July 17, 2001


Early Relationship with Europeans

For the British, economics was the absolute motivating force for their involvement in the New World, and it also determined their relations with the Indians.

In 1585, a number of Britons thought it might be worthwhile for Britain to extend its interests into America. The Spanish, who had been on the brink of collapse, were becoming disgustingly wealthy from American gold. In fact, they had become something of a world power, leading to the comment that "when Spain moves, the Earth trembles."

England at this time was in difficulty. It was fourth in Military power in Europe, behind Spain, France and Holland. There had been religious conflict in the country during the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Philip II of Spain frequently threatened invasion, a threat that was quite real. (Presumably his invasion would be on religious grounds.) Britain’s national survival was very much at stake.

Many thought that America was the place where Britain could find wealth, regain her status as a world power, and challenge the Spanish. Among those who proposed this was Sir Walter Raleigh, a proponent of expansion into North America.

Among his other worthy attributes which might recommend him, Raleigh was apparently a "personal favorite" of Queen Elizabeth I. It is commonly believed they had a long-term sexual relationship.

Elizabeth I was unwilling to commit Government funds to such an endeavor. Treasury funds were low, and numerous internal improvements were needed. As a result, she agreed to a venture in America, but specifically stated that it must be privately funded. No government funding. This was quite different from the Spanish endeavor, which was completely funded by the government.

Raleigh raised money for the expedition which set out in 1585, but he did not make the trip himself; he stayed home in England to "take care of business."

The expedition landed at Roanoke Island off the N.C. Coast. Their motive was completely economic. There was no religious motivation whatsoever. They had four goals:

A. Find Gold. They had seen how Spain had gotten rich off American gold, and had become powerful and capable of invading England. They wanted to level the playing field.

B. Establish a base of operations from which they could raid Spanish shipping. A number of seamen, notably Sir Frances Drake, who called themselves Sea Dogs, had been doing this for some time. For their efforts, they got a percentage of the take, and the difference went into the royal coffers. Their position in N.C. would give them a base of operations.

C. Find a Northwest Passage to the Orient. They still had no concept of the magnitude of the American continent; still believed that one river along the way would lead them to it.

D. Secure resources vital to the British economy. Other than Gold, they hoped also to send back fish, lumber, and crops, maybe even minerals.

The Settlers first encountered the Croatoan Indians, and there was trouble almost from the start. The Indians greeted the settlers warmly, in keeping with traditional Indian cultural traits. Sadly, the British were strictly business, they wanted to get to the wealth of the area as quickly as possible, and frankly didn’t care what it took to get it. They had no intention of cozying up to the Indians; they were there to do a job, as it were.

The settlers at Roanoke were all of the "gentlemen" class, who were not used to manual labor, and had no intention of getting their hands dirty. They were there for the goodies, not to work for them. They couldn’t fish, plant, or build; and frankly had no interest in doing so. They simply wanted to get the goodies. Sadly, they exploited the kindness of the Indians and insisted that the Indians work for them. The Indians were by nature willing to help them, but they wanted the Indians to do all the work.

When the supplies brought on ship had run out, the settlers were wholly dependent upon the Indians for food, etc. Although the Indians didn’t mind helping, it soon became apparent that the settlers were first class moochers. The British also decided that since the Indians were not Christians, they were nothing but heathen primitives, and therefore by right should work for the settlers, particularly the lesser, more demeaning work.

The settlement was abandoned, and the settlers sailed back to England, except for 15 who stayed behind. A second expedition landed in 1587, and the 15 who stayed had all vanished. The Indians insisted they had no knowledge of what had happened to them.

The settlers who arrived in 1587 were skilled laborers, but still insisted that the Indians furnish manual labor. This caused problems.

The leader of the colony, one John White, went back to England but got caught up in a war with Spain, and couldn’t get back. When he did get back in 1590, the settlers and the Indians had both vanished without a clue. Hence the "lost colony."

There is no question but that there was tension. The English tried to exploit the Indians for labor, depended upon them for food, were on the whole very disagreeable and exploitive.

No other settlement was attempted by Britain until 1607, at Jamestown. It was set up by the London Company, a private concern, funded by private investors, whose motive was profit, pure and simple. It was a corporate initiative, whose sole purpose was economic return.

Interestingly, Jamestown was outside the Jurisdiction of King James I. He himself agreed to this. It was a free economic community.

John Smith led the company, but he was actually on loan from the Government, as he was a military man. He was told not to irk the Indians, to get permission from them to settle, and to ask for help in finding gold.

When the company landed, they were ambushed by the Chesapeake Indians. At least one man was killed. After that, they sailed 40 miles up the James River before settling.

Upon settling, they were met by the Pumunkey Indians, and their Chief, Powhatan. Powhatan had established a confederation of several tribes which went by his name, were called the Powhatan Indians. The major members of the confederation were the Pumunkey, Gingaskins, Nottaway, and Chickahominy Indians.

Smith did as he was told, and asked permission from the Indians to settle on the land. There are two arguments as to why Powhatan agreed. Historians are unsure why he did so; there are two schools of thought:

· Powhatan openly welcomed the settlement. This would have been in keeping with traditional Indian values. These historians also note that Powhatan attacked the Chesapeake Indian village and destroyed it; and took Smith along as an observer. This could be retribution for the attack on the Englishmen when they landed at the harbor. Also, Powhatan promised to supply food during the winter, when supplies were limited.

· Others say that Powhatan’s attitude was more one of watchful waiting. He attacked the Chesapeakes to demonstrate to the English just what he could do if need be. "Don’t cross us, or else." Also, that he said that he might furnish food when needed, but made no promises; it was more of a "we’ll see" attitude.

By 1607 – 1608, there was trouble everywhere. The Settlers of Jamestown were also of the Gentlemen class, and expected the Indians to do manual work for them. Their motivation also was primarily self-interest.

John Smith had sailed the 40 miles up the James not so much to get away from the Cheasapeakes as to look for the Northwest Passage. They still believed that somewhere along there, they would find it.

The settlers were unable to care for themselves; their shacks were poorly constructed and their planting practices were for crapp. They were very dependent upon the Indians. This angered Powhatan, as the food he gave to the settlers took away food from his own village.

By the end of the first year, over half the settlers had died; but very few died as a result of conflict with the Indians. Those who did died because they had tried to steal Indian food.

By spring, 1609, Powhatan was not pleased, but opted to continue waiting, see what happened. BUT, suddenly 400 more settlers suddenly showed up from England; all bent on an economic goal: get rich as quickly as possible.

John Smith was injured, and had to return home to England. He had ruled with a pretty iron hand, but now the colony lost this, which it really needed. Without Smith, the winter of 1608-09 was known as the Starving Time. During this time, the setters stole food from the Indians, and the Indians retaliated. To protect themselves against Indian attack, the setters barricaded themselves inside the palisade, and all but 60 of them died.

The settlers trampled through Indian crops, etc. looking for wealth, and disrupted both Indian crops and hunting. They stole Indian food, some were killed by Indians as a result; and all of this caused great tension.

Tension eased in 1614 when John Rolfe, a skilled agrarian, traveled to the area. He learned Indian farming, and was guided on a tour of the area by Pocahontas, Powhatan’s daughter.

Rolfe soon determined that Tobacco was the product of choice for the area. Virginia tobacco was milder and sweeter than the tobacco the Spanish had brought to Europe. He decided that by improving relations with the Indians, he might get them to work for him growing tobacco. This was still economic gain as a goal; it was not due to any magnanimous gestures on his part; he, like the rest of them, wanted to get as rich as possible, as quickly as possible, with as little effort as possible.

Rolfe married Pocahontas, pretty much to seal the deal. It was not one of these "love at first sight" relationships; she was only 14 – 16 at the time, and he was 34 – 35. It appeared to be more of a political marriage of convenience. Rolfe felt that this way he could seal his relationship with the Indians. This was the old European method: marry.

It had worked for Spain. The Empire was formed when Ferdinand of Aragon married Isabella of Castile; again, a political marriage of convenience, not a love affair. European history is littered with political marriages; the union of two great houses, so to speak.

Of course, before Rolfe could marry Pocahontas, she had to become a Christian; so she converted, and was baptized, and given the Christian name of Rebecca (a good biblical name.) It is doubtful if she understood the meaning of conversion, but all sources indicate that she did care very much for Rolfe. Powhatan also approved of the marriage.

Rolfe took some of the tobacco to England, where it was a big hit. This was as close to striking oil as he was going to get. He was sent back to Virginia and told to instruct the people there to plant tobacco. Sadly, Pocahontas became ill in London, and died on a ship in the river Thames that had set sail to return her to Virginia. The Indians were thoroughly ticked off at her death.

The profit factor, particularly from tobacco, was quite real. This brought even more settlers to Jamestown. The Company gave 50 acres to anyone who went over; which increased one’s social status, as he was a landowner. Tobacco was also a substantial cash crop. This attracted thousands of people, who began spreading North and South along the James River planting tobacco.

The Powhatan Indians could neither resist nor retreat. Powhatan himself wanted to maintain good relations with the Europeans, but was not happy. He does see some benefit to his people in trade. He again is biding his time, but dies in 1619. His brother, Opechancanough, succeeds him as leader.

The new leader has had enough, and in 1622 convinces members of the Powhatan confederacy to throw the Europeans off the land. Jamestown was attacked in 1622, and 347 settlers killed during a single raid. This was 25% of the total Jamestown population.

Thousands of Englishmen kept coming; by 1615, 14,000 had made the trip, but only 1,000 or so survived. It had become a death mill; which is possibly one reason why Powhatan had decided to take a wait/see attitude: let them die off on their own. Something else was doing the killing for him.

There is great mystery as to what killed the settlers. One Historian, Tom Breen says that salt poisoning killed them off. Salt water from the ocean washed into the James River, 40 miles up the coast. The earth’s rotation caused the salt to wash against the north bank of the river where the settlement was located. (There was no salt accumulation on the South Bank, so the settlement would have thrived had it been built there; pure accident of chance.) One could not taste the salt, but there was sufficient accumulation to cause salt poisoning.

One modern historian is pursuing the theory that the settlers were poisoned with Arsenic; with something called rat’s bane, a rat poison in use at the time. His argument was that a closet Catholic was doing the poisoning, to make sure that the Protestant colony failed. Prof Townsend discounts this; he says that Jamestown colony was not religiously oriented; and arsenic could show from a number of sources.

The Indian raid that killed so many was a one-time event. Opechancanough thought that it would prove his point, and the settlers would take the hint and hall ass. He didn’t know the English, however. Retribution; revenge was important to them (as it was to the Indians). That had to do something to get even.

Additionally, Opechancanough didn’t consider the economic imperative. The English were making a humongous profit off tobacco, which kept people coming, who kept planting more tobacco. It was a sort of "there’s gold in them thar hills" philosophy.

The amount of tobacco shipped in several years illustrates the point:

1614 1000 pounds

1620 2 million pounds

1630 5 million pounds

NONE of the Southern colonies were founded for the purpose of religious freedom; all were based on the economic imperative; make money, and lots of it. As long as there was money to be made, the Indians would be pushed aside.

An attack in 1622 sealed the Indians fate. The House of Burgesses of the colony then demanded that the crown rule the colony, and take it away from the London Company. This would make it a royal colony, and extent British government rule there. It would also compel the government to send troops to protect the colonists.

The government agreed to do so at this point as it could also make a profit. It could tax the profits from the colonies and the colonists regulate trade and commerce, etc. Again, the motive was purely economic. This decision spelled doom for the Indians, however.

In 1644, Opechananough sees the Indians losing ground, and decides to go down swinging. He was too old to walk so he was carried to the battlefield on a stretcher. There was a series of battles, end result of which, 500 settlers and soldiers were killed, and 1000 Indians killed.

Opechananough died soon after this, and the Indians accepted defeat. The Jamestown government established a treaty with the Powhatan confederation, which was the first Major treaty with the Indians in the U.S. It established a reservation for the Indians, land dedicated to them, which presumably they could not leave. The Government promised to protect the Indians from settlers coming onto Indian land as well as from other Indians; but the Indians must agree to obey English law, and pay a tribute in food and furs every year.

The terms of this treaty are still honored, although more of tradition and ceremony than anything else. Every Thanksgiving, the local Powhatan leader presents to the governor of Virginia a turkey, etc.

New England

The Pilgrims (actually called Separatists) had been chased out of England by James I. They believed that they were anointed by God, and that goods word was infallible. They broke with the Church of England, and openly orally criticized James and the church. This was both treason and heresy.

James I chased them out of England, and they had settled in Holland. Thousands of them lived there, and things were OK for them; but a group of them decided to move to Jamestown. In 1619, 35 of them (approx 90 – 100 with women and children) set sail for Jamestown aboard the Mayflower. They were blown off course by an Atlantic storm, and landed 900 miles North of Jamestown in Massachusetts in November 1620.

The Indians knew about the Separatists, but were undecided. Should they wipe them out now, or wait and see what would happen? The Indians knew of Englishmen from fishermen, who had landed onshore to dry their catch. They had brought diseases (including Plague), which had by this time already killed off half the Indian population. They also knew about the French.

The Indians decided to wait, and see how many settlers survived the winter. As it were, by the end of the winter of 1620 –21, half of them were dead.

Spring, 1621, an Indian named Tisquantum (the Pilgrims called him Squanto) initiated dialogue with them. He had been kidnapped by English fishermen and taken to England, but had managed to escape and get back home (who knows how?). He spoke English and could converse with them.

The Indians soon learned that the Pilgrims were not a threat. They knew they were outnumbered, and were dependent on the Indians. Also, the Indians knew they could trade for tools and other goodies.

No attempt was made by the Pilgrims to convert the Indians to Christianity. The relationship became quite amiable, almost like family, with each side respecting, possibly with some affection, for the other.

BUT all this changed in 1630 when the Puritans arrived. They also came for economic game, not religious freedom. The fur, fish, and lumber of the area attracted them.

The Puritans had something of a religious motive, but they did NOT come for religious freedom. The Puritans comprised half the English population at that point in time and held half the seats of Parliament. They had all the religious freedom they wanted in England.

They did believe, however, that religion in England had become so corrupt and immoral that it could only survive if they carried it off into the wilderness, and started a "new Zion," in the new world. Literally, they wanted to start over and build God’s kingdom on earth.

The Puritans tried to force religion on the Indians. No more Pilgrim separatists came, so the population was absorbed by the Puritans. They considered "unfortunate heathens," who could be improved, civilized by conversion.

The Puritans came en masse; whole communities came and brought with them replicas of their homes, even their villages in England, and planned to rebuild exact replicas whenever possible.

They were hard working people, not the gentlemen class, and were largely self sufficient, not dependent upon the Indians, but they were determined to spread the word of God among them.

A number of them, notably Roger Williams, agreed to purchase the land from the Indians. There were several thousand people now, but they were still outnumbered by the Indians. They decided the best policy was not to anger them. They felt that working with them rather than exploiting them would be the best policy. Roger Williams saw a moral imperative; it would be wrong not to deal fairly with them.

The Puritans established laws for dealing with the Indians in land transactions. They fined those who tried to take land without legitimate concessions to the Indians, and agreed to compensate the Indians for the land. They also did not attempt to force the Indians to work for them. In this respect, they were different from Jamestown, but they still wanted to convert the Indians to Christianity.

In the period 1630 – 50, the colony grew. Sixty thousand Puritans arrived and spread out. They also brought diseases, which further complicated life for the Indians. The Puritans continued to attempt to force Christianity upon the Indians, which the Indians resented.

In 1635, two Puritan merchants were killed. There is no written record, but they apparently were waylaid and stabbed. The Pequot Indians were accused of the murders. The merchants had been known to be scoundrels, still, it was felt that one just couldn’t let a bunch of heathen savages kill god-fearing white men. There was no proof that any Indian, especially the Pequot, were responsible for the murders, but it was excuse enough.

As revenge, 100 Puritans attacked the nearest Pequot village and wiped it out. War broke out as a result in 1645 – 37. It ended when 30 Puritans attacked a Pequot village at night, and killed over 500 men, women and children.

Said one participant in the attack: "We had sufficient light from the Word of God, and sent many heathens to hell."

The Pequot were forced to move. Also the Puritans passed Indian laws; basically no Indian could be sold liquor or firearms. They also developed a system for mass conversion of the Indians.

The puritans had a mixed attitude about the Indians. The issue: were they [the Indians] capable of conversion to Christianity? Could they be made to understand the word of God? Some said yes, they were like children, and need only be educated; others said no, they were the children of Satan, and should be sent to hell where they belonged.

Approximately 1638, a semi-reservation was set up for the Indians near New Haven, Connecticut. Twelve hundred acres was set aside for the Indians. They were told if they stayed on the land they would be protected; but that the Puritans would try to spread the word of God, and the Indians must accept it; even spread it themselves.

There was no law establishing that the land was reserved for Indian use. The objective was purely religious, to establish a "Praying Town." Indians who stayed there would be known as "Praying Indians," which would remove them from Satan’s power, they would be inculcated with Christian values, and also taught English.

The idea was to "take the Indian out of the Indian," teach him English, have him wear English clothing, use English language, etc.

Some idiot named John Elliot actually translated the Bible into the Algonquin language. Harvard University, founded in 1636 {solely for the purpose of training and educating ministers}, established an Indian College, where the Indians could pursue religious instruction. The plan was to turn out Indian missionaries. Only one Indian actually graduated.

In 1640, an Office of Indian Affairs was established to civilize and Christianize the Indians. By 1675, every Puritan community had a praying town. A rather large one was established at Martha’s Vineyard. However, for all their efforts, only about 2,000 Indians indicated that they had become Christian; and some of those probably did so in name only. {An exceptionally poor showing.}

The Puritans were probably sincere, just overly zealous and intensely religious. It was these same people that conducted the Salem Witch Trials of 1692; and they made it clear that they wanted no one but Puritans in their communities. (See Boorstin’s comments.) They also firmly held to the concept of the "Elect," those who were going to make it to heaven were pre-determined.

Puritan conduct was completely at odds with events in the South. To the Puritans, religion was a dominant element in determining white/Indian relations. They wanted to get rid of all heathen practices to insure the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. Economics was an incentive, but not in the sense that it was in Jamestown.

Europe had an insatiable desire for beaver pelts, as well as fox and otter. It was used for hats, gloves, trims on garments, etc. Deerskin was also used for leather pants, bookbinding, etc. The fur and hide trade brought incredible profits to traders.

In 1626, the Iroquois Indians delivered 8,000 beaver and otter pelts and hides to the British in New York.

In 1658, 32 years later, the same Indians delivered 46, 000 pelts. In Quebec, French traders and trappers in 1628 delivered 25,000 pelts. At first, the Hurons delivered 10,000 pelts per year; by 1640, they were supplying 30,000 per year.

This was in the NORTH; so economics was important, but not as important as in the South.

Between 1700 – 1715, Charleston merchants received an average of 54,ooo pelts per year for shipment to Europe. By 1720, the Creeks alone supplied 80,0000 pelts from the area between Charleston and Savannah. Between 1739-1759, the Cherokee Indians alone supplied 1,25 million deer hides, not to mention beaver, otter, and other animal hide.

This represented an atrocious amount of killing. It would be impossible for the Indians to consume that amount of meat; the meat was left to rot; they were simply after the hides to trade.

Pelts and hides were a major source of wealth for English merchants, but were also important to the Indians as a source of trade goods. They could get almost anything they wanted from the English for pelts.

Important Quote: One Indian said, "The beaver supplies us with everything."

In return for pelts and hides, the Indians received a variety of tools, etc. which made work easier for them. European tools were typically metallic, were stronger and more durable than Indian tools. The items they bought included (but was not limited to) knives, kettles, pots, hoes, swords, hammers, needles, thread, even fish hooks.

They also received cloth from Europe. European textiles dried more quickly, was lighter than animal hides, plus they liked the cotton material. It was more easily cut and designed.

Indians of the Carolinas northward had had no knowledge of cotton and cotton materials. This had been limited to the Indians of the Southwest.

The Indians particularly liked guns. It conveyed respect to the Indians, particularly upon the one who carried one. Of course, when they got guns, they needed gunpowder and musket balls also.

They were also particularly fond of alcohol, particularly the buzz that it gave them. They purposely got drunk, as this made them braver and reduced their inhibitions.

They also traded for mirrors, beads; almost anything made in Europe was of interest to the Indians. All of this traded for fur.

No wonder that idiot said "the beaver provides us everything.

Big Problem: This created dependency among the Indians for European made goods, and thus they became dependent upon the Europeans.

The Europeans appreciated the benefit of having Indians dependent upon them. The profit for them was unreal. The profit motive was a major incentive. With dependency, one could always jack up the price whenever he wished.

As long as Indians were supplied with goodies, they supplied hides, furs, etc., without regard to damage to their culture.

Over time, the Indians became dependent on European goods. This process took time; over 100 years, but over time, the Indians tended to forget their traditional cultural skills, survival methods and skills, etc. used by their ancestors.

Self-sufficiency had been very important to the Indians. Suddenly, they were dealing with merchants, and were at the mercy of the merchants, who could double the price if they so wished; the Indians had no choice but to buy from them.

The Indians were also dependent upon the Animal population. The overkill of animals for furs and hides tended to damage their meat supply, and therefore their diet. They often traded hides to traders that they would have used to keep warm, so suddenly they had no furs, hides of their own from which to make clothing for winter.

They did not realize it, of course, but the Indians were dancing with the Devil. They were playing into the hands of European merchants who could manipulate them as they wished, with abandon.

The fur trade actually undermined the Indians agrarian base. They traded for food with the Europeans, and thereby depended less upon farming.

They were also willing to supply almost anything that the traders wanted. The Yemassee Indians of the Charleston area completely depleted the supply of forbearing animals around Charleston, S.C. When they could no longer trade furs, the traders told them to secure other human beings who could be traded as slaves. The Yemassee then turned on the Tuscarora Indians and captured a number of them who were taken to traders to be sold into slavery in the West Indies.

Dependency led to inter-tribal warfare often. When furs are gone from one’s own area, one went into neighbor’s territory and hunted there. This caused inter-tribal warfare often, and actually reduced some of the Indian population.

This helped Europeans get rid of a sizeable portion of Indian population, and let other Indians do the dirty work for them. The warfare between the Yemassee and Tuscarora Indians caused the Tuscarora to leave the Carolinas and resettle in upstate New York.

Dependency often led the Indians to become indebted to the traders. Traders were more than happy to extend credit to the Indians, and if the fur/hide supply was not sufficient to pay the debt, they could think of other ways. Indians were basically honest, and paid their debts. If they could not pay in hides or furs, they might agree to fight alongside the Europeans or serve as scouts.

The more dependent they Indians became upon European traders, the less stable relations between tribes became. They became more dependent on meat/hunting than on planting, and also were forced to serve as scouts.

Additionally, the traders, particularly the English, plied them with alcohol, would get them drunk, and could then easily swindle them, often out of land.

Dependency became a critical factor. It worked well for the British, but also for the American Government which later used the concept of dependency in the 1800’s and early 1900’s.