By the eighteenth century, it had become clear to many Native American communities, particularly those east of the Mississippi and in New Mexico, that Europeans were to be a permanent physical presence on the landscape, for better or worse. Native Americans adapted to this fact in a variety of ways, and they found it increasingly difficult to hold onto their cultural identity, land, and political autonomy as the colonial period progressed. Three trends are crucial to understanding the eighteenth-century plight of Native Americans east of the Mississippi. English and French imperial power was expanding rapidly, English settlements were experiencing a population boom all along the Eastern seaboard, and only the most powerful Native American groups, or those best positioned to play the European powers against one another, would survive the period with any semblance of autonomy.
The case of the Tuscarora, an Iroquoian-speaking, sedentary farming tribe who lived in North Carolina, demonstrates the problems faced by Native American during this time. They had become dependent on the goods offered by English traders operating out of both Carolinas, and, in the first decade of the 1700s, they were further squeezed by the founding of English and Swiss/German colonies on the Neuse and Cape Fear Rivers. They struck back violently, killing 130 settlers in a single, swift attack in 1711. The military forces of North Carolina did not offer much resistance, but the combined forces of the colony of South Carolina, its Yamasee allies, and the Cherokee defeated the Tuscarora. By 1722, most of the Tuscarora had retreated to New York, where they joined the Iroquois and became the Sixth Nation.
The Creek in the Southeast and the Iroquois in the Northeast both survived the colonial onslaught. Although both had become dependent on European goods, each of these native powers was in an ideal position to play the Europeans off one another to its own advantage. The Creek and Iroquois were also willing and able to absorb the refugee populations of defeated tribes.
The Seven Years’ War, known in America as the French and Indian War, would all but destroy Native American diplomatic options. The conflict erupted in 1754, during a prolonged period of explosive European (particularly English) population growth. The population of the thirteen colonies grew from 250,000 in 1700 to 1.6 million in 1760, placing extraordinary new pressure on Native America.
In the early 1750s, seeking to regain lost trade, the French and their native allies began to attack British frontier posts. By 1754, they had beaten the British out of the Ohio River Valley and established Fort Duquesne (present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania).
By the middle of the eighteenth century, both England and France had recognized the importance of controlling North America, so they decided it was time for a final showdown for the entire continent (or at least its eastern half). Both nations poured men and resources into the conflict. The early years of the war saw decisive French victories. The British were forced to give up their western posts, and Native Americans allied with the French destroyed settlements in the western parts of Virginia and Pennsylvania (at the low point of the war, the fighting came within 30 miles of Philadelphia). The Iroquois managed to remain neutral in the early years of the war, although the Seneca did aid the French in some of their campaigns.
The year 1758 was pivotal. The British, through the masterful diplomacy of Sir William Johnson and the renewed interest in the war shown by the new prime minister William Pitt, were able to convince the Iroquois to join their side. They pushed the French out of the Ohio Valley and eventually went on to the heart of French Canada, taking Montreal and Quebec. The Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763, effectively removed the French from North America. By the terms of the Proclamation of 1763, the British drew a line (along the top of the Appalachians) that would separate North America into Native and AngloAmerican spheres.
The Proclamation of 1763 was a miserable failure, and not just because Native Americans and Anglo-Americans already lived on both sides of the line. It infuriated American colonists, who wanted to retaliate against Native Americans and secure lands on which they had been speculating for a number of years. To make matters worse, Native Americans could no longer use European conflict to their advantage.
If the French and Indian War was bad for Native Americans, the American Revolution was a total disaster. Some Native Americans fought on both sides, though most groups fearing American expansionism sided with the British.
After the war, it mattered little what side specific Native American communities had fought on. Native Americans were considered hostile foreigners in their own land, and they suffered mightily at the hands of the young American republic. Although many tribes survived the eighteenth century, they faced an uncertain, and likely gloomy, future. Native Americans would reinvent themselves repeatedly in the years following American independence; they would rely on a variety of strategies to cope with the harsh political realities they faced.
Some trends of Native American life in the colonial period deserve mention here. The population of native North America declined catastrophically as a result of exposure to European diseases and colonial dislocation. Still, Native American communities survived two centuries of intense colonial pressure by adapting to their rapidly changing political environment. Equally remarkable is the fact that some Native Americans survived with their tribal identities intact, albeit in altered forms.
Matthew Jennings See also: Abenaki; Arawak; Aztec; Beaver Wars; Brant, Joseph; Brant, Mary Molly; Captivity (by Native Americans); Carib; Cayuga; Cherokee; Chickasaw; Choctaw; Creek; Erie; French and Indian War; Furs; Hopi; Huron; Iroquois Confederacy; Lenni Lenape (Delaware); Massasoit; Maya; Missions; Mohawk; Mohegan; Montezuma II; Natchez; Native American-African American Relations; Native American-European Conflict; Native American-European Relations; Native Americans and Slavery; Navajo; Oneida; Onondaga; Opechancanough; Ottawa; Pequot; Philip, King (Metacom); Pocahontas; Pontiac; Powhatan; Powhatan Confederacy; Praying Towns; Pueblo; Race and Ethnicity (Chronology); Race and Ethnicity (Essay); Religions, Native American; Seminole; Seneca; Squanto; Taino; Tuscarora; Tuscarora War; Yamasee; Yamasee War; Zuni; Documents: The Constitution of the Iroquois Nations (c.1570); John Eliot and His Work with Native Americans (1670); Captivity Narrative of Mary Jemison in the 1750s (pub.1824).
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