How did Spain, France, and England treat Native Americans differently?

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timehiker75 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Spanish conquerors brutally abused and exploited the Native Americans, many of whom died from mistreatment at the hands of their Spanish masters. They forced Native Americans to work for them as porters, in the fields, and in gold and silver mines; to convert to Catholicism; and to pay taxes to the Spanish colonial government. While the Spanish colonial New Laws (1542) formally forbade enslaving Native Americans, they still permitted the colonists to enslave Native American populations that rebelled against Spanish domination. The Spanish government allowed most Native Americans to live under their own chiefs and took absolute control over their Native American neighbors away from the colonists. The Spanish authorities even appointed special officials to “protect” the Native Americans, but despite this “protection,” tens of millions of Native Americans died within the first century of Spanish colonial rule from mistreatment and European diseases, such as small pox. Since Native Americans frequently lacked the money to pay the new Spanish taxes, many of them became indebted to the neighboring Spanish settlers, lost their land, and became hereditary peons (indebted laborers) on the estates (haciendas) of Spanish nobility.

The Catholic Church sometimes tried to establish an exclusive hold on Native American communities and preserve them from the vices of colonial society. In South America, the Jesuits governed hundreds of thousands of Guarani Indians in an orderly and rather authoritarian fashion. At the same time, they trained and armed them to fend off attacks of Portuguese slave hunters from Brazil.

Spanish colonial society was very race-conscious, but it was also religiously relatively inclusive. Native Americans and people of mixed race (castas) occupied the lower ranks of the colonial social hierarchy, but they were nonetheless accepted as an integral part of this society.

This was not the case in the British North American colonies, where the settlers gradually drove away those Native Americans who did not die in military conflicts with them. Mixed race marriages remained an exception rather than the rule, as they were in Spanish America. There was less emphasis on forcing Native Americans to work for the whites or to convert to Christianity. The British settlers engaged in a thriving trade with the neighboring Native American communities. The British authorities established alliances with some Native American peoples who took part in their wars against the French.

The French settlers’ approach to Native Americans was midway between that of the British and that of the Spanish. French missionaries did their best to convert Native Americans to Catholicism. There was more acceptance of mixed-race marriages, and the descendants of these marriages played an important role in the history of European expansion. At the same time, there was little effort to integrate Native Americans into the structure of colonial society and they remained socially and culturally marginalized.

mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

France, Spain, and Great Britain all dealt with the Native Americans as they colonized the Americas. Each country treated them differently.

The Spanish, for the most part, treated the Native Americans poorly. The Spanish were interested in the riches of the Americas, and they had no problem in forcing the Native Americans into slavery so they could mine the gold and the silver for Spain. The Spanish also viewed the Native Americans very negatively regarding their religious practices. The Spanish wanted to convert the Native Americans to Christianity. There were, however, some marriages between the Spanish and the Native Americans.

The French had a better relationship with the Native Americans although initial some manipulation occurred. The French traded with the Native Americans. They also converted them to Christianity. The French and the Native Americans often married. There was much less competition between the French and the Native Americans that led to a better relation between them.

The British didn’t treat the Native Americans well most of the time. The British and later the Americans felt the Native Americans were holding back progress. They want to take land away from the Native Americans. The British viewed the British ways of life as far superior to those of the Native Americans. The British had few negative thoughts of the Native American way of living.

Each country had different interactions with the Native Americans. France seemed to have the best relationship with the Native Americans.

pholland14 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The three major European powers on the American continent—England, France, and Spain—had different Indian policies.  Spain tended to treat the Indians worst.  The Spanish destroyed Native American religious sites and subjugated tribes into slavery.  They also did not take care to preserve cultural artifacts; the Spanish conquistadors who conquered the Aztecs melted down priceless golden sculptures.  While there was some protest over the treatment of the Indians, most notably from a Dominican friar named Bartolome de las Casas, this was the exception rather than the rule.  

The French saw the Native Americans as valuable trading partners.  French traders often married into tribes for diplomatic and economic reasons.  While there were never many French living in the New World, the French were able to claim a large swath of territory due to these trading networks.  French officials in the New World were also able to exploit tribal rivalries for their own benefit.  

English settlers saw the Indians as being in the way of their farms.  Other than in Pennsylvania, where the land was bought mostly fairly from the Indians, the Indians faced harsh wars and punitive treaties when dealing with the English.  During times of war, the English would make treaties with tribes who were allied against the French, but they would not honor these treaties after the war was over.  Wars between the English and Native Americans were quite fierce, most notably in King Philip's War.