Indian And European Conflict In The New

World Essay, Research Paper


Since 1492 to late into the17th the century there was perpetual struggle between the power hungry Europeans and the natives in the New World. Pitted against each other, the Dutch, English, French, Spaniards, and Indians struggled to maintain control of what they viewed as rightfully theirs. The English, were struggling to settle on the eastern coast and had no use and respect for the Indians or their land and way of life. At first maintaining a tentative relationship, the English, in the case of the Quakers and Puritans, soon realized that the Indians had very little to offer and were an obstacle on the path of their progress. Spain was primarily interested in missionary activities and conquered the natives of south western America and Mexico because they were seen as obstacles on valuable land. What peoples the Spaniards did not deliberately destroy, disease finished off. The extremely powerful Dutch had goals of commerce, conquest, and complete exploitation of American resources. They did all they could at first to maintain peaceful exchange with the Indians, being vastly dependent on the natives for the fur trade. Further north, along the St. Lawrence River, the Indians were vital to the French.. Relations were kept better than anywhere previously in the New World. Yet Southern French- Indian relations were sadly much different, as evident in the interaction with the Natchez in 1722 ultimately, interaction with the Indians of North America was solely dependent on the needs and goals of the invading Europeans.

Quakers fleeing from the oppression of England, were initially dedicated to non- violence between all races and religions. In the 1670?s they settled in East and West Jersey, Eventually moving into Pennsylvania, believing that they could form a utopian society which they called the ?Holy Experiment.? A man named William Penn initiated the peaceful interaction in 1682. He approached the neighboring tribe, the Delaware, ?The King of the Countrey where I live, hath given unto me a great Province therein, but I desire to enjoy it with your Love and Consent, that we may always live together as Neighbors and friends….? As Nash describes, Penn believed the land belonged to the Indians, and the colonists must purchase it from the natives before settling it, and imposed a ban on the sale of alcohol. The land Penn?s colony inhabited had comparatively few Indians, but this was subsequently beneficial because there was less of a chance for rivalry and competition. As long as Penn played an active roll in the happenings of his colony, there was little conflict or cause for complaint by both the settlers and the Indians. After 1712 however, as Nash has pointed out, Penn had little role in the affairs of Pennsylvania. In 1710 Swiss and German settlers arrived, whom did not share Penn?s and the Quaker?s pacifistic attitude, and ?who?s land hunger and disdain for the Indians undermined the Quaker attitude of trust and love for the natives.? Nash pg.98

These new settlers came to the New World to escape the oppression of their homeland, Eventually settling in Philadelphia. But these new peoples were not willing to live peacefully and cooperate with the Indians whom they settled alongside. The only benefit of having the Indians settled on the land to them, was the fact that they had cleared the land for their crops, and that the natives had made hunting trails that they could exploit. To them, the Indians had primed the land for their disposal. To add insult to injury, they poured alcohol into the Indian negotiators, whose decisions could then be manipulated and swayed according to the whims and benefit of their own interests.

Seeing that they could no longer live in a place where there was no more welcome, the Delaware migrated westward with resentment. Eastern Pennsylvania was empty of Indians by 1750. The settlers turned tribe against tribe to acquire more Indian land and to rid themselves of the last tribes. The Quakers vision of harmony was trampled under the feet of selfish intruders.

The Puritans at first had the most interaction with the Algonkian tribes. Living between the Kennebeck River and Cape Cod, the tribes numbered more than 100,000, consisting of the Pawtucket, Massachusetts, Abenaki, Pequot, Narragansett, and Wampanoag. The puritans arrived in 1620, initially settling in the Cape Cod area in a place called Plymouth. The Pilgrims had come with a fear of the natives. Their fear was to be nurtured, as death had soon rendered the colony to 50 people, Their vulnerability led to Indian attack. The Wampanoag soon signed a treaty with the Colonists in 1621 which included mutual assistance and protection from the Narragansett. The English saw the treaty as a weakening of the Wampanoag. With the mischief of just a small number of new colonists, an offensive was raised against the unsuspecting Massachusetts. The goal was to encourage fear and dominance among the natives so that the English could gain power and land.

The Massachusetts Bay Company had a goal to convert all ?heathens? and to ?wynn and incite the natives of (the) country, to the knowledge and obedience of the onlie true God and Savior of mankinde, and the Christian fayth.? As Nash highlights. Yet no missionary actions were to take place for another 13 years. The sachems (leaders) of the Algonkian, tried to develop a tentative relationship with the Puritans, yet disease ended this relationship within a few years.

Puritans claimed the land by right of discovery. They believed that Christians were privileged to be able to dispossess non Christians of their land. If the land was not being used in the way in which they saw fit, they simply claimed the land as theirs. The remaining Massachusetts were not willing to put up a fight and forfeited their land to settlers. John Winthrop, the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony believed that ??The Indians….had not ?subdued? the land, and therefore had only a natural right to it, but not a civil right.? A ?natural? right did not have legal standing.? Zinn pg 13. Yet in 1633 Roger Williams questioned the authorities who claimed that the land was theirs to take. He argued that the land was rightfully the Indians and that they would have to answer to God and greater authorities. And so the purchasing of land slowly caught on in Massachusetts, but only when it benefited the settler, such as when there was a dispute over a favorable piece of land, in which one would pay in order to obtain favorable standing of the seller. The Indians were manipulated again by the use of alcohol to sway their decisions, and by fining the Indians on American law terms for virtually no reason, bestowing land and small payments onto settlers who had ?witnessed? the crime or had been ?wronged? by the unsuspecting native. They were also manipulative, in the fact that; as Edmund Morgan notes,?Since the Indians were better woodsmen than the English an d virtually impossible to track down, the method was to feign peaceful intentions, let them settle down and plant their corn wherever they chose, and then, just before harvest, fall upon them, killing as many as possible and burning the corn.?Zinn pg.13

The Dutch had established a thriving fur trade in North America. Cooperating peacefully with the Mahicans and Local tribes in the New Albany area which the Dutch inhabited. Their population was not a large one, and was vastly outnumbered by the Indians, therefore harmonious relations were extremely crucial to the settlers. Since their main purpose was to develop a successful European fur (particularly beaver) trade, and not settling and cultivating the land, their peaceful relationship was easily maintained. Soon though, the Indians were headed dangerously close to an American game extermination, The Mahicans were not able to supply all of the pelts necessary to support the booming market, so the Dutch West India Company began looking towards other tribes to support their efforts, specifically their former enemies, the Iroquois. The Iroquois soon overshadowed the Mahicans in supplying furs, and thus became a major power in the northeast.

The Dutch West India Company had begun to recruit settlers to help build an agricultural society. According to Nash, the population doubled between 1638 and 1643 from one to two thousand. Needing more land the settlers began purchasing land from the natives, and so it came to be that the two agricultural groups lived side by side, which caused tension between the two groups. To finance the growing colony, the Dutch began taxing the Indians. This did not suit the Indians and tensions mounted. The Dutch did not wait long to instill military force upon the Indians once the Indians began to question the Dutch ?authority.? They began invading Indian villages and killing innocent victims. They insisted that the natives within the New Amsterdam area pay tribute to and recognize Dutch authority, With settling land now the main concern instead of trade, the Indians were only mere obstacles to the Dutch.

On the contrary, relations between the Indians and Dutch at Albany were respectful and peaceful. ?Peace was maintained because both sides had everything to lose and nothing to gain by hostilities…? Both sides saw each other as mutually beneficial to each others economy. This peace lasted all the was until 1664 where Richard Nicholas seized New Netherland.

The French, like the Dutch, realized that the wealth and profit of North America lied in the trade of fish and fur. They settled towards the north, by the St. Lawrence River where there was no worry of interference by the English or Spanish. According to Nash, ?only two kinds of business existed in New France- the conversion of souls and the conversion of beaver.? Both businesses could not exist if it were not for the Indians, therefore the Indians were vital to their survival, and that relationship was the kind that set them apart yet kept them in common with all other colonies, as you will see. The French could not have survived without the natives. Their numbers were so small, and men made up the vast percentage of the colonies. By 1676 almost all French families had Indian blood. Inter-racial marriage was extremely common and encouraged in the less settled outer limits of the Jesuit influence of the St. Lawrence colonies. Yet interracial mixing became so common in the 1660?s Francis Colbert called for a complete intermixing of the two cultures. The underlying goal of that order was to civilize the Algonquins, and to settle them into a Christian society in which the whole Indian society would be completely assimilated and therefore easier to control. They called this the ?Modern Policy.? Yet this peaceful interaction was ill laid in the fact that the Indians usually refused French law. Neither could they protect their allies from disease and attacks from rival tribes, such as the Iroquois.

The French experience with the Natchez in the lower Mississippi Valley was in extreme contrast with that of the French further north in Canada. The Natchez showed some hostility towards the new settlers. Their trade and interaction only occurred when it was convenient for the French. The French also disregarded Natchez customs when they requested the head of one of their chiefs, although all of the chiefs were traditionally immune to the death penalty. In 1729 when the French made a radical demand that the Natchez hand over a large amount of land without payment, they organized an offensive designed to completely eliminate the French. By this time the French had realized that the Natchez were irrelevant to their cause, and had no second thoughts about attempting to intimidate them, as Nash puts it.

Spanish intrusion into the lands of the natives drastically disrupted the lifestyles and cultures of the Indians. The goals of the Spanish was to dominate and colonize the silver and gold laden countries of Central America, Mexico, and the southern territory North America. The Spanish came at around 1492 and were famed with easily manipulating the natives, earning friendships, kidnapping, and luring innocent Indians onto their boats to be whisked away to Europe to be sold as slaves. Upon first contact with the Arawaks, Columbus noted that ?With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.? Zinn pg.1 Originally settling in the southeastern parts of North America, they traveled down the coast into Mexico and beyond all the way to Baja California. IN 1495 the Spanish went on a great slave raid, treating the natives like cattle to make up for the gold that they did not find. They used the Indians as slave labor on large encomiendas or plantations in which a man of the name of Las Casas recorded the manner in which the Indians were treated. He noted that ?The Spanish became more and more conceited everyday….They rode the backs of Indians if they were in a hurry.? Total control let to total cruelty. In 1559 the Spanish came north of Mexico and began to establish authority, in their path capturing slaves and destroying villages. New Mexico was a big target region for missionary activity. Santa Fe became the center of Spanish colonization. The Spanish weld on in depth incursions into the gulf regions, primarily for missionary purposes. According to Nash; ?In California and Florida, they would gather natives into large mission complexes where priests closely supervised every aspect of their lives,….attempting to bring about a full social and cultural reorientation of native life.?pg.113 In Mexico they would surround a village and build churches on many sides which led to a town and church oriented religious aspect. Called Pop?s Rebellion, in the 1670?s when the Jesuits tried to force their religion upon the Pueblo natives, they were met with a fierce and desperate resistance. The natives at the Pueblo tried to drive the Jesuits out of the region completely. Not until the mid 1740?s did the Spanish regain full control of the Rio Grande.

Disease enslavement, cruelty, and massacers by the English, Dutch, French and Spanish drastically reduced the Indian population in the 1800’s by five sixths the original population. For a while these settlers tried softer tactics. But ultimately, it was back to annhilation. As soon as the Indians became usless to furthering the causes in the best interest of the Europeans, they became expendable. They were mere obstacles in the way of progress. As Zinn put it; victims of progress. Ultimately their land was more valuable than their friendship.


Howard zinn

Pathways to the Present