Maya and Aztec

Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations

The world of Indians is narrowed: the period of agricultural colonization (1620-1700)

Category: History

Arrival of Europian colonists and gradual distribution of their settlements were one of the reasons of movement of white traders up the rivers. The difference in interests of traders and colonists frequently made their relations tense.

The number of the English immigrants shortly before the middle of XVII century was more than 30 thousand people. Those who had gone through the first tests of a pioneers’ life, together with the posterity made in 1650 г, about 50 thousand people, and this population almost equally had been settled in colonies on the Chesapeake coast bay and on the coast of New England. Between these two areas in the basin of the rivers Delaware and Hudson some hundreds Dutchs5, Finns, Swedes, then Englishmen and the Germans now known as Pennsylvania Dutch’s.

The Indians meeting the first colonists, for a long time had got used to direct contacts with the white, they already had fire-arms and in a way they understood, what could be expected from newcomers. However colonists put into practice a little bit other principles of the European culture, than the white dealers. It became obvious from the very beginning in the colonists’ desire to get the ground.

Being cautious, Indians nevertheless were friendly. They were ready to help the settlers with their desire to have the ground, naturally, in the only unique way which Indians knew. The Earth, from the point of view of Indians, was a heritage of ancestors, was under the responsibility of the leader of a tribe and was kept for the future generation. Thus, it could not be sold. Receiving an annual tribute, the leader allowed his people to divide the ground and gave them the right to use it. In conformity only with these traditions the settlers could receive the right to use the land.

Indians could not assume, that white newcomers would demand full possession of the ground. This idea was unacceptable for them. However eventually Indians understood, that negotiations with the white result only in irrevocable loss of the ground, owned by the tribe. Capture of the American Indian grounds by the settlers caused the resistance of Indians resulted in two-sided collision.


5 All immigrants speaking German no matter the emigration country who arrived in America were denoted by the term ‘the Dutch’ – ‘people from Holland’, perhaps because the first colonizers of the Atlantic coast were the Dutch who spoke their native language.

Reciprocal severe reaction of colonists appeared completely new phenomenon for Indians. They were not ready to the war which led to a full devastation and destruction. They were shaken with those war methods by which it was conducted by the settlers against Pekota people in 1637, Delawares in the lower part of the river Hudson in 1643-1644, Isola people in 1660-1663 and against all American Indian tribes of New England in 1675. After each of these wars there came the period of tense peace during which the survived Indians regrouped; small groups were poured in the structure of larger tribes or left to the depth of the continent.

The process of reduction of the number of the local American Indian population had been accelerated by fast distribution of such destructive illnesses as tuberculosis and syphilis, brought by Europeans, and all this was aggravated with heavy conditions of existence of the Indians driven from the grounds and deprived of food. Venereal illnesses and epidemics affacted not only health of the American Indian population, level of birth rate was touched as well. By 1680 in the central and southern areas of New England no more than 14000 Indians, probably lived, As for Algonkins in states of New York’s and New Jersey there remained only 8000 people.

Resistance of Indians and counteraction on the part of fur traders, and later the French and American Indian wars for long time had made development of colonial settlements almost impossible. This suspension of expansion of Europeans was the vital reorganization for the process and the adaptation to new conditions of Indians of internal parts of the continent.

It provided them with the opportunity to save up forces for resistance by the time when the wave of colonization going on the West had reached the areas of their moving. The Iroques had been much obliged to that resistance which coastal Algonkins rendered to Europeans and both peoples understood it well. In Iroques’ interests was it to support contacts with traders and keep white settlers outside the territory.

The Iroques control over coastal Algonkins and cooperation with them, among other things, expressed desire to use these coastal tribes in the sense of the figurative buffer along border with the settlers. In turn colonists used Iroques as the buffer against the French intrusion. After 1655 the Dutch reformist church even represented itself as the intermediary at payment a tribute of coastal Algonkins to Iroques. When coastal Algonkins already could not constrain expansion any more Iroques asked Algonkins to leave deep into the continent, thus keeping the American Indian population as it is possible longer around of their own grounds.

Each war of colonial authorities against coastal Indians inevitably came to an end with defeat of Indians, and each defeat was the next mark on the way to establishment of the escalating control over colonial management over American Indian tribes. Generally speaking, the control of authorities over Indians grew in the process of development of means of the message and ways of violent carrying out various laws. From some rules concerning by the period approximately about 1643, it is possible to understand, that the white tried to not cause in Indians for a certain time feeling of irritation and to not incite them to open strike – superiority in the power of Indians and that fact, that white settlements had usually been scattered on extensive territory, forced colonial authorities to show safety measures.

During this interval of time it is possible to allocate two periods: during the first one colonial authorities conducted obvious, though also cautious game with powerful politicians from American Indian tribes; during the second one they changed tactics. Miantonomo’s murder in 1643 drew a line between these two periods in the region to the east from the river Hudson.

Being the main sahem (elder) of the Narraganset tribe he had huge influence far outside the numerous tribes. Miantonomo but not “King Phillip”2 was the unique leader among coastal Algonkins who understood, that tribes should be united in great fight against the white. His message was already received by Delawares in the area of the river Hudson when he had been killed by Unkas, the leader of the patrimonial group separated from the Pekota tribe under the name of Mohegan’s.

However such people like Miantonomo were a minority, the majority of leaders resembled Unkas. For the sake of their own safety and benefit they were blocked with colonizers and, deserved trust by treachery of the opponents – leaders, intended to subordinate neighboring tribes. Having become successful once, they “traded” the ground, received from the conquered by them American Indian tribes.

It is obvious, that under such circumstances colonial authorities did not lose time for nothing, using disagreement among Indians and that fact that forces of Indians constantly were undermined by it. Defeat of the Pekota tribe « has installed panic horror in all Indians », and some American Indian leaders, before rendering tribute to the Pekota tribe, had voluntary expressed readiness now to render tribute to Englishmen. The Englishmen being surprised, willingly accepted tribute and then even demanded it, but in exchange they did not give Indians expected protection. It became soon clear, that with defeat of the Pekota tribe the balance of forces between American Indian tribes had failed.


2‘King Phillip’ was the name of Metak, a talented commander of the Wampanoag people given by the colonizers


Besides white newcomers undermined positions main American Indian Sahem 3, keeping in contact only with subordinate local leaders. Vainly the head of elders of the tribe Narrangaset assured Englishmen that upstart – leaders « will be your small dogs, but not allies, and that’s it… This is not enough ». So the political bowl protecting social integrity of Indians gradually collapsed.

Since Pekota war captives, Englishmen turned Indians in slavery. During all colonial period in New England there were more Indian – slaves, than in any other colony, except for South Carolina. Having found out about payment of tribute to Englishmen, Dutch’s on Manhattan in turn decided to demand a tribute from local Indians, having declared, that the last are under the Dutch protection. In 1640 the council of New Amsterdam colony had sent armed forces on Long Island   « to force Indians to obey and lay them under tribute ». As for captives they were given to the Dutch soldiers. During Isop wars many Indians had been shipped on the ships and sold for slavery on Curacao Island.

Miantonomo’s activity served as the important stimulus to creation of the incorporated colonies of New England and carrying out even more tough policy of the white concerning Indians. From the coast of the river Merrimak up to Long Island American Indian leaders had been compelled to obey to colonial authorities. In some places district courts were allocated the right to do responsible separate Indians, but actually for the caused damage the white bore the responsibility to all the tribe; the property of a tribe was selected to compel Indians to name the guilty.

The heavy burden of the responsibility assigned to the sahem by the white, of application demanded of it of authority to the attitude of Indians (that did not admit custom), had put him as though between two fires; and he lost prestige both among people, and among newcomers. The white tried to keep Indians as half-inedependend groups led by the responsible leader and included into the structure of the Mohegan tribe and Naraganset tribe; the rests of the Pekota tribe got under authority of the Indians – leaders appointed by white colonizers. By 1670 elections of any new leader were carried out under the control of colonial authorities and the white any more did not recognize Sahem’ leadership.






3 The word ‘Sachem’ was used by the described region’s Indians to denote tribal elders to differentiate them from war leaders, called chiefs.


Friction and open collisions between Dutch’s and Indians proceeded till 1663, and the next year the Englishmen grasped New Netherlands in the area of the river Hudson. Indians of Long Island had written the letter to new governors, declaring, those they « recognize: the governor of New York as the most important sahem».  It was possible for local Indians the board of Englishmen meant bigger legal protection, than there was at them at the time of the Dutch.

Incessant intrusions of colonists of New England on the American Indian grounds and their hypocritical attitude to Indians resulted in bloodshed in 1675. A lot of the battles known as the «war of King Phillip»4 had ended with serious defeat of Indians. When the smoke of battles had dissipated, in the territory of southern New England there were only so-called reservation Indians if they were not slaves. Many of those who had survived left this area and joined Mohicans and the Frenchmen on the coast of the river St. Laurence or left for the territory of Illinois.

Eventually the border of the moving white began to extend. Coastal Indians had let alone until they did not prevent the white. Some American Indian groups now should pay for the ground on which they lived, the annuity to white owners. Half-centuries passed before white newcomers had reached the beginnings of the rivers and by this time Indians, for example mohicans, either had left these places, or had lodged on the last ground possession. As a result of merge several insignificant in size American Indian tribes by 1740 there is widely known in history tribe of Delawares.

A prominent feature of the period of intrusions of the settlers is the increased number of the contacts fixed in writing with Indians who frequently had violent character. For Indians it was, undoubtedly, the period of crisis and stress, but process of full disintegration of tribes had not taken place. The adaptation of Indians to European culture brought from the outside continued to have selective character. At any opportunity tribes refused everything, that could destroy the important elements of American Indian culture. It specifies that the basic values of an American Indian society bore all difficulties.





4The ‘King Phillip’ War was the name of the colonizers’ big war (1675-1676) against New England’s Indians led by an Indian chief who showed resistance to the colonizers and in the history of the USA this chief was known as King Phillip. But the colonial authorities managed to sow discord in the Indians’ camp. ‘King Phillip’ was betrayed by a traitor, and then beheaded, and his head was set out on the top of the pole in the city of Plymouth.


Not having real representation about the events occurring as a whole, Indians continued to look on the coming changes, leaning on the logics of the culture. By the end of this period the names of such tribes as Naraganset, Delawares and Nantinok, concerned to the diverse population consisted of residual groups, was going around well controlled nucleus. For example, the tribe shantok in the east part of Long Island was formed by association of refugees of the Pekota tribe with a local tribe of Metoak. Other tribes had arisen as a result of split of an initial tribe. For example, a tribe Catskill appeared from the tribe of Mohicans.

The interbreeding political connections existing during fur trade, and then had been intentionally destroyed by colonial authorities according to the concept « divide and dominate ». Colonial intervention in the political organization of Indians weakened the institute of the leader, and he had not any more such value, as earlier. However, apparently, such institute had remained traditionally recognized hereditary institute of old predominating family.

The leader could choose the wife only from the family of the leader of the neighboring tribe, and such marriage usually had political implied sense. As compared to polygamy which became obsolete, all other characteristic features inherent in institute of the leader, had been kept. Probably, what exactly during this period finds the development a post of assistants to the leader. With speech to people, whether they were for Indians or the white, not the leader, and his assistant (speaker) usually addressed.

During such speeches on the ground were thrown beaver skins as a token of acknowledgement of that was spoken. Gradually by the end of the century beaver skins had given an up the place to belts wampum. This symbolical function of belts in political and ceremonial affairs which was extended among Iroques, then had found the application on all territory of east large forests.

Subjects of material culture, especially clothes and instruments of work, testified to fast reduction of use of traditional materials by Indians. However the European influence was not limited only to import of the goods. Frequently visiting colonies, Indians quickly seized new techniques and methods. Easy attitudes between Scandinavians and Indians on the coast of the river Delaware, probably promoted transformation of this area into the special center of development of original technology and decorative art which received a more wide circulation in XVIII century.

By the end of this period the annual cycle of economic activities of mohicans and related tribes began approximately in March, when Indians left for woods to make sugar of juice of a maple. It was not mentioned in early sources, possibly because maple sugar became the important foodstuff only after acquaintance and wide use of steel axes and knives for cabin of trees, and also occurrence in use of metal boilers for cooking maple juice.

While « river Indians », living on headwaters of the rivers, were engaged in preparation of the sugar, many coastal natives came to the coast, as well as in former times, to spend summer there, the wooden boats –  used both for fishery, and as transport, now had frequently been supplied with sails. Such boats were in demand among the white.

Women were engaged in planting and care of traditional agricultural crops. They made cords and bags of the Indian hemp which then sold to colonists. Near long houses of Indians the peach trees delivered from Europe appeared, and in woods taking place nearby in after claims of food the pigs delivered from Europe and the hen walked about.

Many Indians were able to handle fire-arms, but bow and arrows did not disappear, as their application for hunting saved gunpowder. At this time, except for hunting and fishery, men found work at the white employers requiring working hands. They served as translators, postmen at local authorities, made вампум in the winter, looked after cattle, and by the end of the century Mohicans helped the Dutch farmers to raise the crops.

However involving Indians in whaling which began in the area of Long Island in about 1650 had more important consequences. The majority of local Indians had been involved in this craft, but because of fast development of the craft of whales in the high sea white colonists had started to involve Indians from the southern part of New England.

The first white settlers in New Light were quite often compared with Adam in paradise, giving name for new unfamiliar things. But also Indians gave names to all new that they learned from the white. Besides many Indians learnt the English or Dutch languages. The dictionary of Mohicans made in the beginning of XX century till now still has kept some Dutch words. There occurred not only confusion of languages, but also races. Dutch settlers married American Indian women. The Englishmen arrived with families and following severe Puritan laws, did it in much smaller measure.

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