The arrival of the Europeans affected the Indians in several different ways. The Indians were exposed to new experiences such as diseases, religion, racism, land ownership, and trade to name a few. The Indians way of life changed forever with the arrival of the European colonists. Diseases were introduced to them as early as 1550 by European fisherman who stayed on the New England shores during the winter. The fisherman brought devastating illnesses which the Indians had little resistance to such as diphtheria, cholera, typhus, measles, and small pox. The coastal Indians were the first infected by these aliments and in turn, they spread them to the inland Indians. These diseases were ruinous and cost many Indians their lives.
The Indians had their own customs and religions. They were introduced to the colonist’s religion, Protestant Christianity. They did not immediately take to the Puritan religion as the Indians took to Catholicism brought in by the Spaniards. They found it difficult to embrace a religion that taught that all but a few of them were damned to hellfire. Also, the Puritan or Anglican religion was complicated with English ways of eating, dressing, working, and looking at the world. The Indians that did embrace the Protestant religion were forced to adhere to the Protestant ways and abandoned their own. The Indian men were to farm and the women to weave, they lived in English houses and not wigwams, they were to barber their hair as the Puritans, and they were to stop using bear grease toward off mosquitoes.
Racism was introduced to the Indians by the English colonists. Before the colonist’s arrival, they knew nothing of prejudice. Captives were adopted into the tribe, white prisoners as well as Indians born into another tribe. They were fully accepted as their brothers and sisters. Tribes would even raid other tribes and white settlements in order to increase their numbers. Extramarital miscegenation produced “half-breeds” which were consigned to the Indians. This was done in part because they were illegitimate, but mostly because of the consciousness of race that steadily grew in intensity in the colonial societies. The English referred to the Indians as savages because they were racially inferior. They abhorred their culture, morals, manners, and religion. They thought of all Indians as enemies. The Indians were exposed to this narrow mindedness and bigotry which had been made by the colonist and so they learned of racism.
The colonists assumed possession of lands that were vacated, like the site of Plymouth, on the justification of ancient legal principle that unoccupied land is anybody’s picking. The colonists did acknowledge the legal and moral rights of the tribes to own land they occupied and purchased what they could of it. The problem was that when the Indians sold land to the colonists, their understanding was that they were then willing to share their hunting grounds with them, just as they would with other tribes. They did not understand the concept of ownership. This was not a practice in which they had ever been exposed. This misunderstanding between the Indians and colonists caused wars between them which were inevitably won by the colonists.
The Indians way of life was not suitable to live where the English lived due to the colonist’s agricultural ways. The Indians farmed by borrowing fields from the forest. They cultivated the soil for a few years and then moved elsewhere. The fields then reverted to hunting grounds. But the colonists did not allow this to happen. They destroyed the forests for hundreds of acres. They farmed these fields until the soil was depleted. Then they would turn the fields into pastures for their livestock. The livestock would renew the soil after several years. But during this time, the colonists would clear more hundreds of acres for their farming. This caused the flight of wildlife and game, which was vital to the Indians way of life.
The Indians were anxious to trade with the colonists. They would trade furs for such things as beef, baubles, vessels, tools, iron tomahawks, woven wool blankets, liquor, and muskets. In order to trade with the Europeans, the Indians hunted and trapped for the hides of deer and the furs of other animals which the colonists wanted. Competition for furs between the tribes introduced a vicious kind of war between the Indians. The fur trade also resulted in the destruction of the ecological system of the area. Before fur trading with the Europeans, the tribes killed only moose, deer, beaver, and the other animals which were necessary and they had an immediate need.
But with the need for more hides and furs, the Indians hunted until they had extinguished all the animals in their hunting grounds. The Indians then went into other tribes’ territories to hunt which in turn caused warfare between them. Another problem with trading with the colonists arose out of the Indians want of the liquor which the colonists provided. They took to the intoxicating effects of the liquor which in turn caused new problems within the tribes and with the people of the tribes.
The colonist’s actions also caused another first for the Indians. The hanging of three Wampanoag’s at Plymouth for murdering Sassamon, a “praying Indian” caused the first pan-Indian attempt to preserve traditional culture. Metacomet, called King Phillip by the New Englanders, was the one to convince the other tribes to work together as he saw that the colonists with their ever increasing numbers were destroying the Indians way of life. Slavery was the involuntary capture of human beings who were sold and then owned by their masters. They were forced to work for their entire lives. Slaves had no personal rights and no hope of freedom. Slavery was first notable in the southern colonies.
At first, colonists saw the indentured servants as better investments than spending money on the slaves. Later, they realized that the slaves seem to have a built up immunity to certain diseases such as malaria, which often killed the indentured servants in their care. The colonists came to see the slaves as an investment, worth the money for the outcome of a lifelong worker who could do manual labor, did not have to be replaced after a specific number of years of service, and also could assist in bearing children born into slavery which only would increase the master’s workforce. Eventually, all of the colonies became involved in owning slaves.
Indentured servitude was an adaptation of the well established English means of training boys to be artisans and caring for orphans. Fathers would sign an indenture with a master of a craft. This bound the boy to the master for a period of years, usually seven years. In return for his labor, the master agreed to shelter, clothe, and feed his apprentice and teach him the craft. This institution of indentured servitude was also used to provide for orphans. Indentured servants were well suited for farmers who needed laborers. People were recruited in England to sign indentures to work in the colonies as servants for an agreed number of years.
In return for signing the indentures, the servant’s passage across the Atlantic was paid. Some servant’s were forced by English courts which sentenced convicts to transportation to the colonies. There they served out their sentences as bound servants. Unlike slaves, the indentured servants had personal rights. The term of the servitude was written down which varied from three to seven years. At the end of the agreed time, they were freed. They were given clothing, tools, a little money, and sometimes land.