In the year 1617, as Europeans counted time, on a bay they called the Chesapeake, in
a land they named Virginia, the mighty weroance Powhatan surveyed his domain. It had
all worked according to plan, and Powhatan, leader of the Pamunkeys, had laid his plans
carefully. While in his prime, the tall, robust man had drawn some 30 villages along the
Virginia coast into a powerful confederacy numbering nearly 9,000 souls. The natives
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38 | THREE | COLONIZATION & CONFLICT IN THE SOUTH |
of the Chesapeake, like the peoples
who inhabited the length of eastern
North America, lived for most of
the year in small agricultural villages. As tribute for his protection
and leadership Powhatan collected
food, furs, and skins from the villagers. He forged alliances with communities too distant or too powerful
for him to dominate. He married the
daughters of prominent men, dozens in all, to solidify his network of
patronage and power.
After 1607 Powhatan was forced
to take into account yet another
group. The English, as this new
people called themselves, came
by sea, crammed into three ships.
They were 100 men and 4 boys,
all clad in heavy, outlandish clothing, many dressed in gaudy colors.
The ships followed a river deep into
Powhatan’s territory and built a fort
on a swampy, mosquito-infested
site that they called Jamestown.
Powhatan was not frightened.
He knew of these strangers from
across the waters. Even amid the
bounty of the Chesapeake they
failed to feed themselves. With
bows and arrows, spears and nets,
Indian men brought in an abundance of meat and fish. Fields
tended by Indian women yielded
generous crops of corn, beans,
squash, and melon, and edible nuts
and fruits grew wild. Still the English starved, and not just during the
first few months of their settlement
but for several years afterward. Powhatan could understand why the
English refused to grow food. Cultivating crops was women’s work—
like building houses; or making
clothing, pottery, and baskets; or
caring for children. And the English settlement included no women
until two arrived in the fall of 1608.
Yet even after more women came,
the English still starved, and they
expected—no, they demanded—
that Powhatan’s people feed them.
And yet these hapless folk put
on such airs. They boasted about the
power of their god—they had only
one—and denounced the Indians’
“devil-worship” of “false gods.”
They crowed endlessly about the
power of their king, James I, who
expected Powhatan to become his
vassal. Inconceivable—that Powhatan should willingly bow before
this King James, the ruler of so
small and savage a race! When the
Indians made war, they killed the
male warriors of rival communities but adopted their women and
children. But when Powhatan’s
people withheld food or defended
their land from these invaders,
the English retaliated by murdering Indian women and children.
Worse, the English could not even
keep order among themselves. Too
many of them wanted to lead, and
they squabbled constantly.
The temptation to wipe out the
helpless, troublesome, arrogant tribe
of English—or simply to let them
starve to death—had been almost
overwhelming. But Powhatan allowed
the English to survive. Like Wingina
before him, he decided that even
these barbaric people had their uses.
English labor, English trading goods,
and, most important, English guns
would help quell resistance within
his confederacy and subdue his
Indian rivals to the west. In 1614
Powhatan cemented his claim on the
English and their weapons with the
marriage between his favorite child,
Pocahontas, and an ambitious Englishman, John Rolfe.
By 1617 events had vindicated
Powhatan’s strategy of tolerating
the English. His chiefdom flourished, ready to be passed on to his
brother. Powhatan’s people still
outnumbered the English, who seldom starved outright now but continued to fight among themselves
and sicken and die. Only one thing
had changed in the Chesapeake by
^ Pocahontas, daughter of the mighty
werowance Powhatan and wife of English
colonist John Rolfe, has long fascinated
nonnatives. In an image from 1616 (left ),
she is represented as a high-status English
lady, stripped of all marks of her native culture save her name, Matoaka (Pocahontas
was a nickname). The second image, from
the 1993 Disney film, portrays her as a
pretty and innocent child of nature. Now
as then, we see in her what we want to.
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| SPAIN’S NORTH AMERICAN COLONIES | 39
But while France and especially England eventually established large colonial populations on territory
suited to European-style agriculture, Spain confined
its northern ventures to the ecologically challenging
regions of the upper Rio Grande and coastal Florida.
Because economic opportunities and good farmland
were abundant elsewhere in Spanish America, few
Spaniards migrated to distant and difficult northern
Just as Spain had been the first European power to
explore North America’s interior, so too it led the
way in establishing lasting colonies north of Mexico.
monoculture growth of a
single crop to the virtual
exclusion of all others,
either on a farm or more
generally within a region.
1617: the English were clearing
woodland along the rivers and planting tobacco.
That was the doing of Powhatan’s son-in-law, Rolfe, a man
as strange as the rest of the newcomers, all of them eager to store
up wealth and worldly goods. Rolfe
had been obsessed with finding a
crop that could be grown in Virginia
and then sold for gain across the
sea. When he succeeded by growing tobacco, other English followed
his lead. Odder still, not women
but men tended the tobacco fields.
Here was more evidence of English
inferiority. Men wasted long hours
laboring when they might supply
their needs with far less effort.
In 1617 Powhatan, ruler of the
Pamunkeys, surveyed his domain,
and sometime in that year, he died.
He had lived long enough to see the
tobacco fields lining the riverbanks,
straddling the charred stumps of
felled trees. But perhaps he went to
his grave believing that he had done
what Wingina had failed to do: bend
the English to his purposes. He died
before those stinking tobacco weeds
spread over the length of his land
and sent his hard-won dominion up
Wingina and Powhatan were not
the only native leaders who dreamed
of turning Europeans to their advantage. Across North America, the
fleeting if destructive encounters
of the sixteenth century gave way
to sustained colonialism in the seventeenth. As Europeans began to
colonize the edges of North America
in earnest, Indian peoples struggled
not only to survive and adapt to new
realities but also, when possible, to
profit from the rapid changes swirling around them.
Those often dramatic changes
reflected upheavals under way
all across the globe. The tobacco
John Rolfe had begun to cultivate
was only one of several plantation
monocultures that Europeans began
to establish in their far-flung colonies. Sugar, already flourishing in
the Atlantic islands off the coast of
West Africa, was gaining a foothold
in the islands of the Caribbean. Rice,
long a staple in Asia and grown also
in Africa, made its way into South
Carolina toward the end of the seventeenth century. Because these
crops were grown most efficiently on
plantations and required intensive
labor, African slavery spread during
these years, fueled by an expanding
international slave trade. Europeans,
Africans, and Indians were all, in
different ways, caught up in the
wrenching transformations. <<
What’s to Come
39 Spain’s North American Colonies
42 English Society on the Chesapeake
46 Chesapeake Society in Crisis
52 From the Caribbean to the Carolinas
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40 | THREE | COLONIZATION & CONFLICT IN THE SOUTH |
outposts. Even so, Spain’s colonial endeavors had
tremendous implications for North America’s native
peoples and for the geopolitics of the continent as a
The Founding of a “New” Mexico >> By
the 1590s Coronado’s dismal expedition a half-century
earlier had been all but forgotten. Again, rumors spread
in Mexico about great riches in the North. New Spain’s
viceroy began casting about for a leader to establish
a “new” Mexico as magnificent and profitable as its
namesake. He chose Juan de Oñate, son of one of New
Spain’s richest miners and husband to Isabel de Tolosa
Cortés Moctezuma, granddaughter of Hernán Cortés
and great-granddaughter of Moctezuma. Ignorant of
northern geography and overestimating New Mexico’s
riches, Oñate proposed to sail ships up the Pacific to
Pueblo country, so that twice a year he could resupply
his would-be colony and export its expected treasures.
The magnitude of his misconceptions came into
focus in 1598, when he led 500 colonists, soldiers,
and slaves to the upper Rio Grande. Oñate found
modest villages, no ocean, and no significant mineral wealth. Even so, he had come with women and
children, with livestock and tools, with artisans and
tradesmen, with seeds and books and bibles. He had
come to stay. Eager to avoid the violence of earlier
encounters, Tewa-speaking Pueblos evacuated a village for the newcomers to use. Many native leaders pledged Oñate their allegiance, Pueblo artisans
labored on irrigation systems and other public works
for the Spaniards, and Indian women (traditionally the builders in Pueblo society) constructed the
region’s first Catholic Church.
The colonizers mistook this cautious courtesy for
subservience. Oñate’s oldest nephew, Juan de Zaldívar,
was bolder and cruder than most. At
Acoma Pueblo, known today as “Sky
City” because of its position high atop a
majestic mesa, he brazenly seized several
sacred turkeys to kill and eat, answering
Indian protests with insults. Outraged,
Acoma’s men fell upon Zaldívar, killing
him and several companions. Fueled by
grief and rage, Zaldívar’s younger brother
Vicente laid siege to Acoma Pueblo,
killed perhaps 800 of its residents, and
made slaves of several hundred more.
The savagery of the Acoma siege and
similar repressive measures educated all
of the region’s native communities about
the risks of resistance.
But it was easier to instill terror than
grow rich. Desperate to salvage their
enterprise, Oñate and key followers toiled
on long, fruitless expeditions in search of
gold, silver, and cities. Vicente de Zaldívar, the headstrong conqueror of Acoma, tried to domesticate bison
as had been done with cattle, rather than search for
them on the plains. But the bison—“stubborn animals, brave beyond praise”—quickly broke free of the
cottonwood coral his men constructed. Most Spaniards
turned to the less hazardous pursuit of farming and
husbandry to support their families. Others despaired
of securing a living in arid New Mexico and fled back
into New Spain.
In 1606 royal authorities recalled Oñate and
brought him up on charges of mismanagement and
abusing Indians. Meanwhile Spain nearly abandoned
“worthless” New Mexico, except that the Franciscans
insisted it would be a crime to forsake the thousands
of Indians they claimed to have baptized since 1598.
Spain’s New Mexican outpost continued to struggle
The Growth of Spanish Florida >> Franciscans became key actors in Spanish North America.
Members of a medieval religious order founded by St.
Francis of Assisi, Franciscan monks owned no personal property, remained
celibate , and survived by
begging for alms or accepting donations from wealthy
patrons. Franciscans accompanied Columbus on his
second voyage, and they began ministering to the
Indians of central Mexico soon after Tenochtitlán fell.
By the 1570s Spanish authorities started secularizing central Mexico’s missions, transforming them
into self-supporting parishes. Franciscans went on to
become powerful figures in colonial New Mexico, while
Jesuits established several missions in present-day
^^ Like many other Pueblo peoples, the founders of Acoma built their village atop a
sandstone mesa to gain protection from enemies. Constructed in the twelfth century
CE, Acoma may be the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the present-day
celibate abstaining from sexual
intercourse; also unmarried.
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| SPAIN’S NORTH AMERICAN COLONIES | 41
Popé and the Pueblo Revolt >> As the seventeenth century progressed, New Mexico also seemed
to stabilize. Enough Spanish colonists remained to
establish a separate town, La Villa Real de la Santa
Fe, in 1610. Santa Fe (the second-oldest European
town in the United States after St. Augustine) became
the hub of Spanish life in New Mexico. Many families
settled elsewhere on the Rio Grande, on well-watered
lands near Pueblo villages. Economic and political life
revolved around a dozen prominent families. By 1675
New Mexico had a diverse colonial population of perhaps 2,500, including Spaniards, Africans, Mexican
Indians, mestizos (persons of mixed Spanish-Indian
heritage), and mulattoes (of Spanish-African heritage).
This population also included large numbers of
Indian captives. Occasionally captives came to Spanish
households through war, as after the siege of Acoma.
In addition, Spaniards purchased enslaved women and
children from other Indians and regularly launched
slave raids against so-called enemy Indians such
as Utes, Apaches, and Navajos. By 1680 half of all
New Mexican households included at least one Indian
captive. Depending on age, gender, and the master’s
disposition, such captives could be treated affectionately as low-status family members or terrorized and
abused as disposable human property.
For strategic reasons the Crown needed the Franciscans even more in Florida than in New Mexico’s
distant outposts. As long as pirates or rival colonies
on the Atlantic seaboard threatened Spanish shipping, the king had to control Florida. Pedro Menéndez de Avilés did much to secure the peninsula in the
1560s when he destroyed France’s Fort Caroline and
established several posts on the coast (see Chapter 2).
By 1600, however, Menéndez was dead and only St.
Augustine endured, with a population of perhaps 500.
Spanish Florida needed something more to survive.
To extend his influence the king first offered the
peninsula’s many native peoples trade privileges and
regular diplomatic presents. In return, native leaders
promised to support the Spanish in war to and tax
their people on behalf of the king. Once these alliances
were in place, Indian communities were made to accept
Franciscan missions and a few resident soldiers, a policy critical to molding and monitoring native villages.
By 1675, 40 missions were ministering to as many as
26,000 baptized Indians. The bishop of Cuba toured
Florida and spoke enthusiastically of converts who
embraced “with devotion the mysteries of our holy
faith.” Florida’s mission system and network of Indian
alliances convinced Spanish authorities that they could
maintain their grip on this crucial peninsula.
Colonization & Conflict in the South 1600–1750