Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Race in North America - Chapter 4

Chapter four details the relationships between early English settlers and Native Americans. It interested me to learn that although the English viewed the Native Americans as savages, they had no reason to. By all accounts highlighted in the chapter, the Native Americans were very hospitable and generous toward the English, yet the English burned and stole their resources, killed their leaders, and published pamphlets portraying Native Americans in a very negative light. It seems clear that the English were trying to anger the Native Americans enough to become violent so the English could justify their cruel treatment of them.

Another aspect of the chapter which interested me was the way the English used religion to justify their actions. In several instances, the English believed that it was God's will for them to kill the Native Americans, thus killing them was acceptable. Native Americans didn't believe in the Christian God, therefore they were God's enemies.

Even in the case of some English Christians who chose to convert the Native Americans they came into contact with rather than simply murdering them, conversion didn't mean the Native Americans were treated much better. Once converted, they were forced to worship and live in their own congregations and towns outside of the colony, and they had to follow very strict rules.

Through converting the Native Americans but not welcoming them into the colony, it seems to me the English viewed them as projects, in a sense. They weren't equals (obviously, since they weren't permitted into the colony) and there was something wrong with them (supposedly, since they didn't worship the Christian God), so it was up to the English to come in and save them. Similarly, this shows an English view toward Native Americans as child-like and unable to save themselves or find a suitable god on their own. It's just one more way for the English to excuse their horrid treatment of the Native Americans by disguising it in the idea it's for the Native Americans' own good.


  1. It is very notable how the whites' view of, and attitudes toward, the native population varied with the settlers needs. When they were struggling to survive, and the Indians helped them, the natives were good, kind people. However, once the settlers had a foothold, and wanted the natives' land, they were suddenly evil savages who must be removed or killed, or converted to Christianity and treated very badly. This shows how our culture and worldview are shaped by our needs and desires, as much as our needs and desires are shaped by our cultures, often with little basis in facts. We see what we want to see.
    It was also interesting that the natives didn't have any of the innate fear of strangers that the primordialists believed all humans had. Was this due to curiosity, lack of fear, or maybe just human kindness? They initially showed kindness, and didn't stop until the settlers changed their attitudes toward them.

    1. The section on how rapidly the English view of the natives changed was what struck me too. It directly echos the previous Irish conflict in that there are completely different notions of freedom, acceptable social conduct, and what is intrinsically valuable in terms of commerce. The incorporation of Calvinism into the general religious ethos would have been a major paradigm shift for intercultural relations. The soul saving aspect of earlier forays would be meaningless since Calvin's main contribution to Christian thought was Double Predestination: Some people are saved and others damned, and this was determined at the beginning of time.

  2. The initial mistreatment of Native Americans by the English came form their point of view that if you showed the slightest hint of vulnerability, you would be taken advantage of and essentially maimed or destroyed. They utilized this idea that if they did not mistreat the Native Americans, then they would be mistreated. Although Native Americans could be converted to Puritanism, they would still be considered savages and eventually treated equally as viciously as the other groups of Native Americans. The Native Americans often returned to their village and “savage” lifestyle which caused the colonists to believe there was no hope for them. Yet, when captured colonists had the chance to return to their superior civilization, they frequently stayed with their Native American captors and assimilated to their lifestyle. This is an interesting occurrence, seeing as how the English believed there was one way to receive salvation and it was by living by their standards, yet the people that were prisoners of the “savages” believed that their lifestyle was a better way to live.

  3. This chapter in particular showed me a very different history than I have read over my years. The fact that the English held such a romantic view of the Natives even before beginning their explorations shows that there may have been previous encounters that may not have ended well. This assumption could have been made by the colonist which could have been a reason there was such a change in attitude toward Natives from people of later generations. While the idea of the noble savage did not come from the colonist but appeared later in the 18th century show that with the advancements of colonization and the need for the land may have turned once friendly encounters into something more. The vulnerability of the English accounted for one of the primary movers in the change of perception of the Natives.


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