New Haven. Early in the colonial period Europeans conceived the idea of taking most of the land in a particular area for their own use and setting aside undesirable lands for use by native peoples. In New England a combination of military defeats and diseases weakened native peoples’ will to resist. In November 1638 the Puritan leaders of the colony of New Haven forced the surviving members of the Quinnipiac tribe (who numbered fewer than sixty) to surrender land around the mouth of the Quinnipiac River and its harbor. The Indians were allowed to keep about twelve hundred acres east of the river’s mouth. The Quinnipiacs agreed to have little or no contact with the English and were required to obtain the consent of the Puritan colonists before admitting any outside Indians to their reservation. The English had the right to appoint a superintendent to oversee the Quinnipiacs’ affairs. While the Native Americans could hunt outside the reservation so long as they caused no inconvenience, the English retained the rights to the timber on their land. Quinnipiacs were responsible for any English livestock they killed, but they were not compensated for any damage that free-ranging cattle might do to native crops. In addition to a requirement that they accept Christianity and renounce their own religion, the Indians could not purchase alcohol or firearms.
Massachusetts Bay. Additional reservations were established in New England. After Metacom’s War the surviving Wampanoags, Narragansetts, and Mohegans were reduced to about fifteen hundred people and confined to the reservation towns of Natick, Punkapoag, Hassamesitt, and Wamesit. Colonial officials expected native leaders to run these towns just as other New England settlements operated, with annual town meetings and elected officers, but the plan failed. Town living was
incompatible with the native hunting economy, and living under European law was impractical. Native peoples used land and other property communally while Europeans strictly enforced laws protecting private property. Moreover, native practice allowed offenders to make retribution for their crimes by paying some form of mutually acceptable compensation to the victim or his family. European law was far more complicated and rigid. Also, Native Americans living on early reservations were often cheated out of their lands. Within a few generations the towns set aside for native peoples were under the control of Europeans and eventually lost their native character.
Other Groups. In Virginia the Powhatans and other groups also relocated to reservations after Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 and suffered a similar fate to that of the native peoples of New England. Elsewhere native peoples relocated westward to lands on the frontier rather than reservation islands surrounded by Europeans. In Maryland the Piscataway were forced to move to the Ohio Valley in the 1690s. The Tuscaroras left North Carolina to join the Iroquois after fighting against colonists in 1711–1713. And in Pennsylvania the Delawares moved westward in 1737 after they were defrauded in the Walking Purchase. As a model for relations between natives and whites, reservations failed miserably. It is not hard to understand why the idea of a colony of Christian Native Americans within a colony of Europeans was not a durable pattern. Native peoples numerous enough to resist would not agree, and the reservations of smaller groups were located on marginal land and inhabited by people afflicted with poverty, alcoholism, and oppression. The idea of reservations, however, became a key element of the Indian policy of the new United States after the American Revolution.
Salisbury, “Native People and European Settlers,” in The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas, volume 1, North America, edited by Bruce C. Trigger and Wilcomb E. Washburn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 420–424.