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Were the English Colonists Guilty of Genocide? Essay

The early 1600s brought the first European settlers to the Americas, and on arriving they found the land inhabited by thousands of Native Americans. The colonists’ lack of knowledge about the land and people led to a series of disputes to ensure the colonists’ safety. Unfortunately, this eventually led to genocide, an act of hatred directed towards the natives, but undeniable because overtime the colonists began to kill for sport rather then defense against the Indians’ attacks.

By 1607, when the European colonists arrived at Jamestown, the Pequots numbered 14,000, but in the next hundred years that number would decrease by ninety-five percent, leaving a mere 600 survivors. The Abenaki group of Vermont and New Hampshire decreased ninety-eight percent, with 250 left alive. These death tolls are just a couple of the many that occurred, and sadly most of the decrease in the Natives’ population happened before the epidemics raged. This leads one to believe that it was the colonists’ influence on the Natives that led to such a drastic population increase. Then, in the mid 1630s, the natives suffered another population decrease due to the many diseases that were threatening many Indians. Many of the Puritans felt that the epidemics’ effects were a gift from God, and that the Indians were the Devil’s workers.

In 1636, a Pequot was accused of murdering a colonist. The settlers went on a rampage to seek revenge. They burned the natives’ villages, and shot and killed many leaving only seven to escape. One year later, during the Pequot War, the colonists killed all but five natives when raiding their fort. This slaughter was described as “a sweet sacrifice” and the colonists “gave praise thereof to God.” (-C. Mather) It appears that these two raids happened when the colonists feared for their safety. One could argue though that the colonists went overboard. After all, they had no proof that a Pequot had murdered a colonist; what gave them the right to act merely on a suspicion, and kill so many natives?

“Warfare among the natives had no discipline. When the Indians fought there was no great slaughter. Instead, when both sides were out of arrows, they were glad to retire.” (-H. Spelman) “They [the Indians] might fight seven years and not kill seven men.” (-Underhill) These two statements make one believe that the Indians were not as savage as they appeared, and the colonists might have just been killing them for sport or enjoyment.

Roger Williams explained that land was as important to the colonists as gold was to the Spanish, and overtime the colonists killed the Natives for their land. One English colonist testified to the fact that killing Indians had become a sport and was performed even after the Natives posed very little threat to the colonists. One example of how the colonists killed the Natives without a good reason was when Governor Berkeley denied Bacon money to pay for the forts Bacon had requested as protection from the Natives. Bacon’s anger towards Berkeley was taken out on the Natives when he mercilessly slaughtered them during Bacon’s Rebellion.

One can not deny the fact that naturally there would be disputes when a new group of people tries to colonize the land area that already is inhabited. Unfortunately, the colonists’ attempts to “protect” themselves were a tad bit unnecessary at times, and a little outrageous. Whether it was intentional or not, the colonists gradually began to enjoy the wars and disputes so much that they did it for enjoyment. There is no doubt about it – the colonists are guilty of genocide. Their attempts to protect themselves led to a mass destruction of the Native American people.

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