When the first European settlers arrived on the eastern shores of what would become America, they encountered the descendants of a people that had first migrated to these shores over 10 thousand years prior. America was in a sense a time capsule, a world reminiscent of what was Europe in it’s pre-iron age, a land full of numerous tribes, each inhabiting different niches and having a tremendous amount of diversity in both thought and language. Initially these encounters were somewhat peaceful if not mutually supported through both curiosity and the advantages of trading and knowledge transfer. Eventually competition, the introduction of European diseases, and the pressures of living together resulted in what was to become one of the first displacements of a people by another and the profound changing of an entire society. Although many American Indian tribes did either assimilate or go extinct culturally, today many of the descendants of these people still exist preserving their traditions on over 500 remaining first nations.
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Americas, their descendants, and many ethnic groups who identify with those historical peoples. The precise definition of the term is the subject of the Native American name controversy. According to current scientific knowledge, human beings did not evolve in North or South America but instead arrived by sea or by a land bridge that formerly connected North America with Asia. Most (if not all) of those indigenous peoples descended from peoples living in Siberia.
They entered North America by at least 12,000 years ago and diversified into hundreds of culturally distinct nations and tribes. Some indigenous peoples of the Americas supported agriculturally advanced societies for thousands of years. In some regions they created large sedentary chiefdom polities, and had advanced state level societies with monumental architecture and large-scale, organized cities. Scholars’ estimates of the total population of the Americas before European contact vary enormously, from a low of 10 million to a high of 112 million.Whatever the figure, scholars generally agree that most of the indigenous population resided in Mesoamerica and South America, while about 10% resided in North America.
Smallpox, typhus, influenza, diphtheria, measles, malaria and other epidemics swept in after European contact, killing a large portion of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, causing one of the greater calamities in human history. At least 93 waves of epidemic disease swept through native populations between first contact and the early 20th century. Another reason for the dramatic decline of the Native American population was the treatment of the native population by European settlers, as well as continuing wars, either with Europeans or between tribes.
The next encounter came with the members of the Narváez expedition from 1528-1536. Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca wrote a detailed account of the failed expedition which includes descriptions of several Native American cultures he encountered from Florida, the northern Gulf Coast, Texas, possibly New Mexico and Arizona, and northern Mexico. He described the behavior, living situation, dress, and food of the people he encountered as he wandered from village to village. An expedition in 1539 headed by Fray Marcos de Niza went in search of The Seven Cities of Gold. They were guided by another survivor of the Narváez expedition, Estevanico, who encountered the Zuni people in his wanderings. Following de Niza in search of the fabled cities was Francisco Vásquez de Coronado from 140-1542. He had encounters with the Hopi and Zuni as well as several other native groups in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Also in 1539, the Hernando De Soto expedition traveled through the Southern United States from 1539-1542. This expedition was responsible for introducing diseases into that region, and also resulted in several battles with various tribes. The expedition included a member of the failed Narváez expedition of 1528 named Juan Ortiz who lived among the Tocobaga people for twelve years before being rescued by de Soto. Another encounter was the failed Roanoke Colony led by Sir Walter Raleigh of England in 1584. At first, the local tribes bartered with the colonists, but this was during a time of a severe drought, and when the local tribes grew more reluctant to trade, relations deteriorated. The fate of the colonists is still a controversy.
By 1578 there were about 350 European fishing vessels at Newfoundland and sailors began to trade metal implements (particularly knives) for the natives’ well worn pelts. The French fur trade was undertaken by Francis Grave (a merchant) and Chauvin (a captain) in 1599 when they acquired a monopoly from Henry IV and their attempt to establish a colony at the mouth of the Saguenay River was a direct result of their desire to profit from trading native fur pelts for European goods.
England attempted again to colonize, first in 1606 with the Popham Colony in present-day Maine, and again in 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia. The latter became the first permanent English settlement in the United States. The Popham Colony interacted with the Abeneki tribe, but failed to establish cooperation. Jamestown’s breakdown in relations with the Paspahegh and Powhatan tribes resulted in the First Anglo–Powhatan War, which ended with the marriage of John Rolfe and Pocahontas. In 1610 a teenage Étienne Brûlé was sent by Samuel de Champlain to live with the Hurons for a year as a sort of ‘exchange student’. Champlian, in turn, accepted the company of a Huron youth named Savignon who accompanied him back to France. The two cultures made a successful rendezvous the next year and the young men returned to their respective groups to report their experiences. In 1620, a group of Puritans, who were heading for the Hudson River, got blown off-course and settled at present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts, instead, during a harsh winter. In the autumn of 1621, they celebrated a three-day thanksgiving feast with the native Wampanoag people, without whom they would not have survived the winter of 1620. The Great Migration continued into the 1630s and 40s, creating many settlements in New England and the Virginia colony. Dutch colonization activities proceeded in an overlapping terr Pequot War Meanwhile, Spanish and French colonization were also proceeding on other areas of the continent.
Some European settlers used Native American contacts to further their activities in the fur trade; others sold European technology to the natives, including firearms which fueled tribal wars. Peaceful coexistence was established in some times and places. For example, the careful diplomacy of William Pynchon facilitated the founding of what would become Springfield, Massachusetts in a desirable farming location close to the native Agawam settlement. Struggles for economic and territorial dominance also continued to result in armed conflict. In some cases these latent conflicts resulted in escalating tensions, gradually followed by escalating multi-party violence. In other cases sudden, relatively unprovoked raids were conducted on native and colonial settlements, which might involve arson, massacre, or kidnapping for slavery.
Pre-existing rivalries among both the Native American tribes and confederacies and the European nations led groups from both continents to find war allies among the others against their traditional enemies. When transatlantic civilizations clashed, better technology (including firearms) and the epidemics decimating native populations gave Europeans a substantial military advantage. In 1637, the Pequot War erupted in the Massachusetts and Plymouth colonies. Indian Wars in the English colonies would continue on and off into the American Revolution.
In the early 1680s, Philadelphia was established by William Penn in the Delaware Valley, which was home to the Lenni-Lenape nation. Chief Tamanend reputably took part in a peace treaty between the leaders of the Lenni-Lenape nation and the leaders of the Pennsylvania colony held under a large elm tree at Shakamaxon. In the Spanish sphere, many of the Pueblo people harbored hostility toward the Spanish, primarily due to their denigration and prohibition of the traditional religion (the Spanish at the time being staunchly and aggressively Catholic). The traditional economies of the pueblos were likewise disrupted when they were forced to labor on the encomiendas of the colonists. However, the Spanish had introduced new farming implements and provided some measure of security against Navajo and Apache raiding parties. As a result, they lived in relative peace with the Spanish following the founding of the Northern New Mexican colony in 1598.
In the 1670s, however, drought swept the region, which not only caused famine among the Pueblo, but also provoked increased attacks from neighboring hunter-gatherer tribes — attacks against which Spanish soldiers were unable to defend. At the same time, European-introduced diseases were ravaging the natives, greatly decreasing their numbers. It has also been alleged that the introduction of these diseases was often exacerbated when soldiers handed out blankets and other humanitarian supplies carrying European microorganisms. Unsatisfied with the protective powers of the Spanish crown, the Pueblo revolted in 1680. In 1692, Spanish control was reasserted, but under much more lenient terms.
In 1750, British and French representatives met in Paris to try to solve these territorial disputes, but no progress was made. In 1752, the Marquis Duquesne was made governor-general of New France with specific instructions to take possession of the Ohio Valley, removing all British presence from the area.. The following year, he sent troops to western Pennsylvania where they built forts at Presque Island (Erie) and on the Rivière aux Boeufs (Waterford). At the same time, Robert Dinwiddie, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, was granting land in the Ohio Valley to citizens of his colony, setting in motion the events which inevitably led to the French & Indian War.
Dinwiddie, hearing of new French forts on the upper Allegheny River, sent out a young Virginia officer, George Washington, to deliver a letter demanding that the French leave the region. This mission was, not surprisingly, a failure, but when passing through the region where the Allegheny and the Monongahela form the Ohio, Washington noted that the point of land at the junction was an excellent spot for a fort. In early 1754, in response to Washington’s suggestion, the British started to build a fort there, Fort Prince George, but French troops soon arrived and threw them out. The French completed the fortification, renaming it Fort Duquesne. Washington, meanwhile, had been sent out with a contingent of troops to help establish British control in the west, and when he heard of the surrender of Fort Prince George, he set up camp in Great Meadows, southeast of Fort Duquesne. Washington received a report that a nearby French contingent intended to attack, so he launched a preemptive strike against the French camp. This was the first engagement of the yet undeclared French & Indian War. Though Washington won that engagement, he was soon defeated by a superior force sent out from Fort Duquesne, leaving the French in command of the entire region west of the Allegheny Mountains.
Early the next year, 1755, Major General Edward Braddock was sent to America as commander-in-chief of the British forces in America. He quickly set in motion plans to capture Fort Duquesne, leading his troops west from Virginia in June. Meeting the French 10 miles east of Fort Duquesne, the British were defeated with heavy losses, including Braddock who died four days after the battle. Once again the French had maintained their grip on the Ohio Valley. In the north, British luck was better, for they won a battle on Lake George and established two forts just south of the French fortification (Fort Frederick) at Crown Point on Lake Champlain. These were Fort Edward on the Hudson River and Fort William Henry at the southern end of Lake George.
Despite all this military activity, it wasn’t until 1756 that war was officially declared between the French and British. The military activity that year and the following was relatively inconclusive, though the French generally had the upper hand, capturing Fort Oswego on Lake Ontario and Fort William Henry. In 1758 the tide began to turn and the British started to take the upper hand. They launched a three part attack on the French, against Louisbourg on the Atlantic Coast, Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga) on Lake Champlain, and Fort Frontenac at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. That summer the British finally captured the city of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, establishing control of the Bay of the St. Lawrence. And while they failed in an assault on the Fort Carillon, they did gained control of Lake Ontario by capturing Fort Frontenac with troops under Lt. Colonel John Bradstreet. In July, Brigadier General John Forbes assembled a large force to move against Fort Duquesne. Despite an initial setback, Forbes had great success. He held a council at Fort Bedford with the Indian tribes of region, establishing peace between them and the British. When the French realized they would no longer have Indian allies, and knowing their their communication with Montreal was cut off with the capture of Fort Frontenac, they quickly abandoned Fort Duquesne, destroying the fort as much as possible. Forbes occupied the site, which he soon had rebuilt and renamed Fort Pitt, establishing British control of the upper Ohio Valley for the first time.
The news in 1759 continued to be positive for the British. Major General Jeffrey Amherst took over from Abercromby as commander-in-chief of the British forces and he soon captured both the forts at Ticonderoga and Crown Point and also that summer other British forces captured Fort Niagara. Quebec was the strongest fortress in Canada, the lynch pin of French power in North America and the British knew that if they were able to capture Quebec, the rest of the country would soon fall into their dominion, so in early 1759 they planned the largest attack of the war, a combined force of about 9,000 soldiers under General James Wolfe and a fleet of 20 ships under Admiral Charles Saunders. The British lay siege to Quebec from June 27th until September 18th, when the French surrendered their garrison in the city. This was the turning point of the war, with an eventual British victory all but certain. By the end of the year, the British had control of almost all of North America, other than Montreal and Detroit. By the end of 1760, these two sites fell to the British. Amherst’s campaign against Montreal resulted in the surrender of that city in September and one week later Major Robert Rogers took over Fort Detroit. The British had gained all of North America from the French.
This de facto control was confirmed two and a half years later at the Treaty of Paris, February 10, 1763, which gave all of North America east of the Mississippi, other than New Orleans, to the British. The French also turned over their claims of New Orleans and the lands west of the Mississippi to Spain, as compensation for Spain’s surrendering Florida to the British. Though the European-based war ceased, the Native Americans in the west remained hostile to the British. The Pontiac Rebellion and other Indian hostilities lasted until the end of 1764, at which time peace finally reigned in North America. This peace, however, would last only a decade until a new war, the Revolution, began a new episode in the history of the continent.
There are three grades of chiefs. The chiefdom is hereditary in certain of the simplest political units in the government of the tribe; a chief is nominated by the suffrage of the matrons of this unit, and the nomination is confirmed by the tribal and the federal councils. The functions of the three grades of chiefs are defined in the rules of procedure. When the five Iroquoian tribes were organized into a confederation, its government was only a development of that of the separate tribes, just as the government of each of the constituent tribes was a development of that of the several clans of which it was composed.
The government of the clan was a development of that of the several brood families of which it was composed, and the brood family, strictly speaking, was composed of the progeny of a woman and her female descendants, counting through the female line only; hence the clan may be described as a permanent body of kindred, socially and politically organized, who trace actual and theoretical descent through the female line only. The simpler units surrendered part of their autonomy to the next higher units in such wise that the whole was closely interdependent and cohesive. The establishment of the higher unit created new rights, privileges, and duties. This was the principle of organization of the confederation of the five Iroquoian tribes. The date of the formation of this confederation (probably not the first, but the last of a series of attempts to unite the several tribes in a federal union) was not earlier than about the year 1570, which is some 30 years anterior to that of the Huron tribes. The Delawares gave them the name Mingwe.
The northern and western Algonquians called them Nadowa, ‘adders’. The Powhatan called them Massawomekes. The English knew them as the Confederation of the Five Nations, and after the admission of the Tuscarora in 1722, as the Six Nations. Moreover, the names Maqua, Mohawk, Seneca, and Tsonnontowan, by which their leading tribes were called, were also applied to them collectively. The League of the Iroquois, when first known to Europeans, was composed of the five tribes, and occupied the territory extending from the East watershed of Lake Champlain to the west watershed of Genesee river, and from the Adirondacks southward to the territory of the Conestoga. The date of the formation of the league is not certain, but there is evidence that it took place about 1570, occasioned by wars with Algonquian and Huron tribes. The confederated Iroquois immediately began to make their united power felt. After the coming of the Dutch, from whom they procured firearms, they were able to extend their conquests over all the neighboring tribes until their dominion was acknowledged from Ottawa river to the Tennessee and from the Kennebec to Illinois rivers and Lake Michigan. Their westward advance was checked by the Chippewa; the Cherokee and the Catawba proved an effectual barrier in the south, while in the north they were hampered by the operations of the French in Canada. Champlain on one of his early expeditions joined a party of Canadian Indians against the Iroquois.
This made them bitter enemies of the French, whom they afterward opposed at every step to the close of the French regime in Canada in 1763, while they were firm allies of the English. The French made several attempts through their missionaries to win over the Iroquois, and were so far successful that a considerable number of individuals from the different tribes, most of them Mohawk and Onondaga, withdrew from the several tribes and formed Catholic settlements at Caughnawaga, St Regis, and Oka, on the. St Lawrence. The tribes of the league repeatedly tried, but, without success, to induce them to return, and finally, in 1684, declared them to be traitors. In later wars the Catholic Iroquois took part with the French against their former brethren.
On the breaking out of the American Revolution the League of the Iroquois decided not to take part in the conflict, but to allow each tribe to decide for itself what action to take. All the tribes, with the exception of the Oneida and about half of the Tuscarora, joined the English. After the revolution the Mohawk and Cayuga, with other Iroquoian tribes that were in the English interest, after several temporary assignments, were finally settled by the Canadian government on a reservation on Grand river, Ontario, where they still reside, although a few individuals emigrated to Gibson, Bay of Quinté, Caughnawaga, and St Thomas, Ontario. All the Iroquois in the United States are on reservations in New York with the exception of the Oneida, who are settled near Green Bay, Wis. The so-called Seneca of Oklahoma are composed of the remnants of many tribes, among which may be mentioned the Conestoga and Hurons, and of emigrants from all the tribes of the Iroquoian confederation. It is very probable that the nucleus of these Seneca was the remnant of the ancient Erie. The Catholic Iroquois of Caughnawaga, St Regis, and Oka, although having no connection with the confederation, supplied many recruits to the fur trade, and a large number of them have become permanently resident among the northwestern tribes of the United States and Canada.
The Algonquins and Great Lake tribes lived in villages which usually had eight or nine hundred Indians. In the village the Indians built dome-shaped wigwams which they made from saplings covered with birch, chestnut, oak, or elm. The Indians placed bark and animal hides over the roof of their wigwams. A moose hide hung in the doorway. A pole was sewn to the bottom of the moose hide to hold the door down.
Inside the wigwam cedar branches and rush mats covered the ground. Beds were made from spruce boughs covered with skins. The Algonquins sat on rolled-up skins and hides. Larger houses were also made that could house more than one family. These houses were wigwassawigamig-shaped, like a book standing on its open edge. Many villages had tall staked fences around them called palisades. When the Indians went away from their village on hunting trips they put up cone-shaped wigwams made of wooden poles and bark.
The Algonquin did some farming, but were mainly hunters. They used fish to fertilize their corn fields. They tapped maple trees for sap to make sugar. The Algonquin Indians that lived on the coast had clambakes in which they ate clams, oysters, lobsters, mussels, and other shellfish. During these clambakes the Indians wrapped fish in seaweed then cooked it in a pit dug in the earth.
The Great Lakes Tribes were excellent hunters, farmers, and food gatherers. They ate wild birds and game. The men hunted moose, caribou, beaver, otter, and other small animals. The women gathered nuts, greens, and berries. The women grew corn, beans, and squash. One main food was the wild rice the Indians gathered that grew in the marshlands around the Great Lakes. The Indians of the Great Lakes knocked off the grains with sticks so the rice fell into their canoes.
The first group of Algonquian that the French encountered were the Kitcisìpiriniwak (“Ottawa River Men”; singular: Kitcisìpirini) whose village was located on an island in the Ottawa River; the French called this group “La Nation de l’Isle.” The first recorded meeting between Europeans and Algonquins occurred at Tadoussac in the summer of 1603, when Samuel de Champlain came upon a party of Algonquins, lead by the Kitcisìpirini Chief Tessouat. They were celebrating with the Montagnais and Etechemins (Malecite) a recent victory over the Five Nations Iroquois. Champlain did not understand the strong totem/clan system that socially united the Algonquins rather than the European-styled politically united concept of nationhood. Consequently, there were several Algonquin bands, each with its own chief, needing political approval from each of the band’s clan leaders. So, from 1603 some of the Algonquins allied themselves with the French under Samuel de Champlain.
Champlain made his first exploration of the Ottawa River during May, 1613 and reached the fortified Kitcisìpirini village at Morrison Island. Unlike the other Algonquin communities, Kitcisìpiriniwak did not change location with the seasons. They had chosen a strategic point astride the trade route between the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence and had prospered through the collection of beaver pelts from native traders passing through their territory. They pointed with great pride to their corn fields, a skill that they seemed to have acquired just before the arrival of the French. At first, the term “Algonquin” was used only for a second group, the Wàwàckeciriniwak.
However, by 1615 the name was applied to all of the Algonquin bands living along the Ottawa River. Because of keen interest to gain control of the lower Ottawa River the Kitcisìpiriniwak and the Wàwàckeciriniwak came under fierce opposition. These two large groups allied together, under the leadership of Sachem Charles Parcharini, maintaining the Omàmiwinini identity and territory. In 1632, after Sir David Kirke’s occupation of New France had demonstrated French colonial vulnerability, the French began to trade muskets to the Algonquins and their allies. French Jesuits began to actively seek Algonquin conversions to Roman Catholicism, opening up a bitter divide between traditionalists and converts.
Through all of these years, the Iroquois had never dared to attack the Kitcisìpirinik fortress, but in 1642 a surprise winter raid hit the Algonkin while most of their warriors were absent and inflicted severe casualties. On March 6th (Ash Wednesday), 1647, a large Mohawk war party hit the Kitcisìpiriniwak living near Trois Rivieres and almost exterminated them. The Kitcisìpiriniwak were still at Morrison Island in 1650 and inspired respect with their 400 warriors. When the French retreated from the Huron country that year, Tessouat is reported to have had the superior of the Jesuit mission suspended by his armpits because he refused to offer him the customary presents for being allowed to travel through Algonquin territory. Some joined the mission at Sillery and were mostly destroyed by an epidemic by 1676. Others, encouraged by the French, remained at Trois Rivieres and their settlement at nearby Point-du-Lac remained until about 1830, when the last 14 families, numbering about 50 moved to Oklahoma.
The Sulpician Mission of the Mountain was founded at Montreal in 1677, and some Algonquins settled there together with Iroquois converts. However many did maitain attachment to the traditional territory and the trading traditions. While those that agreed to move to the established reserves or joined other historic bands and were then federally “recognized” many others did not re-locate and were later referred to as “stragglers” in the Ottawa and Pontiac Counties. Starting in 1721, many Christian Algonquins began to summer at Oka, a Mohawk settlement near Montreal that was then considered one of the Seven Nations of Canada. Algonquin warriors continued to fight in alliance with France until the British conquest of Quebec in 1760. Fighting on behalf of British Crown, the Algonquins took part in the Barry St Leger campaign during the American Revolutionary War. Loyalist settlers began encroaching on Algonquin lands shortly after the Revolution. Later in the 19th century, the lumber industry began to move up the Ottawa valley, and some Algonquins were relegated to a string of small reserves.