How are Native Americans represented in William Bradford's work?
When William Bradford initially describes the Native Americans in Of Plymouth Plantation, he speaks of them as barbaric savages. He describes them as violent and wild, saying that, unlike the welcoming reception provided by the natives of Malta for the apostle Paul, the Pilgrims, when met by the "savage barbarians" of the New World, found that they "were readier to fill [our] sides full of arrows than otherwise." Clearly, Bradford really does not think of them as people, as they seem more like wild animals than men to him.
Bradford describes the Pilgrims' first encounter with the Native Americans as an actual attack on the part of the Indians. One of the Pilgrims came running to tell the others of the attack, and "withal, their arrows came flying amongst [us]. [Our] men ran with all speed to recover [our] arms, as by the good providence of God [we] did." The colonists were victorious and fought off the Indians, but Bradford describes their cry as "dreadful." The whole incident only adds to the feeling that he does not think of the natives as people—people from whom the Pilgrims had actually taken corn and beans (though they later paid the natives back, Bradford says)—but rather as some hellish adversary in the frightening wilderness.
The first winter in Massachusetts was a deadly one for the Pilgrims; they lost half their numbers to cold, disease, and hunger. Bradford describes their "low and sick condition" pitifully. He says that, during this time, they would sometimes see Indians "aloof off," but whenever they tried to approach the Indians, "they would run away." Once, the Indians even stole their tools. However, one day, an Indian man named Samoset came, and "he became profitable to [us] in acquainting [us] with many things concerning the state of the country in the east parts where he lived, which was afterwards profitable unto [us]." Samoset introduced the Pilgrims to Squanto, whose English was better than Samoset's, and a sort of peace treaty was struck.
[Squanto] directed them how to set their corn, where to take fish, and to procure other commodities, and was also their pilot to bring them to unknown places for their profit, and never left them till he died.
From this point on, although Bradford is not friendly in his descriptions of the Native Americans, his word choice lacks the same level of ignorance and biting prejudice that characterized his earlier descriptions. Once the Indians help ensure that the Pilgrims will not continue to die of starvation, Bradford takes a somewhat less caustic tone with them.
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