What was the Europeans's first impression of the Native Americans?

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There have been a couple waves of European contact with indigenous people of what is now known as "North America." In 1492, When Columbus stumbled upon the Bahamian islands, thinking he found India, he was astonished at how friendly, amicable, and giving the people he met there were. Rather than...

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There have been a couple waves of European contact with indigenous people of what is now known as "North America." In 1492, When Columbus stumbled upon the Bahamian islands, thinking he found India, he was astonished at how friendly, amicable, and giving the people he met there were. Rather than return the hospitality and friendliness of the Taíno people, Columbus plotted to enslave them. On October 14, 1492, Columbus wrote in his journal, "with fifty men, they can all be subjugated and made to do what is required of them." On his second journey back to the islands, Columbus kidnapped several Taíno people and forced them to journey back to Spain.

In 1493, Columbus then wrote to an acquaintance who helped fund his first journey about how kind and giving the people of the islands were and that they would be easily and rapidly enslaved and their lands and resources would be taken for the benefit of the king and queen of Spain. Over the next decade, the Taíno people were then nearly completely wiped out through European diseases, enslavement, and murder. Columbus was absolutely not the only European colonist to note how amicable and giving certain indigenous tribes were of so-called North America and then to quickly set out to dominate and enslave/murder/displace them.

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Europeans arrived in America from many different countries, and they settled in many different areas. A Spanish explorer in Florida or New Mexico would have a very different experience than a French Jesuit missionary in Quebec or an English planter in Virginia.

Impressions of the Native Americans varied by tribe and the purposes of the Europeans in contacting them. Some admired Native Americans as "noble savages," but others saw them as barbaric and uncivilized. Many European Christians saw it as their duty to introduce Christianity to Native Americans and make converts of them.

As for America itself, one common impression was that it was less densely populated than Europe. Many early explorers and colonists noted the abundance of forests and wildlife and were impressed by the sense of wilderness and untamed nature. There was a sense among some colonists that the weather, wildlife, and geography in many parts of America were more extreme and dangerous than European equivalents.

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The impressions that Europeans had of the Native Americans in what is now the United States were, of course, rather varied.  Different Europeans had different opinions, as you might expect.  The National Humanities Center link has a pdf with lots of accounts of what Europeans thought -- follow it to see some of them.

In general, there tended to be two schools of thought.  Some Europeans thought that the Native Americans were "noble savages."  They thought the Native Americans were sort of pure and unspoiled and closer to how people should be than the civilized Europeans were.  Others, however, had very negative views of the Indians.  They saw them as pagan savages who were very dangerous.

So there were many different reactions by Europeans to the Native Americans.

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