Native Americans and the Colonists

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For my AP US History project assignment, I have to examine the social, cultural ,and economic responses of the British, French, and Spanish to the natives of North America prior to 1750:

The year is 1750. Native American groups from throughout the Western Hemisphere have hired you, a representative of a world renowned "think tank," to create a tri-fold brochure in which you will analyze and "expose" the social and economic responses of the British, French, and Spanish to the natives of North America prior to 1750.

I must include:

  • what the responses where.
  • how the responses occurred (include dates of individual events).
  • establish a time frame for each of the "conquering groups" and show the approximate dates in which responses occurred.
  • present the groups in chronological order of their contact with the indigenous people.
  • describe the geographic area(s) in which each of the responses occurred.

Please help me in any way you can.

Expert Answers

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The following report is what a think tank circa 1750 might have written:

The Spanish

These were the first Europeans to arrive on the American continent and have now been there over 250 years. Though initially they behaved savagely toward the indigenous people, torturing and murdering them in large numbers, their primary aim seemed to be to satisfy their appetite for metal: for the gold in particular (which they were able, through the labor of the Native Americans, to extract from the earth).

But interestingly, far from positioning themselves as a "master race" in perpetuity, the Spanish seem eager to intermarry with the indigenous peoples. We predict therefore that in the areas now controlled by the Spanish, the majority of the population will eventually be of mixed European and Native American descent.

The French

These people seem most interested in trade with the native peoples of the northern areas as well as establishing plantations in the islands of what Europeans refer to as the West Indies, and on the mainland in the region at the mouth of the great river, the Mississippi. This region they have named Louisiana after their great king. In addition to sending their people here as traders and to establish agriculture, they have also used America as a place to exile undesirable elements of their own populations, such as criminals and religious dissenters.

Although they have sent their own people to America as colonists, they have not done this in as large numbers as they might have. In addition to their primary economic interest in America, they have made constant attempts to convert the native peoples to their religion. But so far the French show less open hostility and less of a tendency to subjugate or massacre Native Americans than other Europeans have done.

The English

Of the three groups under discussion here, the English are those who seem the most intolerant of the indigenous people; they are less likely to wish to intermarry with them than the Spanish are and less likely simply to want to trade with them than the French are. The English apparently believe it is their mission to conquer this continent—either because it is their destiny to do so or because their God has promised it to them.

They are also—especially those who have settled on the northern mainland coast, which they call New England—people who have been exiled from their native England because of religious dissent for the differences between their form of their religion, Christianity, and that of the ruling class in England. Often they regard the Native Americans as "devils" and wish to push them back into the interior of the continent, claiming and taking more and more land for themselves.

They are better organized than the other Europeans and seem to have a single-mindedness about them in their drive to work, which they consider a kind of ultimate virtue that will prove they are of the elect of their God. Differences, however, do exist among the various English groups. Those who have settled the "middle" region, part of which they call Pennsylvania after their leader there, are more peaceful and have tended to deal more fairly with the indigenous people rather than simply "taking" their land from them.

It appears as if a clash among these different European groups, larger than the previous wars, is likely to occur in the near future, and one or more of the powers will be weakened or expelled. It is anyone's guess how they will treat the Native peoples once this has occurred.

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As the nations of Spain, France and England began to colonize the North American continent, distinct differences in how those countries chose to relate to the native population became obvious. 

For the French, the relationship with the Natives was one of convenience and opportunity. The areas settled by Frenchmen were without gold. In order to obtain wealth, the French invested in the fur trade. Beaver hats had become a fashion symbol in Europe and the demand for fur inspired French trappers to roam the woods of North America in search of animals.  New France was sparsely populated and there was a need among the French to rely on the expertise of the native population. As a result, the French were the most cooperative of all the Europeans when it came to dealing with Native Americans and had the best relations. 

Like the French, the Spanish chose to blend with the native population. It was not uncommon for Spanish explorers to marry Native American women. The Spanish treatment of the natives was much harsher than their French counterparts, however. The Spaniards enslaved, tortured and killed many of the native residents of the areas in which they colonized. The Spanish conquistadors were much less likely to demonstrate any of the sense of empathy that might have been seen from a lonely French trapper in Quebec.

The English were much more segregated in terms of relationships with Native Americans. Englishmen could be cooperative or harsh, depending on the circumstance and what was deemed necessary at the time. While there are certainly examples of the English working alongside natives, there are countless others where atrocities were committed in order to obtain resources at the expense of the native population.

Greed was a primary motivation for European nations to colonize North America. All of the nations involved were opportunistic and could be whatever they needed to be in order to complete their mission of dominance. All of the explorers brought with them diseases to which the natives had no immunity. Those diseases would have a devastating effect on the inhabitants of North America.

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The French, British, and Spanish responded in various ways to the Native Americans they encountered in North America prior to 1750. The French had a good relationship with the Native Americans. They did not try to compete with them. They were involved in lucrative fur trading with the Native Americans. They were mostly friendly with them. They converted them to Christianity. They also married Native American women. The French and Native Americans had a good relationship for the most part.

The Spanish had a fair relationship with the Native Americans in North America. They tried to convert them to Christianity. However, the Native Americans continued to practice their own religious customs. Thus, some people thought the Native Americans were inferior to the Spanish. However, there were marriages between some of the Spanish and the Native Americans. The Spanish also traded with them. Unfortunately, many Native Americans died from diseases that the Spanish brought with them.

The British, for the most part, did not have a good relationship with the Native Americans. The British did not marry the Native Americans. The British often competed with the Native Americans. The Native Americans were very concerned that the British wanted to take their land and cut into the profitable fur trade. As a result, the Native Americans viewed most of the British suspiciously.

France, Great Britain, and Spain had different relationships with the Native Americans in North America prior to 1750.

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I'd say they each responded by thinking of the way they could best exploit the Native Americans.  Some choice to trade with them, some chose to kill them.  They all were being manipulative and none had the Native Americans interests at heart.

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The major responses were different for the French and Spanish than for the British.  The French and Spanish included the natives in their society.  They did this because there weren't that many settlers and they needed the Indians for labor and, in many cases, for wives.  By contrast, the British sent lots of settlers over.  They didn't need the Indians and so they were much more confrontational with them.  They drove them off land that they (the colonists) wanted and they killed them.

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