What kind of relationship did the Colonists have with the Native Americans?
Captain John Smith:
Hailed as a strong leader of the failing Jamestown colony, he as a leader also should share responsibility for the grievous mistreatment of the local Native people
Captain Smith embraced the enslavement of Native people, including the practice of, "taking any woman or girl." Smith wrote admirably in 1624 of Columbus' tactics in plundering the West Indies, "...[The Spanish] forced the treacherous and rebellious infidels to do all manner of drudgery work and slavery for them, themselves living like soldiers upon the fruits of their labors." 31) 1)
The Jamestown colonists spent vast amounts of time digging random holes in the swampy ground the colony was situated on. Obsessed in their search for gold, in this most unlikely of spots, the Jamestown colonists found little time for planting crops or hunting.
Unable to feed themselves, the colonists raided Native settlements demanding food. They forcibly appropriated Native food stores and fields.
"I durst undertake to have corne enough from the Salvages for 300 men, for a few trifles. And if they should be untoward (as it is most certain they are) 30 or 40 good men will be sufficient to bring them all in subjection...." 31) -Captain John Smith-
So complete was their inability to support themselves that in-spite of this robbery of Native food supplies, they began to starve. So desperate were the colonists, that they resorted to digging up the dead bodies of Native people from their graveyards and engaged in cannibalism. 1) As a result of this appalling behavior, relations between the Jamestown colony and their Native neighbors, was less than friendly.
In 1623 the Jamestown colonists achieved the dubious distinction of being the first people to use chemical warfare on the North American continent. The colonists invited a leader named Chiskiak, his family and over two-hundred members of his band for a feast and treaty talks. Offering a toast of eternal friendship the colonists fed their guests poisoned food and drink. As these empty promises of peace and friendship echoed across the clearing Chiskiak, his family and his two-hundred followers, keeled over dead. 1) 73)
The Jamestown colonists were not the last European settlers that used poison to eliminate their Native neighbors. It became a common trick for armies and militias to leave in the field, poisoned food, in hopes that Native People would find it.
Captain Smith fabricated the story of Pocahontas saving his life. He conveniently waited until after the death of Pocahontas to tell this fanciful tall tale. The resulting story is one of the many falsehoods that Native People have had to endure over the ensuing centuries.
KING JAMES of ENGLAND:
Writing of the plague that befell the Native populace of the New World, King James gave thanks to Almighty God for sending, ".... this wonderful plague among the savages.."
PILGRIMS, PURITANS, CHRISTIANS, COLONISTS:
For many in mainstream America, the Pilgrim experience at Plymouth, the abandoned Native village of Pautuxet, marks a beginning. But for others, it marks the beginning of an end. As a rule, the Pilgrims were more scrupulous in dealing with their Native benefactors than those that followed, yet they did not shy from cheating, and swindling their hosts. The Pilgrims, as well as those that followed, engaged in grave robbing, 75). and used deadly force when it suited their needs, irrespective of the tenets and teachings of the Holy Scriptures. The Pilgrims quickly became absorbed into, and became part of, the greater monolith of European colonialism that crushed, exterminated, and exiled the First People of New England.
In 1636, eager to appropriate land belonging to the Pequot people, an alliance was formed with the Narragansett People. Surrounding a Peqout village on the site of present day Mystic, Connecticut, this force promptly set fire to the village and put to the sword all those that attempted escape. In an hours time seven were taken captive, seven escaped and between 600 to 700 lay dead. 31). 77).
William Bradford described the slaughter in these words, "It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire, and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stink and stench thereof; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice and they gave praise thereof to God." 1)
The Narragansetts were mortified at the slaughter and pleaded in vain to Captain John Underhill, "It is naught, it is naught, because it is too furious and slays too many men." 1) The humanitarian concerns of the Narragansetts were rebuked. And in their witnessing the slaughter of the Pequot, the Narragansetts saw a portent and vision of what would befall their people in a few short years at the hands of the rapidly expanding colonies.
Underhill would later justify the killing of women and children by quoting the Holy Bible, "Sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents." 31)
It was not enough to merely slaughter the Pequot people . Hoping to wipe their memory from history, laws were passed making it a crime to even utter the word Pequot. These efforts to shape history have only been partially successful. There are those that remember and are aware.
On December 19th 1675, six days before the celebration of Christmas, an armed force was lead into battle against the once friendly Wampanoag people, at the place that was to become known as, "The Great Swamp Massacre."
The Wampanoags were no longer willing to yield land to the rapidly growing colonies. This transgression would be dealt with forcefully. In the early morning hours this army attacked a sleeping village of mostly women, children, and old people. Setting fire to the village homes, and burning the Wampanoag people to death. Over 2000 Wampanoag People were slaughtered at this place.
One Christian soldier, sickened by the stench of burning flesh and horrified by the screams of the dying,, asked of his commander, "Is burning alive, men, women, and children, consistent with the benevolent principles of the Gospel?" 12).
Increase Mather rejoiced in his writing, that when survivors of this massacre "....came to see the ashes of their friends, mingled with the ashes of their fort.... where the English had been doing a good day's work, they Howl'd, they Roar'd, they Stamp'd, they tore their hair,.... and were the pictures of so many Devils in Desperation." 31)
The leader of the Wampanoag, Metacomet, a man the colonists called King Phillip, was killed shortly afterward. The body of Metacomet was drawn and quartered. Metacomet's severed head, was impaled on a iron spike which was driven into the ramparts of a bridge. This ghastly trophy remained upon the bridge for the next twenty years, a warning to those that might oppose the will and wishes of the Colonists. 12)
Those Wampanoag, unfortunate to be captured alive, were placed on a slave ship bound for the Bahama's and sold into slavery, yielding a handsome profit for the colonies. Metacomet's wife and children were among those sent into slavery. They were never to see their homeland again.
Many rationalize the wars between the colonists and their Native neighbors as conflicts that resulted from two cultures that did not understand one another. This thinking is often stated along with the idea that if the Native People would have just adapted to the "superior" culture of the European people then all conflict would have been mitigated.
Examination of the "Blue Laws," refutes this thinking.
The "Blue Laws" were designed not to "elevate" the Native People to the European concept of civilization but rather to reduce Native People to a level less than human. Among the various "Blue Laws" were statutes whose intent was to reduce social association of White and Native People.
Many within colonial communities, found the Native way of life more desirable than that of their own. These "converts" lived with and adopted the dress and life-ways of their Native neighbors. To eliminate this threat from within, the "Blue Laws" forbade the wearing of Native dress, they forbade the practice of Native spiritual belief by both White AND Native Peoples, it was forbidden to wear ones hair long in the fashion of the Native People. Those that were convicted of violating these laws could expect the death penalty. 31) 1)
But perhaps most telling of all, in part as a result of the legacy of the "Blue Laws", the Massachusetts legislature in 1789 passed a law that forbade the teaching of reading and writing to the Native People. Violators of this law were also subject to the penalty of death. 1)
Today America recoils in horror as it examines the religious extremism and intolerance of the Taliban legacy in Afghanistan. But we forget that we once had a Taliban in America, they were called Pilgrims, Puritans, and Colonists, and we honor and feast their memory each year at the holiday of Thanksgiving.
It is an ironic facet of the American Myth that the Pilgrims and Puritans are popularly held forth as an example of a people setting out in search of religious tolerance and cultural freedom. In truth these Europeans set out for a place were they would ultimately enforce their own version of religious, cultural and political correctness upon others.
While there was a degree of cultural misunderstanding between the colonists and their Native benefactors, the understanding that did exist was far more complete than many would have us believe.
But one conclusion is inescapable. The colonists understood that Native People stood in the way of their appropriation of land needed for expansion of the growing colonies. The Pilgrims, the Puritans, and their compatriots, like the other European people that followed them to America, would use any excuse, any method conceivable to take the land they desired.
1). "Lies My Teacher Told Me, " by James W. Loewen
12). "500 Nations" produced by Kevin Costner
31). "The Earth Shall Weep," by James Wilson
73). "Secrets of the Dead," Public Broadcasting System, 10/18/2006
75). "1491, -New Revalation of the Americas Before Columbus-," by Charles C. Mann
77). "The Native Americans," by David Hurst Thomas, Jay Miller, Richard White, Peter Nabokov, Philip J. Deloria with introduction by Alvin M. Josephy/ Turner Publishing 1993