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The Intercultural Marketplace

There is an oversimplification that most people believe and repeat concerning the colonization of America, yet the true events are far more complex and difficult to procure. Where the Puritans had big ideas of settlement, religious freedom, and quick prosperity, upon arriving to New England they realized that the land which surrounded them was not conducive to such fast success. Winters were harsh. They were grossly unprepared for growing sustenance or procuring medical necessities in the face of mass illness. They lacked basic needs like sturdy shelter and food supplies. But there were a people that they encountered, the natives of America, whom had learned to adapt and thrive within the environment for millennia, and many of these natives were willing at first to coexist and even help the foreigners who came across the ocean. Ultimately this willingness came at a drastic cost to their own people. One area that is worth exploring in these cross-cultural relationships is that of trade, for it is one that has an interesting history demonstrating the successes and failures caused by the colliding of two distinct societies. When it comes to trade in Colonial New England, at first the settlers were dependent on the Indians for survival and for the ability to repay debts. By the eighteenth-century Indian trading with the English had left them depleted in population, transformed in culture, and lacking in land on which to live.

The New England land, weather, and history were quite different from Europe in many ways. In England, an island off the coast of the mainland considered a temperate climate, winter temperatures although cold, were likely far warmer than what New England saw. Surrounded by ocean and highly developed lands with dense populations, England was a completely different landscape to the average Englishman or woman than the thick forests, frigid temperatures, feet of snow and ice, and various elevations of New England. There was a lack of structure in their new land that the English had grown accustomed to in Europe, especially concerning social aspects, economy, and even physical developments upon the land. What did exist of these in the America’s was unlike English culture, and therefore in order to be productive, colonizers had to let go of many of their traditional ways of life. They had to come up with new and foreign solutions to the problems they faced and be willing to compromise on what was comfortable.[1] Edward Winslow, a colonist in New England, is well known as having been a key mediator between the New England natives and the pilgrims. In this book, Good News from New England he chronicles many of his experiences on Plymouth Plantation which is very useful in understanding relations in those early days. Part of Winslow’s intention was to convince Europeans of the pilgrim’s advantage of having established trade relations. Winslow wrote that although the land in New England was indeed abundant in such things as bass and cod, that the settlers lacked the ability and tools that they needed in order to catch such abundance, and thus often went hungry despite the plenty.[2]

Lest one believes that the pilgrims came to America from an abundant life, Professor Margaret Newell reminds readers that English population grew so drastically in the fifty or so years leading to the Mayflower’s departure in 1620 that there came to be major food, housing, and job shortages in the country.[3] Furthermore, Newell claims that in England the Puritans (who made up the Mayflower passenger list) were a minority group, and relocating to New England would provide them an opportunity to create and administer a society that they saw fit according to their beliefs: they could become the majority.[4] The information that she presents speaks to the context of which the forefathers risked their lives to seek more prosperous ones. The Puritans had come from a land of little opportunity and low religious tolerance and were therefore willing to take great risks to start a new life, which was in part made possible by the Indian’s help. Professor Newell’s book, From Dependency to Independence is a great resource for understanding economic development in Colonial New England as she explores the Indian people’s role in the success of the colonists.

On the other end of the Atlantic lived the American Indians, and although most English knew of the “savages”, they seemed unaware of their numbers. History professor, Mark Meuwese gives an in depth look of the Pequot Wars in his article “The Dutch Connection,”. He presents information about the trade alliances that were built between the Pequot and the Dutch, and how the breakdown of those alliances combined with influence from New Englanders, led to devastation for the Pequot, and ultimately, war. His assertation that parts of New England were a densely populated area prior to the arrival of the Europeans helps readers understand that the new world was not in fact “new” in the context that most English wished to believe.[5] There were dozens of tribes living in the Northeast Woodlands including the Wampanoag, the Pequot, the Algonquin, and the Narragansett tribes.[6]

Around New England, in the northern areas, Indians were mostly nomadic, hunting and fishing for much of their sustenance and constantly moving based on the seasons and the herd migrations. [7] In the southern areas, although there was still much mobility many tribes also had learned to implement agricultural practices in order to better sustain their nutritional needs. Of course, the Indians had impact on their environment, as William Cronon, author of Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England points out. Cronon, an environmental historian from Connecticut, takes a look at how economy affected New England ecosystems. Not only does he demonstrate how the Indian’s impacted their land prior to English settlement, but he continues on to explore how the primary items of trade which the Indians came to offer colonists were natural resources, further changing and depleting their natural environment. Yet, prior to English arrival, Cronon explains how one impact that the agricultural tribes had on the land was to manipulate their terrain with intentional fires in order to prepare land for growing plots and create more conducive hunting areas. Cronon addresses this twice a year ritual, explaining,

Selective Indian burning thus promoted the mosaic quality of New England ecosystems, creating forests in many different states of ecological succession. In particular, regular fires promoted what ecologists call the “edge effect.” By encouraging the growth of extensive regions which resembled the boundary areas between forests and grasslands, Indians created ideal habitats for a host of wildlife species.[8]

Roger Williams, agreed, writing, “this burning of the wood to them the count a Benefit, both for destroying of vermin, and keeping downe the Weeds and thickets.”[9] This information demonstrates that the natives had learned to adapt and thrive in their environment successfully for many generations without the influence of European populations and customs.

As a painting of an Indian village in Colonial America in the late sixteenth century depicts, Indians were certainly at home within their landscape. English settler John White’s painting includes images of their living structures, their agriculture, and even some of them sharing a meal.[10] This primary source is a watercolor painting and is valuable because it shows a firsthand view of how Indians lived. White labeled parts of his painting so it clearly demonstrates how they obtained and enjoyed food, information that they shared with the original colonists of New England. The painting helps enforce the idea that there was a successful, lively people in North America before the arrival of the Europeans, and that without those people’s help, the New England pilgrims would have been just as unsuccessful as the first colonists of Virginia, furthering the idea that the different cultures impacted one another.

When the English voyagers finally arrived at the new land, after months of journeying between the Mayflower and the Cape Cod coast in search of a suitable building ground as well as battling many illnesses and hunger, there remained about half of what left Europe. Ironically, the Indian’s that the English had encountered were also in a state of weakness and hunger when the two groups initially met. In 1614 when Captain John Smith had surveyed Massachusetts land he had noted that there were up to 3000 Indians in some areas, but by the time the pilgrims got there in 1620, the same villages were deserted with little to no survivors due to exposure to diseases through the French fur trade system.[11] It is estimated that disease knocked out up to ninety percent of the Algonquin tribe. It is no surprise then that in the initial months of the English arrival in the Massachusetts Bay, the local Wampanoag people chose to observe the newcomers from afar before deciding if they would intervene in the English woes and blunders.[12]

Yet by the spring of 1621, after struggling through their first New England winter, the English finally began to gain enough strength and sustenance to settle the land. If it had not been for the discovery of abandoned Indian corn fields while surveying the vast lands, as well as the eventual help of one famous Indian, Squanto, the English surely would have perished within their first year at Plymouth. The settlers were only able to grow sustenance, by way of corn and beans given to them by the Indian’s whom decided that it may be beneficial after all to engage the English.[13] In fact, it was likely Squanto in the summer of 1621 that set off the famous fur trade with the English.[14] However, even with the continued learning of how to survive in New England and growing sustenance, the English continued to struggle greatly due to the arrivals of other ships, such as the Fortune which often came bearing more hungry stomachs and still, great lack of provision or talents to help feed the people.[15]

According to Cronon, the English settlers viewed their new environment in terms of economic value.[16] They realized that there were enough desirable natural materials which would enable them to enter the trade market with European countries. It was difficult for the settlers to relinquish their customary lifestyles in the face of a new and often harsh landscape so exporting and importing became a priority. Furthermore, there were debts that had to be paid. William Bradford, one of the original passengers of the Mayflower who played a prominent role in New England colonization kept fantastic records of his Puritan and pilgriming life which has helped historians understand the discovery and development of New England. His book Of Plymouth Plantation serves as a primary source, and quite an important one, as there is much to be found in his recordings about relations with Indians, including remarks on trade. Without such a valuable resource it would be difficult to understand the context of trade in Colonial New England. Because of the leadership appointed to him in Plymouth Colony he not only came to be the primary correspondence with European counterparts, but Bradford and some of his fellow settlers gained exclusive “rights” for fishing and fur trading in order to pay off the debts owed to the merchants whom had financed the Mayflower’s voyage.[17] All of these needs were highlighted by the fact that the settlers own knowledge and abilities were limited for the harsh realities of surviving New England, especially in the winter. Hence, in the early years of settlement they also had to rely on trading European goods to local Indians in order to secure nourishment, warmth, or protection.

As time passed there are two items that came to be of utmost importance within the marketplace between Indians and Europeans: fur and wampum. (Wampum were small beads made from silver colored and purple seashells found on some North East coasts.[18]) Although timber was one resource that the settlers attempted to export because such wood had become quite scarce in England, it ultimately was too costly to export.[19] Cod, also desirable and found in incredible quantities as the name Cape Cod would suggest, needed to be preserved properly to be valuable and thus too was not worth the export expense. Thus, fur became the major basis for repaying debts of the colonies to Europe, and a highly valued trade item in general.[20] Wampum on the other hand had been used as a currency of sorts amongst Indian tribes for some time before the settlers arrived.[21] Because the settlers recognized how valuable wampum was to the Indians, they often accepted it as trade for their commodities because they could then turn around and use it as trade with other Indians for valuable furs. A telling quote about the importance of wampum to Indians, used by Ernest Ingersoll in his article “Wampum and its History” is as follows.

This is the money with which you may buy skins, furs, slaves, or anything the Indians have; it being the mammon (as our money is to us) that entices and persuades them to do anything and part with everything they possess except their children for slaves. As for their wives, they are often sold and their daughters violated for it. With this they buy off murders; and whatsoever a man can do that is ill, this wampum will quit him of, and make him, in their opinion, good and virtuous, though never so black before.[22]

Thus, Wampum and beaver fur both became recognized as legal tender throughout Massachusetts by the 1640s. Fur was not difficult for the settlers to come by because the Indians seemed willing to use their superior hunting and trapping skills to gather furs and trade them for the items that the New Englanders offered. The Algonquins of Maine for example traded beaver furs with the Plymouth settlers for their corn to supplement their diets, being primarily hunters and nonagricultural.[23] Some other items that the Indians sought in exchange for furs were kettles, cloth, knives, and firearms.[24] These trades are part of what began to change the Indian culture.

It was not long that this new marketplace that had been created in part from English customs, and in contrast to Indian ones, grew out of control. The English settlers were not the only Europeans who ventured to the new world for the sake of prosperity. The Dutch who had claimed stake just south of New England were determined to make their mark also. The wampum currency was a part of the Dutch colonial culture as well and in fact, wampum trade increased in part because of contributions the Dutch made to the Indians. They cleverly traded to the Pequot tribe their metal drills, increasing productivity and speed of the shell money.[25] The trade that the Europeans brought to the new world could be blamed for creating contention between the various Indian tribes that had once been at least slightly more harmonious in their existence. As their lifestyles changed due to getting sucked into the fur and wampum control that the English and Dutch maintained, they became increasingly dependent on the trades and therefore as the sources dwindled there became more competition. For example, where the Mayflower passengers had relied on the Indians to provide them with corn for survival, within ten years’ time it was the settlers who were trading corn to the Indians for furs, in no small part because the Indians had taken to spending more time searching for the shells and providing the labour to make wampum, as well as traveling further and investing more time into beaver hunting, thus their agricultural tasks often were lower priorities.[26]

In the same way that the trade impacted the way that the Indians chose to be productive, trade, and colonization in general had major repercussions on the environment that the Indians had lived in for millennia. Cronon points to the fur trade as well as colonist control of wampum as huge factors of the ecosystem transformations that took place during the seventeenth century in New England. He explains the many effects of the fur trade such as the decline of beaver, deer, wolf, moose, and bear populations.[27] Indians whom had been viewed as killing minimally and only out of pure personal necessity came to kill on a much more massive scale for the sake of trade.[28] They also began to neglect their bi-yearly burnings in the forests which they had once relied on for healthy crops and hunting. Moreover, as the English concept of “land ownership” began to dominate, it affected the Indians traditions of living and therefore, changed the way the terrain developed because of lack of fires, and devastated the Indian’s hunting abilities because of decline in animals as well as lack of land to hunt on.[29]

The colonists disregarded Indian’s property “rights” simply because they decided that the “savages” had no right’s to the land because they had not “improved” it by way of enclosures or permanent buildings due to their migratory lifestyles.[30] These explanations were part of the justification of pushing the Indian’s out of the Massachusetts Bay. The European’s domesticated animals and fence obsessions also presented a huge problem in Indian relations, especially pertaining to property ownership as well as the effects these had on the environment.[31] A chronicle by John Easton, governor of colonial Rhode Island, recorded his interactions with Metacom, a Wampanoag leader, transcribing the complaints that his tribe had against the English settlers. Easton shows the relations between Indians and English settlers, to understand the frustrations between the cultures and how peace was eventually no longer an option for some. Metacom was the son of Massasoit, the first Wampanoag chief whom the English interacted and negotiated with upon settling in Plymouth. Massasoit had been incredibly helpful to the colonizers; in fact, it is widely believed that without his help they all likely would have perished during that first cold and brutal winter.[32] But his aid was not motived in generosity alone. Massasoit recognized that the English might be helpful allies against their own prior enemy tribes. Metacom however was unable to maintain these peaceful relations. During his leadership the alliance became tainted, due to the complaints that Easton highlighted.

It seems that at the center of Metacom’s grievances was the issue of the Indian’s land loss as the English abused their powers in dominating more and more acreage. Metacom was also greatly concerned with the imbalance of justice as applied in great variation from English to Indian. He expressed how it was wrong that even if “20 of their honest Indians testified” against an English man that it was disregarded, yet if even one testified against their own it was sufficient to accuse the Indian.[33] He expressed how it was not unnoticed that the English were prone to inciting the Indians to drunkenness in order to cheat them out of more land and always cause them to be on the bottom of a bargain.[34] Yet another grievance was the unruliness of the English livestock who wreaked havoc on Indian cornfields while the Indian planters never received retribution for the damages.[35]

Easton writes in a way that makes it clear that the Indian’s preferred not to fight saying, “The Indians owned that fighting was the worst Way; then they propounded how Right might take Place.”[36] Yet it seems that war was inevitable. The fighting began in June of 1675 when some Wampanoags killed nine of the English men, and was fought for over a year.[37] King Philip’s War devasted relations between colonists and Indians, even pertaining to trade.[38] The war also killed off about forty percent of the Wampanoag population, whom had already come close to annihilation because of disease in prior years.[39] As evidenced by Easton, the big idea behind the crumbling of Indian and English relations in the seventeenth century is that the English dominated politically and in sovereignty. The Indian’s had believed that they were equals, and made decisions for many years under this pretense, but the English demanded increasing control which ultimately stole what little of the last resource that the Indian’s had left, land.[40]

In conclusion, it is clear that there are a few factors that must be contributed to the story which American’s pass down to their children concerning the settlement of the new world. Although it is true that pilgrims from Europe boarded a boat which they sailed across the Atlantic in search of new land, it is wrong to assume that they were a wealthy or privileged class seeking out further riches and fame. Rather, they were a people that felt on the verge of religious persecution and lacking abundant life, willing to risk their very lives to work hard for a new one. And although the pilgrims and Indians certainly celebrated a Thanksgiving of sorts as evidenced by William Bradford’s journals, it is clear that the initial interactions between the English and the tribes of Massachusetts were cold and distant, coming to a hesitant alliance after some time and negotiation, mainly because of the sachems (Indian leaders) fear of further destruction by disease which they had experienced from the French fur trade of the earlier part of the century. And despite the image of English killing Indians to take over their lands for economic pursuit that is ingrained in many American minds, readers can now understand how the relationship between the two societies was far more sophisticated and even generous than that in the beginning, but ultimately wars occurred and blood was shed, and in the end it is evident that the losing side, was the Indians.



Bradford, William, and Samuel Eliot Morison. 1952. Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647. Electronic Resource: The Complete Text. ACLS Humanities E-Book. Alfred A. Knopf. https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.snhu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat04477a&AN=snhu.b1387019&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Cronon, William. 2003. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. Hill and Wang. New York.

Dempsey, J. 1999. “Reading the Revels – The Riddle of May Day in ‘New English Canaan’ (Thomas Morton, New England, Fur Trade, Gun Trade).” Early American Literature 34 (3): 283–312. https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.snhu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edswah&AN=000083923600004&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Indian Tribes and Languages of the Northeast Woodlands. Native Languages of the Americas. Date accessed December 1, 2019. http://www.native-languages.org/northeast-culture.htm

Ingersoll, Ernest. “Wampum and Its History.” The American Naturalist 17, no. 5 (1883): 467-79. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2448968.

Meuwese, Mark. 2011. “The Dutch Connection: New Netherland, the Pequots, and the Puritans in Southern New England, 1620-1638.” Early American Studies, An Interdisciplinary Journal 9 (2): 295. https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.snhu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edb&AN=59736916&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Newell, Margaret Ellen. 2015. From Dependency to Independence: Economic Revolution in Colonial New England.Cornell University Press. https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.snhu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat04477a&AN=snhu.b1624966&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Pynchon, John, and Carl Bridenbaugh. 1982. The Pynchon Papers: Volume I, Letters of John Pynchon, 1654-1700.   https://www.colonialsociety.org/node/1273

Shupe, Kevin D. 2012. “VOLUME 1: REPORTS ON NEW WORLD SETTLEMENT: A Relation of the Indian War.” Defining Documents: Exploration & Colonial America (1492-1755), December, 172–81. https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.snhu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=khh&AN=127122295&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Todt, Kim. 2011. “Trading between New Netherland and New England, 1624-1664.” Early American Studies, An Interdisciplinary Journal 9 (2): 348–78. https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.snhu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=hlh&AN=59736918&site=eds-live&scope=site.

White, John. 1585-1593. The Indian village of Secoton. watercolor. Place: British Museum, http://www.britishmuseum.org/. https://library-artstor-org.ezproxy.snhu.edu/asset/AGERNSHEIMIG_10313154440.

Winslow, Edward, and Kelly Wisecup. 2014. “Good News from New England” by Edward Winslow: A Scholarly Edition. Vol. A scholarly edition. Native Americans of the Northeast. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.snhu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1245483&site=eds-live&scope=site.


[1] Edward Winslow, and Kelly Wisecup, “Good News from New England” by Edward Winslow: A Scholarly Edition. Vol. A scholarly edition. Native Americans of the Northeast, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. (2014):19. https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.snhu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1245483&site=eds-live&scope=site.

[2] Winslow, “Good News from New England”, 67.

 [3] Margaret Ellen Newell, From Dependency to Independence: Economic Revolution in Colonial New England, Cornell University Press. (2015)): 18.  https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.snhu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat04477a&AN=snhu.b1624966&site=eds-live&scope=site.

[4] Newell, From Dependency to Independence: Economic Revolution in Colonial New England, 36.

 [5] Mark Meuwese, “The Dutch Connection: New Netherland, the Pequots, and the Puritans in Southern New England, 1620-1638.” Early American Studies, An Interdisciplinary Journal 9, 2, (2011): 297. https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.snhu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edb&AN=59736916&site=eds-live&scope=site.

[6] Indian Tribes and Languages of the Northeast Woodlands. Native Languages of the Americas. Date accessed December 1, 2019.http://www.native-languages.org/northeast-culture.htm

[7] William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. New York: Hill and Wang, (2003): 38.

 [8] Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. 51.

 [9] Cronon, 51.

 [10] John White, The Indian village of Secoton. watercolor. Place: British Museum, (1585-1593). http://www.britishmuseum.org/. https://library-artstor-org.ezproxy.snhu.edu/asset/AGERNSHEIMIG_10313154440.

 [11] Winslow, 26, 27.

 [12] Winslow, 36.

 [13] Newell, 42.

 [14] William Bradford and Samuel Eliot Morison, Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647. Electronic Resource: The Complete Text. ACLS Humanities E-Book. Alfred A. Knopf. (1952): xxv.  https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.snhu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat04477a&AN=snhu.b1387019&site=eds-live&scope=site.

[15] Winslow, 66.

[16] Cronon, 20.

[17] William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647, xxv.

[18] Meuwese, “The Dutch Connection: New Netherland, the Pequots, and the Puritans in Southern New England, 1620-1638.”, 298.

 [19] Cronon, 113.

 [20] Newell, 51.

 [21] Ernest Ingersoll, “Wampum and Its History.” The American Naturalist 17, no. 5 (1883): 472. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2448968.

 [22] Ingersoll, “Wampum and Its History.”, 471.

 [23] Meuwese, 307.

 [24] Newell, 52.

 [25] Meuwese, 309.

 [26] Newell, 52.

 [27] Cronon, 101, 105.

 [28] Cronon, 98.

 [29] Cronon, 102.

 [30] Newell, 41.

 [31] Cronon, 127.

[32] Kevin D. Shupe, “VOLUME 1: REPORTS ON NEW WORLD SETTLEMENT: A Relation of the Indian War.” Defining Documents: Exploration & Colonial America (1492-1755), December, (2012): 173. https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.snhu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=khh&AN=127122295&site=eds-live&scope=site.


 [34] Shupe, 175.

 [35] Shupe, 175.

 [36] Shupe, 174.

 [37] Shupe, 176.

 [38] Shupe, 172.

[39] Shupe, 178.

 [40] Shupe, 172.

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