Native Americans and Europeans had much in common during the Age of Discovery, but they also had several distinct differences. As explorers came over from Europe for trade and conquest, a conflict between cultures was inevitable1. As noted in the lectures, Native Americans relied on nature for survival due to the less advanced technology. It was the primary cause of lifestyle differences between Indigenous people and European communities. However, documents show that Native Americans were content with this minimalistic approach to life and, on the contrary, could not understand the European tendency for abundance2. Consequently, Native American and European societies had drastically different social values and beliefs. There were three primary collisions over land use, household arrangements, and sexuality (Lecture notes). Europeans perceived Native Americans as wild because of these reasons, and these differences eventually evolved into cultural conflicts. As the groups interacted, they continued learning more about each other, finding that there were more fundamental differences that similarities between the cultures.
Nevertheless, there were some similarities between the two groups regarding the ways of worship, approaches to trade, and general curiosity about each other. First, although they belonged to different faiths, Native Americans and Europeans were devoted believers. In other words, there was a substantial emphasis on religious elements in both societies (Lecture notes). Both Native Americans and Europeans connected religion to power and social hierarchy. For instance, chiefs in Indigenous communities were influential leaders who usually lived in elevated houses, and they frequently achieved this social standing based on their spiritual achievements (Lecture notes). Consequently, as Daniel Richter notes, Indigenous people had highly advanced trade routes through river systems across the land3. This approach was similar to the European ways of commerce that facilitated relationships among various groups of people. Lastly, both groups were curious about each other, and it encouraged the connection at first. Before the relationship evolved into a cultural conflict, Indigenous people were excited to learn about Europeans, and the Spanish were eager to spread the religion4. Ultimately, there were several similar aspects in the cultures of the two types of societies.
Empire of Goods Impact
In the 18th century, the Empire of Goods was a trading system controlled by Europeans that significantly affected both English and Native Americans in North America. The primary products in the Empire of Goods were coffee, sugar, and tobacco. The other products traded between England and North America were manufactured items like textiles, furs, guns, weapons, and other vital equipment (Lecture notes). One effect of the Empire of Goods was how it changed the economy in North America5. By the mid-17th century, the new trading system led to two primary developments that significantly affected the lives of English and Native American people on the continent6. The first one was the creation of a colonial frontier economy due to Europe’s increased demand for furs. This new economy traded items for manufactured products like rum, guns, and textiles. The second development was an intercolonial economic network in which goods flowed rapidly between colonies7. The Empire of Goods replaced the agricultural commodity trade from the Old to New World with a concentrated flow of manufactured imports from Europe.
Britain’s interest in this outside-the-British- Isles trade created many new markets for British manufactured goods. The Empire of Goods was essential to North America’s Natives and English people. It helped both groups prosper due to various developments during this period. The way trade was conducted between Native American tribes and European settlers changed after the French and Indian War (1754-1763)8. Moreover, it changed how British traders related with other Europeans, leading to the development of international markets. Transcontinental trade became significantly more relevant during the period of the Empire of Goods, and it had a direct impact on the lives of people in North America. Although the 18th-century global trade network affected the English and Native American people greatly, its indirect effects were also critical9. The English settlers depended on Native Americans for furs, an essential component of their imperial economy. These trade relationships meant that there was no longer an incentive for either group to circumvent or destroy one other10. Ultimately, this dependency facilitated the relationship between the two cultural groups, preventing unnecessary conflicts.
Impact of Seven Years’ War
The Seven Years’ War, fought from 1756 to 1763, was the last military conflict between England and France. The war pitted British colonists in North America against French settlers already living there. The conflict had an immense impact on every population in Europe and North America, drastically changing the perspectives of colonists on the world powers (Lecture notes). Although the war was primarily occurring in Europe, it shifted the power balance in North America, as the British forces received many territories from France11. Moreover, it altered transatlantic commerce, which was crucial for colonists and Native Americans12. The British acquired a large part of North America and Canada due to the peace treaty in 1763, changing the political landscape in the colonies. As the shift of political power occurred, so did the perceptions of colonists toward the rules. Ultimately, the Seven Years’ War was one of the first world wars in the sense that it affected most countries globally and significantly affected commerce in many parts of the earth.
Evidently, such drastic consequences of the war altered the perceptions of American colonists toward the British. The conflict facilitated the relationship as many colonists felt pride in their contribution to the outcome of the war (Lecture notes). However, Britain generated a large debt, and it had to implement new restrictive policies on trade to maximize its profits and recover from the war13. As a result, many American colonists realized the gravity of the economic situation and changed their perception of the British to negative. This growing tension was one of the primary causes of the American revolution. Additionally, the war caused a significant shift in the perception of Native American culture and religion by colonists and the British. It primarily concerned religion since the British victory initiated the oppressing spread of Protestantism that substituted the spiritual beliefs of Natives14. Many preachers from Britain thought of it as a sacred duty to alter the faith of Native Americans and force them to adopt the British way of life. As a result, this approach led to growing tension among American colonists, Native Americans, and the British in North America.
Freedom and Colonialism
The English settlers in North America built the foundation for a civil society with liberal freedoms; however, there were many inconsistencies and flaws in the system. Colonists forced their way of life onto Native Americans and participated in the trade of enslaved African people for cheap labor. Such instances clearly demonstrate that the approach of the English settlers is not a shining example of freedom in any sense. Colonists adopted numerous hostile policies from the European powers, including slavery and servitude, and, in some cases, even made them more dehumanizing. Ultimately, the current essay shows that although some demographic groups enjoyed freedom in Colonial America, the oppression of enslaved persons and Native Americans discredited colonialism as a shining example of freedom.
Examples of Freedom and Oppression
The central concepts in this discussion are freedom and oppression, and it is critical to define them before examining the lives of various demographic groups in colonial America. First, freedom is an idea that is different for everyone, but it generally implies that people have the right to free speech, religion, and physical safety. Many people in colonial America were oppressed and did not have these privileges. This fact shows that oppression is the opposite of freedom when people cannot choose their own way of life. In summary, freedom and oppression are subtle concepts, but the current essay argues that colonial America cannot be a shining example of freedom in any sense.
The first example showing the injustices of the system established by the English settlers is the perspective of an enslaved person in South Carolina in the 18th century. The disclosed documents show how slave ships transported millions of Africans to America in unacceptable conditions, chained to each other and lacking personal space15. After arrival in North America, colonists treated them with disrespect and adopted the most hostile slavery traditions from the British. However, as Parent writes, colonists established an illegal precedent of “enslaving a class of people for life and making that status inevitable”16. It was an unprecedented case of oppression, and the white colonists based this practice on the concept of race and skin color17. From the perspective of an enslaved person, forcefully taking them from their home and forcing them to work was a terrible act of injustice. At the same time, white landowners enjoyed cheap labor, earning profits from exploitation and consequent commerce. Ultimately, the perspective of an enslaved person shows that early America was not free.
The second example confirming the essay’s thesis is that of an indentured servant. These servants were very similar to enslaved people because they were forced to work without pay by other groups of people. However, they were different from enslaved people in one crucial way: they had a contract that allowed them to become free after specific periods of working for others18. The time these servants were required to work to become free depended on their contracts. The third example concerns a mid-18th-century Native American, demonstrating a middle ground between freedom and oppression. Native Americans were continually losing their land, culture, and faith, but they could also profit from the colonial expansion. For instance, the Empire of Goods was a notable example of how some Native Americans adopted the new commerce realities and benefited from the trade19. In this sense, while the perspective of Native Americans still demonstrates the injustices of colonists, this case is not as absolute as that for enslaved people. Native Americans retained fundamental freedoms and could potentially benefit from the shift of power.
Lastly, it is crucial to examine the counterargument to the essay’s thesis, showing that there were some freedoms in colonial America. One of the cases that demonstrates this position is a perspective of a Puritan woman in the 17th century. Puritans believed that God had helped them establish a colony where they could worship freely and practice their religion without interference (Lecture notes). According to them, the church in England was deteriorating, and it was time to restore the previous glory of Christianity (Lecture notes). Nevertheless, even a Puritan woman in the 17th century had religious duties and responsibilities to fulfill. Moreover, she was most likely a part of a traditional religious family that had a strict hierarchy, with the husband making the final decision in every matter (Lecture notes). She was expected to raise her children in a Puritan way and teach them how to live a God-centered life. As a result, even though Puritans perceived themselves as liberators of faith, who escaped from the tyranny of the English church, they still had limited freedoms.
Ultimately, every person has a slightly different understanding of freedom and oppression. However, the current essay has argued that injustices experienced by enslaved people and Native Americans provide evidence that colonial America is not a shining example of freedom. There were numerous liberal advancements in North America compared to Europe in the 16th-18th centuries, but it is impossible to justify all the hostile actions of colonists. The perspectives of indentured servants, enslaved people, and Native Americans confirm this position, demonstrating that early America was not a shining example of freedom.
Duval, Kathleen. “A Good Relationship & Commerce: The Native Political Economy of the Arkansas Valley.” Early American Studies 1, no. 1 (2003): 61-89.
Lopez de Palacios Rubios, Juan. “Requerimiento.” Teaching American History. N.d.
National Humanities Center Resource. “Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763.” 2009.
Parent, Anthony. Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 1660-1740. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
Richter, Daniel. Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003.
Richter, Daniel. Before the Revolution: America’s Ancient Pasts. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011.
The American Yawp. “Colonial Society.” N.d.
The American Yawp Reader. “A Gaspenian Man Defends His Way of Life, 1641.” N.d.
The American Yawp Reader. “Print of the Slave Ship Brookes.” N.d.
- Lopez de Palacios Rubios, Juan. “Requerimiento.” Teaching American History. N.d. Web.
- The American Yawp Reader. “A Gaspenian Man Defends His Way of Life, 1641.” N.d. Web.
- Richter, Daniel. Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), 5.
- Lopez de Palacios Rubios, “Requerimiento.”
- Richter, Daniel. Before the Revolution: America’s Ancient Pasts. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011), 330.
- Richter, Before the Revolution: America’s Ancient Pasts, 330.
- Richter, Before the Revolution: America’s Ancient Pasts, 331.
- Richter, Before the Revolution: America’s Ancient Pasts, 339.
- Duval, Kathleen. “A Good Relationship & Commerce: The Native Political Economy of the Arkansas Valley.” Early American Studies 1, no. 1 (2003): 81-83.
- Duval, “A Good Relationship & Commerce: The Native Political Economy of the Arkansas Valley.” 83.
- The American Yawp. “Colonial Society.” N.d. Web.
- The American Yawp, “Colonial Society.”
- The American Yawp, “Colonial Society.”
- The American Yawp, “Colonial Society.”
- The American Yawp Reader. “Print of the Slave Ship Brookes.” N.d. Web.
- Parent, Anthony. Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 1660-1740. (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 105.
- Parent, Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 1660-1740, 105.
- National Humanities Center Resource. “Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763.” 2009. Web.
- Richter, Before the Revolution: America’s Ancient Pasts, 338.