Native and European Relations in Early America Essay

From the very first interaction, the social and political relations between the Native Americans and the Europeans had begun with much tension. Many Europeans came to the Americas with the intention of discovery. However, when it became apparent that these new lands were inhibited the motives changed, and then the natives were colonized, abused, and in many cases killed. From then and throughout the impending periods of time, the relations between the natives and the Europeans had a few points of mutual peacefulness, but were overall negative.

Many of the very first interactions between the natives and Europeans lead to the natives becoming brutally murdered or enslaved. The account from Bartolome De Las Casas depicts the mistreatment of the natives. He begins by stating how the Spanish entered the villages of the natives, took more food than was given to them, and mistreated the women and children. They attacked towns and spared absolutely no one. “They attacked the towns and spared neither the children nor the aged nor pregnant nor women in childbed, not only stabbing them and dismembering them but cutting them to pieces as if dealing with sheep in a slaughter house” (Casas 37).

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The natives attempted to fight back, but their weapons were nearly harmless in comparison to those of the Spanish. They were overpowered and their government was destroyed when the Spanish made a point to kill off all of the nobles. Casas states “…the Indians justifiably killed some Christians, the Spaniards made a rule among themselves that for every Christian slain by the Indians, they would slay a hundred Indians” (Casas 35). The situation was indeed grim for the natives and only continued to decline as the remaining survivors were forced into slavery.

Once enslaved, the natives were separated from their families and stuffed into ships leading to lands in which they would be expected to perform grueling labor with no pay and little or no food. Most importantly, the tension between the Spanish and natives only continued to increase as their lives and freedom were taken away at the hands of the Europeans. Casas has a positive attitude towards the natives although it is extremely apparent that those around him do not feel the same. He wants to improve the relations between them and the so – called Spanish Christians, which is why he is writing about these horrors.

His approach in improving the relations is to write a brutally honest account of what he witnessed to share with others. He wants the Spanish to realize the brutality they have bestowed upon the natives is unsettling and barbaric for people who call themselves civilized. In this writing, he doesn’t outright tell anyone what to do, but it is implied that he wants the murders and slavery of the natives to end. His story portrays the negative relations between the natives and Europeans from the very beginning of the discovery of the New World.

In William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation, Bradford describes the relations between the natives and the English as more civil. One advantage may have been that some of the Natives knew how to speak some English, so there was less of a communication barrier between them. When the two groups interacted, there were immediately rules set in place such as “1. That neither he nor any of his, should injure or do hurt to any of their people…6. That when their men came to them, they should leave bows and arrows behind them” (Bradford 123).

Bradford continues to mention that these rules were followed for twenty-four years. He portrays the relations between the settlers of Plymouth and the natives as an overall peaceful experience. The natives helped them to plant food and he even writes about the first Thanksgiving. Later, the natives begin to die of smallpox, and Bradford claims that some of the English helped them. He also talks about the alliance made between the Narragansett tribe with the English, against the Pequot Indian tribe. Overall, according to Bradford, the first tribe of natives and the settlers got along fairly well.

Bradford’s attitude towards the natives seems to be one of respect and thankfulness, at least towards the tribe they encountered and made a civility pact with. He doesn’t really mention interactions with any other tribes, besides when he talks about the war and the alliance made. That interaction was certainly not peaceful, however it cannot be expected that every interaction would be. In his writing, it is implied that the group of natives they interacted with reciprocated the respect. They actually helped the settlers survive by providing them with the skills essential to living in America.

His approach to the natives seems to be one of peace; if you don’t hurt us, we won’t hurt you. He wants everyone to get along, and his account of what happened seems to be creditable. It is unlikely that he would suppress the truth if the settlers were getting killed, and if they were killing the natives, the chances of their survival would have been extremely slim. Mary Rowlandson had a much different experience with the natives than the other authors. Her narrative entitled “A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson” documents her own captivity as well as the brutalities of the natives against the settlers.

Her account begins in a Lancaster colony with a description of a graphic attack by the natives against the settlers. Many homes were set on fire and those who tried to escape were ‘knocked on the head’ and killed. Those even less fortunate, such as Rowlandson, were taken captive. Throughout the narrative, she depicts the natives as Satan himself. She calls them names associated with demons and hell. She talks about how they had a ritual of dancing around with the scalps of Englishmen, and the noises they made that signified the amount of English they killed.

Throughout her narrative, Rowlandson makes note that she read her Bible constantly to get through the time of captivity. She also mentions how she got into survival mode. At first, she couldn’t eat the food that the natives provided them with. Later, she thought of the food as savory : “…so that I was fain to take the rest and eat it [horse liver] was, with the blood about my mouth, and yet a savory bit it was to me…” (Rowlandson 245). However, despite her feisty attitude, she manages to not be treated overly cruel by the natives. They had some sort of compassion towards her, as she survived being a captive without experiencing much abuse.

She eventually was restored and rejoined with her family. Rowlandson’s attitude towards the relations between the English and the natives differs from the others because she experienced first-hand the brutalities the natives inflicted. She shows the relationship between them as a negative one at the hands of the natives. Her colony was living a peaceful life, and was attacked by the natives while they slept. While the other authors did not have a negative view of the natives as the people around them did, Rowlandson had a reason to have hostilities against them.

The tables are turned in this narrative; instead of the natives getting killed, the English are instead. Rowlandson’s approach is one of honesty. She simply says what she saw and how it made her feel, as well as what she did. She doesn’t ask anyone to pity her; she just writes what she feels. From the time the Spanish set foot on the New World, to the time of the pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock, the relations between the natives and Europeans have had ups and downs. Overall, the experience was negative for both parties when unable to come to a peaceful understanding which in most times was the case.

Works Cited

Bradford, William. “Of Plymouth Plantation. ” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Bayem et al. 2nd ed. Vol 1. New York: Norton, 1979. 123. De las Casas, Bartolome. “The Very Brief Relation of the Devastation of the Indies. ” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Bayem et al. 2nd ed. Vol 1. New York: Norton, 1979. 35-37. Rowlandson, Mary. “A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson”. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Bayem et al. 2nd ed. Vol 1. New York: Norton, 1979. 245.