Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2011

Document Type





The following three chapters will discuss the role of Native Americans, Colonists, and the Environment in the establishing settlements in New England. The main argument of the thesis is that Native Americans must be included in historical studies of the colonial period not just as bystanders but as active participants. Through trade and agricultural exchange with colonists, Indians contributed greatly to the success of the colonies of New England. The Introduction sets the stage for the direction which this thesis argument takes. Additionally, a brief historiographical review is provided to contextualize this work within the broader scheme of previous scholarship. Chapter One engages with primary documents, including the works of Richard Hakluyt, Thomas Budd, and John Josselyn, and shows how prevalent hyperbolic language, exaggerations, and misconceptions were in pro-colonial rhetoric and writings from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The many facets of such works are explored including, but not limited to, the content of such writings, the context into which they were written, and the purposes and motivation of such authors. It is clear that colonial rhetoric inflated the positives traits of the New World and glossed over the negatives with the intent of encouraging settlement. Such writings portrayed the New World in a way that differed greatly from reality. Chapter Two will show, it was through trade and exchange with Indians that this gap was narrowed. Chapter Two continues in the tradition set forth by scholars Neal Salisbury and others who present Native American history, material culture, trade patterns and agricultural practice as existing before the arrival of Europeans. Trade and exchange were central parts of Native American practice in New England and Britons entered into this dynamic upon their arrival to the New World. Reciprocity and notions of equality are explored and presented as centralcomponents of the relationship between Indians and Colonists. It is suggested in this chapter, and further in Chapter Three, that colonial stability was directly dependent on Indian willingness to engage in trade. Chapter Three uses a counterfactual study, as employed in the scholarship of James Axtell, to question how colonial settlement in New England might have differed were Native Americans not present in the New World. A counterfactual study removing Indians from situations of trade, exchange, and agricultural development will reveal how central Indians were in stabilizing the colonies of New England. The Concluding Thoughts problematize the somewhat peaceful and reciprocal dynamics at play among Indian and colonial communities in the earliest moments of settlement. Through a discussion of differing views of land use, property rights, the installation of enclosures, and the domestication of cattle, it is clear that Indian and colonial cultures clashed more and more as British colonial settlements moved increasingly west. The overall message of this thesis is not discredited by the history of violence and conflict between settlers and Indians. Instead, in their contrast it is made clear that within the context of the first months and years of settlement in New England, colonists needed Indians. Indian contributions to colonial life allowed for the wealth and stability of New England to grow into the eighteenth century and beyond.