Colonials’ Genocide and Slavery in the Americas

Spanish missionary Junipero Serra, native of P...

Spanish missionary Junipero Serra, native of Petra (Majorca), founder of California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

History 17A – United States History (Spring 2007)

Colonials’ Genocide and Slavery in the Americas

[ Students and professors, please read. ]

1. What religious and cultural precepts justified the killing of Native Americans and the destruction of their cultures?

This is a similar question to “How did the Spanish justify their actions in the Caribbean?” in chapter three, and so you can also refer to my answer there.  However, chapter four gave more input.

A.  The English were conditioned into the mindset they brought to the Americas:

From page 99 – “the British frequently justified their treatment of the Irish by referring to the Spanish precedent for dealing with unruly natives.” … “English experience with one wild race [Maryann:  the Irish] conditioned their expectation of experience with another [Maryann:  the native Americans],” (104, Howard Mumford Jones).

The English did not fight fair, as the Indians learned too late.  Francis Jenning’s words from page 116 – “‘that the Englishmen’s most solemn pledge would be broken whenever obligation conflicted with advantage; that the English way of war had no limit of scruple or mercy … These lessons the Indians took to heart.’”  Regarding the treaty that preceded the Trail of Tears, “‘the conduct of the United States Americans toward the natives was inspired by the most chaste affection for legal formalities. . . . It is impossible to destroy men with more respect to the laws of humanity,’” (123, Alexis de Tocqueville, speaking sarcastically).

B.  Like the Spanish, the English thought it was their right:

“the point was to seize upon the ‘right of Warre [and] invade the Country and destroy them who sought to destroy us,’ wrote a rejoicing Edward Waterhouse at the time, ‘whereby wee shall enjoy their cultivated places . . . [and] their cleared grounds in all their villages (which are situated in the fruitfullest places of the land) shall be inhabited by us,’” (106).

L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz: “The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians.  Why not annihilation?  Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they should die than live the miserable wretches that they are,” (126)… “we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up . . . . and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth,” (127).  This reminds me of the way some talk these days of killing terrorists.  On the same note —

C.  Like the Spanish, the English thought of the natives as savages:

Our very own first president George Washington: “the Indians…were very little different from wolves, ‘both being beasts of prey, tho’ they differ in shape,’” (119).  And Andrew Jackson (after his presidency) concurs:  “complete their extermination: to do otherwise, he wrote, was equivalent to pursuing ‘a wolf in the hammocks without knowing first where her den and whelps were,’” (122).

D.  Like the Spanish, the English thought they had God’s blessing:

“‘for the natives, they are near all dead of the smallpox, so the Lord hath cleared our title to what we possess,’” (109, the first governor of the Mass. Bay Colony).  On pages 113-114, the English apparently viewed the massacre of the Pequots as judgment from God.  This reminds me of the mindset of Islamic terrorists.

E.  The reality of conflict with the Indians, due to the Indians being “forced to poach on white-owned livestock” because they were forced out of their homes by slave-catchers, justified extermination to some whites.

Governor Peter Burnett of California – “after being robbed a few times he becomes desperate, and resolves upon a war of extermination,” (144).

4. To what extent was the social and economic life of colonialists dependent upon the exploitation of slave labor?

The most striking thing I noticed while reading chapter four is that the only options of how to handle the native American “problem” were genocide and enslavement.  One other time the option of civilization is presented, met with the horrific response of “EXTERMINATE THEM!  EXTERMINATE THEM!”  To me this is very telling of the general mindset of the times, and reminds me of the illegal immigration “problem” of today and the civilians who line up at the borders to enforce immigration laws.  I think it strange when I hear that the strongest argument against a stronger border is that these illegal immigrants do the dirty work we Americans won’t do, for a price we wouldn’t accept (forget the fact that they are fleeing terrible living conditions).  To me, that sounds like the “enslavement” option, as opposed to mass deportation or citizenship or (ironically, on a different level) granting immunity (perhaps back then the solution would have been genocide).  I do not recall reading a lot about the extent to which the colonialists depended upon slave labor in chapter four, however I noted the mention of slave labor in California, and how quickly it decreased the Indian population is telling of how dependent the west was on slave labor.

I live on Fort Hunter-Liggett, and it is quite depressing to learn that Junipero Serra was so frightening.  I have visited Mission San Antonio numerous times and never knew the dark ugliness of its history until reading “American Holocaust”.  The El Camino Real, highway 101, lined with those bells, was blazed by Junipero Serra, and I used to think that driving on “The King’s Highway” was so cool because of its history – until I read chapter four.  Did Junipero Serra do nothing positive for the native Americans?  Wouldn’t more Indians have died if they were not given food and shelter (in return for their labor) on the missions?  Were they truly forced to be there?  How sad.  I discussed a little bit of this with my mother, a third grade teacher who takes her students to a mission every year.  She confirmed that the Indians were worked like slaves, and mentioned to me that a lot of Indians died of disease, and that the people who ran the missions lived on almost nothing as well.

On page 144 it is mentioned that Indian parents were killed so that their children could be enslaved under false pretenses that they were orphans.  In including the quote Stannard provides, he seems to put a slant on it that the law sanctioned this murder and kidnapping, but the law clearly forbade it.  His point, however was that the law was easily worked around, and the ones implementing the law (the justices of the peace) either knew it and looked the other way, or were easily fooled.

Stannard said the reason for this law was to address the issue of the shortage of Indian labor, not for the protection of the Indians, protection needed as a result of this shortage.  I’m not sure either way, but the title of the act was “Act for the Government and Protection of Indians.”  To me this suggests that the more civilized (those who, at worst, used Indians for forced labor) in our government were at odds with the least civilized (those who went beyond forced labor and severely mistreated the Indians).

In any case, also on page 144, it is mentioned that “ten thousand of the rapidly dwindling numbers of Indians had been put to forced labor legally, under the provisions of the 1850 and 1860 laws.”  The extermination policy mentioned at the end of the answer to question 1 above, “‘proved so injurious to the interests of whites.’ … because the Indians’ ‘labor, once very useful, and, in fact indispensable in a country where no other species of laborers were to be obtained at any price, and which might now be rendered of immense value by pursuing a judicious policy, has been utterly sacrificed by this extensive system of indiscriminate revenge,’” (145).  Said Diego de Roble Cornejo, “If the natives cease, the land is finished.  I mean its wealth:  for all the gold and silver that comes to Spain is extracted by means of these Indians,” (145-146).

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