The average British citizen in America during the 17th Century had a preconceived notion of Indians as savage beasts. However, before the arrival of the British, the New England Indians, specifically the Wampanoag tribe, lived a harmonious and interdependent lifestyle. Conflict among the Wampanoag was limited to minor tribal disputes. The war methods of the Indians were in fact more civilized than the British methods. The close living quarters of the British and Indians forced the Indians to adopt aspects of British civilization in order to survive, such as the ways of warfare. Douglas Leach in his book Flintlock and Tomahawk: New England in the time of King Philip's War argues that British influence on Indian society turned the Indians from savage to civilized. This paper will argue that British influence turned the Indians from civilized to savage. The examination of Wampanoag behavior from before British influence through King Philip's War proves that Wampanoag beliefs became more materialistic, that land ownership became important, and that unnecessary violence became a part of their warfare.
The way the Indians conducted war, although it appeared primitive and frightening, in actuality was less barbaric than the Puritans way of warfare. Leach describes the Wampanoag way of battle as unsophisticated and dance around a fire beating drums with their faces painted in order to demonstrate their ferocious manners. Then, using bows and arrows, tomahawks, and knives the Indians would send small groups of warriors against their enemy village. As a form of revenge during war the Indians often scalped their enemies as a trophy or captured their enemies for later torture. Leach states in his argument that "Obviously, the New England Indians were a primitive people, occupying a much lower level of civilization than that of the English settlers"(Leach 6). Leaches narrow-minded attitude towards the natives, however, is the perfect example of the generic view of Indians as savages. Leach's view of the Indians as savage comes from his examination of their warfare. Here, the basis for a civilized society is the type of warfare one practices. However, when comparing British warfare to Indian warfare, British warfare contains more mass destruction and a higher number of deaths.
While Indian rituals seemed like barbaric practices, it must be taken into account that Indian-to-Indian conflict is on a smaller scale than British war. Adam Hirsch writes that New England Indians saw no need in the massive killing of enemies (Hirsh 1191). The fact that the Indians fought to seek revenge and not to kill, shows how the symbolic nature of their warfare out ways the need for violence. Even the ritual of scalping an individual was for symbolic reasons, not cruelty. In the footnotes, Hirsch quotes Williams as saying that there were "seldom twenty slain in a pitch field" (Hirsch 1191). Even though, the Indians scalped their enemies, the fact that rarely more than twenty people died at time shows that the amount of bloodshed was not a concern in Indian warfare.
In contrast, British warfare was fought for economic and religious reasons, which caused their wars to be large scale and violent, opposed to small time Indian dispute. In his article, Hirsch argues that unlike the Indians, British colonists "needed a fighting force, furnished with lethal weapons and versed in their use" (Hirsch 1188). Each town required that every eligible man serve in their towns company. When the colonists fought they did it to "conquer and subdue enemies" (Hirsch 1188). Unlike the Indians who fought for symbolic reasons, the colonists fought to destroy the opponent. The fact that the colonists fought to "conquer and subdue" caused them to spend more time training in the use of muskets and other skills. Due to the colonist's intent to defeat their enemies, war was more vicious and contained a great deal more bloodshed.
The Indians believed in a communal living environment, they did not understand the concept of individual ownership of land and animals; thus they had no need for fences and defined spaces. Both genders had specific roles they played in order to preserve balance in their community. According to Anderson, the men hunted and the woman tended the crops. The Indians also Regarded animals with a certain spiritual belief. Anderson says, "Animals were deemed equally rightful occupants of the forest and whose killing required an intimate knowledge of their habits" (Anderson 607). The Indians believed they had to go through a spiritual ritual before they hunted an animal. Only once an animal was dead would the Indians claim ownership and share the animal with their families.
With the introduction of the Puritan concept of animal husbandry, the Indians had to change their traditional methods and try to adapt and assimilate to the Puritan lifestyle. This caused an array of problems and challenges for the Indians. First, the Puritan's domesticated animals ate the Indians crops and reserves as well as routed for clams. Second, it caused an imbalance in gender roles and spiritual thought. Third, the animals scared away the deer and walked into the deer traps. Fourth, the English blamed the Indians for the slaughter of domesticated animals and punished them under English law. For example, Anderson states that in 1638 William Hawthorne found one of his cows struck with an arrow. "Salem officials demanded the exorbitant sum of one hundred pounds from local Indians at a time when a cow was valued at 20 pounds" (Anderson 608). These allegations caused extreme tension between the Puritan settlers and the Indians because the Indians were not prepared for these new contingencies that were introduced into their society.
The Indians tried to conform to the ways of animal husbandry and learn the English ways of farming in order to keep conflict between the colonists minimal. However, as the Indians became managers of livestock, more controversies arose. For example, when King Philip adapted raising livestock he placed his livestock on an island, where he believed he could raise the livestock without intruding on to English land. However, after the English saw that King Philip was successfully raising livestock on the island, they illegally took King Philip's property rights away, claiming that the island was English land (Anderson 601 620). While some Indians attempted to assimilate and protect themselves by converting to Christianity, the Wampanoag's tried to follow the English law "with the hope that political and legal submission to the English alone would be adequate to protect their culture" (Drake 58); this proved not to be the case. The adoption of animal husbandry ended up causing further tension between the British and the Indians. This growing tension caused the Indians to adopt the ways of British warfare in order to protect themselves. Thus, causing the Indians to also adopt the idea of massive bloodshed during war.
The Infamous King Philip's War, which was a result of the growing tension, showed how much the Indians had changed their lifestyles; they fought the war using English tactics of warfare and weaponry which caused them to become more savage. The description of the Wampanoag's attack on Lancaster, in Mary Rowlandon's narrative, demonstrates the violent effects of British civilization on the Indians. Rowlandson says that the Indians attacked in the earlier morning, setting fire to houses, knocking people on the head, and shooting at anyone they could. She says, "The Indians getting up on the roof of the Barn, had advantage to shoot down upon them over their fortification." (Rowlandson 68). The two phrases "up on the roof" and "shoot down upon," emphasize that the Indians began to use any means necessary to kill their enemies. Because the Indians place themselves in a position where they can "shoot down upon" the colonists situated in the fortification, they are demonstrating that the number of deaths and the amount of destruction is more important then revenge on the enemy. Before in Indian warfare the people being killed were the people that directly offended the Indian tribe. Now, however, the Indians are attempting to kill anyone they can, it is the amount of bloodshed and destruction that counts.
Before Colonization war was simply between men, however, now war has come to include violence towards women and children. In Rowlandson's narrative she describes the killing of an innocent women and child. Rowlandson says that the woman's constant nagging to return home caused the Indians such annoyance that they gathered a group of people together, stripped her naked, dance and sang about her, knocked her and her child on the head, and threw them both into a fire (Rowlandson 77-78). In the entire description of the incident the point that Rowlandson focuses on as barbaric is when they were dancing around her. She says, "They had sung and danced about her (in their hellish manner)" (Rowlandson 78). The word "hellish" is used to describe the Indians traditional rituals. However, the barbaric part of this incident is that the victims involved were women and children. The Indians adoption of British warfare methods caused them to emulate the British cruelty, which was to destroy and annihilate the enemy.
The way the Puritan's treated the Indians was quite unfair and cruel. The British believed the Indians to be uncivilized beings. This was hypocritical because the British called the Indians savages when in fact they were the ones who treated the Indians savagely. When people of different cultures live next to each other, their ideas and way of living may assimilate. Even though they may be different, without tolerance and respect for other cultures there may be war. People will adapt to whatever methods of warfare are needed to defend themselves and their families. While the British considered themselves the civilized nation, in reality the Indians showed more civility than the British. It was not until the adoption of British methods that the Indians behavior became uncivilized, ruthless and cruel.
Anderson, Virginia DeJohn. "King Philip's Herds: Indians, Colonists, and the Problem of Livestock in Early New England." William and Mary Quarterly 51.(1994): 601-624 Drake, James D. King Philip's War: Civil War in New England 1675-1676. Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999.
Hirsch, Adam J. "The Collision of Military Cultures in Seventeenth-Century New England." The Journal of American History. 74. 4 (1988): 1187-1212.
Leach, Douglas E. flintlock and Tomahawk: New England in King Philip's War. NewYork: Norton, 1959
Salisbury, Neal, ed. The Sovereignty and Goodness of God by Mary Rowlandson with Related Documents. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997.