Relationship Between Indians and Puritans

The relations with the English puritans and the Indians living in the Americas have had troubles dealing with each other’s cultural and ethical differences in multiple ways throughout multiple of times. According to factual stories of various occurrences and struggles with the Indians such as the captivity of Mary Rowlandson or the puritans commencement for life one will come to see the hatred toward Indians that can be said the majority of the puritans felt, however, there were instances that brought them together to understand each other a little more, and perhaps agree to disagree.

The Puritans traveling with William Bradford that first came to the Americas viewed the Indians as cruel and uncivilized people. Bradford writes about the dark thoughts he has and others have regarding what the people are like in the Americas. Bradford claims that “there are only savage and brutish men” [pg10] there. They are “barbarous and most treacherous, being most furious in their rage and merciless where they overcome,” he says, “not being content only to kill and take away life, but [also] delight to torment men in the most bloody manner that may be; flaying some alive with the shells of fishes, cutting off the members and joints.”[pg10] As you can see prior the trip the Puritans were scared to death of the Indians. They strongly believed that even if they made the trip successfully they would soon come to a death by the Indians.

When the pilgrims completed their voyage overseas and were becoming familiar with the land, their encounter with the local Indians reinforced their fear. “It is recorded in scripture as a mercy to the Apostle and his shipwrecked company,” Bradford says, “That the barbarians, when they met with them were readier to fill their sides full of arrows than otherwise.”[pg13] The pilgrims were scared to death at this point of just a simple encounter with an Indian. They were very aware that they were entering land to which they had no rights. The Pilgrims did not plan to battle the Indians for the land rather they wanted to make peace with them. They knew the natives were a threat, and they wanted them as allies not as enemies.

The Pilgrims who ventured to the Americas were still keeping their distance from the Indians as they began their life. However, when they had an encounter with an English speaking Indian their relations with them greatly strengthened. “…about the 16th of March, a certain Indian came boldly amongst them.” The Indian Bradford writes of is a Wampanoag Indian named Samoset. “…and spoke to them in broad English, which they could well understand.” [p.32] With just this first English encounter the Pilgrims were beginning to see that the men they thought were savages could be more civilized than they imagined. They were amazed that the Indian knew English and knew they could learn a lot from him about the land. When an Indian named Squanto came to the Pilgrims he served as a huge role in their survival. Bradford even wrote that Squanto could speak better English than Samoset. “…he was their interpreter and was a special instrument sent from God for their good beyond their expectations.” [p.33] The relation with this Indian brought a closer tie to the other Indians and the Puritans truly hoped through him they could make peace with the others. They had realized during these winter times that the Indians knew so much more and they really could use their help, in return they wanted to be able to find a way to help the Indians.

The Indians realized that the English puritans needed them to survive the winters in the extremely bitter cold; however, a majority of the Indians did not think they should have anything to do with this because they were still upset about the Puritans coming onto their land. The English speaking Wampanoag Indian, Samoset, that met with the puritans went back to his tribe and told them of the puritans and their intent to stay. “…they need us to stay alive” one Wampanoag said, “Why should we help them?” said another. The leader of the Wampanoag Indians spoke up at this moment and said, “They have guns and cannons, the people feel an alliance [with England] will strengthen our nation.”[Desperate Crossings] At the time the Indians knew that if they could help to stabilize the Puritans they would be supplied with goods that could strengthen their tribe.

Mary Rowlandson is another Puritan example of mistrust and hatred toward Indians. Mary was captured by the Indians out of her hometown. “Thus these murderous wretches [the Indians] went on burning and destroying all before them,” [The Account of Mary Rowlandson pg. 59]. This was a scary time in a lot of the puritan’s lives because the Indians were taking them captive and treating them horribly and separating them from their loved ones. The Villagers were trying to physically fight the Indians to survive; they felt that going with them even if it meant they would live, was like dying itself. “I had often said that if the Indians should come, I should choose rather to be killed by them than taken alive,” [pg 61].

During this attack Mary and her daughter got shot by the Indians. Because they were wounded they were slowing down the tribe they were traveling with. Mary’s daughter was just a baby and Mary knew the chance of her making it was doubtful. The Indians weren’t going to let anything slow them down they told Mary that her baby would be killed. “Your master will knock your child on the head,” [pg63]. Shortly after this her daughter was killed and Mary went into somewhat of a depression and felt truly nothing but hatred toward the Indians. She soon afterward was sold to the Narragansett Indians and did not see any family members or English puritans for some time. Mary’s daughter being killed, being alone and worrying about her loved ones caused her to become blind toward any act of kindness the Indians had toward her from that point on.

Mary had a terrible experience while taken hostage by the Indians. There were nights she did not eat, or sleep out of fear or place to rest. As the majority of the Indians treated her with no respect she developed the mindset that they all were there to do her wrong, some of the Indians however would show her comfort and bring her to their wigwam to feed her. “I went to one wigwam, and they told me they had no room.” Just going to these wigwams Mary must have feared to be beaten just for requesting food and shelter. “Then I went to another, and they said they same. At last, an old Indian bid me come to him, and his squaw gave me some ground-nuts; she gave me also something to lay under my head, and a good fire we had”[pg73]. The Indians did not want Mary to die, they showed compassion when they provided shelter and fed her because she was weak and hungry. The Indians and Mary had to hide their pride and help each other out of this circumstance.

The relationship between the Indians and the Puritans was a complex and ever changing one. They went through times of understanding and companionship to continuous battles and endless misunderstandings of each other’s beliefs on how to live in the New World. It’s safe to assume that the Puritans and Indians would have their battles through time because they were in close vicinity to each other. There were those scarce times they got along and leaned on each other for support, however; no matter what, the differences between these two groups of people were too great to be overlooked and created a division deep enough that they could not develop into close comrades or even great alliances.


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