[Indian] Relationships With The
Native 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. The
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:
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.
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.
One instance that reveals the conflict
that arose because of the differing views of land ownership centered on the
area of Dedham, Massachusetts, which European capitalists had acquired from the
natives. The owners of the land
actually lived hundreds of miles away-not on the land they owned in
Dedham. Seeing no activity on the land,
the natives believed they were free to hunt, trap, fish, build houses, and
cultivate gardens there. This attitude
was not far removed from that of the philosopher John Locke, who so strongly
influenced the thinking of the fathers of the American Revolution. He wrote that one could own the land only
with which one mixed one's labor and could actually use. But the colonists were amassing great
estates on which they might eventually establish business enterprises, and they
strongly objected to the presence of the natives on land that they now
owned. Similar quarrels began to occur
throughout the colonies, leading to armed hostilities.
There were many conflicts between
settlers and natives throughout the colonial period. One of the first major conflicts occurred in 1637. Word reached Boston in July that an English
trader named John Oldham had been killed by Pequot Indians. The New England colonies raised a militia
and waged war against the Pequot for a solid year. On June 5, 1637, a militia destroyed a large Pequot village at
Stonington, Connecticut, and a little over a month later a military force made
up of soldiers from three New England colonies tracked down the survivors of
the Stonington village at a place near New Haven and slaughtered all they could
find. Other Pequot men and boys who
were eventually captured were sold into slavery in the West Indies. The women and girls became slaves to white
settlers in New England. With their
numbers decimated, their main villages burned, their stored food and supplies
stolen, the few Survivors in this tribe left for the west. This was the end of the entire tribe's
presence in New England.
for forty years after this incident, there was no open warfare between settlers
and natives, relations between them were hardly cordial. Individuals from both camps were guilty of
murders and thefts, and the English continued to gobble up land. Land disputes continued, the one at Dedham
in 1668 and 1669 being one of the most prominent. There were also quarrels with the Narraganset in Rhode Island
where Massachusetts Bay businessmen, under the Atherton Company, began
commandeering immense amounts of Indian land.
In this case, the European settlers of Rhode Island sided with the
natives against the settlers of Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut. After the embittered Narragansett caused
property damage near some Connecticut plantations, the New England
Confederation demanded that the natives either pay a fine, which was too large
for them to meet, or forfeit all their lands to the business corporation. Immediate disaster was averted when the king
of England, Charles II, intervened at Rhode Island's request to side with the
Narraganset and voided the claims of the Atherton Company. Still, the company tried to ignore the
king's dictate and continued appropriating Narraganset land.
Throughout the 1660s and 1670s, the
General Courts of the Massachusetts Bay or Plymouth Colony made a habit of
hauling tribal sachems before them to quiz them on rumors of conspiracies or
allegiances with tribes or nationals that the bay considered unfriendly. Once these hearings were over, the court
would present the defendant with a bill for court costs, as it did the
Wampanoag chief, King Philip, in 1667.
The reason for the disintegration of relations and the buildup of
hostilities was simple: the colonists planned on and were determined to secure
key Indian land as part of the expansion into the Connecticut Valley, and the
Indians were determined that this would not happen.
had historically been friendly with the settlers, but suspicions mounted,
rumors raged on, and the English demanded that various tribes surrender their
weapons. When the English suspected
that the natives had not surrendered their weapons, they prepared for war in
1671, finally forcing the natives to pay £100 worth of goods to the colony, to
recognize English law, and to accede to any colonies' decisions regarding the
disposal of Indian land.
years, King Philip and other sachems inwardly seethed over the
humiliation. Finally, in June 1675,
after Plymouth Colony's execution of three of King Philip's men for the murder
of an informant, the Indian chief began his raids on settlements in a year-long
war in which many native tribes sided with the settlers. Some fifty towns along the frontier were burned. By 1676, the English had lost about 2,000
people, and the natives had lost about 4,000 in battle.
decisive defeat of King Philip's forces in 1676 (King Philip himself was
killed, drawn and quartered, and his head brought to Boston for display) came
the virtual end of the native tribes in New England. There was no longer a question of negotiating for land or paying
the usual £25 for an estate. All Indian
land was now up for confiscation as the settlers dictated the terms for
takeovers and appropriated Indian land as the spoils of war. Prisoners of war were executed by the
scores, most without trial and many of whom had been friendly to the
settlers. Immediately, however, New
England businessmen realized the cash value of the prisoners, so many more were
sold into slavery and shipped to the West Indies, Spain, and the
Mediterranean. Those deemed less
dangerous became bound servants in the colonies to alleviate the perpetual
labor shortage. Natives, who fifty
years earlier had called the whole New England area their home, to be held in
common with their brothers, were restricted to reservations. The more fortunate of them were allowed to
be tenant farmers or to work as hired hands.
In the 1620s, they had numbered around 75,000 people. Their people had lived in New England for
thousands of years. By the 1680s,
decimated by disease, alcohol, and wars with the settlers, their numbers had
dropped to 20,000, only half the number of the new European settlers.
notorious clash between Native Americans and settlers in the colonial period
occurred on February 29, 1704, during a time when many tribes had sided with
the French in the fight between French and English over the domination of
northern New England. A company of 28
Frenchmen and 200 Native Americans launched an attack on Deer- field,
Massachusetts, a town of three hundred residents, twenty miles south of what is
now Vermont. Forty-eight Deerfield
residents were killed, and 111 were taken hostage.
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Source: Daily Life in Colonial New England by
Claudia Durst Johnson. The Greenwood
Press “Daily Life Through History” Series.
Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, 2002. Pages 142-146. Used with
permission, courtesy of the Greenwood Press.