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Native Relationships With The Europeans

The Natives and the English

In which John Green teaches you about relations between the early English colonists and the native people the encountered in the New World. In short, these relations were poor. As soon as they arrived, the English were in conflict with the native people. At Jamestown, Captain John Smith briefly managed to get the colony on pretty solid footing with the local tribes, but it didn’t last, and a long series of wars with the natives ensued. This pattern would continue in US history, with settlers pushing into native lands and pushing the inhabitants further west. In this episode, you’ll learn about Wahunsunacawh (who the English called Powhatan), his daughter Pocahontas, King Philip’s (aka Metacom) War, and the Mystic Massacre. By and large, the history of the Natives and the English was not a happy one, even Thanksgiving wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Support CrashCourse on Subbable:

card00388_frNative peoples like the Massachusetts tribes enthusiastically welcomed European settlers to their shores up to the third decade of the seventeenth century. Their motives were mixed. Many thought the armed Europeans would protect them from their more powerful native enemies. They also welcomed the trade with Europeans in skins and hides, receiving wampum in the form of shells and beads in exchange. Natives generously shared with the settlers their belongings, supplies, food, and the skills necessary for survival in the New World. What the settlers gave them in exchange was destined to destroy them: disease, firearms, whiskey, a brutal religion totally at odds with nature, and a demand for material goods that would rob them of their independence.

Within ten years of the arrival of Winthrop and his party, the natives’ welcome of the settlers had worn out. The settlers had appeared on the scene with two objectives in mind with regard to the Indians: secure their land and convert them to Christianity.

indian12The natives soon saw trade as the settlers’ means of exploitation. Sachems began to resent missionaries as interlopers interested only in preparing the way for land grabs. The English made their own laws on what for centuries had been native soil and held natives accountable to English rules. Moreover, any breach of English law resulted in a native’s being subjected to a public humiliation unknown in his or her own culture. Two examples from Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay on July 30, 1640, give some idea of this humiliation: “Two Indian women were adjudged to be whipped for their insolent carriage and abusing Mrs. Weld,” and “Hope, the Indian, was censured for her running away, and other misdemeanors, to be whipped here and at Marblehead” (Shurtleff, vol. 1: 297,298).

Relations were scarcely improved by the Puritan attitude toward the natives. To the European mind, the natives were sub fiends in the service of the devil whose domain included any untamed land in the New World.

image-02-largeResentment naturally mounted. But it was the differing views of land and the English determination to acquire New World land that caused open warfare to erupt.
It is within the context of the native view that land was to be held in common that one must understand the business arrangements between European settlers and the natives. Often the natives had no understanding of what it meant to sell land to the settlers. And according to Roger Williams, a Puritan minister in sympathy with the Indians, Europeans used the natives’ naiveté in this regard to acquire huge tracts of land without fully explaining the exclusive rights they intended securing and without fair and proper payment. At first, the natives blithely “sold” tribal lands in small and large tracts, believing that “ownership” would not exclude them from using the land. They realized only later that what the Europeans were doing was rapidly acquiring exclusive private use of virtually all the tribal lands in New England and subjecting natives on these lands to the laws of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Indian Massacre of 1622

300px-1622_massacre_jamestown_de_BryIndian massacre of 1622, depicted as a woodcut by Matthaeus Merian, 1628.

The Indian Massacre of 1622 took place in the English Colony of Virginia, in what now belongs to the United States, on Friday, 22 March 1622. Captain John Smith, though he had not been in Virginia since 1609 and was thus not a firsthand eyewitness, related in his History of Virginia that braves of the Powhatan Confederacy “came unarmed into our houses with deer, turkeys, fish, fruits, and other provisions to sell us.” Suddenly the Powhatan grabbed any tools or weapons available to them and killed any English settlers who were in sight, including men, women and children of all ages. Chief Opechancanough led a coordinated series of surprise attacks of the Powhatan Confederacy that killed 347 people, a quarter of the English population of Jamestown.

Jamestown, founded in 1607, was the site of the first successful English settlement in North America, and was then the capital of the Colony of Virginia. Its tobacco economy led to constant expansion and seizure of Powhatan lands, which ultimately provoked a violent reaction.

Although Jamestown was spared due to a timely last-minute warning, the Powhatan also attacked and destroyed many smaller settlements along the James River. In addition to killing settlers, the Powhatan burned houses and crops. The English abandoned many of the smaller settlements after the attacks.

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