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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersAmerican Beginnings: 1492-1690
American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Topic: ContactTopic: ExplorationTopic: SettlementTopic: PermanenceTopic: Power
Topic: Power
Toolbox Overview: American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Resource Menu: Power
Text 1. Imperial Rivalry I: Spain and England in the Caribbean
Text 2. Imperial Rivalry II: Spain and France in Tejas (Texas)
Text 3. Imperial Rivalry III: England and France in the Northeast
Text 4. Colonial Rule
Text 5. Colonial Rebellion (English Colonies)
Text 6. Indian Relations
Text 7. Indian Wars
Text 8. Africans I: English Colonies
Text 9. Africans II: Spanish and French Colonies

Reading Guide
Leni-Lenape Indians, 1654
Leni-Lenape Indians, 1654
Indian Relations
- English/Iroquois, 1679: Virginia statement and Oneida response, 1679, excerpts
- English/Iroquois, 1684: Iroquois statements to colonial governors, 1684
- English/Leni-Lenape: William Penn on the Leni-Lenape Indians, 1683 (PDF)
- French/Iroquois & Karankawa: French-Indian relations in New France and Tejas, 1673-1687 (PDF)
- Spanish/Pueblo et al.: Indian mortality in northwestern New Spain, 1500-1678 (PDF)

We have come a long way from the Indian-European encounters of the late 1400s and early 1500s, when Europeans thought Indians were Orientals and Indians thought Europeans were gods, and when Europeans were vastly outnumbered by Indians and could be intimidated by native shows of force. "First encounters" continued into the nineteenth century, of course, but by 1670, as we have seen, the Indian-European relationship had evolved into a complex web of power brokering. Alliances were made, broken, and renegotiated by both sides. Indians and Europeans knew each other's languages, negotiation traditions, and soft spots, and both made strategic decisions based on decades of experience with the other. "Natives pursued their own interests," writes historian Alan Taylor, "and manipulated the wishful thinking of the colonizers."* In these selections, we consider Indian-European relationships in the late 1600s, when power could still could be won and lost on both sides.
  • ENGLISH/IROQUOIS: 1679. After the Indian wars of the mid 1670s—King Philip's War in New England and against the Indian allies of Nathaniel Bacon in Virginia—a peace treaty was finalized between the English and the Five Nations (the Iroquois confederacy comprised of the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, and Seneca nations). Known as the Covenant Chain, the treaty allying the English and the Iroquois against the French and the Huron continued for a century. At a 1679 meeting of the alliance, Virginia accused the Oneida of violating the treaty by stealing colonists' provisions and taking women and children as captives. The Oneida admitted the attacks and returned the captives, insisting, however, that the colonists had initially violated the treaty. These statements reflect a meeting of peers, not one of dominant and subjugated powers.
    [Proposition of Col. William Kendall, agent from Virginia, to the Oneida; and the Oneida Response, Albany, 30-31 October 1679]

  • ENGLISH/IROQUOIS: 1684. Because the Oneida and Onondaga continued attacks in Virginia (spurred by the French who hoped to disrupt the English-Iroquois alliance), a meeting was arranged in Albany in 1684 with the Five Nations and the governors of New York and Virginia. A record of their statements is provided by New York official Cadwallader Colden in his early eighteenth-century history of the Five Nations. Here we read the "remarkable speech" of the Onondaga and Cayuga to the governors, as well as statements from the Seneca and Mohawk leaders. ("Brother Corlear" was the Iroquois term for English colonial governors.) Although the Iroquois acknowledge the power of the English, they affirm their own sovereignty and remind the governors that "we being a Free People, though united to the English, may give our Lands and be joined to the Sachem (leader) we like best."
    [Cadwallader Colden, The History of the Five Nations of Canada, 1727. 2d. ed., 1747]

  • ENGLISH/LENI-LENAPE. In one of the most reproduced images of colonial America, William Penn is depicted negotiating a land purchase with the Leni-Lenape under the "treaty tree" of Shackamaxon near Philadelphia. Although the treaty is not documented, Penn's equitable dealings with the Lenape are well documented in land deeds and independent accounts. He praised their "natural sagacity," respected their negotiating skills, and learned their language to be free of interpreters' errors. In this letter of 1683, Penn offers guidelines for clear and honest negotiations with the Lenape, emphasizing that one must "let them have justice, and you win them."
    [William Penn, Letter to the Committee of the Free Society of Traders, London, 1683]

  • FRENCH/IROQUOIS & KARANKAWA. Many texts in this Toolbox illustrate the French-Indian relationships in New France (Canada) as described by missionaries, officials, and explorers. Here we read accounts of specific negotiations between the French and Indians: (1) the 1673 peace treaty as reviewed by a French government official; (2) the announcement to the Iroquois of French plans to build Fort Niagara in 1679, as described by a Franciscan missionary and explorer; and (3) advice on negotiating with the Karankawa of Tejas (Texas) from two French brothers who had been captives of the Indians and Spanish in the late 1600s. Throughout these accounts the French sense of vulnerability to the Indians' power is apparent, even if veiled with a condescending tone.
    [Baron de Lahontan, New Voyages to North-America, 1703; Louis Hennepin, A New Discovery of a Vast Country in America, 1697; Report of Two Canadian Soldiers who made La Salle's Voyage to the Mississippi, 1698]

  • SPANISH/PUEBLO et al. A study of Indian-European relations must include the disastrous effect of European diseases on Native Americans—and the resulting power adjustments as the population balance skewed toward the Europeans. Many estimates are proffered of Indian mortality rates and causation, but overall totals for the continent continue to be the subject of strong debate. To represent this phenomenon, then, we study the results of one scholar's demographic study of one region of North America. In these excerpts from Dr. Daniel Reff's study of Indian population trends in northwestern New Spain (present-day Arizona, New Mexico, and northern Mexico), we focus on the data from 1500 to 1678 for about twenty Indian groups including the Pueblo, Pima Alto, and Yaqui. Interpreting the data and primary accounts from this region, Reff concludes that "Old World diseases destroyed upwards of ninety percent of the aboriginal population." In addition he explores the "profound changes in aboriginal culture," including the Indians' growing receptivity to Spanish missionaries that resulted from the extreme rates of Indian mortality.
    [Daniel T. Reff, Disease, Depopulation, and Culture Change in Northwestern New Spain, 1518-1764 (1991)]
An illuminating exercise would be to compare these texts with the first-encounter narratives in Topics I and II of this Toolbox, especially those of the Spanish and Mexica (Aztec) in New Spain, the French and Algonquians on the Atlantic coast (Verrazzano), the English and Coastal Miwoc on the Pacific coast (Drake), and the Russians and Alutiiq on the north Pacific coast (Steller/Bering). (21 pages.)

Discussion questions
  1. From these and other texts in the Toolbox, characterize the Spanish, French, and English relationships with the Native Americans. In what ways are they similar and different?
  2. When do the Indians and colonists deal as peers? How does each side express its awareness of the peer relationship?
  3. In situations where one side is dominant, how does the other side maximize its subordinate position?
  4. How do the Indians "manipulate the wishful thinking of the colonizers"?
  5. In what ways are the Indians and Europeans mutually dependent?
  6. How does the European attitude toward the spread of Christianity among the Indians differ in these texts?
  7. Applying the readings in the IMPERIAL RIVALRY sections, analyze the three-way and four-way relationships, e.g., English-Iroquois-Algonquian, French-Spanish-Karankawa, or French-Huron-Iroquois-English. How does each party understand and utilize the complexities of the relationships?
  8. Apply this section's questions to the readings in #7, INDIAN WARS, and apply the questions in #7 to these readings.
  9. Apply Dr. Reff's analysis of the cultural effects of high Indian mortality to the relations and negotiations in these accounts. To what extent might these accounts reflect decreasing Indian populations?

Topic Framing Questions
  •  What power relationships had been forged among the peoples of North America by 1690?
  •  How did the European rivalries of the 1690s in North America set the stage for the later imperial conflicts of the 1700s?
  •  What did "North America" signify to Europe in 1690? to the inhabitants of North America?

English/Iroquois, 1679:  4
English/Iroquois, 1684:  3
English/Leni-Lenape:  3
French/Iroquois & Karankawa:  7
Spanish/Pueblo et al.:  4
21 pages
Supplemental Sites
The Covenant Chain, overview from the Encyclopedia of New York State

The Iroquois confederacy, overview from the Columbia Encyclopedia (

The History of the Five Nations of Canada, 1727, 1747 ed., by Cadwallader Colden, from Early Canadiana Online

Franco-Indian Alliances, sections of France in America/La France en Amérique, from the Library of Congress and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France

William Penn and the Lenape Indians, from

Native Americans in New England, 1680-1720, in online exhibition Turns of the Centuries from Memorial Hall Museum, Massachusetts

Population histories of American indigenous peoples, from Wikipedia

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

English/Iroquois, 1679: Digital History
English/Iroquois, 1684: Longman Publishing Company
Other texts: National Humanities Center

Image: A Leni-Lenape family group (man, woman, and boy), engraving by P. Lindeström, New Sweden, 1654; in Thomas C. Holm, Kirt Beskrifning Om Provincien Nya Swerige uti America, Stockholm, 1702. Reproduced by permission of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

*Alan S. Taylor, American Colonies: The Settling of North America (New York: Viking/Penguin, 2001), 113.

Toolbox: American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Contact | Exploration | Settlement | Permanence | Power

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Revised: September 2006