Updated date:

Native Response to European Settlement in America

Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

When the Europeans made their way into the New World, they did not descend onto an empty land. There were already people who called the land home and had been there for generations. It wasn't empty for the taking despite the mindset of the Europeans. There was a history there that was ignored.

The fact that the land was occupied was a fact that was not taken in a way it should have been. Instead of respecting the ownership, the majority of European settlers assumed they had the right to the land.


The Response

The Native Americans gave a variety of responses to the English colonization. It ranged from tolerance and allies to all out war. The manner of colonization and the impact felt by the Natives determined most of the responses that were received over the next hundred years or so.

There were some tribes that welcomed the newcomers. There were some who started off with war. In the end, there was usually conflict. The two sides could not exist in perfect harmony.


Began With Curiosity

Initially, the Chesapeake Indians led by Powhatan treated the colonists with curiosity. They watched the newcomers and tried to understand them and their reasons for being there. Yes, they were invaders, but they were not a large army with weapons. They were a small group with some weapons mainly for defense.

to find their weakness.

The truth was that the colonists were looking to subvert the Indians and turn them into English slaves. When the English pushed to take the native’s food, they were met with violence. In 1622, Chief Opechancanough attacked tobacco plantations and killing about thirty percent of the people who lived in Virginia. Conflict continued in varying degrees as the settlers pushed further into Indian territory and demanded more from the Indians than they could give. In 1675, the settlers killed the chiefs of the Susquehannock who were petitioning for peace. The response was shock and blood. (1)


Pequot War

The New England natives were not ones to initiate violence until the settlers heard of the uprisings in the Chesapeake area and decided to be proactive. The result was the Pequot War in 1636. The colonists brought in other tribes to help defeat the Pequot who refused to give up their children as hostages because some members of the tribe were suspected of killing a trader. The result was a bloodbath.

The lack of unity among the New England tribes played into the hands of the colonists who used the tribes to clear the land for them in the way of population. Everything escalated in King Philip’s War in 1675 when settlers hung captured natives as punishment for a crime. The Wampanoag Indians attacked in revenge. (2)


No Easy Interaction

There was much confusion between the various cultures that can be seen quite plainly in the Middle Colonies. When the settlers demanded tribute from the natives, war was not usually far behind. In 1639, Kieft demanded tribute which led the natives to kill two colonists. The result was the absolute slaughter of the tribe by the settlers.

Revenge was then taken up by the remaining natives. It continued with the deaths of many including that of Anne Hutchinson. (3) This was true in those colonies where the settlers demanded more from the Indians and dealt with them harshly. Colonies such as Pennsylvania worked with the natives and developed a peaceful relationship with the Indians which allowed the colony to prosper more than many of the others did during that time. (4)


War on Both Sides

The southern colonies began by using the Indians as slave catchers. Yet, the southern colonies kept growing and the economic benefits that existed between the settlers and the natives fell about in 1711 when the Tuscarora tribe brought out destruction on many plantations. Back and forth the relationships went with the Indians getting the short end as the settlers began to put the screws to them. (5)

In the end, the reaction was same. The settlers began to reach out further and demanded more than the natives could understand or give. The results were inevitable with the natives taking lives and initiating war with other nearby tribes. They were not to give up the land that they lived on for generations to the greed of the European.


(1) Alan Taylor, American Colonies: The Settling of North America, (New York: Penguin, 2001), 125-152.

(2) Ibid, 188-201.

(3) Ibid, 248-255.

(4) Ibid, 267-269.

(5) Ibid, 230-235.

Related Articles