Unanticipated Changes lead to War

In the beginning stages of European settlement the dangers were not clear to the indigenous tribes. The material benefits of trade with the Europeans seemed real enough. Along the northeastern coast of North America, for example, the Wampanoag tribe, led by chief Massasoit, provided assistance to the fledgling English settlement at Plymouth and observed peacefully as new fishing villages proliferated along the Atlantic coast. The indigenous population could not have anticipated the changes about to occur in their lives or how rapidly they would be displaced by the incoming Europeans. After the settlement of Boston was established in 1630, some 25,000 farmers and political dissidents migrated to the colony from England. The arrival of Europeans in such large numbers immediately threatened the indigenous population's semi-nomadic way of life as the two groups competed for the best agricultural land. Boston and other coastal communities served not as a destination, but as a point of departure into the hinterland. These Europeans created a new civilization but one whose socio-political arrangements and institutions followed closely those of their distant motherland:

The dispersal of population went on so rapidly in New England that the usual sequence of frontier types was less apparent than later when fur trader, cattle raiser, pioneer farmer, and equipped farmer were more or less distinguishable. All were present, but they succeeded each other so rapidly that only the fur trader was distinguishable. He was in the van as usual, spying out the best lands, reducing the self-sufficiency of the Indians by giving them the tools and vices of the white man, and paving the way for later settlers.

In the immediate path of the settlers were the Mohegan, Pequot, Nipmuck, Podunk and Narragansett tribes, each growing increasingly concerned over the rapid disappearance of their traditional hunting grounds. One of these tribes, the Pequot, were themselves intruders and without any allies in the region. When a series of murders and retaliatory acts exploded into full-scale war between the English colonists and the Pequot, the Mohegan and Narragansett warriors joined with the European colonists in a campaign that resulted in the virtual annihilation of the Pequot population of 500. The European-Americans did not, unfortunately, make a serious attempt to integrate these friendly tribes into their communities or assist them in successfully adapting to the European systems of agriculture or production. Friendly relations between the Europeans and the indigenous people remained friendly only so long as the former's appetite for more land was temporarily satisfied. As the European population continued to increase and spread out across the land, the tribes were left with only two choices: give up their land and way of life, or fight.

War erupted in 1671 between the Wamponoags and the European settlers. When the Europeans retaliated indiscriminately against the Narragansett tribe as well, the conflict escalated into a major uprising involving many tribes. The colonists suffered a number of defeats at the frontier's edge. Nevertheless, the pattern of initial defeats followed by the application of maximum force was established. A large force of over 1,000 attacked and burned the Narragansett villages, destroying their crops and murdering everyone they found (which included only women, children and elders left unprotected by the absent warriors). The Narragansett warriors escaped to join with the Nipmuck tribe to the north, but their lands were now opened for claim by land speculators and resale to settlers. The uprising ended in 1676 after a colonial force captured the village of Peskeompskut and destroyed the tribes' grain fields, leaving them in serious risk of starvation. Most of the tribes retreated northward into the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire; those who remained behind paid a heavy price for failure at the hands of a vengeful English population, as recorded by historian Ray Billington:

[The] war was one of the bloodiest in the history of the frontier. More than six hundred men -- one-sixth of the male population of New England -- were killed, 90,000 pounds expended, and twenty-five towns destroyed. In Maine where fighting went on until 1678, only six villages managed to withstand attack. Little wonder that the colonial authorities treated the remaining Indians with a cold brutality that belied their Christian principles. Those suspected of taking part in the war were slaughtered or sold into slavery, while the remainder were herded onto reservations or bound out to work for white men. In every colony their lands were awarded the soldiers as bounties. The Indian power was broken, assuring the English peace until they pushed into new frontiers.

All along the frontier of the Atlantic coastal region the indigenous tribes were losing ground or disappearing in the face of an advancing European population. Barnard Bailyn estimates that "[b]y the end of the seventeenth century the population [of New England alone] had reached 90,000 to 100,000." Thus, New Englanders represented nearly one-half of the mostly English population in the colonies. A half century later European-Americans in the English colonies represented a more diverse heritage and numbered nearly one million, with 600,000 living in the northern colonies and 400,000 in the southern.