Wampanoag

By Tristan Hicks (Aaron Meacham)

Why did the good relationship between the colonists and Indians break down?

The Wampanoag

During the 1620's English children grew up listening to the savages that killed people at James Town. People were hesitant to leave the Netherlands due to these facts, as well as the poor survival rates. When the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts in 1620, they were expecting savage beasts and wild men. What they found, instead, was a world with plenty of natural resources and a friendly group of Indians who belonged to a confederation called the Wampanoag, led by a sachem (religious leader) called Massasoit. Massasoit was generous and supplied food to the colonists, expecting gifts in return by Native American custom. What the Wampanoag wanted was support in a war against their enemies, the Narragansett. The Wampanoag and other coastal tribes had been nearly wiped out by a smallpox epidemic that had been brought by English fisherman and sailors. Weakened, most of the coastal tribes had formed an alliance together and were in danger of losing their lands to stronger inland groups like the Narragansett. Massasoit was a great friend but neither the Wampanoag nor the Pilgrims could communicate with each other without using awkward hand signals. But good fortune arrived in the form of Squanto, an English speaking Patuxet native. Squanto traveled to Europe after being kidnapped by an English fisherman and sold into slavery in Spain. He met a monk who helped him escape to England, where he found a ship that agreed to take him back home. Squanto's knowledge of the forests and New World survival helped the colonists avoid many mistakes other colonies would make. Squanto taught the Pilgrims to farm using native techniques, including using fish as fertilizer. His knowledge of European culture helped create a bond between the Pilgrims and their Native American neighbors. They then formed an alliance that would be the main reason for the survival of the Plymouth Colony.

The Pequot War

When the Pilgrims first came, they were a small ragged group who didn't pose much of a threat to the Native Americans. In fact, the Pilgrims found a land that had been depopulated of Indians. This was due to an earlier smallpox epidemic that killed as many as 90% of the local Indians. The Wampanoag, who once had 1000 warriors, were now reduced to 30. Hostile tribes like the Narragansett and Pequot were ready to take over their lands. The Pilgrims and Wampanoag formed an alliance. By 1630, the Great Migration had begun and thousands of pilgrims were flooding into the New World. The pilgrims demands to be fed, housed, and needing land to establish farms. This demand for more land (that the Indians owned) combined with not fully understanding each others culture led to increasing conflicts between the Native Americans and Puritans. In 1636, the murder of a Boston merchant led to war with the powerful Pequot tribe who was accused (wrongfully) of committing the crime. The English allied with the Narragansett who also wanted to get rid of the Pequot and in the of Mystic River massacred an entire Pequot village in a surprise night attack. Their huts were burned down, some with people still inside, and those who tried to flee were shot down, Any survivors were sold to slave traders in the Caribbean. In 1671, the alliance between the Wampanoag and the English started to break down and turned to war after the English continued to demand more and more native land, and when three Indians who had been accused of murdering a settler in Plymouth were tried and executed by English law rather than by Indian customs. A sachem named Metacomet rose up against the English during "King Phillips War". During this war the Wampanoag and their allies fought the English and their Indian allies and both sides committed massacres and destroyed entire towns and villages. By the end of the war half of the Native Americans in New England had either been killed or had fled west.

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