Indians Confront the English

The English were relatively latecomers in the invasion and colonization of North America.

John Cabot explored the coasts of Maine and Nova Scotia in 1497 and 1498.

The first permanent English settlement was not founded until 1607 at Jamestown, VA.

But the English were not new to colonization, for since the Middle Ages England had cruelly colonized parts of Scotland, all of Wales, and had pushed into Ireland.

Many of the attitudes and ways of treating "heathen people" that the English developed in Ireland carried over into their dealings with Indians in America.

Also, Indian policies that the various English colonies and the British government developed over a century and a half of Indian relations established important precedents for later United States Indian policies.

For the Indians, however, relations with the English took place in a context of increasing warfare, as initially amicable relations broke down under intensifying pressure for Indian lands and gave way to open conflict.

Securing a Beachhead in Virginia

One of the first settlements in North America--at Roanoke Island off Virginia in 1585-88--seems to have been destroyed after the English alienated the local Indians.

Anglo-Indian relations in Virginia followed a similar course after the establishment of Jamestown.

Many of the settlers at Jamestown were soldiers of fortune expecting to win great riches in their enterprise, not farmers who knew how to extract a modest living from the land.

Half the settlers died in the first year."

Few in number, and evidently inept in their new environment, the English cannot have seemed much of a threat to the local Indians,

Who were members of the powerful Powhatan chiefdom that embraced some thirty tribes and extended across most of eastern Virginia.

The Indians supplied corn to the colonists and the paramount chief, Powhatan, seems to have tried to incorporate the English into his domain.

John Smith, the leader of the colonists, recalled several years later how he was captured by the Indians in December 1607 and saved from execution by Powhatan's daughter, Pocahontas, "a child of twelve or thirteen years of age."

Pocahontas threw her body across his "at the minute of my execution."

Smith's account has become legendary perpetuated in history books and Disney movies for its romantic impact rather than its accuracy.

In fact, if the events occurred as Smith described them, Pocahontas was most likely performing a prescribed role in a standard ritual by which Powhatan could adopt Smith and make him a werowance, or subordinate chieftain."

But Smith was not interested in becoming a secondary leader.

Rather, he looked to Spanish experiences in Mexico as his guide to dealing with Indians.

The English began to demand and seize corn.

"What will it avail you to take that by force you may quickly have by love, or destroy them that provide you food?" asked Powhatan in bewilderment.31

Tensions increased as the English expanded up the James River.

After Smith left the colony in 1609, fighting broke out between Indians and English.

Pocahontas seems to have played an intermediary role between Indians and colonists, and her marriage to John Rolfe, one of the colonists, in 1613 helped restore peace.

She traveled to England with him, only to die there in 1617 as her ship was about to leave for America.

In recent findings from analyses of cypress tree growth rings indicate that English attempts to establish colonies at Roanoke and Jamestown occurred during one of the worst droughts ever to affect that area.

In 1622, Powhatan's brother Opechancanough led Indians in what the English called "the Virginia massacre";

four hundred colonists died.

But the Indians were unable to drive the English away.

The colonists retaliated and kept up pressure on Indian lands.

War broke out again in 1644, and the English captured and killed the aged and now blind Opechancanough.

In 1676, without permission from the governor of Virginia, Nathaniel Bacon, an English aristocrat who had come to America three years earlier, led a series of attacks on Indians in the colony.

Bacon coerced the Virginia House of Burgesses into appointing him commander-in chief in the Indian war, but the governor of Virginia declared Bacon a rebel and Bacon's Rebellion" collapsed when he died soon after in October 1676.

As a result of the rebellion, several small reservations--the first in the present United States were established for the survivors of the tribes that had once comprised the powerful Powhatan chiefdom.

Making a New England

In New England, the English adventurer Sir Humphrey Gilbert dreamed of establishing a colony in the region of Maine, which he called Norumbega, in the 1580s, but died at sea before any of his ambitions could be realized.

Several English expeditions skirted the coast of Maine in the first decade of the seventeenth century, trading with the Indians and, on occasion, kidnapping and fighting with them.

In 1707, the English established a short-lived colony at Sagadahoc at the mouth of the Kennebec River in Maine.

In 1614, John Smith voyaged to the region, produced a detailed map of the area, and renamed it: from Norumbega, or North Virginia, it became New England.

Permanent English settlement in New England began when the Pilgrims

settled north of Cape Cod in 1620 and established Plymouth Colony.

They found the coast of Massachusetts depopulated by an epidemic that had ravaged the area between 1616 and 1619.

God, so the Pilgrims believed, had prepared the way for their coming by sending a plague among the Indians.

Fewer than half the Pilgrims survived their first winter in America, but God seemed to offer help again when, early in the spring,

A certain Indian came boldly amongst them and spoke to them in broken English, which they could well understand, and marvelled at it

The Indian was Samoset, an Abenaki from Maine who had been brought to Cape Cod on an English ship and learned the language from the sailors.

Samoset introduced the Pilgrims to Squanto, a local Patuxet indian who had been captured, taken to Spain, traveled to England and then back home, only to find his people wiped out by disease.

Squanto helped the Pilgrims adjust to their new world; he showed them how to plant corn and where to fish, and functioned as interpreter and intermediary in their dealings with the local Indians.

He was, Said Governor William Rradford of Plymouth, "a spetiall instrument sent of God."3'

In 1621, Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoags of southern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, made a treaty of peace and friendship with the Pilgrims.

The English presence in New England grew when in 1629, the Crown chartered the Massachusetts Bay Colony and more than 20,000 English colonists arrived over the next fourteen years.

Boston was founded in 1630 and was soon ringed by English towns inland.

As English settlers arrived at an increasing rate, Indian people found themselves pushed off their lands, deprived of game, and cheated in trade.

Smallpox struck the Indians of New England in 1633-34.

On the Connecticut River, wrote William Bradford,"it pleased God to visite these Indeans with a great sickness, and such a mortalitie that of a 1000. above 900. and a halfe of them dyed, and many of them did rott above ground for want of buriall.""

The Pequot Indians of southern Connecticut suffered appalling losses in the epidemic.

Two years later, the English went to war against them.

The Pequots were a once powerful people whose location at the mouth of the Connecticut River allowed them to control the region's trade in wampum--strings of shells used in intertribal trade and diplomacy.

The Pequot war has been a source of controversy among historians:

some blame the Pequots;

others see it as an act of genocide on the part of the English.

A recent scholar of the conflict concludes that it was "the messy outgrowth of petty squabbles over trade, tribute, and land" among various Indian tribes, Dutch traders, and English Puritans.

The Puritans, however, transformed it into a mythic struggle between savagery and civilization.

A Puritan army broke Pequot resistance in a surprise attack on their main village in 1637.

Surrounding the palisaded village, the soldiers put the Pequots' lodges to the torch.

William Bradford described the ensuing slaughter:

Those that scaped the fire were slaine with the sword; some hewed to peeces, others rune throw with their rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatchte, and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400. at this time. It was a fearfull sight to see them thus frying in the fryer, and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stinck of sente therof; but the victory seemed a sweete sacrifice, and they gave the prays thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to inclose their enimise in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enimie."

The English hunted down the survivors, executing some, selling women and children into slavery, and handing over others to the Mohegans and Narragansetts who had assisted the English in the war,

With the Treaty of Hartford in 1638, the English terminated Pequot sovereignty and outlawed the use of the tribal name.

In the 1640s, the Dutch in New York inflicted similar crushing defeats on the Indians of the lower Hudson valley and Long Island.

In Massachusetts, meanwhile, the Puritan missionary John Eliot worked to convert the Indians to Christianity, gathering converts into "praying towns" where they were expected to give up Indian ways and live like their Christian English neighbors.

Eliot even translated the Bible into the Algonquian language for his Indian congregations.

Indian people embraced Christianity in varying degrees and for a variety of reasons.

Some found it offered hope and strength in a world that seemed to be unraveling under the impact of disease, alcohol, and escalating violence.

For some, Christian services and prayers replaced or supplemented traditional rituals that provided no protection against diseases new to them.

Some found in a Christian community, even in Eliot's rigidly regulated praying towns escape from English racism and turmoil in their own villages.

In the praying town of Natick, Massachusetts, for example, individuals and families from several different tribal groups rebuilt a community within their southeastern New England homeland."

Algonquian women sometimes found that Christianity honored their traditional roles and gave them an opportunity to learn to read and write.

Many Indians blended elements of old and new religions, invested Christian messages and rituals with native meanings, and made Christianity an Indian religion.

Christianity, for some, was a strategy of survival.

King Philip's War

After Massasoit made peace with the English in 1621,he worked to preserve it.

Colonists and Indians became, to a degree, economically interdependent.

Even the Puritan war against the Pequots of Connecticut in 1636-37 did not spill over into conflict with the Wampanoags.

Indians and English managed for a time to share the same world.

But Puritans held to the belief that indians were heathen savages and continued to trespass on Indian lands.

Relations rapidly deteriorated after Massasoit's death in 1661.

His son, Wamsutta, whom the English called Alexander, continued his father's policy of selling lands to the English,

but in 1662, fearing they could not control the young sachem, the Plymouth colonists brought Wamsutta to Plymouth at gunpoint for questioning.

Wamsutta was ill, and the colonists released him but kept his two sons as hostages.

The ordeal proved too much for the leader, and he died on the way home.

Many Wampanoags believed the Puritans had poisoned their sachem.

Wamsutta's younger brother, Metacomet (called King Philip by the English), now became the leader of his people at a critical juncture.

The Puritans continued to encroach on Wampanoag land and to assert their judicial authority over Indian actions.

Indian hunters found themselves being arrested and jailed for "trespassing" on lands the English now claimed as their own.

As the Indians displayed growing resentment, the colonists in l671 demanded that Metacomet surrender the Wampanoags' weapons.

Metacomet was backed into a corner: "I am determined not to live until I have no country:' he said.

The Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoags squared off for a fight.

Rumors of impending war flew through the settlements.

In December 1674, John Sassamon, a Christian Indian, reported to Plymouth governor John Winslow that Metacomet was preparing for war.

The next month, Sassamon was found under the ice of a pond with a broken neck.

In June, the Puritans seized three Wampanoags and charged them with Sassamon's murder.

The evidence was flimsy but a Plymouth jury found the men guilty and executed them. (Indians sat on the jury but they had no vote.)

It was the first time the English had executed an Indian for a crime committed against another Indian.

Metacomet began to forge a multitribal coalition, and Indians and colonists steeled themselves for war.

An Indian was shot as he ransacked a colonist's house; a party of Indians retaliated by killing a colonist and his son.

Meta comet withdrew from his home in present-day Rhode Island at Montaup, or Mount Hope to the English, and took refuge with Wetamoo, the "squaw sachem" of the Pocassets and widow of Wamsutta.

Some indians faced difficult decisions and divided loyalties as the impending war threatened to sever ties they had built with English neighbors over the previous generation.

Wetamoo seems to have been reluctant to commit to war but many of her warriors rallied to Metacomet, as did most Nipmucks in central Massachusetts.

Awashunkes, squaw sachem of the Sakonnets of Rhode Island, put her people under the protection of the Plymouth colony.

The Mohegan sachem, Uncas, supported the Enlish as he had in the Pequot War as a way of preserving Mohegan autonomy and enhancing his own position.40

The powerful Narragansetts Declared their intention to remain neutral,

and many of Metacomet's followers sent their women and children to take refuge with them.

Many Christian Indians supported the English but fearing all Indians, the colonists incarcerated even the Christian Indians from John Eliot's praying towns

Scattered acts of violence escalated into the brutal conflict known as King Philip's War.

Metacomet's warriors ambushed English militia companies and burned English towns.

In November 1675, the English declared war against the Narragansetts, interpreting their offer of sanctuary to noncombatants from other tribes as an act of hostility.

The next month, an English army of more than a thousand men marched through deep snow and attacked the main Narragansett stronghold near Kingston, Rhode Island.

Hundreds of Narragansett men, women, and children died in what became known as the Great Swamp Fight.

An Englishman, Toshua Tefft, who had an Indian wife and was in the Narragansett stronghold t the time of the attack, was captured, hanged, and quartered by the puritans

The surviving Narragansetts joined Metacomet's war of resistance·

Both sides suffered terribly that winter from cold and hunger.

English homes lay in ruins and fields lay barren.

Puritan ministers thundered from pulpits that the war was God's way of punishing his sinful people.

Disease broke out in the Indian camps.

Metacomet tried to broaden the conflict by bringing in the Mahicans and Abenakis;

Governor Edmund Andros of New York prevailed upon the Mohawks to attack Metacomet's army in its winter camps, a devastating blow to the Wampanoag alliance which now found itself fighting on two fronts.


In February 1676, the Indians attacked and burned Lancaster, Massachusetts.

They took two dozen prisoners, including Mary Rowlandson, who later produced a narrative of her experience as a captive with Metacomet's army as the war was slipping away from the Indians.42

The tribal coalition was falling apart and Indian resistance was faltering.

In April, the colonists captured the Narragansett sachem Canonchet and handed him over to their Mohegan allies for execution·

In May, Captain William Turner attacked an Indian encampment at Peskeompscut, now Turner's Falls, Massachusetts, where families had gathered for springtime fishing on the Connecticut River.

Surprising the Indians at dawn, Turner's men killed hundreds of people.

Captain Benjamin Church, effectively applying Indian tactics of guerrilla warfare, harried Metacomet's remaining followers.

That summer, he captured Metacomet's wife, Wootonekanuska, and nine-year-old son and sent them to Plymouth for trial;

they were probably sold as slaves in the West Indies.

On the night of August 11, Church and his men, including some Indian allies, caught up with Metacomet

Jolted from sleep, Metacomet ran for safety but was shot and killed.

The Church ordered Metacomet's head cut off and his body cut into quarters.

Even after the leader's death, the war continued along the coast of Maine, but Indian power and independence in southern New England were broken.

Many indians fled north, joining Abenakis in Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire and aiding with the French in future conflicts against the English who had driven them from their homelands

The war left a searing impression on New England and a bitter legacy for Anglo-Indian relations.

Within the five-year period 1675-80, Indian peoples in New England and New Mexico fought wars of independence against Europeans who had invaded and had begun colonizing their homelands

In both instances, the Indians scored impressive victories.

But the defeat of those resistance movements marked the end of a phase:

on both sides of the continent, Europeans had weathered their most severe test and secured their beachheads

By the end of the seventeenth century the outposts of New France dotted the shores of the St. Lawrence, the Great Lakes, and the Mississippi.

New Spain included Florida and New Mexico.

New Netherland had fallen to the English.

English colonists had settled from New England to Georgia.

African slaves were being shipped to American ports to provide labor for colonial agriculture.

Throughout most of North America, Indian peoples followed their ancient cycles of life without disruption,

But European people, European animals, and European diseases were

infiltrating North America.

Europeans were a permanent presence, and colonial America was being established in Indian America.