The United States we know today is known for its principles such as life, liberty, freedom, and equality for all. However, the infamous America certainly did not begin this way and its path to the America of today is filled with animosity, bloodshed, racism, and tyranny. The road to the America of today are filled with events that result and stood for exactly opposite of the freedom and equality that America preaches today. In fact, the very beginning and discovery of America was filled with inequality and murder the moment Christopher Columbus decided to set foot on American soil in 1492. The pillaging, plundering, and massacring by the Spaniard’s would not be the last that the Indian’s would see. The Indians would one again enter a time where they would be kicked off their land, murdered for their land, robbed of their freedom, and not be treated as people. This time it would be the English who would inflict the damage and countless deaths.
In December 1606, a private England company known as the Virginia Company dispatched three ships, the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery, to establish a settlement in the New World. After a voyage of 144 days, on April 26, 1607, 104 settlers arrived in present day Jamestown, Virginia. Immediately after the arrival of the settlers, they established a settlement and named it Jamestown in honor of their king in England, and Virginia in honor of the previous queen of England. However, the land did not belong to the settlers, but to the local Indians. These Indians that are often portrayed as ruthless savages did nothing to instigate or escalate the situation with the English settlers. The Indians even went as far as to help the settlers in their time of need when certain settlers eloped to the Indians for food. Unfortunately, the Indians would receive murder as their reward for their hospitality. Zinn states
“Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, was set up inside the territory of an Indian confederacy, led by the chief, Powhatan. Powhatan watched the English settle on his people’s land, but did not attack, maintaining a posture of coolness. When the English were going through their ‘starving time’ in the winter of 1610, some of them ran off to join the Indians, where they would at least be fed. When the summer came, the governor of the colony sent a messenger to ask Powhatan to return the runaways, whereupon Powhatan, according to the English account, replied with ‘noe other than prowde and disdaynefull Answers.’ Some soldiers were therefore sent out ‘to take Revendge.’ They fell upon an Indian settlement, killed fifteen or sixteen Indians, burned the houses, cut down the corn growing around the village, took the queen of the tribe, and her children into boats, then ended up throwing the children overboard ‘and shoteinge owtt their Braynes in the water.’ The queen was later taken off and stabbed to death.” Zinn p. 12
Just like the Indians of Columbus’s arrival, the Powhatans and many eastern Indians initially welcomed the English travelers.
“At first, Powhatan, leader of a confederation of tribes around the Chesapeake Bay, hoped to absorb the newcomers through hospitality and his offerings of food. As the colonists searched for instant wealth, they neglected planting corn and other work necessary to make their colony self- sufficient. They therefore grew more and more dependent on the Indians for food.” Virginia’s Early Relations with Native Americans.
Unfortunately, just like the Spaniards, the English’s voyage to the New World was a voyage of conquest. The settlers already knew that the land in the New World was already occupied but that did not deter the settlers from establishing settlements in the New World. Their mission according to Foner was “chiefly interested in displacing the Indians, and settling on their land, not intermarrying with them, organizing their labor, or making them subjects of the crown. […] But over time the English displaced the original inhabitants more thoroughly than any other European empire” p. 40-41. The English had no interest in living in harmony with the Indians. For the English, it was either conquest and or reshaping Indian society and culture. The English settlers eventually concluded that they needed to eradicate the Indian population after not being able to enslave the Indians and massacres and annihilation soon followed.
Zinn quotes the rough plea by Powhatan as such.
“I have seen two generations of my people die…. I know the difference between peace and war better than any main in my country. Why will you take by force what you my have quietly by love? Why will you destroy us who supply you with food? What can youg et by war? Why are you jealous of us? We are unarmed and willing to give you what you ask, if you come in a friendly manner, and not so simple as not to know that it is much better to eat good meat, sleep comfortably, live quietly with my wives and children, laugh and be merry with the English, and trade for their copper and hatchets, than to run away from them, and to lie cold in the woods, feed on acorns, roots, and such trash, and be so hunted that I can neither eat nor sleep.” p. 13
Zinn also quotes Edmund Morgan who describes the typical colonist’s perception from his book American Slavery, American Freedom.
"If you were a colonist, you knew that your technology was superior to the Indians’. You knew that you were civilized, and they were savages….But your superior technology had proved insufficient to extract anything. The Indians, keeping to themselves, laughed at your superior methods and lived from the land more abundantly and with less labor than you did….And when your own people started deserting in order to live with them, it was too much….So you killed the Indians, tortured them, burned their villages, burned their cornfields,. It proved your superiority, in spite of your failures. And you gave similar treatment to any of your own people who succumbed to their savage ways of life. But you still did not grow much corn." p. 24
The English disregarded Indian land and their way of life just like the Spaniards. These events would initiate what would be known as the American Indian Wars that lasted from the early 1600’s to the early 1900’s. The American Indian Wars would tell of similar atrocities that consist of Indians being forcefully removed from their land or brutally murdered. However, this would also set into motion the foundation such as land and population for the America we are so proud of today even though it is the result of multiple attempts to eradicate an entire population.
The Library of Congress “Colonial Settlement, 1600s-1763.” 18 July 2003. < http://memory.loc.gov/learn/features/timeline/colonial/indians/indians.html>
U-S-History.com “Indian Wars Time Table.” < http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1008.html
Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty! An American History Volume 1. W.W. Norton & Company Inc, 2006.
Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States of America Volume 1: American Beginnings to Reconstruction. The New Press, 2003.