How did Bradford initially view the Native Americans?

William Bradford initially views the Native Americans as "savage barbarians" who want only to kill the Pilgrims. He describes them as something close to a natural hazard rather than as individuals or even human beings. This changes when Samaset and Squanto visit Plymouth and make peace with the Pilgrims.

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In his description of the Pilgrims' first encounter with Native Americans, William Bradford writes:

It is recorded in scripture as a mercy to ye apostle and his shipwrecked company, yt the barbarians showed them no small kindness in refreshing them, but these savage barbarians, when they met with them (as...

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In his description of the Pilgrims' first encounter with Native Americans, William Bradford writes:

It is recorded in scripture as a mercy to ye apostle and his shipwrecked company, yt the barbarians showed them no small kindness in refreshing them, but these savage barbarians, when they met with them (as after will appear) were readier to fill their sides full of arrows then otherwise.

Bradford regards the Maltese, who welcomed the apostle Paul to their island, as barbarians, but contrasts these kindly barbarians with the savage variety to be found in the New World. It is notable that Bradford also describes the landscape as "savage" (a word he does not use often), suggesting that the inhabitants reflect their environment.

Bradford's early descriptions of the native people are all similarly damning, remarking on their aggression and savagery. He seems to regard them as a natural hazard, like the harsh landscape and the Winter cold. When the natives attack the Pilgrims at midnight, Bradford does not regard this as a natural consequence of the Pilgrims having stolen their corn and beans—an incident he describes in the preceding paragraph—but as further evidence of their savagery and malice.

Bradford's attitude changes when Samaset and then Squanto visit Plymouth. Squanto has been in England and can speak enough English to negotiate a peace treaty with the Pilgrims. Although Bradford remains suspicious of the Native Americans, the fact that he meets individuals who introduce themselves by names and speak to him in English stops him from referring to them as a single malign mass.

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Bradford initially had a very negative view of the Native Americans, much like the majority of settlers in the early colonization period. He assumed that the Native Americans were savages without intellect, civilization, or morality. This viewpoint was helpful in justifying the actions of the settlers at the time, because they felt they were doing a godly service by living among the savages and showing them civilization, which gave them entitlement to the land and wealth of the region.

Over time, however, Bradford grew more respectful towards the Native Americans. His views began to shift from spending more time among them and seeing them learn English. He learned that they were not uncivilized or unintelligent, they simply had a different culture. In the end, this interaction was very beneficial because, through trade, the Native Americans helped provide necessary supplies to get the settlers through the winter.

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William Bradford was similar to many of the early settlers in that he viewed the Native Americans very negatively. He saw them as unintelligent and uncivilized savages who were essentially beasts. He was afraid and skeptical of them, fortifying his city against a potential threat or invasion from the Native Americans and refusing to make contact with them for quite some time.

However, this view slowly changed. It took quite a while, and it always remained somewhat condescending, but Bradford saw the benefit of the Native Americans and realized they were not as savage as he initially believed. Bradford found benefit in trading with them and realized they were more intelligent than he initially thought, as they started learning and speaking English. Eventually, his trade with them helped the colony survive, as they had resources that the colonists desperately needed.

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William Bradford initially viewed the Native Americans as "savage people who are cruel, barbarious, and most treacherous." He based this on accounts he had read and heard while living in Europe. Thus, when the Pilgrims first arrived in Massachusetts, Bradford was highly fearful of the natives. The population of English was very small, and his people were dying all the time. Bradford had a cannon mounted prominently on the Plymouth plantation fort and insisted that corpses be buried at night so the natives would not know how weak and vulnerable his people were. He hoped to intimidate the Native Americans by projecting more power than his small group really had, and so deter attacks.

But as Bradford got to know the Indians, his views changed somewhat. When an Indian visited them who knew how to speak some English, Bradford realized he could safely trade with the local natives, obtaining badly needed food supplies. He and the other settlers could also learn from the natives how to better survive. Bradford never lost his wariness toward the Indians, knowing how outnumbered his settlers were, but he did enter into peaceful commerce with them.

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At first, William Bradford's view of Native Americans is far from flattering, to say the least. He shares the unthinking prejudices of most of his fellow Puritans at that time, regarding the natives as "savage and brutish men." Bradford's initially negative attitude towards the Native Americans is largely an expression of ignorance. He had never actually met any Native Americans when he formed this judgment; he was simply repeating the old cliches from countless New World exploration narratives that were circulating in Europe at that time.

However, once Bradford actually set foot on American soil, his attitude changed somewhat. The Native Americans showed great kindness towards the Puritan settlers, teaching them the rudiments of how to live off the land. Although Bradford doesn't explicitly refer to the natives in a positive light, he no longer appears to harbor the kind of knee-jerk prejudice towards them that he displayed before arriving in the New World.

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