A chronology of Indian-European relations from 1492 to 1690 would include few years without conflictfrom sporadic raids on each other's settlements to fullscale war. Some Indian groups were overcome almost immediately (the Caribbean Taino), more often they held on until near-extermination in the 1600s (the New England Wampanoag), and some were still powerful contenders in 1690 (the Iroquois). (And for some Native Americans in 1690, like the Coastal Miwok who met Francis Drake briefly in 1579, or the Alutiiq who had yet to meet Russian explorers in Alaska, life was still European-free.)
In section #6, INDIAN RELATIONS, we looked at the larger strategic chess game that came to define Indian-European relationships in many regions of the continent. In this section we focus on specific flash points of the late seventeenth century when fullscale war broke out (or was planned by one or both sides). Beyond representing Indian-European antagonisms, these texts reflect the decisive conflict for dominance of the continent, leading to costly imperial burdens for the Europeans and disaster for the Native Americans. "Colonial empires never fulfilled the European fantasies of command and control," writes historian Alan Taylor," although they unleashed powerful forces of disease, trade, and war, that, although beyond European control, fundamentally disordered far-flung and diverse native peoples."*
While these conflicts include several superlativesthe bloodiest Indian-English war, the last Indian war in New England, and the greatest European defeat by Native Americansconsider them in the broad history of Indian-European relations from 1492 to the late eighteenth century. By 1785 the French and Indian War, Britain's defeat of New France, the French cession of its western territories to Spain, and the American Revolution had restructured the framework in which Native Americans and Europeans competed for existence on the continent. (18 pages.)
- NEW SPAIN: INDIAN RAIDS AND REBELLIONS. By 1650 New Spain (Mexico) had conquered and/or assimilated most of the indigenous peoples who had tried to defeat the arriving Spaniards over a century earlier. But the Native Americans in its northern region had not been subdued and its frontier defenses were vulnerable at best, a point driven hard in this 1654 report by a priest and official in the province of Nueva Vizcaya (now northern Mexico and part of southwestern United States). Diego de Medrano analyzes the friends and foes among the Indians, enumerates the sources of their power (including the influence of shamans), and recommends decisive action to counter the "riots and ruin wrought by the rebellious Indians" of Nueva Vizcaya.
[A Report by Licenciado Diego de Medrano, Priest of the City of Durango, Capital of the Kingdom of Nueva Vizcaya, which Describes the State of the Kingdom Resulting from the Riots and Ruin Wrought by the Rebellious Indians. Durango, 31 August 1654]
- NEW MEXICO: THE 1680 PUEBLO REVOLT. After the Spaniards' brutal suppression of Acoma Pueblo resistance in 1599 [see EXPLORATION: Villagrá], the Pueblo were resettled into controlled communities as a captive labor source for the Spanish. Many converted to Christianity, practicing a hybrid of their traditional beliefs and the rituals taught by the Franciscan missionaries. Yet the Pueblo never assimilated to the level desired by their Spanish conquerors, who were caught by surprise with the successful Pueblo Revolt of 1680 that is considered "the greatest setback that natives ever inflicted on European expansion in North America."* A year later, after the Spanish had retreated south to El Paso, they interrogated many Indians about the revolt, including a Queres Pueblo named Pedro Naranjo who explains the motives and means of the rebellion, including the influence of the charismatic leader Popé whose mystical visions served as a unifying force. When asked if any preparations were afoot for the Spaniards' return, Naranjo replies that the Indians "would have to fight to the death, for they do not wish to live in any other way than they are living at present." The Spanish reconquered New Mexico eleven years later, in 1692.
[Declaration of Pedro Naranjo of the Queres Nation, Place of the Río del Norte, 19 December 1681]
- NEW ENGLAND: INDIAN GRIEVANCES BEFORE METACOM'S WAR. The most devastating Indian war in New England's history was Metacom's War of 1675-1676, named for the Wampanoag leader Metacom (given the English name Philip). The instigating event was the execution of three Wampanoag men for murdering an Indian informant, but war had been considered inevitable by both Indians and colonists as the English settlements pushed farther west. The war ended with the near-complete destruction of the Wampanoag peopleonly four hundred survivedand the end of Native American power in New England. In this selection, a colonist records the Wampanoag grievances against New England settlers before the outbreak of war. Notice how slippery the negotiations are at this point, where misunderstanding trumps clarity regardless of the worthy intentions of some participants.
[Metacom's statement in John Easton, A Relation of the Indian War, 1675]
- NEW ENGLAND: COLONISTS' VIEW OF METACOM'S WAR. In contrast to Metacom's assertion that the Indians "had done no wrong, the English wronged them," Increase Mather not only denies the colonists' culpability but claims that the Indians themselves did not blame the English. He praises the colonial government for trying to help Metacom by keeping "his Land not from him but for him." As a Puritan, he partially ascribes the war's outcome to the Indians' rejection of Christianity. Finally, he presents several documents that argue that the war was "both just and necessary, and its first rise only a defensive war." This legalistic approach of the colonists frustrates the Indians, who interpret such rhetoric as self-justification.
[Increase Mather, A Brief History of the War with the Indians in New-England, 1676]
- NEW FRANCE: DANGER OF A "GENERAL INDIAN REBELLION." In New France, writes historian Alan Taylor, "trade, alliance, and war entangled colonizers and natives in ways that they could not have predicted, could rarely control, and might not have chosenhad they that luxury." From its earliest ventures in North America, sparsely settled New France was defined by, not just dependent on, its relations with the Indians (its Algonquian and Huron allies and its fierce enemies, the Iroquois). In the 1680s, as the English aggressively challenged the French fur trading dominance, they urged the Iroquois to attack French settlements and join them in defeating New France. In this 1687 memorandum, a French official is warned that New France faces "the extirpation of our Colony" if it does not attack and defeat the English-supplied Iroquois. War is also necessary "to avert from us a general Indian rebellion" of the longtime Huron and Algonquian allies who felt abandoned by the French under the previous governor. When war broke out between France and England in Europe two years later, the New France-New England-Indian conflicts also exploded into warfare (see Topic #3: IMPERIAL RIVALRY: FRANCE AND ENGLAND), with neither side gaining victory, land, or security.
[Memoir for the Marquis de Seignelay, French Minister of the Navy, regarding the dangers that threaten Canada and the means to remedy them, January 1687; author unidentified in archives]
- From these and other texts in the Toolbox, characterize the Spanish, French, and English conflicts with the Native Americans. In what ways are they similar and different?
- Compare the Indian strategies of dealing with the Europeans, and vice versa.
- How do the Native Americans organize themselves and consolidate their power in the face of growing European strength?
- How do the Native Americans manipulate the rivalries among the European countries? How do the Europeans manipulate the rivalries among the Indian groups?
- How does religion function as a tool of military and diplomatic policy, especially in the Spanish-Indian conflicts?
- How do these texts illustrate the mutual misunderstanding of each other's cultures and modes of diplomacy?
- In these conflicts of the late 1600s, how does each group define "victory" and "defeat"? How do their definitions influence their military decisionsand their response to the outcomes?
- To what extent do European politics influence the Indian-colonist conflicts in North America?
- Of what factors that would influence the outcomes of these conflicts do the Indians and Europeans appear to be unaware ("clueless")? What makes us aware of these factors: narrator's implications, reading from both perspectives, knowledge of the longterm outcomes?
- Compare these texts with those in Section #5 by country, e.g., the French-Indian relationships and warfare. Is conflict inevitable? Is one European country more "successful" than the others in its Indian relationships, depending on its definition of success?
- Apply this section's questions to the readings in #6, INDIAN RELATIONS, and apply the questions in #6 to these readings.
- Is peace ever a possibility in this texts? Why does it fail as an option?
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?
|Indian raids and rebellions in New Spain:
|Pueblo Revolt in New Mexico:
|Indian grievances before Metacom's War (New England):
|Colonists' view of Metacom's War (New England):
|Danger of Indian war in New France:
Indigenous revolts in Nueva Vizcaya, overview from the Houston Institute of Culture
Pueblo Revolt of 1680, overview from Humanities (NEH)
Statements of Pueblo Indians on the revolt of 1680, from American Journeys (Wisconsin Historical Society)
Letter of Don Antonio de Otermín, governor of New Mexico, on the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, from PBS (The West)
A Relation of the Indian War (Metacom's War), by John Easton, 1675, full text from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Library
A Brief History of the War with the Indians in New-England (Metacom's War), by Increase Mather, 1676, full text from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Library
Diary entries of Hetty Shepard, 1675-1677, on Metacom's War, from History Matters
Captivity narrative of Mary Rowlandson, 1676, Metacom's War, from History Matters
Robert Roules on the Indian capture of his fishing ketch, 1677, after Metacom's War, from History Matters
Lion Gardener on Indian alliances after the Pequot War of 1637, in History Matters
|*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.
|Danger of Indian war
in New France:
AMDOCS, Documents for the Study of American History
|National Humanities Center
Image: Portrait of Metacom (King Philip), paper and ink print captioned "Philip King of Mount Hope" and labelled "Fanciful portrait of King Philip by Paule Revere," published in John Fiske, The Beginnings of New England, 1889, detail. Reproduced by permission of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association (Memorial Hall Museum), Deerfield, Massachusetts, #L00.053.
*Alan S. Taylor, American Colonies: The Settling of North America (New York: Viking/Penguin, 2001), 113, 89, 113.