The Only Land They Knew (Magill's Literary Annual 1982)
The story of the Indians in the Old South is a dramatic and tragic one. The white man was a constant challenge to the Indian’s survival. As the English population grew, that of the Indian declined. Indian wars followed one after another with terrible repetition until some coastal tribes became extinct.
When the English arrived in Virginia in 1607, they had with them a fully developed mythology about the native societies. This mythology began to develop in English literature in the 1550’s, before any important meeting between native and white occurred, and was predicated upon two viewpoints. The first was based on the belief that the natives were ignoble savages, indeed children of the devil. The portrait drawn of them emphasized their nakedness, promiscuity, lack of order and discipline, and violent nature. In contrast, the Englishman represented culture, civility, and character. The belief in this irrevocable difference created the tendency toward violence that broke out soon after the first settlers arrived and continued into the nineteenth century.
On the other hand, the Indian was also seen as a noble savage, free from the sins and wars of Europe. His independence, bravery, and stoicism were admired, yet he was still a savage.
Whichever view was accepted by the English, the mythology created by the white man developed with little accurate information and continued for hundreds of years. The concepts were difficult to...
(The entire section is 1927 words.)
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