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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersBecoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Theme: GrowthTheme: PeoplesTheme: EconomiesTheme: IdeasTheme: American
Theme: Growth

7.
John Mitchell, A Map of the British and French dominions in North America, between 1755 and 1761, details
Indian Lands
- On the taking of Indian lands, views of colonists, Indians, and the king, 1707-1765 (PDF)

Q:Did we any wrong to the Indians in buying their Land at a small price?
A: Tho' we gave but a small Price for what we bought; we gave them their demands, we came to their Market, and gave them their price; and indeed, it was worth but little.
Rev. Samuel Stoddard,
An Answer to Some Cases of Conscience, 1722


In the end, the story of the colonization of the United States is still a story of power, but it was a more subtle and complex kind of power than we conventionally recognize. It was the power to establish the legal institutions and the rules by which land transactions would be enforced. The threat of physical force would always be present, but most of the time it could be kept out of view because it was not needed. Anglo-Americans could sincerely believe, for most of American history, that they were not conquerors, because they believed they were buying land from the Indians in the same way they bought land from each other. What kind of conqueror takes such care to draft contracts to keep up the appearance that no conquest is taking place? A conqueror that genuinely does not think of itself as one.
Stuart Banner, How the Indians Lost Their Land: Law and
Power on the Frontier
(Harvard University Press, 2005), p. 6
Our media-driven image of the white man's conquest of the Indian focuses on the American west of the 1800s, when Indians were forcibly moved to resource-barren reservations, many dying from battle, disease, and harsh conditions. The earlier chapters of this history, however, in the late 1600s through the 1700s, are driven by the less dramatic mechanism of land negotiations between Indians and colonists. Deeds of sale in incomprehensible legal language, plus white-written accounts of days-long conferences—countered by complaints and petitions for redress from tribal leaders—document the loss of Indian land to the colonists, tract by tract, colony by colony, heading west. As clarified by historian Stuart Banner, "at most times, and in most places, the Indians were not exactly conquered, but they did not exactly choose to sell their land either. The truth was somewhere in the middle. . . . every land transfer of any form included elements of law and elements of power."1 In this collection of brief selections, analyze the law and the power struggle underpinning each event.

1707: The royal governor of North Carolina ascribes the "thinning of Indians" by disease before colonial settlement to the “hand of God . . . eminently seen.”
1722: A Puritan minister in Boston offers scriptural justification for paying little to norhing for Indian land.
1736: A Mohegan leader in Connecticut sails to England to present a petition to King George II urging his royal protection of Indian land.
1739: A Baptist minister in Rhode Island explains that God drove out the Indians to prepare an "asylum" for the early English settlers.
1740: The Lenni Lenape Indians in Pennsylvania petition colonial officials to address the "Great Wrong We Receive in Our Lands" by the Walking Purchase of 1737 that had tricked them into ceding more land than they had anticipated. (See 1759 entry.)
1750: A Swedish botanist in Pennsylvania comments on the few Indians to be seen in the eastern part of the colony.
1759: A Pennsylvanian compiles evidence to document the fraudulent terms of the Walking Purchase of 1737.
1763: The Society of Friends in Pennsylvania urges Quakers topurchase or settle only that indian land that has been honestly acquired.
1763: The King of Great Britain, after Britain’s victory in the French and Indian War, bans all land purchases by individual colonists west of the Appalachain Mountains in order to prevent "Frauds and Abuses" of the Indians.
1765: Indians of the lower Mississippi Valley, previously controlled by the French, meet with new British officials after the French and Indian War to agree on the sale and use of their land.

Use these texts to explore Stuart Banner's assertion that "the story of the colonization of the United States is still a story of power, but it was a more subtle and complex kind of power than we conventionally recognize." See Theme II: PEOPLES for texts on colonists' and Indians' views of each other, and Theme V: AMERICAN for texts on European competition for Indian lands. For the period 1492 to 1690, refer to the sections Conquest, Indians' Accounts, Indian Relations, and Indian Wars in the toolbox American Beginnings. (8 pages.)

  • - Commentary of Gov. John Archdale, Rev. Samuel Stoddard, Mahomet Weyonomon, Rev. John Callender, Lenni Lenape leaders of Pennsylvania, Peter Kalm, Charles Thomson, the Pennsylvania Society of Friends, King George III, and Choctaw and Chickasaw leaders of the lower Mississippi Valley.


Discussion questions
  1. What overall impressions are generated by these texts on the acquisition of Indian lands?
  2. How did the acquisition of Indian lands in the 1700s differ from that in the 1800s? 1600s?
  3. How do these texts differ by speaker, intended audience, and genre (private or official)?
  4. How are the Indian texts affected by being recorded or transcribed by white officials?
  5. How do these do the texts illustrate the conclusion by historian Stuart Banner (see above) that "every land transfer of any form included elements of law and elements of power"1?
  6. How do the colonists portray themselves as peer negotiators with the Indians, not as conquerors?
  7. How do they explain their actions to themselves and to the Indians?
  8. What criticisms of colonial actions are made by colonists?
  9. What criticisms of Indian actions are made by Indians?
  10. When and how do colonists praise the Indians, and vice versa? When is the praise sincere, do you think, and when it is expressed for diplomatic or manipulative purposes?
  11. Of the Indian spokesmen in these readings, which one would you most want to interview? What questions would you ask? Why?
  12. Of the colonial or royal spokesmen in these readings, which one would you most want to interview? What questions would you ask? Why?
  13. Create a dialogue between the two spokesmen you chose above, using each to represent his group's general perspectives on the taking of Indian lands. Include quotations from the texts.
  14. Add statements to your dialogue to demonstrate that Indians and colonists, both, could be victims and exploiters. How must you rewrite your dialogue to incorporate this complexity?

Framing Questions
  •  What factors fostered or hindered the growth of the British Atlantic colonies (that later became the United States of America) from 1690 to 1763?
  •  How did the European colonists respond to the growing diversity among them—by religion, ethnicity, economic status, and country of origin?
  •  How did the colonies’ growth affect Native Americans and enslaved Africans?
  •  How were the inhabitants’ concepts of liberty and rights affected by the colonies’ growth?
  •  List the power relationships that influenced the colonies in this period, e.g., between the colonies and England, the colonies and the French and Spanish on their borders, the settlers and the Native Americans, the clergy and their congregants, the southern planters and their servants and slaves, etc. How did the totality of these power relationships affect the colonies’ growth and self-perception?


Printing
Indian lands: 8 pages
Supplemental Sites

The Walking Purchase, overview from the Pennsylvania State archives




1 Stuart Banner, How the Indians Lost Their Land: Law and Power on the Frontier (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005), p. 4.



Image: John Mitchell, A Map of the British and French dominions in North America, between 1755 and 1761, details.


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GROWTH
1. The Colonies: 1690-1715   2. Cities & Towns   3. Coming to America
4. New Settlers   5. Servants & Slaves   6. New Colonies
7. Indian Lands   8. The Land   9. The Colonies: 1720-1763








TOOLBOX: Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Growth | Peoples | Economies | Ideas | American


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