Four hundred years ago, in 1619, four European countries—France, England, Netherlands, and Spain–were establishing permanent colonies in the Americas. As these colonies expanded, the conflicts with the Native Americans over land increased in frequency and intensity.
Archaeologist Jerald Milanich, in his book Laboring in the Fields of the Lord: Spanish Missions and Southeastern Indians, describes the reasons for the European expansion:
“The driving force behind these initiatives was a desire for wealth: precious stones or metals, fertile lands suitable for productive plantations, human populations to be sold into slavery, and animals and plants that could be hunted or harvested and exported.”
Cherokee historian Robert Conley, in his book The Cherokee Nation: A History, describes the early Spanish explorers as
“roving bands of ruffians, murderers, and thieves, operating with the blessing of their monarch back in Spain.”
On the other hand, the Spanish also engaged in an active intellectual, religious, and ideological debate regarding Indians and their place in the Spanish concept of the universe. Anthropologist Edward Spicer, in his chapter in Attitudes of Colonial Powers Toward the American Indian, writes:
“Specifically, Spaniards split over the issue of what was a just war against the Indians, what was a just basis for title to land, and what were the right techniques for bringing Indians to accept the Spanish variety of civilization.”
One part of the Spanish conquest of the Americas focused on religion: on their need to convert Native Americans to the “one true religion”. The Spanish viewed Indians as heathen savages who worshipped devils. Therefore, Indians would spend eternity suffering the tortures of hell unless they were saved. In his book Intruders Within: Pueblo Resistance to Spanish Rule and the Revolt of 1680, Louis Baldwin writes:
“Baptizing someone in the true faith, even forcibly, was considered an incomparable act of love, because it could save that soul from an eternity of excruciating torment and provide, instead, an opportunity for everlasting ecstasy.”
Louis Baldwin goes on to report that
“any native resistance to conversion was considered the work of Satan’s devils, the friars’ tireless adversaries in the ceaseless competition for souls. Such resistance therefore had to be exorcised by any means available, and this led to a perpetual pitched battle between the forces of good and evil.”
In New Mexico, the Spanish governor, in an attempt to loosen the Franciscans’ hold on the Pueblos, issued an order permitting and encouraging native religious rituals. Louis Baldwin reports:
“The response of the villagers was immediate and enthusiastic: the kachinas and koshare emerged from the secrecy of the kivas, prayer sticks reappeared, sacred cornmeal again was sprinkled, and the people once again were dancing in the streets and plazas.”
The Franciscans responded by fuming and railing against this “devil worship.” In some instances, they set the kivas on fire, and burned many pueblo religious items. The Spanish soldiers, however, did not support them. The Franciscans’ heated intolerance simply alienated the Pueblos further.
Prior to the establishment of English colonies in North America, the only English experience with colonialization had been their invasion, conquest, and occupation of Ireland. The English therefore brought their Irish experience to America and treated Indians in a manner similar to the way in which they had treated the Irish. While the Spanish debated about the moral and legal rights of the Indians, the English had no interest in Indian rights: Indian people were simply inconvenient occupants of land desired by the English.
The English claimed sovereignty over New England and thus the right to govern all people there, whether European or Native American. In his book Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England, historian William Cronon explains:
“The Crown derived its own claim to the region from several sources: Cabot’s ‘discovery’ of New England in 1497-98; the failure of Indians to adequately subdue the soil as Genesis 1:38 required; and from the King’s status—initially a decidedly speculative one—as the first Christian monarch to establish colonies there.”
Regarding the English right to rule, historian Frances Jennings, in his book The Creation of America: Through Revolution to Empire, writes:
“It decreed that Indian peoples were subject to the king of England because earlier subjects had ‘discovered’ Indian territories—had looked at their coasts from shipboard. (I am not inventing this; American courts still appeal to this rationale.)”
Briefly described below are some of the 1619 events involving the Indians and the English.
In England, the directors of the Virginia Company suggested that the Chickahominy be removed by all lawful means in retaliation for the killing of several colonists in revenge for the killing of Chickahominy by the colonists in 1616.
The Virginia House of Burgess imposed the death penalty on anyone who sells muskets to Indians.
The Virginia assembly passed an act which forbids the oppression of Indians.
The President of the Virginia company ordered the sale of 10,000 acres of land. The proceeds from the sale were to be used to build an Indian college at Henrico near the present-day city of Richmond.
The first English missionaries – 50 Anglicans – arrived in Virginia. The first African slaves also arrived in Virginia.
In Massachusetts, Squanto returned from England with Captain Thomas Dermer. He searched for his people, the Wampanoag, and found that they had died in an epidemic.