Native American Culture History Facts - Conflicts European Colonists French English
Wampum Belts, Fur Trade, Jesuits, Puritans, Christian Missionaries, Epidemics, War

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In the early colonization of both New France and New England, the French and English brought new ideas and ways that were strange to the Native Americans who already lived there. Even though, both European groups thought they were superior to the Native Americans, they adopted what aspects of the nativeís culture they liked. Likewise, the Native Americans adopted much of the European ways; rejecting much they did not like as well. The result of these three great nations coming together ended in both cultural conflict and merger.

France and England had different agendas and goals when colonizing New France and New England. The French wanted to establish a profitable fur trade and convert the natives to the Catholic faith. They were not too concerned with land. In contrast, the English, wanted land to grow crops and produce a profitable cash crop. They believed land had to be used agriculturally or it could be confiscated. Most early English colonists were second sons of the nobility who would not inherit land or those that were too poor to come up with the passage fare. The latter group sold themselves as indentured servants to work in the New World in exchange for passage. The Puritans settled in New England. They brought with them a strict faith that believed in providence and predestination. Converting heathens to their faith was not top priority although they did establish a few Christian schools.[1]


French fur trappers made alliances with the Native American tribe that could supply them with the best furs in the largest quantities. The French traded muskets, iron kettles, blankets, knives and other goods for furs.  Native Americans found these goods to be better than their own handcrafted crafts. The guns were a novelty item that soon allowed Native American tribes to achieve an advantage in their ongoing wars.  Iron kettles, knives and other goods proved stronger and lasted longer. The tribal leader distributed the goods equally among the entire tribe.[2] Soon, every Native American tribe thought they needed theses items. The exchange of guns and other goods changed the way of life for the Native Americans. The introduction of these items made life a little easier but created a dependency.[3] In addition, these goods created jealousies among the tribes who did not have them which led to wars over control of the fur trade.

France and England had been fighting wars for centuries. Both European nations brought their animosities to the New World. Native Americans also had their own intermittent tribal wars. Each group used the other to conquer and exploit their enemies. There were fewer French colonists than the English.[4] In order to gain the advantage, the French adopted the Native American method of guerrilla warfare. This method involved small raiding parties which could move and strike quickly thereby creating panic and terror among its victims.[5] The English considered this method barbaric. At that time, Europeans fought their battles on open field that had been predetermined. In contrast, the French and Indians gained advantage through surprise and attrition. However, the English colonists out of necessity soon adopted this method of warfare to strike back. The French and English built forts for protection. Native Americans didnít because they felt the forts could be easily destroyed.[6]

Native Americans in this region participated in mourning war raids. This practice involved taking scalps or captives. These captives ended up either being tortured to death or adopted by grieving families of the dead.[7] The Europeans thought this barbaric. However, both French and English practice torture that proved equally barbaric.[8] The French and English both played into the Native American custom of taking captives and scalps. By the early 1700ís, a profitable market for scalps and the taking of prisoners developed.[9] Bounties were paid for scalps. Prominent citizens in frontier towns became targets for capture. The colonies either paid a high ransom for these captives or arranged for an exchange of prisoners. In New England, Native American tribes often provoked war not only to seek vengeance but also to profit from the exchange of prisoners.[10]

The French had a hard time recruiting colonists to New France. Government officials encouraged colonists to intermarry, baptize and mingle freely with Native Americans.[11] Under these circumstances Frenchmen would easily adopt Native American culture and vise versa. Jesuits moved deeper into Native American territory in order to make new converts. These priests learned languages quickly which proved impressive. The French Jesuits did not demand that the Indians change their culture as did the English.[12] Instead, the priests adopted much of the Native American culture. Disease played a role in conversions. Epidemics broke out after the Jesuits arrived in the Huron nation.[13] The Native Americans observed the Jesuits did not die concluding the priests had gained some kind of power from their religion and accepted baptism. Native American traditionalists concluded they couldnít trust the converts creating inner tribal friction. Converts found themselves ostracized from tribes and moved to the missions to live.

Education played apart in cultural exchange and conflict. Christian missions in New England created tension between the colonists and natives. Educators encouraged Native Americans going to school to dress as they did, speak only English and take Christian names stripping them of their identity. The parents of Indian children who attended mission schools complained of the change in the way those children behaved after returning from school.[14] Educated Native Americans became interpreters and intermediaries but in doing so they exchanged much of their own culture.

Wampum belts were considered status symbols and a valuable commodity in Native American culture. They were intricate belts woven from shells. Native American chiefs used wampum in their negotiations to represent their word and to seal the deal. The French held a monopoly on the North American fur trade for quite some time. To lure Native Americans into trading furs with them instead of the French, the Dutch began manufacturing Wampum belts. It became a highly profitable business until the market became over saturated.[15]

Native American Indian History

When three great nations collided as did the English, French and Native Americans, there were bound to be cultural conflict and exchange. Each group had different agendas and goals. They used each other to meet their agenda and obtain their goals.




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Pocahontas Alias Matoaka American Indian Princess at the Age of 21

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Chief Powhatan of Virginia, Father of Pocahontas, c.1607