Causes of Large-scale Native American Deaths between 1500 and 1700


Causes of Large-Scale Native American Deaths Between 1500 and 1700

Between 1500 and 1700, most of the original Native American population vanished. After European conquest, the ways of living for the Native Americans had forever changed, and few had survived large-scale deaths to carry on or learn to live in harmony with the Europeans. Deaths in such great numbers did not result from a single cause. Rather it was a combination of many different causes that led to a near extinction of the Native American population in both Latin and North Americas. Historical sources reveal that European slaughter, starvation and overwork, and foreign disease were the most prevalent causes for large-scale Native American Deaths between 1500 and 1700.

First, Spaniards and Englishmen both acknowledged that many of the Native American deaths have resulted from their slaughter. In 1516, Peter Martyr, as the official government chronicler of events in the New World recorded Vasco Núñez de Balboa’s expedition to the Pacific. Noting that this was early 1500s, Balboa’s expedition to the Americas was one of the first European encounters. While the reporter is a Spaniard, he made it clear that the Spanish brutally killed the Native Americans. He used the phrase, “slain like brute beasts,” and “torn to pieces by dogs,” to suggest the cruelty and brutality of the massacre that Balboa had ordered his men (Document 1). Almost 30 years later, Spanish Dominican friar, Father Bartolomé de las Casas published, Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies on behalf of the native peoples. In his work, Las Casas stated, “[T]he Spaniards determined on a massacre [in the Mexican town of Cholula, in 1519]… and butchered all [the Indians], not even one escaping…” (Document 6). It was not only Spaniards in Latin America, but also Englishmen in North America who slaughtered Native Americans. The authorities of the Virginia colony in 1622-3, recommended extermination of the native population....
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