Essay: The Relationship Between the Native Americans and the Puritans

October 25, 2009

When it comes to the relationship between the Native Americans and the Puritans, elaborate can barely touch base. Conjoining two completely distinctive cultures wasn’t thought to be simple, and that theory was far from just proved. Both William Bradford and Mary Rowlandson have periods of time where they get along with the Indians, and others where they disagree completely causing many inevitable disputes. Bradford mainly portrays the times when the Puritans and Native Americans worked as one with little conflict. Unfortunately for Mary Rowlandson, she experienced the complete opposite. With the documentation of their experiences, we are able to understand how the life of the Native Americans and Puritans fluctuated to become how it is today.

According to William Bradford the Puritans and Native Americans had it out for each other from the beginning. The Puritans pictured them as monsters before they even arrived in the Americas; genuinely the Native Americans were just as scared if not more. “…all this while the Indians came skulking about them,” Bradford writes, “and would sometimes show themselves aloof off, but when any approached new them, they would run away….” Clearly you can see that the Indians were intimidated by the Puritans, showing they aren’t as horrendous as expected. It is compelling how the Puritans being so “pure” would come to judge the Native Americans prior to even seeing how they live, or what America was like. It is probable that both the Puritans and the Native Americans were too quick to judge one another.

Native Americans were not only seen as complete barbarians, but were all known to be savages. The truth is that the Puritans may have been more savage than the Natives in some ways. In the movie, Desperate Crossing, when the Puritans arrived on the Native territory, they almost immediately began to rummage through their things. They began to dig up the corn that the Indians harvested and buried to save for harsh winters. They also dug up graves which they did not make an effort to conceal even upon knowing what they were. They not only tampered with their things, they also took them, “…once they stole away their tools where they had been at work and were gone to dinner.” The Natives have not been savages towards the Puritans, despite the occurrence of self defense when the Puritans brought it upon themselves. If the Puritans were to distinguish anyone, it would have been their own selves. This evidence makes the Puritans seem like hypocrites because they aren’t being honest and respectable, two traits they claim to highly portray.

After all of the discourteous acts between the Native Americans and Puritans, they managed to work things out in a civil manner. Though both were experiencing extreme discomfort and affliction they were doing the best they could do to survive. The Indians and Puritans although were forced to live in close quarters, they made a point to avoid one another completely. This way of life is insanely troublesome for them; they need to make a change so they can live without constantly looking over their shoulder. ” But about the 16th of March, a certain Indian came boldly amongst them and spoke to them in broken English…a while after he came again, and five more with him, and they brought again all the tools that were stolen before….” Once the Native Americans and Puritans had made amends they were both much more accommodating towards each other. Gifts were exchanged and entertainment was shown as a sign of not only relief but also good to come. A peace agreement was signed and established fewer than six commands that were to be followed. Peace is still something recognized between the Puritans and Native Americans today.

After reading about Mary Rowlandson’s encounters with the Native Americans, it makes your perceptions on them change. William Bradford showed the Indians to be the ones attacked, but from personal encounters, Mary proves them to be the ones attacking. “The Indians getting up on the roof of the barn, had advantage to shoot down upon them over their fortification. Thus these murderous wretches went on burning and destroying all before them.” [page 59]. Helpless children and civilians begging for their life, offering anything they own and countless amounts of money were still being murdered during this killing frenzy. Mary Rowlandson was captured by the Indians while they were killing her own family. She, though, did not put up a fight, instead she just thought about it, “I had often before this said, that if the Indians should come, I should choose rather to be killed by them than taken alive, but when it came to the trial my mind changed; their glittering weapons so daunted my spirit that I chose rather to go along with those (as I may say) ravenous bears, than that moment to end my days.” [page 61]. In a way she seemed selfish, but yet what she went through on their journey was almost worse than death.

Before her capture, she and her daughter had been shot, Mary through her bowels and the daughter through her hand. They both were experiencing excruciating pain that they could in no way heal, yet still they were being dragged along. The wounded child was somewhat of a disadvantage to the Indians, so they were going to do something to change that. Mary was told, “Your master will knock your child on the head,” [page 63]. meaning that they were going to kill her daughter. The Indians told Mary that they would not hurt her, but when they killed her daughter, it hurt her more than any physical pain could have. As soon as her daughter was officially pronounced dead, Mary was sold to the Quannopin by the Narragansett Indian. She had to depart from any family and company she had left not knowing if she will ever see any of them again.

As you could predict, Mary was not treated with any respect what so ever. She was given scarce amounts of food, or none at all, and when she would ask for a bite she was laughed at. “Being very faint, I asked my mistress to give me one spoonful of the meal, but she would not give me a taste.” [page 66]. Food was not the only item the Indians deprived Mary of; they also took away her religious freedom. Sabbath day, a religious day celebrated by rest, took place while she was under the custody of the Native Americans. When she asked to enforce the meaning of the day, she was turned down quickly. “I told them it was Sabbath day, and desired them to let me rest, and told them I would do as much more work to-morrow; to which they answered me they would break my face.” [page 66]. Life for Mary Rowlandson was far from easy; she made it through solely due to her enduring drive and belief in God.

The Desperate Crossing shows how the relations with the Native Americans and Puritans varied almost daily. The Native Americans and Puritans did not know how to live together so naturally their differences caused many problems. They tried avoiding each other best as possible but it just caused more tension between the two cultures. “Each day without contact increases their curiosity and fear.” The Indians managed to keep an eye on the English somewhat secretly and attacked at times when they least expected it, but the English were quick to fight back. “We shouted all together several times and shot off a couple of muskets. This we did so they might see we were not discouraged.” The English soon realized that it was not worth it to live in such fear and torture. “It is significant to note that at that point the English decide that they should look somewhere else other than Cape Cod. For a place to live because it’s pretty clear that they’ve blown it as far as getting along with the Native’s on Cape Cod are considered.” After the English departed from Cape Cod, they ventured to Plymouth Rock with hopes to start a new life.

It is clear that the relationship between the Native Americans and Puritans was far from effortless. With everything they went through, how they constantly disagreed, misunderstood, and portrayed complete hatred towards one another, there was no way they could live in close quarters as one. Although they had times where they got along, it did not make up for the continuous battles that occurred more than just frequently.


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October 25, 2009

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