Smithsonian

Primary Sources

Document
Chief Powhatan was the leader of the Powhatan federation of Indians in Virginia in the early seventeenth century. During his life, Powhatan proved that he could overcome most obstacles to a peaceful co-existence with the colonists. However, he was not able to change the belief that the colonists were superior to the Indians.
Document
John Rolfe explains in this letter his reasons for marrying Powhatan’s daughter, Pocahontas, to Sir Thomas Dale, the governor of Virginia. The tone suggests it was intended mainly for official records, but at some points Rolfe bared his true feelings. John married Pocahontas in the spring of 1614. the marriage resulted in a temporary peace with the Indians.
Document
This communication, from a Native American to an English colonist, indicates the resentment that many Indians felt towards the colonists, who were rapidly appropriating land and resources that had been used by tribes for centuries, and imposing new regulations on local Native Americans.
Document
Roger Williams was the founder of Rhode Island. His book A Key into the Language of America is the first study of an Indian language, the Narragansett language. It also gives an uncommonly positive insight in the customs and lifestyles of the Indians, and details early contact between Native Americans and the settlers.
Document
In 1643, Dutch reverend John Megapolensis became the town’s first pastor at Fort Orange (near Albany). As pastor he was not allowed to farm or trade, but received support from the town, while diligently performing his duties, which included teaching the Indians about Christ. These excerpts from a visit to the Iroquois region give an early account of the Mohawk culture as perceived by a European missionary.
Document
King Phillip’s war (1675-1676) was one of the bloodiest in the history of America. Irreconcilable differences in their ways of life and concept of land use had tension for many ears. The murder of Sassamon, a liaison between the two groups caused a breakdown in relations that led to war. King Philip’s War was devastating to the traditional way of life for Native People in New England; in order to survive, many tribes had to adapt many aspects of their culture.
Document
The London-based Lords Proprietor of Carolina rebuking colonists for arming Indians and paying them to capture other Indians for the slave trade, 1683
Document
Starting in the 1600s, Jesuit missionaries came to America and Canada and attempted to convert Native Americans to Christianity. This document indicates that Jesuits believed the best way to accomplish their mission of conversion was to live among Native America tribes. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the Jesuits achieved varying levels of success, sometimes living peacefully within tribal villages, and at other times being persecuted and killed.
Document
In this passage, Sir William Herbert rebukes colonists for taking on habits that are characteristic of Native Americans—most notably, tobacco smoking. This text also serves to illustrate the perceived cultural superiority of the English colonists.
Document
This document refers to what is called alternately the “Seven Years War” and the “French and Indian War” (1754–63), in which the English fought with the French over colonial territory in the Ohio Valley. Native Americans sided with the French, with whom they had better trading relations, and who were not as aggressive as the British in taking Native lands. However, by early 1760 the tide turned in favor of the British, and Native Americans became more eager to make peace with the apparent victor

1 of 3