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First Hand Reports Of Early Encounters With Ancient American Cultures

First Hand Reports Of Early Encounters With Ancient American Cultures


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Over five-hundred years ago, European monarchs began dispatching their most masterful navigators to the far reaches of the planet, marking the beginning of the Age of Discovery. Epic voyages occurred across vast and treacherous oceans fueled by the zeal of discovery, the greed of conquest, and the tempestuous winds of the seven seas. Upon their return, these early explorers presented their kings and queens with detailed, wonderous reports of exotic flora, fauna, spices, minerals, and lost cities. Encounters with natives was another standard element of these expedition reports, sometimes they were peaceful and sometimes hostile. Each of these elements was entirely expected, each that is, except one: the enigmatic encounters of early explorers with the unusual natives of the lands they “discovered.”

Ferdinand Magellan, the first of the early explorers to circumvent the globe, and his ship on a Bulgarian postage stamp. ( Vic / Adobe Stock)

Early Explorers: Ferdinand Magellan & Antonio Pigafetta

Portuguese-born, Spanish-crown-commissioned captain Ferdinand Magellan may be the most renowned of all early explorers. His circumnavigation of the globe was the first in recorded history and is arguably the greatest sea voyage in the Age of Discovery . Between 1519 and 1522 AD the intrepid crew of the carrack, aptly named “The Victoria,” rounded the southern tip of South America. They named this land Patagones, the Spanish pata meaning foot hence this name means “the land of the bigfeet.” According to the official chronicles, painstakingly recorded by Antonio Pigafetta, as they approached the shore of this strange land, they witnessed a giant, naked man dancing and anointing himself with powder. A crew member was sent ashore to make contact and did so by imitating the giant’s gestures.

The First “Patagonia” Account

“When the giant was in the captain-general’s and our presence he marveled greatly, and made signs with one finger raised upward, believing we had come from the sky. He was so tall that we reached only to his waist, and he was well proportioned.”

The explorers initiated contact with the giant’s tribe and offered them gifts of food and drink, and there was a note made that they were utterly terrified when they saw a mirror. After a couple weeks, the explorers attempted to abduct two of them to bring home as evidence of their enigmatic encounter; however, the two they captured perished and were disposed of during the long odyssey back to Spain. Modern historians minimize this account by accusing Pigafetta of exaggeration, but aside from this tiny fraction, the entirety of the circumnavigation chronicle is hailed as exquisitely accurate.

Sir Francis Drake also circumvented the globe and met strange natives in Patagonia. ( Vic / Adobe Stock)

Early Explorers: Sir Francis Drake Circumvents The Globe

Then in 1579, English explorer Sir Francis Drake completed the second circumnavigation in recorded history. His expedition’s chronicler and ship chaplain Francis Fletcher recorded similar observations of the Patagonians. The first detailed account of Drake’s circumnavigation was published in 1628: The World Encompassed , written by Drake’s own nephew who bore the same name. In it, he writes:

“Magellan was not all together deceived, in naming them giants; for they generally differ from the common sort of men, both in stature, and strength of body; as also in the hideousness of their voice: but yet they are not so monstrous, or giant like as they were reported; there being some English men, as tall, as the highest of any that we could see, but peradventure, the Spaniards did not think, that ever any English man would come thither, to reprove them; and thereupon might presume the more boldly to lie: the name Patagones, five cubits (seven foot and a half)[2.3 meters], describing the full height (if not somewhat more) of the highest of them. But this is certain, that the Spanish cruelties there used [Magellan’s abductions] have made them more monstrous, in mind and manners, then they are in body; and more inhospitable; to deal with any strangers, that shall come thereafter.”

Analyzing Accounts and Accusations

Upon analysis of these accounts and the accusations therein, it is interesting that Drake’s nephew suggests the earlier explorers exaggerated , but in the very same, extremely long-winded pages, he confirms the existence of an abnormally large tribe of natives who stood seven-feet-six-inches (2.3 meters) tall and who had “hideous” voices.

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Drake the nephew seems far more concerned with an attack on Magellan and Pigafetta than the claim which was essentially made during his own uncle’s experiences. In other words, whether these inhabitants were ten feet (3 meters) or seven-and-a-half-feet (2.3 meters) tall is a matter of mere semantics. And both early explorers, who are both irrefutably credible, encountered tribes of extremely tall and powerful human beings who dwelt in the Patagonian wilderness.

Early explorer Jacob Le Maire from Antonio de Herrera's India Occidentales. (Cornell University: Southeast Asia Visions / )

Other Strange Encounters Experienced By Early Explorers

In 1615, Dutch navigators Willem Schouten and Jacob Le Maire were completing their own circumnavigation of the globe, while in the employ of the East India Trading Company. These explorers reported their discovery of an ancient grave that contained within it bones of bizarre humans who, by their calculations, must have stood about eleven feet (3.4 meters) tall.

In the 1590s AD, an English sailor by the name of William Adams made note of a violent confrontation between his Dutch ship’s crew and the enormous natives of Chile’s southernmost islands.

And in the 1580s AD, English adventurer Anthony Knivet returned home after surviving a grand journey to the depths of South America, and in his account, he claimed to have witnessed the corpses of dead giants that he measured to be twelve feet (3.7 meters) tall.

Beyond Patagonia: Other Enigmatic Reports From Explorers

These enigmatic encounters were not isolated to Patagonia. In fact, similar reports continued to make their way back to Europe through a wide range of early explorers spanning the entire Age of Discovery period. So much so, that on many early maps of the “New World” the landmass is labelled Regio Gigantum “the region of the giants.”

North America is awash with early reports of gigantic inhabitants and centuries after the Age of Discovery these reports seem to be confirmed by the hundreds of accounts of enormous/anomalous skeletons that were unearthed from the myriads of burial and effigy mounds (but that is another subject all together).

A monument dedicated to the explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in Houston, Texas. (No machine-readable author provided. Ealmagro assumed (based on copyright claims) / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Conquistador Account #1

In the 1520s AD, Spanish soldier and conquistador Panfilo de Narvaez led a disastrous campaign in what is today northern Florida. The invasion was doomed due to a lack of supplies and mutinous crew members. They were ultimately ravaged by disease combined with assaults by the natives.

One of Narvaez’s crew who did managed to survive was a young officer named Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca who, along with a few other rugged survivors, traveled by raft from Florida to the coast of Texas.

In de Vaca’s journal, he describes a violent encounter the soldiers had with native giants as they were crossing a lake aboard their makeshift vessel. “When we attempted to cross the lake, we came under heavy attack from many giant Indians concealed behind trees. Some of our men were wounded in this conflict for which the good armor they wore did not avail. The Indians we had so far seen are all archers. They go naked, are large of body, and appear at a distance like giants. They are of admirable proportions, very spare and of great activity and strength. The bows they use are as thick as the arm, of eleven or twelve palms in length, which they discharge at two hundred paces with so great precision that they miss nothing.”

A portrait of Hernando de Soto who travelled across Florida and Alabama. (Grabado de Juan Brunetti por dibujo de José Maea / )

Conquistador Account #2

In October of 1540, conquistador Hernando de Soto led his men into what is modern day Alabama where they encountered a tribe of what seemed to have been typical natives, who were ruled over by a paramount chief of great physical stature named Tuskaloosa.

Rodrigo Ranjel, a member of de Soto’s party, chronicled the encounter in his journal. “The chief was on a kind of balcony on a mound at one side of the square, his head covered by a kind of coif like the almaizal, so that his headdress was like a Moor’s which gave him an aspect of authority; he also wore a pelote, or mantle of feathers down to his feet, very imposing; he was seated on some high cushions, and many of the principal men among his Indians were with him. He was as tall as that Tony (Antonico) of the Emperor, our lords guard, and well proportioned, a fine and comely figure of a man. And although the Governor (de Soto) entered the plaza and alighted from his horse and went up to him, he did not rise, but remained passive in perfect composure and as if he had been a king.”

The title page of Bernal Diaz del Castillo's The True History of the Conquest of New Spain, which tells his tales of exploration in the "New Spain" of the New World, published in 1632. (John Carter Brown Library / )

Conquistador Account #3

Bernal Diaz del Castillo was a conquistador who, under the command of Hernan Cortes, participated in the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs in Mexico. In their own chronicle: The True History of the Conquest of New Spain , there is an account of their communications with the native Tlaxcalteca Indians who told them of their tradition of a race of giants that had previously inhabited the land before their ancestors had displaced them.

“They said their ancestors had told them that very tall men and women with huge bones had once dwelt among them. But because they were a very bad people with wicked customs, they had fought against them and killed them, and those of them who had remained died off. And to show us how big these giants had been they brought us the leg-bone of one, which was very thick and the height of an ordinary-sized man, and that was a leg bone from the hip to the knee. I measured myself against it, and it was as tall as I am, though I am of reasonable height. They brought other pieces of bone of the same kind, but they were all rotten and eaten away by the soil. We were all astonished by the sight of these bones and felt certain there must have been giants in that land.”

New Evidence Shows That Patagonia Was Settled Before Alaska

Exiting the Age of Discovery for a moment, it is objectively reasonable to consider that if these reports are indeed valid, there must be additional archaeological and or anthropological evidence. And if there’s not, then that casts significant doubt on the accounts.

In 1897, American explorer Frederick Albert Cook teamed up with the missionary Thomas Bridges in studying the mysterious Ona and Yahgan tribes of Patagonia. During this anthropological investigation, they photographed an Ona man who stood seven-feet-four-inches (2.23 meters) tall. Furthermore, the man’s custom was to go naked. This photograph simply entitled “Ona Man” exists in the Library of Congress for all to see.

Recent archaeological excavations in southern Chile have quietly been upending preconceived notions about the history of the region. Distinguished American archaeologist and anthropologist Tom Dillehay of Vanderbilt University has uncovered evidence of habitation in southern Chile dating back to 31,000 BC. This site is located some 8,000 miles (12,874 km) south of the Bering Strait (linking Alaska and Russia), and essentially proves that the Clovis Culture, who crossed the land bridge in roughly 20,000 BC, were not the first inhabitants of the Americas.

Conclusions

So far, Dillehay has not published any discoveries of human remains excavated at these ancient sites in southern Chile, but the Cook photograph is a rather compelling confirmation, not to mention the wide variety of early explorer’ reports.

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And then there are the intriguing accounts of early American archaeologists who, according to official Bureau of Ethnology reports, all indicate the presence of genetically unique humans present in the Americas before the arrival of the Native Americans, who by the way, also confirm this in their oral traditions.

One thing is for certain, many clues to human history remain hidden and await discovery in Patagonia. This puzzling kaleidoscope of history, legend, and physical science also crystalizes the intimate relationship between history and mythology: these are not mutually exclusive opposites (a truly primitive concept). The definition of history is an account of the past.

Therefore, when it comes to history and mythology there exists a spectrum, with pure fiction on one end and fact on the other, with an endless variety of perspectives and interpretations in between.


First Hand Reports Of Early Encounters With Ancient American Cultures - History

1570: Western hemisphere (map #3: Ortelius, Americæ sive novi orbis)
1595: Western hemisphere (map #10: Mercator, America sive India nova)

  • HERNANDO DE SOTO explored the southeast region of North America for Spain, searching for gold, a suitable site for a colony, and an overland route from Mexico to the Atlantic. From 1539 to 1543, starting in Florida with over 600 men, 200 horses, 300 pigs, and a pack of attack dogs, the expedition meandered for thousands of miles through the interior. At every point the Spanish attacked Indian villages, pillaging, murdering, and commandeering food, supplies, and captives. They "discovered" the Mississippi River—a major challenge to cross—and continued west to Texas (without de Soto, who died from fever on the banks of the river). Finally the surviving 300 men reached Mexico with no gold and no colony, having amassed only the hardened antagonism of the Indians. In these selections from the account by a Portuguese member of the expedition, known only as the "Fidalgo (gentleman) of Elvas," we read brief excerpts from the chapters recounting the mainland expedition from Florida to Mexico.
    [A Gentleman of Elvas, Relação Verdadeira dos Trabalhos . . . (True Relation of the Vicissitudes That Attended the Governor Don Hernando de Soto. . . ), 1557]
  • FRANCISCO CORONADO trekked through the southwest for two years (1540-42) with over 300 soldiers and 1,000 Indians for "Glory, God, and Gold." While they did convert some Pueblo Indians to Christianity, they found no gold and no glory (although they did "discover" the Grand Canyon along the way). Failing to subdue the Indians, Coronado responded brutally, laying a winter-long siege to a town, burning resisters at the stake, enslaving hundreds, and driving many Indians to suicide (as did de Soto). In his report to King Charles I from Tiguex (near present-day Albuquerque), Coronado admits his dismay at learning the famed Cibola is just "villages of straw houses," but he describes the region near Tiguex as offering productive land for settlement.
    [Letter from Francisco Vazquez de Coronado to His Majesty . . . , 20 October 1541]
  • PHELIPE DE ESCALANTE and HERNANDO BARRADO, soldiers who accompanied the 1581-82 expedition from Mexico to explore New Mexico, submitted this report to King Philip II to encourage Spanish settlement in the region. The nine men, led by Francisco Chamuscado, visited over sixty pueblos of the native inhabitants, estimating their population as over 130,000. They reported vast herds of "humpbacked cows," lucrative deposits of silver and salt, and "much more wherein God our Lord may be served and the royal crown increased." They warn the king, in fact, that the promise and wealth of this region could be lost if the area is not settled quickly.
    [Escalante & Barrado, Brief and True Account of the Exploration of New Mexico, 1583]
  • GASPAR PÉREZ DE VILLAGRÁ was the official historian of the first Spanish expedition to attempt a settlement in New Mexico. Sixteen years after the small Chamuscado expedition, four hundred soldiers departed from Mexico City to head north across the Rio Norte (Rio Grande), led by the ambitious and single-minded Don Juan de Oñate. More conquistador than colonial official, he was eventually called back to Mexico City in disgrace, having neglected the isolated settlers, alienated the Indians with his cruelty, and squandered imperial resources by searching in vain for gold, silver, and the "western sea." In 1610 Pérez de Villagrá published a thirty-four-canto epic poem to chronicle the expedition—its goals, hardships, courageous soldiers, and, most notably, the warfare and brutality led by Oñate. Considered the first epic poem created by Europeans in North America, The History of New Mexico is a political device as well as a literary account, for Villagra's intended audience-of-one is the king of Spain with his control of the empire's purse. (In this translation, the cantos are rendered into prose. Permission was not granted to exerpt the 1992 translation in verse.)
    [Villagrá, Historia de la Nueva México, 1610]

1556: New France (map #1, La Nuova Francia)
1664: Canada (map #9, Le Canada faict par le Sr. de Champlain)
1673: Map of Marquette's expedition (Carte de la découverte faite l'an 1673)

    JACQUES CARTIER explored the northeast part of the continent intending to find the elusive passage to the Orient. Sailing west of Newfoundland he "discovered" the St. Lawrence River and explored the region in three voyages between 1535 and 1541. He met several Iroquoian tribal groups, establishing friendly relationships, though cautious on both sides. He did not find a route to China indeed the large sea described to him by the Indians—"there was never man heard of that found out the end thereof"—was probably Lake Ontario.

  • MICHAEL LOK, as a member of one of London's leading merchant families and an underwriter of Martin Frobisher's voyages, had a deep interest in expanding England's international trade. In this excerpt from his account of their project, he offers a concise summary of the reasons why he and his countrymen sought the Northwest Passage. (This text is included with the Settle account below.)
    [Michael Lok, manuscript, 28 October 1577]
  • DIONYSE SETTLE, a gentleman who, in 1577, accompanied Frobisher on his second voyage to Arctic waters, gives us a "true report" of what it was like to search for the Passage. In his account we get a sense of both the optimism and the greed that propelled the early explorers, and we see how heavily they relied upon the skill of their navigators and the courage of their leaders. We also see how desperate Frobisher was to bring back gold, a desire that may have distracted him from his original mission. He had returned from his 1576 voyage with ore samples that yielded uncertain results when assayed for gold. To entice investors in another voyage, perhaps suggesting returns akin to those realized by the Spanish to the south, he embraced the most optimistic assay findings. Now he had to back them up. Thus in 1577 he was under considerable pressure to show his supporters that "the bowels of those Septentrionall [northern] Paralels" will yield "much more large benefite." (This text is included with the Lok text above.)
    [Dionyse Settle, A True Reporte of the Last Voyage into the West and Northwest Regions, &c. 1577. worthily achieved by Captain Frobisher of the said voyage the first finder and general, 1577]
  • AUTOPSY REPORT. Ore samples were not the only things Frobisher brought back to England. In 1576 he returned with an Inuit (Eskimo), whose somewhat Asiatic features helped to persuade the English that Frobisher was on the right track to the Orient. A year later he aroused great interest with three Inuit—a man, a woman, and an infant. (Settle refers to them in his report.) Frobisher thought the man and women were husband and wife, but they were not. All three died shortly after their arrival in England, with Calichoughe, the man, dying first. A physician named Edward Dodding performed an autopsy and concluded that he died when two broken ribs punctured a lung causing an "incurable ulcer." In the post mortem Calichoughe becomes something of a metaphor for the English experience thus far in the New World. Dodding likens the economic resources England sought through the Northwest Passage to "nerves and life-blood," the very things that England lost, quite literally, with the death of Calichoughe. Lamenting the man's death, Dodding vents frustration over England's failure to realize any gain from the "Herculean labour" of Frobisher and other explorers, and he expresses his disgust over the superstitions of the New World inhabitants.
    [Dr. Edward Dodding, Postmortem report on the Thule Inuit brought by Frobisher, 8 November 1577]

Roanoke, 1590, by de Bry after White (map #1, America pars, Nunc Virginia dicta)
Florida, 1591, by de Bry after Le Moyne (map #1, Floridae Americae Provinciae)

  • THOMAS HARRIOT served as the historian, natural scientist, and surveyor/cartographer on the 1585 British expedition to Roanoke Island (North Carolina). His account of the region and the Algonquian Indians was reprinted in 1590 by Theodore de Bry, with de Bry's engravings based on the watercolors by John White, a leader of the 1585 and 1587 Roanoke voyages. 14 engravings and accompanying text.
    [Harriot, A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, 1590]
  • JACQUES LE MOYNE DE MORGUES was the official artist on two French voyages to Florida in the 1560s, and he documented the Timucuan Indians of the region as well as the construction and fate of the French settlement at Fort Caroline. His account is less well known for its text than for the forty-four engravings produced by Theodore de Bry from his drawings (all but one have disappeared). 11 engravings plus the one extant watercolor, and accompanying text.
    [Le Moyne, Brief Narration of Those Things Which Befell the French in the Province of Florida in America, 1591]
  • You can also return to las Casas's A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies in Topic I: CONTACT to view four engravings of Spanish atrocities in the 1598 de Bry edition.

- Francis Drake, Martin Frobisher, et al., Dedicatory poems urging an English colony in North America, 1583
- Richard Hakluyt, Reasons for an English colony in North America, 1584

By the 1580s, English financiers and navigators became anxious that their chances for North American wealth and claims were fading. Spain dominated the Caribbean and southern regions of the continent, and France had established missionary and trading posts deep into the northern woodlands. Mexico City was a metropolitan center of trade, politics, and culture. Tadoussac was a small but vital French post on the St. Lawrence River. And both nations had fledgling settlements on the Atlantic coast—San Agustín and Fort Caroline. The continent was being divided up, and England wasn't there.

  • FRANCIS DRAKE, MARTIN FROBISHER, and other well-known navigators contributed dedicatory poems for George Peckham's 1583 account of Sir Humphrey Gilbert's expedition to Newfoundland. It was more than a history for, as Peckham promised in his subtitle, he would also "briefly set down her highness's lawful title thereunto, and the great and manifold commodities, that is likely to grow thereby, to the whole realm in general, and to the adventurers in particular. Together with the easiness and shortness of the voyage." Six of the dedicatory poems are presented here, in addition to the book's table of contents.
    [George Peckham, A True Report of the Late Discoveries and Possession, Taken in the Right of the Crown of England, of the Newfound Lands: by that Valiant and Worthy Gentleman, Sir Humphrey Gilbert Knight, 1583]
  • RICHARD HAKLUYT (hak-loot) was an English scholar and writer who compiled numerous accounts of European voyages into the mega-volumes known as Divers Voyages and Principal Navigations. In 1584 he wrote the promotional piece known as Discourse of Western Planting to urge a reluctant Queen Elizabeth I to support English colonies and to convince rich businessmen to invest in them. Usually one finds only its chapter headings in anthologies and online collections, but a closer look is necessary to reveal Hakluyt's careful reasoning . . . and earnest naïveté, as historian David Quinn points out in his edition of Discourse. Also included is Hakluyt's final chapter in which he lists necessary personnel and supplies for a colony, again with astounding naïveté.
    [Hakluyt, A Particular Discourse Concerning the Great Necessity and Manifold Commodities that are Like to Grow to this Realm of England by the Western Discoveries Lately Attempted, Written in the Year 1584, known as Discourse of Western Planting, 1584]

- French/Spanish: Accounts of the Spanish attack on Fort Caroline, 1565
- Spanish: Letter requesting food for Ajacan, 1570
- English: Account of the rescue attempt at Roanoke, 1590

If you were to recount the earliest European presence in North America as a history of the "proto-United States," you might start with Columbus in 1492, jump to Jamestown in 1607, and treat the intervening 115 years as a few decades. It is true there was little European presence in the midregion in the 1500s, due primarily to the disappointing forays into Parte Incognita that revealed no golden cities or Edenic sanctuaries, not even a water passage through the continent to Asia.

In addition, many of the first attempts at settlement north of the Caribbean failed. Roanoke, Ajacan, Fort Caroline, Sable Island, Charlesfort, Pensacola, San Miguel de Gualdape, Charlesbourg-Royal, France-Roy—all were short-lived settlements in the 1500s. A hurricane destroyed the first Pensacola settlement. Frigid winters and scurvy claimed several settlements starving settlers abandoned others. Indians laid siege to settlements or attacked them outright. Rebellion by brutalized soldiers or starved African slaves ended two colonies. Settlers were left to their own resources when the founders left for provisions (or for good). In most cases a few surviving settlers made it back to Europe, but in one famous case—the "Lost Colony" of Roanoke in what is now North Carolina—the settlers disappeared with little trace, their fate still undetermined. Most share the dooming factors of poor planning and unrealistic appraisals of the North American environment. Simply put, settling this continent was not going to be easy.

Especially with the added obstacle of rival Europeans. By the late 1580s the Spanish and French found themselves closer to each other's claims on the southeast Atlantic coast, and word had it that the English would soon join the competition. Attack-by-rival became another cause of failed colonies. The Spanish massacred the French Huguenots near Florida in 1565 and sent spies to Jamestown in 1613 to determine if eradicating the fledgling colony was its best move. The English destroyed the French trading post of Port Royal on Nova Scotia in 1612 and defeated the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam in 1664. The imperial rivalries that would coalesce in the 1700s were taking shape.


The Shocking Savagery of America’s Early History

It’s all a bit of a blur, isn’t it? That little-remembered century� to 1700—that began with the founding (and foundering) of the first permanent English settlement in America, the one called Jamestown, whose endemic perils portended failure for the dream of a New World. The century that saw all the disease-ridden, barely civilized successors to Jamestown slaughtering and getting slaughtered by the Original Inhabitants, hanging on by their fingernails to some fetid coastal swampland until Pocahontas saved Thanksgiving. No, that’s not right, is it? I said it was a blur.

From This Story

The ”peaceful” Pilgrims massacred the Pequots and destroyed their fort near Stonington, Connecticut, in 1637. A 19th-century wood engraving (above) depicts the slaughter. (The Granger Collection, NYC) Historian Bernard Bailyn. (Photograph by Jared Leeds)

Photo Gallery

Enter Bernard Bailyn, the greatest historian of early America alive today. Now over 90 and ensconced at Harvard for more than six decades, Bailyn has recently published another one of his epoch-making grand narrative syntheses, The Barbarous Years, casting a light on the darkness, filling in the blank canvas with what he’s gleaned from what seems like every last scrap of crumbling diary page, every surviving chattel slave receipt and ship’s passenger manifest of the living and dead, every fearful sermon about the Antichrist that survived in the blackened embers of the burned-out churches.

Bailyn has not painted a pretty picture. Little wonder he calls it The Barbarous Years and spares us no details of the terror, desperation, degradation and widespread torture—do you really know what being “flayed alive” means? (The skin is torn from the face and head and the prisoner is disemboweled while still alive.) And yet somehow amid the merciless massacres were elements that gave birth to the rudiments of civilization—or in Bailyn’s evocative phrase, the fragile “integument of civility”—that would evolve 100 years later into a virtual Renaissance culture, a bustling string of self-governing, self-sufficient, defiantly expansionist colonies alive with an increasingly sophisticated and literate political and intellectual culture that would coalesce into the rationale for the birth of American independence. All the while shaping, and sometimes misshaping, the American character. It’s a grand drama in which the glimmers of enlightenment barely survive the savagery, what Yeats called “the blood-dimmed tide,” the brutal establishment of slavery, the race wars with the original inhabitants that Bailyn is not afraid to call “genocidal,” the full, horrifying details of which have virtually been erased.

“In truth, I didn’t think anyone sat around erasing it,” Bailyn tells me when I visit him in his spacious, document-stuffed study in Harvard’s Widener Library. He’s a wiry, remarkably fit-looking fellow, energetically jumping out of his chair to open up a file drawer and show me copies of one of his most-prized documentary finds: the handwritten British government survey records of America-bound colonists made in the 1770s, which lists the name, origin, occupation and age of the departing, one of the few islands of hard data about who the early Americans were.

“Nobody sat around erasing this history,” he says in an even tone, “but it’s forgotten.”

“Yes,” he agrees. “Look at the ‘peaceful’ Pilgrims. Our William Bradford. He goes to see the Pequot War battlefield and he is appalled. He said, ‘The stink’ [of heaps of dead bodies] was too much.”

Bailyn is speaking of one of the early and bloodiest encounters, between our peaceful pumpkin pie-eating Pilgrims and the original inhabitants of the land they wanted to seize, the Pequots. But for Bailyn, the mercenary motive is less salient than the theological.

“The ferocity of that little war is just unbelievable,” Bailyn says. “The butchering that went on cannot be explained by trying to get hold of a piece of land. They were really struggling with this central issue for them, of the advent of the Antichrist.”

Suddenly, I felt a chill from the wintry New England air outside enter into the warmth of his study.


Found: One of the Oldest North American Settlements

The oral history of the Heiltsuk Nation, an Aboriginal group based on the Central Coast of British Columbia, tells of a coastal strip of land that did not freeze during the ice age, making it a place of refuge for early inhabitants of the territory. As Roshini Nair reports for the CBC, a recent archaeological discovery attests to an ancient human presence in the area associated with the tradition. While digging on British Columbia’s Triquet Island, archaeologists unearthed a settlement that dates to the period of the last ice age.

The archaeological team, supported by the Hakai Institute, sifted through meters of soil and peat before hitting upon the charred remains of an ancient hearth. Researchers painstakingly peeled away charcoal flakes, which were then carbon dated. In November, tests revealed that the hearth was some 14,000 years old, indicating that the area in which it was found is one of the oldest human settlements ever discovered in North America. Or as Randy Shore of the Vancouver Sun contextualizes, the village is “three times as old as the Great Pyramid at Giza.”

Alisha Gauvreau, a PhD student at the University of Victoria and a researcher with the Hakai Institute, presented the team’s findings at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archeology this week. She tells Shore that archaeologists also found a number of artifacts in the area: fish hooks, a hand drill for igniting fires, a wooden device for launching projectiles and a cache of stone tools near the hearth.

“It appears we had people sitting in one area making stone tools beside evidence of a fire pit,” Gauvreau says. “The material that we have recovered … has really helped us weave a narrative for the occupation of this site.”

These findings may have significant implications for our understanding of ancient human migration patterns. As Jason Daley reports for Smithsonian.com, the traditional story of human arrival to the Americas posits that some 13,000 years ago, stone-age people moved across a land bridge that connected modern-day Siberia to Alaska. But recent studies suggest that route did not contain enough resources for the earliest migrants to successfully make the crossing. Instead, some researchers say, humans entered North America along the coast.

In a radio interview with the CBC, Gauvreau says that the ancient settlement on Triquet Island “really adds additional evidence” to this theory. “[A]rchaeologists had long thought that … the coast would been completely uninhabitable and impassible when that is very clearly not the case,” she explains.

The discovery is also important to the Heiltsuk Nation, lending credence to oral traditions that place their ancestors in the region during the days of the ice age. "[I]t reaffirms a lot of the history that our people have been talking about for thousands of years," William Housty, a member of Heiltsuk Nation, tells Nair. He added that the validation by “Western science and archeology” can help the Heiltsuk people as they negotiate with the Canadian government over title rights to their traditional territory.


First Contact in the Americas

How do you introduce students to the concept of &ldquofirst contact&rdquo between indigenous and European groups in the Americas? We have a timeline and handy tips.

Social Studies, World History

At the time of first contact, both Europeans and Native Americans had effective communications systems. After 1492, both parties were often vaguely aware of the other before an in-person &ldquofirst contact.&rdquo What do you think each group may have heard about the other? How do you think they heard these rumors?

Both Europeans and Native Americans relied almost entirely on word-of-mouth from people who had encountered other cultures previously.

Europeans had reliable written communication, but travel could be slow. Few Native American communities had a written language, but they did have quicker communications networks.

Europeans and Native Americans likely heard inaccurate rumors about each other. Think about:

  • translation. Not only did Europeans and Native Americans speak different languages, but the languages in Europe and the Americas were wildly different among themselves. (Think about the differences between Spanish and English, or Quechua and Algonquin.)
  • non-verbal communication. Simple activities like smiling or waving could have vastly different meanings to different communities with different histories and associations.
  • fear and discomfort. First contact in the Americas introduced groups that appeared radically different from each other&mdashdifferent clothes, different language and communication, different transportation and transit networks, different land-use patterns. These immediate differences were often met with fear and mistrust, and stories about first contact may have emphasized or even invented elements supporting those fears and suspicions.

What communications strategies or approaches do you think indigenous and European explorers may have used during first contact?

Answers will vary. Dig deeper with these questions:

  • How would you communicate with someone from a culture you did not recognize, speaking a language with which you were completely unfamiliar?
  • What would you try to communicate?
  • How would you interpret their communication efforts?
  • Assume you had some knowledge of a new culture, and some ability to arrange a &ldquofirst contact&rdquo encounter. Would the physical environment make a difference? Would you try to conduct your meeting indoors or outdoors? Day or night?
  • How would you present yourself? What clothes would you wear? Why? Would you bring any materials, such as gifts, weapons, displays of wealth or power? What would they be? Why?

What personal, community, or environmental factors may have impacted first contact meetings?

Answers will vary. Dig deeper with these questions:

  • Do you think being a woman or man would impact communications?
  • Do you think being a leader or worker would impact communications?
  • How might the weather impact communication?

Scroll through our timeline above. In some cases, first contact was a positive encounter, but &ldquosecond contact&rdquo was problematic. Why? What issues might complicate &ldquosecond contact&rdquo?

Answers will vary.

  • First contact is usually a brief exchange. Communication is often limited and polite, as each side assesses the characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses of the other. Second contacts are often negotiations&mdashwhat each community wants from the other, and what they&rsquore prepared to give. Negotiations, even positive and friendly ones, involve more labor than &ldquohandshake&rdquo meetings. Different legal codes can lead to very contentious and, sometimes, disastrous outcomes.

Our short timeline is just a very brief introduction to first contact in the Americas. Investigate first contact stories in other parts of the Americas.

Choose an instance of first contact by geography:

  • the Amazon rain forest?
  • the Great Lakes?
  • Tierra del Fuego?
  • the Aleutian Islands?
  • the Great Plains?

Choose an instance of first contact by people:

  • What Europeans made contact? British? Spanish? Portuguese? Dutch? Russian?
  • What Native Americans made contact? Comanche? Guarani? Powhatan? Zapotec? Tlingit?

Choose an instance of first contact by interaction:

  • religious conversion?
  • military conflict?
  • trade and exchange?
  • aid and support?

sharing of information and ideas.

learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

to meet, especially unexpectedly.

process of moving to a new country or region with the intention of staying and living there.

ethnic group that has lived in the same region for all of their known history.

Writer

Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society

Editor

Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing

Producer

Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society

Last Updated

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Contents

The Antonio Villas Boas case from Brazil (1957) and the Hill abduction from the United States (1961) were the first cases of UFO abduction to gain widespread attention. [1]

Although these two cases are sometimes [ quantify ] viewed [ by whom? ] as the earliest abduction narratives, skeptic Peter Rogerson argues that this assertion is incorrect: the Hill and Boas abductions, he contends, were only the first "canonical" abduction cases, establishing a template from which later abductees and researchers would refine, but rarely deviate. Additionally, Rogerson notes that purported abductions were cited contemporaneously at least as early as 1954, and that "the growth of the abduction stories is a far more tangled affair than the 'entirely unpredisposed' official history would have us believe". [2]

The phrase "entirely unpredisposed" appeared in folklorist Thomas E. Bullard's study [ when? ] of alien abduction he argued that alien abductions as reported in the 1970s and 1980s had little precedent in folklore or fiction, [ citation needed ] though Laura Knight-Jadczyk detects similarities between alien abductions, fairy abductions and the alleged actions of incubi and succubi in folk tradition. [3]

While "alien abduction" did not achieve widespread attention until the 1960s, many similar stories are known to have been circulating decades earlier. These early abduction-like accounts have been dubbed "paleo-abductions" by UFO researcher Jerome Clark. [4] This same two-part article ( [5] and [4] ) makes note of many paleo-abductions, some of which were reported well before the 1957 Antonio Villas Boas case earned much attention, or even before the UFO report claimed in 1947 by pilot Kenneth Arnold that first generated widespread interest in UFOs:

  • At least one case of attempted abduction was reported in conjunction with the mystery airships of the late 19th century. Colonel H. G. Shaw's account was published in the Stockton, CaliforniaDaily Mail in 1897: Shaw claimed that he and a friend were harassed by three tall, slender humanoids whose bodies were covered with a fine, downy hair. The beings tried to accost or kidnap Shaw and his friend, who were able to fight them off. [5]
  • In his book New Lands (1923), American writer Charles Fort speculated that extraterrestrial beings might have kidnapped humans: "One supposes that if extra-mundane vessels have sometimes come close to this earth, then sailing away, terrestrial aëronauts may have occasionally left this earth, or may have been seized and carried away from this earth." [6]
  • The 1951 case of Fred Reagan was publicized by Flying Saucer Review in the late 1960s based on news clippings from 1952. Reagan claimed to have been piloting his small airplane, which was struck by a UFO the occupants (who resembled metallic stalks of asparagus) apologized, and tried to cure Reagan's cancer. Reagan reportedly died of a brain disorder not long after the alleged UFO encounter. [7]
  • In 1954, Paris Match printed a story said to have occurred in 1921, when the anonymous writer was a child. The writer claimed to have been snatched by two tall "men" who wore helmets and "diving suits", who took the boy to an "oddly shaped tank" before being released. Rogerson calls this story "the earliest known abduction survivor report". [2]
  • A 1958 letter to NICAP asserted that two U.S. Army soldiers witnessed two bright red lights near their base. The soldiers had a strange sense of dissociation, and found themselves in a new location, with no memory of how they arrived there. [citation needed]
  • Rogerson writes that the publication of Harold T. Wilkins's Flying Saucers Uncensored (1955) declared that two contactees (Karl Hunrath and Wilbur Wilkinson) had disappeared under mysterious circumstances Wilkins reported speculation that the duo were the victims of "alleged abduction by flying saucers". [2]
  • The so-called Shaver Mystery of the 1940s has some similarities to later abduction accounts, as well, with sinister beings said to be kidnapping and torturing people. Rogerson writes that John Robinson (a friend of ufology gadfly Jim Moseley) made a 1957 appearance on John Nebel's popular overnight radio program to tell "a dramatically spooky, if not very plausible, abduction tale" related to the Shaver Mystery: Robinson claimed that a friend of his had been held captive by the evil Deros beneath the Earth, and to have been the victim of a sort of mind control via small "earphones" Rogerson writes that "in this unlikely tale that we first encounter the implants . and other abductionist staples". [2]

The UFO contactees of the 1950s claimed to have contacted aliens, and the substance of contactee narratives are often regarded as quite different from alien abduction accounts. [ citation needed ]

However, Rogerson contends that it is often difficult to determine the division between contactees and abductees, with classification sometimes seeming arbitrary. [ citation needed ]

Allegedly genuine stories of kidnap by extraterrestrials goes back at least to the mid-1950s, with the Antonio Villas Boas case (which didn't receive much attention until several years later). [8]

Widespread publicity was generated by Betty and Barney Hill abduction case of 1961 (again not widely known until several years afterwards), culminating in a made-for-television film broadcast in 1975 (starring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons) dramatizing the events. The Hill incident was probably the prototypical abduction case, and was perhaps the first where: [ citation needed ]

  • The beings which later became widely known as the Greys appeared (who also went on to become the most common type of extraterrestrial in abduction reports).
  • The beings were explicitly identified an extraterrestrial in origin (the stellar system centered on the star Zeta Reticuli was later suspected as their point of origin).

Neither the contactees nor these early abduction accounts, however, saw much attention from ufology, then still largely reluctant to consider close encounters of the third kind, where contactees allegedly interact with occupants of UFOs. [ citation needed ]

The Barney and Betty Hill case is almost universally considered the most famous case ever of purported abduction. Barney and Betty were driving home on a road free from other cars late one night. They both saw an odd light coming at them from above. They then blacked out and found themselves back on the road, driving. They realized that it was two hours later than when they had seen the light. They both went to psychologists and hypnotists. They learned of the Grey on board the ship which had abducted them. [ citation needed ]

R. Leo Sprinkle (a University of Wyoming psychologist) became interested in the abduction phenomenon in the 1960s. For some years, he was probably the only academic figure devoting any time to studying or researching abduction accounts. Sprinkle became convinced of the phenomenon's actuality, and was perhaps the first to suggest a link between abductions and cattle mutilation. Eventually Sprinkle came to believe that he had been abducted by aliens in his youth he was forced from his job in 1989. [9]

Budd Hopkins – a painter and sculptor by profession – had been interested in UFOs for some years. In the 1970s he became interested in abduction reports, and began using hypnosis to extract details of dimly remembered events. Hopkins soon became a figurehead of the growing abductee subculture. [10]

The 1980s brought a major degree of mainstream attention to the subject. Works by Budd Hopkins, Whitley Strieber, David M. Jacobs and John E. Mack presented alien abduction as a genuine phenomenon. [11]

Also of note in the 1980s was the publication of folklorist Thomas E. Bullard's comparative analysis of nearly 300 alleged abductees. The mid and late 1980s saw the involvement of two esteemed academic figures: Harvard psychiatrist John E. Mack and historian David M. Jacobs. [ citation needed ]

With Hopkins, Jacobs and Mack, several shifts occurred in the nature of the abduction narratives. There had been earlier abduction reports (the Hills being the best known), but they were believed to be few and far between, and saw rather little attention from ufology (and even less attention from mainstream professionals or academics). Jacobs and Hopkins argued that alien abduction was far more common than earlier suspected they estimate that tens of thousands (or more) North Americans had been taken by unexplained beings. [12]

Furthermore, Jacobs and Hopkins argued that there was an elaborate scheme underway, that the aliens were attempting a program to create human–alien hybrids, though the motives for this scheme were unknown. There were anecdotal reports of phantom pregnancy related to UFO encounters at least as early as the 1960s, but Budd Hopkins and especially David M. Jacobs were instrumental in popularizing the idea of widespread, systematic interbreeding efforts on the part of the alien intruders. Despite the relative paucity of corroborative evidence, Jacobs presents this scenario as not only plausible, but self-evident. Hopkins and Jacobs have also been criticized for selective citation of abductee interviews, favoring those that support their hypothesis of extraterrestrial intervention. [ citation needed ]

The involvement of Jacobs and Mack marked something of a sea change in the abduction studies. Their efforts were controversial (both men saw some degree of damage to their professional reputations), but to other observers, Jacobs and Mack brought a degree of respectability to the subject. [ citation needed ]

John E. Mack Edit

Matheson writes that "if Jacobs's credentials were impressive" then those of Harvard psychiatrist John E. Mack might seem "impeccable" in comparison. [13]

Mack was a well known, highly esteemed psychiatrist, author of over 150 scientific articles and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of T. E. Lawrence. Mack became interested in the phenomenon in the late 1980s, interviewing dozens of people, eventually writing two books on the subject. [ citation needed ]

Mack was somewhat more guarded in his investigations and interpretations of the abduction phenomenon than the earlier researchers. Matheson writes: "On balance, Mack does present as fair-minded an account as has been encountered to date, at least as these abduction narratives go." [14] Furthermore, Mack notes when alternative interpretations are viable throughout Abduction, his first book on the subject, he allows and even considers likely that alien abductions are a new type of visionary experience. [ citation needed ]

Matheson notes that unlike earlier abduction researchers, Mack is generally quite cautious in his interpretations of physical evidence and corroborative testimony. He places little value in the scars and scratches often attributed to alien "medical" exams, and argues that trying to prove the actuality of alleged "implants" placed in abductees is largely a futile effort. [ citation needed ]

Mack argued that the abduction phenomenon might be the beginning of a major paradigm shift in human consciousness, or "a kind of fourth blow to our collective egoism, following those of Copernicus, Darwin, and Freud" [15]

Mack also noted that, after an initial period of terror and confusion (a phase he dubbed "ontological shock"), many abductees ultimately regard their experiences more positively, saying that their experiences broadened their consciousness. [ citation needed ]

In June 1992, Mack and physicist David E. Pritchard organized a five-day conference at MIT to discuss and debate the abduction phenomenon. [16] The conference attracted a wide range of professionals, representing a variety of perspectives. In response to this conference, Mack and Jacobs were awarded an Ig Nobel Prize in 1993. [ citation needed ]

Writer C. D. B. Bryan attended the conference, initially intending to gather information for a short humorous article for The New Yorker. While attending the conference, however, Bryan's view of the subject changed, and he wrote a serious, open-minded book on the phenomenon, additionally interviewing many abductees, skeptics, and proponents. [ citation needed ]

David Icke and the global conspiracy Edit

David Icke, a British conspiracy theorist, proposed two linked hypotheses about the alien abduction phenomenon: [ citation needed ]

  • the abductions are strictly linked with military genetic experiments conducted by alien beings operating together with various terrestrial army forces
  • therefore these abductions are only a part of a wider conspiracy.

In Tales From The Time Loop and other works, Icke states that most organized religions, especially Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, are Illuminati creations designed to divide and conquer the human race through endless conflicts. In a similar vein, Icke believes racial and ethnic divisions are an illusion promoted by aliens, and that racism fuels the Illuminati agenda. [ citation needed ]

David Icke believes that the Global Elite controls the world using what he calls a "pyramid of manipulation" consisting of sets of hierarchical structures involving banking, business, the military, education, the media, religion, drug companies, intelligence agencies, and organized crime. At the very top of the pyramid are what Icke calls the "Prison Warders", who are not human. [17] He writes that: "A pyramidal structure of human beings has been created under the influence and design of the extraterrestrial Prison Warders and their overall master, the Luciferic Consciousness. They control the human clique at the top of the pyramid, which I have dubbed the Global Elite." [17]

In 1999, Icke wrote and published The Biggest Secret: The Book that Will Change the World, in which he suggested that Earth is a zoo prison created by alien beings and identified the extraterrestrial prison warders as reptilians from the constellation Draco. [18] They walk erect and appear to be human, living not only on the planets they come from, but also in caverns and tunnels under the earth. They have cross-bred with humans, which has created "hybrids" who are "possessed" by the full-blooded reptilians. [19] The reptiles' hybrid reptilian-human DNA allows them to change from reptilian to human form if they consume human blood. Icke has drawn parallels with the 1980s science-fiction series V, in which the earth is taken over by reptiloid aliens disguised as humans. [ citation needed ]


5. UFO Inhabited

Pope Pius I’s brother was probably the only witness of this UFO sighting near Via Campana, Italy, around 150 A.D.: “On a sunny day, a ‘beast’ like a piece of pottery (ceramos) about 100 feet in size, multicolored on top and shooting out fiery rays, landed in a dust cloud accompanied by a ‘maiden’ clad in white.”

Stothers concluded “This collection of what might be termed ancient UFO reports has been culled from a much larger number of reports of aerial objects, most of whose identifications with known phenomena are either certain or at least probable. Embedded in the mass of relatively explicable ancient reports, however, is a small set of unexplained (or at least not wholly explained) reports from presumably credible witnesses.”

“Any viable theory must reckon with the extraordinary persistence and consistency of the phenomena discussed here over many centuries.”


First Hand Reports Of Early Encounters With Ancient American Cultures

Over five-hundred years ago, European monarchs began dispatching their most masterful navigators to the far reaches of the planet, marking the beginning of the Age of Discovery. Epic voyages occurred across vast and treacherous oceans fueled by the zeal of discovery, the greed of conquest, and the tempestuous winds of the seven seas. Upon their return, these early explorers presented their kings and queens with detailed, wonderous reports of exotic flora, fauna, spices, minerals, and lost cities. Encounters with natives was another standard element of these expedition reports, sometimes they were peaceful and sometimes hostile. Each of these elements was entirely expected, each that is, except one: the enigmatic encounters of early explorers with the unusual natives of the lands they &ldquodiscovered.&rdquo

Ferdinand Magellan, the first of the early explorers to circumvent the globe, and his ship on a Bulgarian postage stamp. (Vic / Adobe Stock)


First Encounters: Native Americans and Christians

Diverse Native American religions and cultures existed before and after the arrival of European colonialists. In the 16th to 17th centuries, Spanish conquistadores and French fur traders were generally more violent to Native Americans than were the Spanish and French missionaries, although few Native Americans trusted any European group. The majority of early colonists did not recognize the deep culture and traditions of Native peoples, nor did they acknowledge the tribes' land rights. The colonists sought to convert the Native people in the New World and strip them of their land.

View full album

Religious and cultural difference was part of the landscape of America long before the period of European colonization. The indigenous peoples of this land Europeans called the “New World” were separated by language, landscape, cultural myths, and ritual practices. Some neighboring groups, such as the Hurons and the Iroquois, were entrenched in rivalry. Others, such as the nations that later formed the Iroquois League, developed sophisticated forms of government that enabled them to live harmoniously despite tribal differences. Some were nomads others settled into highly developed agricultural civilizations. Along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, ancient communities of Native peoples developed ceremonial centers, and in the Southwest, cliff-dwelling cultures developed complex settlements.

When Europeans first occupied the Americas, most did not even consider that the peoples they encountered had cultural and religious traditions that were different from their own in fact, most believed indigenous communities had no culture or religion at all. As the “Age of Discovery” unfolded, Spanish and French Catholics were the first to infiltrate Native lands, beginning in the 16th century. Profit-minded Spanish conquistadores and French fur traders competed for land and wealth, while Spanish and French missionaries competed for the “saving of souls.” By the mid-century, the Spanish had established Catholic missions in present-day Florida and New Mexico and the French were steadily occupying the Great Lakes region, Upstate New York, Eastern Canada and, later, Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta.

Many of the European missionaries who energetically sought to spread Christianity to Native peoples were motivated by a sense of mission, seeking to bring the Gospel to those who had never had a chance to hear it, thereby offering an opportunity to be “saved.” In the context of the often brutal treatment of Native peoples by early Spanish conquistadores, many missionaries saw themselves as siding compassionately and protectively with the indigenous peoples. In 1537, Pope Paul III declared that Indians were not beasts to be killed or enslaved but human beings with souls capable of salvation. At the time, this was understood to be an enlightened view of indigenous people, one that well-meaning missionaries sought to encourage.

Letters from missionaries who lived among indigenous tribes give us a sense of the concerns many held for the welfare of tribal peoples. A letter by Franciscan friar Juan de Escalona criticizes the “outrages against the Indians” committed by a Spanish governor of what is now New Mexico. The governor’s cruelty toward the people, de Escalona wrote, made preaching the Gospel impossible the Indians rightly despised any message of hope from those who would plunder their corn, steal their blankets, and leave them to starve. The writings of Jean de Brebuf, a French Jesuit missionary who lived and worked among the Hurons for two years without securing a single convert, reveal the powerful force of religious devotion that compelled missionaries to leave their homes for unknown lands and difficult lives in North America.

Newcomers from England during the 17th century also brought many expressions of Protestant Christianity to the New World. Among them were profit-seeking explorers, with allegiances to the Church of England, and Puritan reformers, rebelling against the Church and in search of religious freedom. Others included English Quakers, Catholics, and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians—all seeking a place to practice their religious commitments free of interference from the state. On the whole, these English settlers saw themselves as settling in a “virgin land” where real “civilization” had not been established. They understood their right to conquest in terms of old English legal traditions based on industry and utility, in which constructing houses, building fences, and laying out plantations constituted legitimate claims to land. They took their Biblical warrant from Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.”

The early history of the colonies reveals a complex story of relations with the Native peoples. Some colonial settlers, like those on Plymouth Plantation, had positive relations with Native peoples. In Puritan Massachusetts, John Eliot mastered Algonkian and then translated the Bible into that language in 1663. His “The Indian Covenanting Confession” was printed in 1669 in both Algonkian and English. He intended to place missionary efforts in the hands of the Indians themselves. With its regard for Indian autonomy, his approach was considered novel for its time. For the most part, the many Indian Wars dominated the encounter of Europeans and Native peoples. They were often complicated by the wrenching divisions within tribes caused by the increasing numbers of “praying Indians” who had been converted by the missionaries.

From today’s perspective, one might argue that even under the best of circumstances, colonial attitudes toward their indigenous neighbors were colored by paternalism, ignorance of tribal cultures, and desire for profit. While in the early years of colonization, Europeans often criticized one another for dealing too harshly or too greedily with their Native neighbors, underneath even their most positive assessments lay romanticism about and essentialization of the “noble savage.”

From the colonial period on, relations between European and Native peoples were predominantly expressed and negotiated in terms of land. The issue of land became, in many ways, the deepest “religious” issue over which worldviews collided. Many of the colonists saw the new land as a “wilderness” to be settled, not as already inhabited, or as Michael Wigglesworth described it in 1662, “a waste and howling wilderness, where none inhabited but hellish fiends, and brutish men that devils worshipped.” The founders of some colonies, such as Massachusetts and Connecticut, wholly disregarded Indian land rights. Others drew up well-meaning treaties and purchase agreements. For example, Roger Williams and William Penn, in founding Rhode Island and Pennsylvania respectively, explicitly criticized the founders of other colonies for their self-justified acquisition of lands.

From the perspective of the Native peoples, the European discovery of the new world was more aptly an invasion. Most were deeply connected to the land but had no traditions of land ownership or private property. They often expressed astonishment that land could be sold or negotiated through treaties, since to them land was not a source of private profit but of life, including the life of the spirits. Some lands were also sacred, as they bore the graves of the dead. Over the course of nearly three centuries, the terms “removal,” “displacement,” and “cession” came to be used by European settlers. Native peoples were to be “removed” from the lands they had occupied, “displaced” to other lands, and their lands “ceded” to the newcomers. Finally, Indian tribes were forcibly “settled” on “reservations,” lands set apart.

The religious encounter of Christian missionaries and Native peoples cannot be separated from the progressive seizure and settlement of tribal territories by European colonists. Through most of American history, however, there has been little recognition of the distinctively religious claims of Native peoples to the land and its sacred sites.

The encounter of Christians and Native peoples is too complex and varied to be characterized in general. There are surprising instances, such as the late 18th century Russian mission in Alaska, where early missionaries saw the Tlingit or Sugpiaq people of Kodiak Island as deeply religious, understanding that faith in terms of their own. More often, however, Christian missionaries did not recognize the customs of the Native peoples as spiritual or religious traditions in their own right and many mission schools effectively removed Native young people from their cultures. Many Christian colonists and missionaries, even those most sympathetic to the lifeways of the Native peoples, categorized Native Americans as “heathens” who either accepted or resisted conversion to Christianity. They did not place Native American traditions under the protection of religious freedom that had been enshrined in the Constitution. It was not until 1978, almost 200 years after the Constitution was signed, that the American Indian Religious Freedom Act gave specific legal recognition to the integrity of Native American religions.


1c. The Algonkian Tribes


Massasoit, sachem of the Wampanoag tribe and father of Metacomet, meets with settlers. The Wampanoag helped the settlers survive their first winter by providing them with much needed supplies. But as more and more colonists arrived in New England, their relationship began to deteriorate.

When the British set foot on the North American continent at Jamestown, they encountered the Powhatan Indians. The Pequots and Narragansetts lived in New England as the Pilgrims and Puritans established a new home. William Penn encountered the Leni Lenape natives while settling "Penn's Woods."

Although these tribes have great differences, they are linked linguistically. All of these tribes (or nations) speak an Algonquin language. These Algonkian (or Algonquian) groups were the first the English would encounter as these early settlements began to flourish.

Algonkian or Algonquian

Which word is correct? When anthropologists classified Native American languages, they took all of the languages of the same language family as the Algonkin tribe (also called the Algonquin tribe) and called it the Algonquian or Algonkian language family.

Algonquian and Algonkian both refer to the Algonquin language or to the group of tribes that speak related dialects. Therefore, the Algonquian tribes (including the Delaware , the Narragansetts , the Pequot , and the Wampanoag) are so called because they all speak the Algonkin or Algonquin language.


The group of Native Americans that lived in Pennsylvania and the surrounding area before European settlement referred to themselves as Lenni-Lenape. It was the Europeans who called them Delaware.

The Algonkians relied as much on hunting and fishing for food as working the land. These tribes used canoes to travel the inland waterways. The bow and arrow brought small and large game, and the spear generated ample supplies of fish for the Algonkian peoples. Corn and squash were a few of the crops that were cultivated all along the eastern seaboard.

Misunderstandings


This painting, by Tall Oak of the Narragansett tribe, depicts a scene from King Philip's War which pitted Metacomet against the British settlers.

As the first group to encounter the English, the Algonkians became the first to illustrate the deep cultural misunderstandings between British settlers and Native Americans. British Americans thought Algonquian women were oppressed because of their work in the fields. Algonkian men laughed at the British men who farmed &mdash traditionally work reserved for females. Hunting was a sport in England, so British settlers thought the Algonkian hunters to be unproductive.

The greatest misunderstanding was that of land ownership. In the minds of the Algonkians selling land was like selling air. Eventually this confusion would lead to armed conflict.

The Powhatan Confederacy

The Powhatan organized a confederacy. Virginians were met with strong resistance as they plunged westward. In New England, Wampanoags under the leadership of Metacomet fought with Puritan farmers over the encroachment west onto Indian land. The pacifist Quakers were notable exceptions. Pennsylvania refused to raise a militia against the Indians for as long as Quakers dominated the government.

Unfortunately, the good times between the groups were few. The marriage of Pocahontas to John Rolfe and the first Thanksgiving with the Puritans did little to prevent the fighting. In most cases, each side regarded the other with fear and suspicion.


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