Worlds New and Worlds Old
This chapter will carry you from the Columbian Encounter to the first conflicts between native peoples and newcomers in the Chesapeake and New England. We explore what Europeans wanted to achieve in America, how native peoples conceived of the newcomers, and how they worked to incorporate them into their accustomed ways of being. We look at the consequences for native peoples that came with their interactions with the first permanent European settlements.
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The Fundamental Violence of Discovery
On Columbus, his claims, and the violence of his voyage, see Andres Resendez, The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America. (New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 2016), Patricia Seed, Ceremonies of Possession in Europe’s Conquest of the New World, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). On the violence of the Spanish conquest, and its relationship to the epidemic diseases that took an enormous toll in Indian lives, see the works listed for Chapter One, above, but also the following works on disease: Alfred Crosby, “Virgin Soil Epidemics as a Factor in Aboriginal Depopulation In America,” William and Mary Quarterly, 30 (1976), 176-207; David S. Jones, “Virgin Soils Revisited.” William and Mary Quarterly, 60 (October 2003), 703-742 and Noble David Cook, Born to Die: Disease and New World Conquest, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
Paths of Destruction
For the Spanish incursion in the American Southwest, see James Brooks, Mesa of Sorrows: A History of the Awat’ovi Massacre, (New York: Norton, 2016) and “Women, Men, and Cycles of Evangelism in the Southwest Borderlands, AD 750-1750.” American Historical Review, 118 (2013), 738-764; Elizabeth A. H. John, Storms Brewed in Other Men’s Worlds: The Confrontation of Indians, Spanish and French in the Southwest, 1540-1795, 2nd ed., (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996); and Ramon Gutierrez, When Jesus Came, the Cornmothers Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality and Power in New Mexico, 1500-1846, (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1991). Also extremely valuable are the works written by Richard Flint: “The Flipside of Discovery.” New Mexico Historical Review, 88 (Winter 2013), 1-14; “Without Them, Nothing Was Possible: The Coronado Expedition’s Indian Allies,” New Mexico Historical Review 84 (Winter 2009), 65-118; “What They Never Told Youi About the Coronado Expedition.” Kiva 71 (Winter 2005), 203-217; and, with Shirley Cushing Flint, “Parts of the Whole: The Diverse Makeup of the Coronado Expedition.” Journal of the West 47 (Summer 2008), 23-31. For the De Soto entrada, see Dennis Blanton, Conquistador’s wake: Tracking the Legacy of Hernando de Soto in the Indigenous Southeast,(Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2020); Kathleen Du Val, The Native Ground: Indians and Colonists in the Heart of the Continent, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006) and Charles S. Hudson, Knights of Spain, Warriors of the Sun: Hernando de Soto and The South’s Ancient Chiefdoms, (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997). A large quantity of archaeological work on the southern California Chumash has appeared in recent years. For the best of it, see Lynn H. Gamble, The Chumash World at European Contact: Power, Trade and Feasting among Complex Hunter-Gatherers, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008). On Hochelaga and Stadacona, see Parmenter, Edge of the Woods, and Richter, Ordeal of the Longhouse.
On Tsenacommacah and the early history of the Powhatans’ interactions with the English, see the important articles by Martin H. Quitt, “Trade and Acculturation at Jamestown, 1607-1609: The Limits Of Understanding,” William and Mary Quarterly, 52 (April 1995), 227-
258 and James Rice, “War and Politics: Powhatan Expansionism and the Problem of Native American Warfare,” William and Mary Quarterly, 77 (2020), 47-70. See also the following books: Camilla Townshend, Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma, (New York: Hill and Wang, 2004), Martin Gallivan, James River Chiefdoms: The Rise of Social Inequality in the Chesapeake, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003); Stephen Potter, Commoners, Tribute and Chiefs: The Development of Algonquian Culture in the Potomac Valley, (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993); Michael Leroy Oberg, Dominion and Civility: English Imperialism and Native America, 1585-1685, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999); and three books by Helen Rountree: Pocahontas, Powhatan, Opechancanough: Three Indian Lives Changed by Jamestown, (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2005); Pocahontas’s People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia Through Four Centuries (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990); and The Powhatan Indians of Virginia: Their Traditional Culture (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989). If students do any reading about the Powhatans at all, they will see citations to J. Frederick Fausz’s important dissertation, “The Powhatan Uprising of 1622: A Historical Study of Ethnocentrism and Cultural Conflict.” Ph.D. diss, College of William and Mary, 1977).
For the Indigenous northeast, see Peter Jakob Olsen-Harbich, “A Meaningful Subjection: Kingly Government, Coercive Inequality, and Diplomacy in the North American Eastern Woodlands, 1000-1625,” (Ph.D. diss., College of William and Mary, 2020).Readers interested in learning more about the Mohegans in the seventeenth century should start with my book, Uncas: First of the Mohegans, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003) but consult as well Neal Salisbury, Manitou and Providence: Indians, Europeans and the Making Of New England, 1500-1643, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982); Jenny Hale Pulsipher, Subjects Unto the Same King: Indians, English and the Contest For Authority in Early New England, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), and Alfred Cave, The Pequot War, (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996). The older books by Alden T. Vaughan, New England Frontier: Puritans and Indians, 1620-1675, (Boston: Little, Brown, 1965) and Francis Jennings, The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonists, and the Cant of Conquest, (New York: Norton, 1975) are worth knowing about. Articles by Cave, “Who Killed John Stone? A Note on the Origins of the Pequot War,” William and Mary Quarterly, 49 (1992); P. Richard Metcalf, “Who Should Rule at Home? Native American Politics and Indian-White Relations,” Journal of American History, 61 (1974), 651-665; and Richard R. Johnson, “The Search for a Usable Indian: An Aspect of the Defense of Colonial New England,” Journal of American History, 64 (1977), 623-651, are also very useful. for understanding native politics in early New England. Alan Greer’s Property and Dispossession: Natives, Empires, and Land in Early Modern North America, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018) is a useful overview.
Information on Columbus’s voyages and his relations with the native peoples of the Caribbean can be found in many locations. The Library of Congress ran a wonderful exhibition a few years back entitled “Exploring the Early Americas.” The Hakluyt Society’s edition of Columbus’s writings and other documents related to his voyages to the Americas is available online as well. On how his letters circulated in Europe, check out this website, hosted by the Osher Map Library at the University of Southern Maine. A translation of the Requerimiento is online, thanks to the National Humanities Center.
Project Gutenberg has made available an online, full-text version of Las Casas’s Devastation of the Indies. You can read it here. Theodor DeBry’s engravings, based upon Las Casas’s work, can be viewed here. Students will want to keep in mind that DeBry composed his work with a Protestant audience in mind, and this imperative colored his presentation. For a cinematic depiction of the Spanish Conquest, the movie La Otra Conquista (1998) is worth a look.
Information on Acoma Pueblo is available at the Sky City Cultural Center, the community’s museum, and here, at the Acoma Pueblo community webpage. A large number of historic images of Acoma can be found by searching the online collections of the National Anthropological Archives at the Smithsonian Institution. Some material on Coronado can be found at the Mariners’ Museum and here and here, at the PBS website exploring new perspectives in the history of the American West. For the De Soto expedition, the North Carolina Digital History project is a valuable resource. Information on De Soto’s route through the south can be found here. For Cabrillo, see this brief overview from the San Diego History Center. For Verrazzano see the document made available by the National Humanities Center. The Canadian Encyclopedia has information on Cartier’s voyages, including Cartier’s depiction of Hochelaga, as does the Upper Canada History website.
John Smith’s map of Virginia is an incredible source, making clear to observers the extent to which early America was a world of towns and villages. A copy is available here, at the Virtual Jamestown site. The Records of the Virginia Company of London are available online in a number of locations. You can read them here. In this four-volume text, you will find the principal documents of the Virginia Company years, including a wealth of information on relations with the Powhatans. Lyon Gardiner Tyler’s Narratives of Early Virginia is also available online. John Rolfe’s letter about marrying Pocahontas is available here. Alexander Whitaker’s sermon, Good Newes from Virginia, in which the conversion of the Indians is discussed, can be found here.
For the origins of the Pequot War, see Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation. An old edition of John Winthrop’s Journal is available here. Good material on the Pequot War is available here. Marge Bruchac’s “On the Wampum Trail” contains a wealth of information about these shell beads. The John Carter Brown Library has placed online a collection of printed texts including indigenous languages. All the texts were published before the nineteenth century. Some of the books included contain nothing more than a one-page vocabulary list. Others are much more comprehensive in their coverage. A valuable source both for students and scholars.
Questions to Consider:
- Students might consider The Devastation of the Indies by Bartolomé de Las Casas, or the recent book by Andrés Resendez, The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Slavery in America, (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2016). Columbus Day is still celebrated as a national holiday in the United States, but in a number of localities around the country it has been replaced by Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Should Columbus Day still be celebrated? An answer to this question will compel students to consider the consequences of the Columbian Encounter, and especially its enormous human costs.
- In this chapter, students will read about the earliest attempts at establishing American empires by the European colonizing powers. What did Spanish, French, Dutch, and English colonial efforts have in common? Is it possible to generalize? What did they share, where did they differ, and why? Patricia Seed’s Ceremonies of Possession in Europe’s Conquest of the New World, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Anthony Pagden’s Lords of All the World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain, and France, c. 1500-1800 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995); Tamar Herzog’s Frontiers of Possession: Spain and Portugal in Europe and the Americas (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015); and Donald Meinig’s The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History, Volume 1., Atlantic America, 1492-1800 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988) all offer interpretations that students might digest in well-chosen excerpts. And as familiar as the story of colonization might seem to students, they often carry into my classes a simplistic understanding of the processes involved. This chapter, at least in part, attempts to invert the familiar story and to write a history, to borrow Daniel Richter’s phrase, that “faces east from Indian Country.” How do Native peoples appear to have understood the first European imperial projects?
- Most of today’s college students are too young to have certainly seen Disney’s hugely successful “Pocahontas” film, but clips from the film are useful for exploring how mainstream culture understands and makes sense of native peoples. Clips from the movie can be juxtaposed with excerpts from John Smith’s Generall Historie or bits from Camilla Townshend’s excellent biography of Pocahontas or Rayna Green’s “The Pocahontas Perplex” in Native American Voices: A Reader, eds Susan Lobo and Steve Talbot, (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2001) to ask students to consider why the fascination with Pocahontas? Why has her story changed so much over time?
- One of the oldest debates in Early American History involves the relationship between the institution of slavery and racist beliefs. Did racism cause slavery, or vice-versa? What about racism towards Indians? When did the English become racist towards native peoples, and how did that happen? The Powhatan Uprising of 1622 and the Pequot War offer ample food for thought. Given the ready accessibility of primary source online, including many of the promotional tracts published by the Virginia Company of London, for instance, students might consider English attitudes toward Native peoples and how those attitudes changed over time.