Introduction to Conflicts with Northeastern Tribes (1621–1697)

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Introduction to Conflicts with Northeastern Tribes (1621–1697)

The permanent British colonization of North America began with a meeting and a peace treaty between the Plymouth colonists and Massasoit, the great sachem (leader) of the powerful Wampanoag Nation. It ended in flames and death, with the Wampanoag and other tribes dead, scattered, or sold into slavery. Generational differences, short-term memory of debts owed, and a basic need for land to support a burgeoning population drove the shift from peace to war.

When Massasoit and William Bradford, Plymouth’s long-serving governor, signed their peace treaty in 1621, they did so for complex but sensible reasons. Each wanted the protection the other had to offer. Bradford wanted the security of having a powerful Native American group as an ally and Massasoit wanted the benefit of having the well-armed colonists on his side. Their treaty stood for forty years, with the Plymouth colonists demonstrating their trust in the relationship by aiding Massasoit in a time of desperate need, and Massasoit doing the same by providing the colonists with warning of impending attacks from unfriendly native groups.

But the constant arrival of new settlers coupled with changing leadership as one generation aged and the other took power led to a struggle over land that the Native Americans ultimately lost. In their quest to acquire acreage to support the exploding population, the generation of colonists forgot or chose to ignore any debt owed to Native Americans like Massasoit and his people. As insults, both intended and perceived, against the native people accumulated, Massasoit’s sons, first Wamsutta (also known as Alexander) and then Metacom (also known as Philip), became unwilling to try to work with the colonists any longer and began agitating with other tribes to join them in an uprising. After Wamsutta’s death in 1662, Metacom took over leadership, and following an initial period of trying to maintain a treaty with the colonists, he gave up and started recruiting neighboring tribes, including the powerful Narragansett people.

In 1675, before Metacom succeeded in amassing the necessary number of warriors, native outrage against the colonists prematurely triggered one of the most terrible wars in New England’s history, which came to be known as King Philip’s War. By the time the war ended, Metacom had been killed, his people and those of many other native nations were dead, dispersed, or enslaved, and Native American tribes and culture had essentially vanished from the area. The only large group to remain standing in the northeast was the Iroquois Confederacy, which included the Mohawk and Oneida people. This Confederacy managed to work as allies with the British colonists well into the eighteenth century.

The Native Americans lost to the colonists for many reasons, but the chief imbalance between the two groups consisted of organization and the ability to replenish resources. The English had the upper hand with both, having their motherland of Britain to back them up, and having well-organized and trained troops to engage in battle. The efforts of the Native Americans were sporadic and not synchronized, and they had only the land and themselves for support in any conflict. The colonists took the land, leaving nothing behind but the memories of the relatively few Native American survivors.

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Introduction to Conflicts with Northeastern Tribes (1621–1697)

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Introduction to Conflicts with Northeastern Tribes (1621–1697)