Native Americans and Early American Colonists

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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 “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 (pg. 26). 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. all (2008) as “disordered and bloody” (pg. 25). These natives were mistreated even though one could argue that they “threw the first punch” but, as Baym et. all (2008) 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 (1897) 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 were the apostles are met with such aggression from barbarians “who were readier to fill their sides full of arrows” (pg. 60). Later on in his account, he...
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