Book title: America - past and present Volume 1:To 1877
Describe the effect of European exploration and colonization on African and Native American cultures. How did each group react to confrontations of societies?
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Having decimated their populations with internal wars and the bubonic plague, Europe was recovering in the 1400's when exploration in the Americas began. With England and France also recovering from the Hundred Years War, Spain launched exploration into the Americas, bringing with it communicable diseases that spread throughout various populations. For, it was the Europeans close contact with domesticated animals which cultivated diseases such as smallpox, diphtheria, influenza,and measles to epidemic proportions in South America a continent unexposed hitherto, killing up to 95% of the population. Added to this, the Spanish explorers felt it incumbent upon them to make Christians of the natives, so when these South American indigenous people did not wish to become Catholics, they also perished. In addition, because the crippling effects of disease and forced changes to their cultures and way of life left the indigenous peoples weakened and vulnerable to the conquerors, much wealth was seized. After large numbers of Indians were wiped out during and after the Iberian conquests that swept through South America, more land and natural resources were taken. Of course, the conquerors took advantage of those who were not as advanced in their civilizations in such things as weaponry and fortifications; so,the Spanish wiped out entire tribes of Indians. In the West Indies, the Spaniards practically annihilated the carib and Arawak Indian populations there. So, by the 1700's most of the larger islands had developed thriving plantation economies that became dependent upon African slaves brought in by shiploads. These slaves were forced to work on sugar plantations and lived under inhumane conditions.
In North America explorers such as the Italians Christopher Columbus and Giovanni Caboto, whose name was Anglicized to John Cabot when he was commissioned by Henry VII of England, set out for lands that promised great wealth. While the Western Europeans first sought treasure, they gradually decided to colonize the lands that they claimed. This colonization gave rise to conflicts with the Native Americans who did not wish to relinquish their lands. As a result, there were battles and bloody massacres on both sides. Especially in the Western part of what would becomes U.S. territories, the Indians were confronted with threats to their lives because they had migrated (except for the Plains Indians) to the Last West as their last home. In 1851 the U.S. government began a reservation policy under which Native Americans were restricted to designated lands. However, these were often areas that the settlers did not want, and many of the indigenous people were hunters, not farmers. Not only that, if areas were discovered to be attractive, such as the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Native Americans were driven off. In 1887 the Dawes Severalty Act dissolved Indian tribes by law and divided reservation land among individual Indians, weakening the collective powers of the tribes. On these reservations, many starved and were mistreated because of corrupt officials. Certainly, once proud people who were free to hunt and fish and move at will were now confined to a depressing environment.
In the Southern part of America, there was tremendous agricultural growth. Tobacco, cotton, sugar cane, and rice fields abounded. To work these fields in the hot climate, slaves from Africa were crowded onto ships and brought to America and sold to work in these many fields and in the magnificent homes built by plantation owners. While all slave owners were not such physically abusive men as Simon Legree, as portrayed by Harriet Beecher Stowe--who admitted that she wrote her melodrama to stir public opinion--they, nevertheless, treated slaves as inferior creatures, subject to working long hours and being bought and sold, often apart from their families. The slaves were even worse off than indentured servants, who eventually would gain freedom and the poor factory workers in the large Northern cities, who also worked long hours in terrible conditions where they could be killed or become sick, even when they were yet children. For, slavery lasted the lifetime of individuals, and families were often separated as though they were livestock. After the Civil War, the slaves were freed, but many were freed into worse conditions of poverty and starvation as they worked as sharecroppers or were further exploited by unconscionable men such as those called "carpetbaggers," Northerners who came to the South to profit from defeat. But, by 1871, blacks did receive the right to vote with the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Interestingly, some former slaves went out West and became cowboys who were treated as equals on the range and even in such places as Laredo and Dodge City, although other blacks were not.
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