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[Indian]  Relationships With The Europeans



     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: 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.

 Resentment 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.

     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.

  Although 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.

 King Philip 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.

 For four 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.

 With the 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.

 One further 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.

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