First Encounters: Early European Accounts of Native America

European voyagers and colonists began writing reports on their ventures. They especially wrote about the land because that is what they wanted to colonize and use for profit. The Native peoples soon became an immense curiosity. Anthropology, as various scholars have argued, was created in the expansion of Europe to the West after 1492. Writings of initial contact between Europeans and Native Americans are often called “First Encounter” writings. European ideology allowed no place either for this other hemisphere or the peoples that dwelled in it. They wondered why Indians weren’t mentioned in the bible. Descriptions of Indians led Europeans to question what were essential human traits.
Common themes were greed, vulnerability, jealousy. European incursions soon became major factors in the economic, political, medical, and cultural life of tribal groups. The sheer geographical range of the phenomenon was enormous. Colonizers took advantage of existing group grudges between the natives. That Hudson’s crew exploited not only weaponry but also liquor as tools for dealing with the Natives reveals the unscrupulous methods often employed by their successors. Much land and people were destroyed. Empire is always implicit or explicit in these texts.
One similarity between explorers Hudson and Champlain is the amount of violence that accompanied their penetration into Native lands. It is crucial to put early American violence into a proper historical context. It occurred on both sides, although European apologists often sought to blame it on Native resistance or what they soon were describing as the inherent “savagery” of the Native peoples. The Iroquois had been carrying out aggressive warfare against other Native peoples, including those of eastern Canada, when the European powers first ventured into that part of the continent. They therefore were much feared and much resisted.
Even without European involvement, intertribal wars in this region could be bloody and widely destructive. However, it is also clear that the coming of Europeans into Native regions exacerbated pre-existing tensions. The presence of Europeans deepened and sharpened Native-on-Native violence. Furthermore, the Europeans not only caused an escalation of Native violence, but also brought their own traditions of bloody warfare with them. Native Americans of the conquest period typically waged war in a restrained, even ritualized, manner as compared with Europeans. But in conveying the Native perception that English warfare was evil because it killed too many people, Underhill provided evidence of the savagery of which European settlers were capable.

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tattooedprofessor

I'm a doctor of philosophy in Literary and Cultural Studies which makes me interested in everything! I possess special training in text analysis, African American literature, Women and Gender Studies, American lit, World Lit and writing.

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