The British colonies in North America were not societies that valued or expected equality. They conquered Native American land without any payment for it and they used African Americans as slaves. By the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century, the standard norm for the British included vicious warfare with the Native Americans and enslavement of the African Americans. These practices became the standard norm as a result of carelessness and perhaps fear of change on the part of the British.
Early British settlements in North America established first contact between the British and the Native Americans. Almost twenty years after the mysterious disappearance of the colonists who settled at Roanoke, the British settled In the Chesapeake Bay area in the early 17th century. They called it Jamestown in honor of their king, James I. Shortly after settling in Jamestown, a group of about two hundred Native Americans attacked the British because the British were trying to exploit Native American labor and wealth.
The British saw nothing wrong with holding a peaceful social state but at the same time using Native Americans as a cheap form of labor. Although the Native Americans had supplied the British with food and other vital necessities, tensions still persisted. The British and the Native Americans interacted very often in trade surroundings, but the failure of each group to understand and accept the other group’s culture prevented any lasting cooperation between the two groups. Simple misunderstandings during a trade agreement could turn into violent confrontations as a result of the large difference in culture and beliefs.
In March 1622, one Native American by the name of Opechancanough planned a surprise attack on Jamestown. Intending to wipe out the whole colony, his plan was only partially successful as a result of British retaliation which killed more Native Americans than they did British. After retaliation by the British, the Native Americans mounted their last major act of armed resistance. This failed due to British awareness, preparedness, and superiority over the Native Americans. After peace was restored, the Native American population in the Chesapeake Bay area was down from eight thousand to two thousand.
Later conflict between the Native Americans and the British occurred in 1676 when an English planter named Nathaniel Bacon organized an unauthorized force in Virginia to drive the Native Americans farther west. Bacon and his followers were frustrated that all the best tobacco land had already been taken by the wealthy and decided to drive the Indians west and settle on that land. Bacon’s army consisted of other angry Virginian planters who wanted more land so they could grow more tobacco. When the British sent an army to stop Bacon, he reversed his aim and instead went after Jamestown.
The sudden death of Bacon while trying to escape an attack from the British army put an end to one of America’s first violent protest movements. One result of this rebellion was that it strengthened the elite group of the wealthy planters and government officials. They also realized that indentured servants would not be a reliable source of labor and that they needed enslaved people to work for them. They needed human beings who would never have a chance at freedom, own land, or protest the government. Bacon’s rebellion also severed British relations with the Native Americans.
The conflict between the British and the Native Americans broke into open hostility and as a result, King Philip’s War. King Philip’s War began around 1675 in the New England area. The two groups had hoped trade would ease the tensions but in the 1670’s the peace came to an end. The English continued to destroy forests, put up fences, and create pastures for their cattle. This threatened the livelihood of the Native Americans, who lived by hunting game, gathering plants for food, and growing crops. This meant that Native Americans needed almost twenty times the amount of land per person as the English needed.
Minor disagreements over land disputes between a Native American leader, Metacom (known as King Philip to the settlers) and the people of Plymouth began the war. These minor disputes lead to larger ones and war inevitably broke out. The war started out as a disaster for both sides. Each side was losing just as many people as they were killing and the war was turning into a war of attrition. The English soon gained the upper hand and the large number of English settlers began to pay off. The end of the war came with the death of Metacom.
Once he was dead, the English cut his head off and sent it to Plymouth Colony where it was displayed for decades. Aftereffects of this war were both economic as well as political. The region of New England did not surpass its prewar income per person for more than 140 years. Politically, the aftereffects in part lead to the American Revolution due to stresses and strains obtained by the amount of interaction between the colonies and Britain. The relations between the Europeans and the Africans, on the other hand, were extremely one-sided.
Slavery came about because the colonists needed a more controllable source of labor. Indentured servants wouldn’t work because the owners needed a race that would have no chance of being allowed freedom, and understood that. Africans were used to being slaves so when they were first brought over by slave traders, they did not expect to ever be free. Slavery eventually developed into a much more widespread practice. No longer were certain slave traders bringing slaves across the Atlantic Ocean but slaves were now being shipped across in large numbers.
The Europeans traded with the West Indies and the Americas which formed a sort of triangle. The Middle Passage was the part of the triangular trade between Africa and the Americas where slaves were transported to the West Indies and on to North America in exchange for American goods such as tobacco. Although conditions varied from colony to colony for African Americans, conditions were consistently brutal. The African Americans who lived in South Carolina and Georgia labored under particularly brutal conditions.
These slaves primarily cultivated rice and indigo because conditions in the low country were especially good for that. Slaves in North Carolina faced similar conditions as the slaves in Virginia and Maryland because it was more suited for tobacco farming. Slaves in these colonies not only worked in the fields but were also assigned other household tasks. Slaves in New England and the Middle Colonies had more freedom in choosing their occupations than did the slaves of the Southern Colonies.
The lives and work of African Americans, although a minority by a large amount, reflected the region’s mixed economy and its varied ways of life. The slaves in these colonies north of Maryland had a considerable amount more of freedom in choosing their occupation than the slaves of the southern colonies did. This lead to the slaves pushing the slave owners more and more until the slave owners became so threatened that they began to pass strict laws regulating the amount of freedom that these slaves had.
In the late 1600’s, several laws were passed by the colonies controlling the activities of the African Americans. The African Americans were becoming too aggressive and this worried the colonists. The government passed strict laws that would help keep slaves under control and keep the colonists feeling a little safer. Harsh punishments were performed on African Americans who did not follow these rules and regulations as a way to enforce the laws. Many of these laws were soon applied to free African Americans as well as Native Americans. The combination of such laws and the harsh conditions led to violent revolts.
Slave revolts emerged all throughout the colonies but New York had the worst of these revolts. As a result of harsh conditions, slaves began to resist forcefully. Rebellions occurred there in 1708, 1712 and 1741. After the rebellion of 1741, thirteen slaves were burned alive as punishment for revolting. This also served as a warning to other slaves not to revolt. Slavery became a part of the new kind of society that emerged in North America which was built on relationships between ordinary people as well as inequality and the superiority of the British.
These race relations also led in part to larger wars such as the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. The British not only treated the Native Americans unfairly by taking over their land and waging war on them but they also treated African Americans with inequality by treating them as a piece of property rather than as human beings. The enslavement of African Americans, and constant war with the Native Americans became such a routine practice that it just evolved into the standard norm of that time period.