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HIS 101

Comparative Essay
Spring 2011
Gregory Dipietro

For the American colonists, warfare against the Native Americans was far

different from warfare with their European foes. Many imagine that the Native

Americans were an easily defeated enemy by the more technologically advanced

colonists of Jamestown and other early settlements, but this is simply untrue. The

Natives instilled fear in the settlers, who were struggling to form a successful society. By

the time the colonists went to war with any Europeans, they had already established a

self-sustaining society with a rapidly increasing population, and a belief that their cause

was just and that god was on their side. Aside from these factors, the reasons for war

with the Natives were far different than reasons for war with the Europeans. The main

differences between war with the Natives and war with the Europeans were the

style of fighting, and the socioeconomic factors of the times.

The early settlers in Jamestown faced much peril. A good amount of people

were killed by disease before a remotely functioning society was even close to being

established. A great problem for these colonists was an incentive to work, as loved

ones died of disease and moral dropped, people began to lose hope and it didn’t look

like they were going to survive. Many people prayed they could return to England and

cursed their decision to go overseas to the new world. On top of the struggles that these

people faced everyday, they lived in constant fear of enemy attack1. The Natives did not
William Graebner, Leonard Richards, The American Record: Images of the Nation’s Past, 5th edition(Boston:
Mcgraw Hill, 2006), 48-50
fight in a way that was at all like the traditional fighting style in England. Rather than

battles at an agreed location where soldiers would line up and fire their rifles at each

other, the Natives would come out of nowhere to surprise their enemy. The colonists

saw the Natives as barbarians because of the way they looked and dressed, their

language, and their fighting tactics. This made them an extremely fearful foe to the

settlers who’s numbers were dwindling due to disease and famine let alone enemy

attacks. Also these settlers were not familiar with the land and the natives surely were.

An indentured servant from Jamestown writes home about the perils of everyday life,

and his fear of the Native Americans, “For we live in fear of the enemy every hour, yet

we have had a combat with them on the Sunday before Shrovetide, and we took two

alive and made slaves of them. But it was only policy, for we are in great danger.”2 2

Yet even though the Natives managed to instill fear in a few helpless settlers, the ships

that sailed from Europe could carry far more soldiers than the Natives could defend

against. Where ever the Natives resisted, European intervention was usually swift and

brutal. The Natives would do what they could to make the European enemy fearful, like

cutting the scalp off of the wounded soldiers, but in the end it would be the

overwhelming force of the Europeans that the Natives would have to submit to. These

wars were not fought because of political unrest, these were battles for survival, the

Natives saw the European invaders as people sent from another world to wage war,

and the Europeans saw the Natives as people who had to be exterminated. A Native

leader speaks of his fear of the enemy, with whom they saw no other course of defense

Graebner, Richards, American Record, 49
than war. “‘A thing like a ball of fire comes out its entrails: it comes out shooting sparks

and raining fire. The smoke...has a pestilent odor...This odor penetrates even to the

brain... their spears are iron. Their deer carry them on their backs wherever they wish to


The Natives viewed the Europeans as people who came to wipe them out from another

world, the battle they fought then would be as if we had to fight against aliens who came

from the sky with weapons we had never seen.

Warfare between the colonists and the English was far different. This war began

due to growing political tensions. The English increased taxes and tariffs on the

colonists to help gain revenue after their war. Overtime the lower and middle class

colonists grew tired and upset with these increasing taxes, and once the English

government imposed the Coercive acts, it was only a matter of time before war broke

out. “The men driven from power in 1776 never consented to it and saw no good reason

why they should accept it. The radicals... imposed an obligation on all citizens to uphold

the constitution and then disenfranchised those who refused to support it.”4

Eventually the political acts going back and forth between colonists and the English

gave way to war. War between the Colonists and the English was far more traditional

than battle with the Natives. Battles were held at locations that were usually agreed

upon and rather than all out guerrilla warfare, soldiers of either side lined up and shot

each other until one side retreated.

John M. Murrin, et al. Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People, Compact 5th Edition ( Boston:
Thomson Wadsworth, 2008), 25
Murrin, L, E, P: A History of the American People, 233
When the colonists went to battle with the Europeans, they had already

established a society that was growing in wealth and population, and they had the

supplies needed to wage battle, unlike when they fought the Natives, who had an

extensive advantage in their knowledge of the land. Aside from this main difference the

reasons for war with these two enemies were far different. When colonists fought the

Natives, they did not know what to expect, and were surprised and fearful of their brutal

nature. The Natives, unlike the English, were fighting to survive, as if their world were

about to end (which it did) and as a result they were a more ferocious enemy. The

English came with large numbers, but their technology was not much farther ahead.

When the colonists fought the Natives, they were the underdogs, but they could not

prevail due to such large technological differences, and how little they knew of the

enemy. When the colonists fought the English, they were the underdogs, yet they

managed to prevail because there were virtually no technological differences and they

knew what to expect from the English.