Frontier Life: Blending Cultures

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Frontier Life: Blending Cultures

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Social and Cultural Accommodation . In 1754 many Native American people living in the trans-Appalachian region had been in close contact with white colonists for

at least one hundred years, and their way of life combined Indian and European ways. Indians relied on a range of manufactured tools, weapons, pots, and decorative items. In fact the consumer revolution among the Indians was well underway in the late 1600s and early 1700s, well ahead of the trend in the white-settled areas of British America. Many influential figures among Indians and whites crossed over from one cultural sphere to another, speaking various European and Indian languages and intermarrying, and forming political alliances between the two rapidly merging worlds. In New England some Indians still lived in traditional wigwams, but they filled them with European-manufactured furniture and decorative items. Some members of the Oneida tribe of the Iroquois confederacy practiced Presbyterianism, although simultaneously retaining traditional beliefs and rituals. Some Indians adopted European dress but retained the loincloths and nose rings of their own cultures.

Alcohol . While Indians successfully adapted some European ways and artifacts, the widespread introduction of alcohol proved disastrous for their societies. Drinking fed the violence and social dislocation that came with European contact; it also increased susceptibility to European diseases, which took a frightful toll. Europeans were aware of the ill effects liquor had on Indians and often promoted its distribution to increase those effects.

White Settlers, Indian Ways . Europeans on the frontier adopted Indian ways in the form of clothing, canoes, and native foods. They grew Indian corn and hunted just as Native Americans did. Frontiersmen routinely wore breechcloths and leggings and were quite proud of their ability to hunt and live off the land like Indians. Some settlers even lived in Indian communities and married Indian women. This proximity and intermarriage into Indian clans facilitated trade and provided mutual protection against enemies. In the mid 1770s twenty whites lived in the Shawneee town of Chillicothe in what is now Ohio. Three hundred English and Scots lived among the Creeks in present-day Alabama.

Conflicts . Despite the exchanges and mixing of culture the legacy of the frontier was conflict rather than cooperation. Indian population was declining, mainly due to disease. White population was skyrocketing from immigration and natural increase. Whites on the frontier resented restrictions on their movements and taxation imposed by British officials. They complained that the colonial government favored Indians over whites and complained of their lack of representation in colonial legislatures. Frontier settlers were buffeted about by land speculators who bought up vast regions of the backcountry and charged high prices for land that the settlers themselves had cleared, cultivated, and made valuable. In a hostile world settlers took out their frustrations upon those least able to defend themselves, usually Native Americans. In the early 1770s the backcountry was ready to explode, with resentment of British Indian policy breaking out in random massacres of Indian settlements.

Source

Colin G. Calloway, The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

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Frontier Life: Blending Cultures

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