they encountered [...] A Cold Welcome is a pioneering and precise environmental history of the European settlement of North America."
– Robert J. Mayhew, The Times Literary Supplement
"White presents a fascinating account of Europeans' 16th and early 17th century incursions into North America to highlight that colonial exploration was impeded by famines, diseases, afflictions and deaths for the British, the French, and the Spanish as they faced storms, icy winters, hurricanes, droughts, and extreme cold spells [...] In making climate history and climate reconstruction part of a contextualized historical inquiry, White not only stresses what was, but also implies what could have been for the early European expansion into Northern America [...] Beautifully written and skillfully researched, this book is highly relevant for scholars interested in the ways in which colonial history has been shaped at the intersection of human societies and the natural world, and more widely for all who seek to understand the consequences of present-day climate change on contemporary and future human communities [...] White's book constitutes a reminder of the deleterious effects of uncontrolled climatic variations throughout social history, and yet another warning."
– Hélène B. Ducros, EuropeNow
"An environmental historian by trade, [White] has produced a highly readable study of how people struggled to exist and gain a foothold in unfamiliar lands."
– Brian Renvall, Library Journal
"In the barbarous early years of European colonization of North America, there have long been three acknowledged Horsemen of the Apocalypse: poor planning, cultural incomprehension, and bad timing. Sam White reminds us of a fourth deadly rider: climate change. His analysis of the Little Ice Age in North America makes the crucial point that failure to understand and adapt to climate change has been fatal."
– Joyce E. Chaplin, author of Round About the Earth
"Sam White's aptly named A Cold Welcome is a remarkable journey through the complex impacts of the Little Ice Age on Colonial North America. His compelling narrative takes the study of early America in a new, and potentially highly important, direction that delves into a now vanished world of daunting climatic extremes. This beautifully written, important book leaves us in no doubt that we ignore the chronicle of past climate change at our peril. I found it hard to put down."
– Brian Fagan, author of The Little Ice Age
"The period from 1492 to 1620 is the 'forgotten century' in American history, with most textbooks offering only a passing mention to early European exploration and settlement in North America. In fact, there were dozens of attempts to penetrate the continent, but all ended in starvation, disease, violence, and death. In A Cold Welcome, White explains how the Little Ice Age contributed to these failures. By combining archival research with the latest findings of climate scientists, he makes a brilliant contribution to both American and environmental history."
– Daniel Headrick, author of Power over Peoples
"A Cold Welcome deserves a warm reception from anyone interested in colonial America, the early modern Atlantic, or the history of changing climates. Taking a holistic view of North America, White brilliantly illuminates the history of early Spanish, French, and English settlements as they struggled to come to grips with unexpected climates and a challenging spell during the Little Ice Age."
– J. R. McNeill, coauthor of The Great Acceleration