Conflict, Violence and Bloodshed Between Cultures

Although a peace spanning 50 years was able to be achieved between the colonists at the Plymouth settlement and their Native American neighbors, peace did not last. In many areas of Colonial New England, peace failed before it began.  This can be attributed to many factors, none the least of which was a very deep difference in cultural understanding between the two very different peoples.  Native American customs and rituals were foreign to the settlers, and in many cases, little (if anything) was done to make the effort to attempt to understand native cultures.

By example, when the Native Americans delivered heads or other body parts to the colonists, they did it as a symbol of mutual trust and friendship, seeing themselves as equals and pledging assistance to each other.[1]  The colonists, on the other hand, saw it as a sign of submission to English/colonial rule, placing the Native Americans beneath the European settlers.[2]

A marked difference between the colonists and their native neighbors lay in their methodology in conflict itself. For Native American cultures, massacres were unnecessary and wasteful, continuing the cycle of violence into future generations.[3]  The Europeans, however, saw it as a necessary and even justifiable evil in order to further weaken their enemy in not only numbers but in morale and willingness to fight as well.[4]  Colonial leaders like Commander Gardner made it plain that the European settlers set down an “us or them” attitude towards the Native Americans in terms of hostilities amongst Native Americans, giving potential allies and enemies alike the option to either join with the colonists against any aggressive Native American action or to face the consequences of being hostile themselves, even if they did not fight against the English.[5]

In addition to all of that, although colonists were at times desperate to enter into peace agreements with the Native Americans – especially in light of potential war with France and its allied native populations – the colonists were not keen on keeping to their agreements.[6]  Native Americans did not view land, resources or hunting grounds the same way that Europeans did, and despite numerous agreements with various tribes, settlements kept expanding and pushing onto lands that the Native Americans viewed as their traditional/historical territory, though they did not have a concept of “ownership” as the West would view it today.[7]  Despite numerous attempts to bring their grievances before colonial governments, resolution was not forthcoming, making conflict, violence and bloodshed an unavoidable consequence of these cultures colliding.

[1]  Andrew Lipman, “’A Meanes to Knitt Them Togeather’: the Exchange of Body Parts in the Pequot War,” The William and Mary Quarterly 58, no. 1 (2008): 3-28.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Jenny Hale Pulsipher “’Dark Cloud Rising from the East’: Indian Sovereignty and the Coming of King William’s War in New England,” The New England Quarterly, Inc. 80, no. 4 (2007): 588-613.

[7] Ibid.

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