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2.5 Interactions between Native Americans and Europeans

#period2

#disease

#wampanoag

#pilgrims

#puritans

⏱️  3 min read

written by

james glackin


Introduction

European trade and expansion into North America would lead to both accomodations and conflict with the Native Americans who lived there. The natives had established settlements and a lifestyle for thousands of years in North America before European arrival. The British, French, Dutch, and Spanish would all eventually expand into Indian territory.

Initially, Europeans and Native Americans established friendly relations and exchanged products while sharing the same land. But by the early 1600’s, conflicts would erupt over land, resources, and cultural beliefs. Some of these conflicts over land and resources would also take place between different native tribes, such as the Iroquois and the Huron.

Trade was an important part of the exchanges between Europeans and Native Americans. Native beaver furs in the North would be exchanged for European guns, metal tools, glass beads, and textiles. Tribes like the Iroquois became heavily armed from this and had an advantage over other tribes that did not engage in European trade.

The most dramatic effect of this transatlantic contact was the spread of disease. Over time, millions of natives in the Americas would die from exposure to European smallpox and other lethal diseases. Native Americans did not have an immune system to deal with these European diseases. 

Relations in New England

Relations between the Puritans and the local Wampanoag Indians in the early 1600’s were friendly. Chief Massasoit signed a peace treaty with the Pilgrims in 1621 which led to the first Thanksgiving celebration and exchanges of food.

However, English expansion and their settlements led Massasoit’s son, Metacom, also called King Philip by the English, to forge an Indian alliance to counter this white encroachment upon native lands. King Philip’s War (1675-1677) would devastate both the New England frontier and Indian-European relations.

The Native Americans lost this war with many casualties. Numerous New England towns were destroyed. King Philip was beheaded while his wife and son were sold as slaves. This was the last Indian threat to New England colonists.

The Connecticut Valley also witnessed confrontation between English settlers and the local Pequot Indians. The English and their Narragansett Indian allies torched Pequot villages and decimated the Pequot population.  

Relations in the Middle Colonies 

The Iroquois Confederacy was one of the largest native nations on the continent. They had an organized government, were armed with European guns and trapped beaver furs and other pelts in upstate New York and Pennsylvania. They allied themselves with the British against the French and their native allies, the Huron.  

The Beaver Wars of the 1640’s saw the Iroquois fight the French and the Hurons over beaver pelts and hunting land rights in the Ohio Valley. The Iroquois would also defeat numerous other native tribes during this time and chase them out of their lands.

In Pennsylvania, Native American and European relations were much friendlier, thanks to founder William Penn. Penn and the Quakers established peaceful relations with many local tribes, even though these tribes were controlled by the Iroquois. However, the Scots-Irish and other Europeans would expand westward and create conflict with the natives. By 1740, relations soured and many tribes were decimated.

Relations in the Southern Colonies

When the English settled Jamestown in 1607 in Virginia, they met Chief Powhatan and the numerous local tribes that were part of Powhatan’s Confederacy. As with many initial Native American-European encounters, relations began amicably but soured quickly. Food was scarce in the Chesapeake and colonists began raiding Powhatan food supplies.

A series of wars broke out between the Anglos and Powhatans from 1610-1646. The Governor of Virginia, Lord De La Warr (yes, Delaware got its name from this English noble) imposed harsh tactics against the Powhatans. His soldiers torched cornfields and Powhatan houses while systematically eliminating the Powhatans.

Disease and the English desire to wipe out these Indians from Virginia caused the extinction of the Powhatans.  Also, the fact that these natives could not be used as laborers in the tobacco fields made them disposable. As a result, the peace treaty of 1646 created a distinctive white settlement in Virginia.

Elsewhere, the Savannah Indians of the coastal Carolinas were crushed by white settlers by 1710.  The Tuscaroras of Newbern, North Carolina were also defeated by white settlers by 1711, with many being sold as slaves.  Those remaining would become part of the Iroquois Confederacy. The Cherokee and Creeks would remain in the interior for another fifty years.  

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