From the earliest days of the United States, westward moving settlers came into conflict with Native Americans. Government policy was to purchase Native land and, in return, grant tribes land further west, hopefully out of the way of white settlers. This excerpt from President Andrew Jackon’s 1830 State of the Union address is typical of white American attitudes toward Native Americans during this period.
The Erie Canal, new roads, and increased governmental organization allowed and encouraged migration westward beginning in the first decades of the 1800s.
Throughout the 1790s and early 1800s the United States sought to organize territory in the west. Often, this required buying land from Native American tribes who occupied the area. These purchase treaties often took advantage of conflicts between different tribes and, sometimes, were negotiated with tribes that did not have any claims to the land in question.
During the late 1600s, there was increasing conflict between the New England colonies and Native American tribes. Much of this conflict resulted from the New Englanders’ enormous appetite for land and increasing Native desperation to not see their way of life extinguished. The most devastating of these conflicts was Metacom’s War (also known as King Philip’s War).
One example of the evidence we have about life during this time were “captivity narratives.” These were accounts of the kidnapping and eventual ransom of (generally) English women by hostile (to the English) Natives. This excerpt, by Mary Rowlandson of Massachusetts who was a captive during Metacom’s War, is one of the most well-known.
Rowlandson organized her account as a series of “removes”–each discussion one location of her long, mobile captivity.
Note: this is a longer-than-usual excerpt, so allow yourself plenty of time to get through it!
The Colonial Age of North America is, like most historical processes, is difficult to place on a timeline. While, for our purposes, it extends from the establishment of the first Spanish colonies to end of the American War of Independence (the early 1500s to 1783). That approach, however, places a fairly heavy British perspective on the colonial experience. The Spanish did not relinquish their hold on Mexico until 1821, for example.
It is important to keep in mind that the colonization of North America was not a solely British (or British and Spanish) affair. The French played a vital role as did the Dutch. Different colonial powers expanded into North America for different reasons. The Spanish sought to exploit natural wealth such as gold and silver. The French sought wealth through fur pelts. British colonists in Virginia grew tobacco.
Not all colonists were primarily concerned with economic acquisition. The British colonies in New England had a foundation in their desire to establish a society and political system which would allow them to fully embrace their religious beliefs. Roman Catholic missionaries accompanying Spanish Conquistadors brought their faith with them and imposed in on the indigenous population with varying degrees of success.
One constant amongst all the colonizing powers is that their presence and activities had a significant effect on the Native American population—devastating their culture, society, economy, and population.
The resources in this section attempt to illustrate the diversity of the colonial experience in the lands that would, eventually, become the United States.
The Dutch, initially led by Henry Hudson, an Englishman employed by the Dutch East India Company, arrived on Manhattan Island in 1609. This account is from over a century later, and describes the first meeting of Europeans and Natives on Manhattan.
The relationship between the French and the Native American tribes they encountered was a product of the French goals in North America. Unlike the Spanish they did not arrive with large armies or attempt to enslave the Natives. Unlike the English, the French did not attempt to establish large-scale settlements. In many, but not all, cases, the relationship between the French and the Native tribes was based on mutual gain–the French gained access to natural resources such as beaver pelts and the Natives gained access to high quality European goods.
Cultural differences did exist, however, as evidenced by this account from a leader of the Micmac tribe, recorded by a French priest named Chrestian LeClerq.
The Pueblo Revolt, led by a native leader named Pope, resulted in a significant—but temporary—lost of territory for the Spanish in North America. This description of the motivations of the rebelling natives illustrates the cultural tensions between the native peoples and the occupying Spanish.
The first inhabitants of North America arrived via the Beringia land bridge approximately 20,000 years ago, although archaeological work on the earliest Americans is ongoing. Widespread occupation of the Americas dates to around 13,000 to 16,000 years ago.
In North America, these peoples spread out, developing distinct but sometimes related languages and cultures (as shown in the map below). Ways of life varied, from hunting and gathering societies to organizations of urban hubs and hinterlands (such as the Mississippian civilization centered on the city of Cahokia).
John Smith (1580-1631) was one of the leaders of Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in North America. His background was in soldiering more than managing, but his imposition of strict discipline brought stability to Jamestown in its early years.
This excerpt from Smith’s account of the founding of Jamestown and the Virginia colony describes the “Starving Time” which occurred during the winter of 1609-1610.