Native Americans and Early American Colonists

Category: Native Americans
Last Updated: 09 Aug 2020
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Native American and Early American Colonists

Grade school and even beginning-level college history classes have taught early American exploration from a largely one-sided view of the conflict between early explorers and Native Americans. The traditional image of the Native Americans as the sole victims is an oversimplification of the conflict that existed between early explorers, settlers, and Native Americans. Through the readings from Columbus, Bradford, and some selected Native American writings, the traditional view of the Native American victim will be challenged and a broader view of the conflict will be presented. Columbus set out to explore a new land under the Spanish flag to bring riches and fame to Spain and the throne. In his letter to Santangel, Columbus (1493) explained how he hoped to find “great cities” and “a king[s]” but instead found a primitive people and settlements he described as “small hamlets” that he viewed quite devolved from the bustling civilizations of Europe. One can clearly see, that Columbus’s hopes of finding rich kingdoms and cultures were dashed; instead, his presence was met with resistance from the “Indians”.

This relationship with the natives was described by Baym et. (2008) as “disordered and bloody”. These natives were mistreated even though one could argue that they “threw the first punch” but, as Baym et. describes earlier in the chapter, the Natives were not merely victims. They strategically used alliances with explorers and settlers to further their own interests and disputes with warring tribes and peoples. William Bradford describes quite a different account of his coming to the new world. He was part of a group of “pilgrims” seeking religious freedom. He likens their arrival to the new world, to the story in Acts where the apostles are met with such aggression from barbarians “who were readier to fill their sides full of arrows”. Later on in his account, he describes an attack they received from the natives he described as “enemies”. Later on in his account, Bradford (1897) describes some awful events surrounding early accounts of settler and native interactions in which the Native Americans treated the English as “worse than slaves” and were sent around and “ma[d]e sport with” (pg. 70).

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One last important viewpoint to give credence to is that of the Natives themselves. This account is unique and oftentimes not told. The first story mentioned is that of the freeing of John Smith as a ceremonial act that the natives hoped would earn them respect from the English. This instead had the opposite effect and eventually brought about an attack from the natives which killed over 500 colonists. In a speech from Pontiac (1763), he expresses concern over his people forgetting their heritage and blaming the English for the polluting of his people’s culture and beliefs. He holds the English in complete responsibility and calls for their blood. The traditional view of the natives as the sole victim is an oversimplification of the problems revolving around immigration and cultural diversity. Just from these three personal accounts from the time period, we have three very different views of the issue. So, to say that one people are the victim is a gross oversimplification and misrepresentation of history.


  1. Columbus, C. (1493).
  2. Letter to Luis de Santagel Regarding the First Voyage. In Baym, N. (Ed. ). (2008).
  3. The Norton Anthology of American Literature (seventh ed. pp. 24-28). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Bradford, W. (1897).
  4. Of Plymouth Plantation. In Baym, N. (Ed. ). (2008).
  5. The Norton Anthology of American Literature (seventh ed. , pp. 57-74). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Pontiac (1763).
  6. Speech in Detroit. In Baym, N. (Ed. ). (2008).
  7. The Norton Anthology of American Literature (seventh ed. , pp. 208-209). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Baym, N. (Ed. ). (2008).
  8. The Norton Anthology of American Literature (seventh ed. , pp. 1-218). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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Native Americans and Early American Colonists. (2018, May 09). Retrieved from

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