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From VOA Learning English, this is THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in Special English. I’m Steve Ember.
This week in our series, we tell the story of a clash of cultures and beliefs. We look at the early history of relations between European settlers in North America and the native groups that had lived there for thousands of years before their arrival.
The settlers arrived on the east coast of North America. Along the east coast there were many different Indian tribes. They spoke many different languages. Some raised crops, some were hunters. Some were often at war, others were peaceful.
Many of these tribes still exist -- Indian nations like the Seneca, the Mohawk, the Seminole and the Cherokee.
Indian tribes shared a highly developed system of trade. They traded goods over a wide area.
The first recorded meetings between Europeans and the Indians of the East Coast took place in the fifteen hundreds. Fishermen from France and the Basque area of Spain crossed the Atlantic Ocean. They hunted for whales along the east coast of North America. They set up camps and often traded with the local Indians.
The Europeans often paid Indians to work for them. Both groups found this relationship to be successful. On several occasions, different groups of fishermen tried to establish a permanent settlement on the coast. The severe winters, however, made it impossible, so the camps were only temporary.
The first permanent European settlers in New England began arriving in sixteen twenty. They wanted to live in peace with the Indians. They needed to trade with them for food. The settlers also knew that because they were so few in number, a battle with the Indians would result in their own quick defeat.
Yet problems began almost immediately.
Perhaps the most serious was the difference in the way that the Indians and the Europeans thought about land. This difference created problems that would not be solved during the next several hundred years.
Owning land was extremely important to the European settlers. In England, and most other countries, land meant wealth. Owning large amounts of land meant that a person had great wealth and political power.
Many of the settlers who came to North America could never have owned land back home in Europe. They were too poor. And they belonged to religious minorities.
When they arrived in the new world, they discovered that no one seemed to own the huge amounts of land.
Companies in England needed to find people willing to settle in North America. So they offered land to anyone who would take the chance of crossing the Atlantic. For many, it was a dream come true. It was a way to improve their lives. The land gave the European settlers a chance to become wealthy and powerful.
On the other hand, the Indians believed that no one could own land. They believed, however, that anyone could use it. Anyone who wanted to live on a piece of land and grow crops could do so.
The American Indians lived with nature. They understood the land and the environment. They did not try to change it. They might grow crops in an area for a few years. Then they would move on. They would allow the land on which they had farmed to become wild again.
They might hunt on one area of land for some time, but again they would move on. They hunted only what they could eat, so populations of animals could continue to increase. The Indians understood nature and were at peace with it.
The first Europeans to settle in the New England area of the Northeast wanted land. The Indians did not fear them. There were not many settlers and there was enough land for everyone to use and plant crops. It was easy to live together. The Indians helped the settlers by teaching them how to plant crops and survive on the land.
But the Indians did not understand that the settlers were going to keep the land. This idea was foreign to the Indians. To them, it was like trying to own the air, or the clouds.
As the years passed, more and more settlers arrived, and took more and more land. They cut down trees. They built fences to keep people and animals out. They demanded that the Indians stay off their land.
Another problem between the settlers and the Indians involved religion. The settlers in New England thought Christianity was the one true faith, and that all people should believe in it. They soon learned that the Indians were satisfied with their own spiritual beliefs and were not interested in changing them.
As a result, many settlers came to believe that the Native Americans could not be trusted because they were not Christians. They began to fear the Indians and think of them as evil.
The European settlers failed to understand that the Indians were an extremely spiritual people with a strong belief in unseen powers. The Indians lived very close to nature. They believed that all things in the universe depend on each other. All native tribes had ceremonies that honored a creator of nature. They recognized the creator's work in their everyday lives.
Other events also led to serious problems between the Native Americans and the newcomers. One problem was disease. For example, some of the settlers carried the bacteria that caused smallpox, although they themselves did not get sick. Smallpox had caused deadly epidemics in Europe, but it was unknown to the Indians. Their immune systems had developed no protection against the disease. It killed whole tribes. And smallpox was only one disease brought from Europe. There were others that also infected the Indians.
The first meetings between settlers and Native Americans would follow the same course in almost every European settlement along the East Coast. The two groups would meet as friends. They would begin by trading for food and other goods.
In time, however, something would happen to cause a crisis. Perhaps a settler would demand that an Indian stay off the settler's land. Perhaps someone was killed. Fear would replace friendship.
One side or the other would react to what they believed was an attack. A good example of this was the conflict known as King Philip's War.
Metacom, also known as Metacomet, was a leader of the Wampanoag tribe. He was the son of Chief Massasoit. Without the help of Massasoit and his tribe, the first European settlers in the northernmost colonies might not have survived their first winter. The Wampanoag Indians provided them with food. They taught the settlers how to plant corn and other crops. The two groups were very friendly for several years. Massasoit and his court attended the first harvest feast, which became known as Thanksgiving.
As the years passed, however, fear and mistrust replaced friendliness. Metacom 's brother died of a European disease. Metacom, who was known to the English as King Philip, blamed the colonists. He also saw how the increasing numbers of settlers were changing the land. He believed they were destroying it.
One small crisis after another finally led to the killing of a Christian Indian who lived with the settlers. The settlers retaliated by killing three Indians. King Phillip’s War quickly followed. It began in sixteen seventy-five and continued for almost two years. Men, women and children on both sides were killed. Historians say as many as three thousand Native Americans died in the violence. More than six hundred settlers are believed to have been killed.
Historians say the tribe of Indians called the Narraganset were innocent victims of King Philip's War. The Narraganset were not involved in the war. They did not support one group or the other. However, the settlers had come to fear all Indians and killed almost all the members of the Narraganset tribe.
This fear and the failure to compromise were not unusual. They would strongly influence relations between the European settlers and the American Indians in all areas of the new country.
These clashes of cultures would continue as more and more Europeans arrived. The Puritans from England landed in Massachusetts. The Dutch settled what would become New York State. And the Quakers, unwelcome in England, settled in Pennsylvania. That will be our story next week.
You can find our series online with transcripts, MP3s, podcasts and pictures at voaspecialenglish.com. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I’m Steve Ember, inviting you to join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.