The New England Colonies and the Native Americans

The New England Colonies and the Native Americans

While Native Americans and English settlers in the New England territories first attempted a mutual relationship based on trade and a shared dedication to spirituality, soon disease and other conflicts led to a deteriorated relationship and, eventually, the First Indian War.


3 - 12


Social Studies, U.S. History


Hudson Trading with Native Americans

Native American locals and English colonists had a complicated history in America that involved conflict as well as trade. They traded goods and ideas. Here, English explorer Henry Hudson and his crew trade with Indians on the shore.

Engraving from the United States Library of Congress
Native American locals and English colonists had a complicated history in America that involved conflict as well as trade. They traded goods and ideas. Here, English explorer Henry Hudson and his crew trade with Indians on the shore.
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Complex History

Thanksgiving is one of America's earliest legends. In 1621, pilgrims sat down with the Wampanoag Indians. They celebrated the first successful harvest. It sounds like a great story. Two cultures came together. They shared the riches of the land. However, the real history was not so simple.

Finding Common Ground

The first English settlers arrived in New England in the 1600s. About 60,000 Native Americans were already living there. At first, the two sides fought over territory. Still, colonists built successful colonies with the help of the Native American peoples.

At first, trade connected the two peoples. The colonists needed help to thrive in the New World. The Native Americans wanted to build alliances. Within five years, Plymouth Colony did not have to depend on England.

Both sides gained from trade and bartering. The Native Americans provided skins, hides, food, and knowledge. The settlers traded beads and other money substitutes.

Ideas were also exchanged. Wampum was a type of currency, or money substitute. It sometimes carried religious meaning, as well. The first Bible printed in the New World was in the language of the Native American Algonquin people. The Bible is the Christian holy book.

Puritan Christianity was the main religion among the colonists. Over time, some colonists began to move away from Puritanism. Their ideas about Native Americans also changed. A famous example of this is Roger Williams. He rebelled against Puritanism and began the colony of Rhode Island. Williams believed that the colonists had to pay the Native Americans for the land. The colonists had no right to take it for free.

Over time, the relationship between the Native American peoples and the colonists fell apart. The colonists carried diseases with them from England. The Native Americans had no natural defenses to them. Many died.

Some colonial leaders said the diseases were an act of God. It showed that God supported their right to the land. They converted the Native Americans to Christianity and move them to reservations called "praying towns."

The First Indian War

The First Indian War began in 1675. The government of the Plymouth Colony killed three members of the Wampanoag. The Wampanoag leader, Philip, also known as Metacom, fought back. An army of Wampanoags and other tribes attacked settlements. Other tribes fought on the side of the colonists.

The war lasted 14 months, ending in late 1676. Thousands of Native Americans died in war or from illness. Many others were taken as slaves. More than 600 colonists died. Dozens of settlements were destroyed.

The history of the colonies is like the history of America itself. It has two sides. On one side, native and immigrant cultures came together. They helped create the modern United States. On the other side, they clashed. In these clashes, many places and lives were destroyed.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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