, Research Paper
English Views of the Native Americans
After reading chapter three of Unger’s American Issues, I now have a better understanding of how English settlers looked upon the lifestyles of the Native Americans. Four key people that have led to this understanding are Hugh Jones, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, William Penn, and John Heckewelder. In their essay’s they give accurate accounts of how the Native Americans lived, through their eyes. I also see how European beliefs reflected their views and how this set the stage for conflict among these groups.
In Hugh Jones’ essay titled, “Characteristics of the Indians,” he basically gives a factual account of how the Indians live their daily life. Although his account is mostly factual, his European biases do play a major role in his interpretation of Indian ways. In one instance, in describing the Indians rejoicing and war dances, Jones says that they used, “the most antick [sic] gestures, in the most frightful dress, with a hideous noise” (Unger, p. 43). To Jones and other Englishmen their dress may seem frightful and the noise may sound hideous, but that is his opinion. To the Indians this is normal and a way of life. This just shows the white man’s ignorance to the culture of the Native Americans. In a second instance Jones’s describes the Indians in their “finest dress.” He states that the Indians believe they are looking their best when they are ridiculously dressed. Once again he is giving his opinion of the definition of what is considered ridiculous to the English. Jones also pokes fun at many of the traditions of the Indians, for example, the way they wear their hair or the painting on their faces. He notes this as being comical and also uses sarcasm in portraying these traditions. Jones’ essay provides many useful facts about the Indian way of life, but his European biases prevent him from disclosing the actual truth.
Hugh Henry Brackenridge has a very opposing view towards the Indians. Jones never really gives his personal opinion on whether or not he liked the Indians, but Brackenridge make his view very clear. He makes this apparent in the title of his essay, “The Indians Have No Exclusive Claim to America.” Brackenridge supports this notion with many references to the Bible. He states that “The whole of this earth was given to man, and all descendants of Adam have a right to share it equally” (Brackenridge, in Unger, p. 47). He does not believe that the person who discovers the land has a right to all of it. He backs this point up by using another Bible reference. He states that Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japhet explored three-quarters of the world, but this does not give them a claim to the entire world. In Breckenridge’s opinion, a man should only occupy the land that he needs to survive. This seems a contradiction to English ways. Did the British Empire not extend its power half way around the world? Breckenridge thinks that the Indians should be driven from the land all together. This once again contradicts the statement he makes about all descendants of Adam having an equal right to the land. He refers to the Indians as “devils,” backing this up with the pretense that they have no faith and can, in no way, be trusted. Breckenridge is obviously a very religious man and makes it a point to use this in his argument.
William Penn sees the Indians in a much better way than Breckenridge. He, in his own way, respects and admires them. Along with first hand accounts of how the Indians lived their daily lives, Penn gives a reliable account without English biases. Penn describes the Indians in comparison to other cultures. For example, he compares their complexion to that of the English Gypsies and Italians, their noses to those of the Romans, and their language to Hebrew. Penn even compliments the Indians language by stating that, “I know not a Language spoken in Europe, that hath words of more sweetness or greatness, in Accent and Emphasis, then theirs?.” (Unger, p.50). He comments that the Indians only treat their friends with respect and dignity. Penn seems to show much admiration for the Indian lifestyle. He says that since they have not experienced English luxuries that they our free from the greed that Englishmen possess. Another admiration that Penn has for the Indians is how the king rules over the people. He says that although they hold much power, “they move by the Breath of their People” (Penn, in Unger, p.53). Penn was the original founder of the colony of Pennsylvania, and also a Quaker. The colony was set up as a haven for religious freedom and welcomed all forms of people. Although the Indians were not Christians they did believe in a god and also the concept of immortality. This gives reason to why the Indians were treated well and respected by Pennsylvanian settlers as well as William Penn.
John Heckewelder provides another positive description of the Indians. He focuses on the hospitality and kindness that the Indians portray. Heckewelder refers to the ways that Indians address one another. They do so in a manner that is respectful to everyone. To relatives and others that they are acquainted with, they use titles such as brother, aunt, cousin, father, etc. For people they do not know, the word “friend” is commonly used. In his account the Indians are very giving, and would rather satisfy someone else’s needs then their own. They believe that god put things on the earth for all men to share. The Indians do not understand the “need” for material possessions, but still give unconditionally. These characteristics of the Indians are very different from English customs. The English are very greedy and most are only out for the benefit of themselves. This easily sets the stage for conflict among the two groups (English and Indians). Neither party really understands the ways and customs of the other.
The remaining essays in the chapter portray treaties and requests over land and protection made to the English on behalf of the Indians. The Indians were very willing to compromise with the English. In one instance they completely declared themselves as being devoted to Sachem (king) Charles. Some Indians even labeled themselves as un-trustworthy, and begged for English forgiveness. On a second occasion Indians renewed a request to remove English settlers off of their land. They went about this in a very professional way, bringing gifts as tokens of their sincerity. By doing these things the Indians are unconsciously setting themselves up to be overthrown. Although these customs are normal to the Indians, the English see it as an easy loophole for ambush. The Indians don’t understand the greedy English ways, and think that they can live in peace together. Little do they know that their efforts are merely leading to their downfall. In an account given by Benjamin Franklin, he describes an attack on an Indian village for no apparent reason. This takes place on December 14th, 1763 when men went to the Conestogoe Manor “and without the least Reason or Provocation, in cool Blood, barbarously killed six of the Indians settled there, and burnt and destroyed all their Houses and Effects” (John Penn, in Unger, p.63). This account merely sets the stage for what is to come in the future.
Throughout these accounts I now realize how the Indians lived their day to day life and more importantly how they interacted with the English. Through the eyes of Englishman I see how they easily took advantage of the Indians and eventually removed them from their land. Hugh Jones, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, William Penn, and John Heckewelder have done an excellent job of portraying the Indians, each in their own way. Although biases existed in some of these essays, it only leads to a better understanding of how the English perceived Indian ways.