Native Americans and the Colonists

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How did the British and the Native Americans interact?

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British interactions with the Natives Americans in North America might be seen within the broader context of European relations with natives in the New World.

The Spanish, who were first to arrive in the Americas, benefited economically partly through their ability to enslave and exploit native populations in the Caribbean...

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British interactions with the Natives Americans in North America might be seen within the broader context of European relations with natives in the New World.

The Spanish, who were first to arrive in the Americas, benefited economically partly through their ability to enslave and exploit native populations in the Caribbean and elsewhere in New Spain. The encomienda system and its abuses led to a bad reputation for the Spaniards and those abuses were dramatically documented in the writings of Bartolome de Las Casas.

The English tended to perceive themselves as a gentler alternative to the Spaniards, whom they perceived as corrupt owing to their allegiance to the papacy. By this time, the Church of England had broken away from the papacy and Anglicans often used "papists" as a dirty word in reference to Roman Catholics, including the Spaniards. Puritans, or English Calvinists, viewed Catholics in a similarly unflattering way. Despite their noble self-image, the English treatment of natives turned out to be less than charitable. The rationale for wiping out native culture—that it would help preserve the superior English culture—was reinforced by the successful use of force in planting colonies in places like Ireland. Furthermore, the desire to create permanent agricultural settlements made tensions with the natives likely, if not nearly inevitable. In the end, English relations with the natives frequently turned out violent, though there was also trade and some degree of cooperation. In order to see the complexity of the relationship, one needs to recognize the diversity of contexts and interactions.

Historians tend to characterize both the Dutch and the French enterprises in North America as having been more benign than those of the English. The Dutch were very few in number. Their primary interest was in trade and they also believed in religious toleration. The French tended to take pride in having a good relationship with the natives; they also relied upon them heavily for survival. While Jesuit missionaries practiced the conversion of local populations, their approach was generally less coercive than that of the Spaniards. Many Frenchmen assimilated into native cultures.

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This is quite a complex question because of the long period of time this encompasses. We are talking about a two hundred year period of interaction that spans from the first English colonies in the early 1600's until the conclusion of the war of 1812. Also, there were hundreds of sovereign Indian tribes that at various tribes had a variety of alliances. When the English first established colonies in America, the relationship with the Indians was one of cooperation mixed with times of stress, conflict, and massacres by both sides. There was certainly a desire by both sides to benefit through trade, but ultimately, the English were visitors to America. Unfortunately, the English colonists did not feel that they were visitors and intended to stay. As it became clear that the English intended to expand at the expense of Native American territory, you can imagine how that caused increased stressed.

Throughout the early part of the Eighteenth Century, the colonists started to identify themselves as separate from the English. Land became an issue for the British, colonists, Indians, and the French. This period saw a war between France and England in which both sides formed alliances with different Indian tribes. The British allied themselves with the Iroquois and were eventually victorious over the French. The British would utilize alliances with Indians in its efforts to thwart colonial rebellion. After the American Revolution, most Native American tribes sided with the British because of the threat that the United States posed to its sovereignty and land. The interaction between Native American tribes and the British essentially ended after the War of 1812.

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