Impact of European Arrival The settlement by Europeans in the seventeenth century dramatically altered the military and diplomatic landscape of early America. Within one generation, settler-native wars and diplomatic relations had replaced precontact ways of war and diplomacy. European-Native American wars dominated war making and statecraft in North America for a century. The settler-native wars were primarily local affairs fought without the support of the European states. Especially between the English and native peoples, military strategies became increasingly less formal as Europeans struggled to adapt to native ways of war. Perhaps no factor shaped the seventeenth-century settler-native wars more than the European experience of war. The first European settlers, particularly the English mercenaries who arrived in Virginia and New England, were products of the Wars of Religion. As such, they knew war as all encompassing. For them, there were no distinctions between combatants and noncombatants. Everything, from villages and fields to women and children, was considered a target for military action. While the devastation wrought during the Wars of Religion appalled Europeans and inspired them to moderate and limit war, Europeans in North America made no such transition. While Europe progressed toward the eighteenth century’s “age of limited warfare,” Anglo-American colonists normally looked to exterminate their enemies or, at least, drive them out of the area. Affairs of war and diplomacy between settlers and Native Americans varied.
The relative strength of the settler community vis-à-vis the neighboring native peoples, as well as the colonists’ motivation for coming to North America, influenced the nature of relations. The settlers, priests, and traders of New France and New Spain, because of their small numbers and interest in trade and proselytizing, found themselves largely unwilling to confront Native Americans, other than in cases where they needed to assert their authority. As a result, they generally had positive, or at the least ambivalent, relations with indigenous peoples. The English, with their rapidly increasingly population that voraciously sought to claim native lands and the resources that could be extracted from those lands, had much more contentious and hostile relations with native peoples. Indeed, the uses and need for land were the key factors that governed English-Native American relations. Within the mix of population, interests, ambitions, and attitudes, two series of conflicts wars to establish a settler foothold and wars to expand English settlement beyond the “first frontier” shaped their wars and diplomacy. The major wars fought to establish a European foothold include the wars in Virginia (the Indian War of 1607–1608, the misnamed First Indian War of 1622–1632, the Tidewater War of 1644–1646, and the Susquehannock War of 1675–1676) and New England’s seventeenth-century wars (the Pequot War of 1637–1638 and King Philip’s War of 1675–1676). In these wars, settlers enlisted Native Americans to kill other native peoples.
For example, in the Pequot War, the English turned to the Narragansett to help them extirpate the Pequot. While the unrestrained slaughter that the English perpetrated on the Pequot at the Mystic River Fort supposedly shocked the Narragansett, these English allies didn’t hesitate to enslave the Pequot and expropriate their lands. Throughout the seventeenth century, there was a rush to secure native allies and proxies. As noted, the English focused their diplomatic energies on the Iroquois, while the French in Canada wooed the Iroquois’ traditional enemies, the Huron, Mi’kmaq, Malisett, Abenaki, Shawnee, Delaware, Miami, Ottawa, Pottawatami, and others. During King Philip’s War, the English had forged a diplomatic alliance with the Iroquois known as the Covenant Chain; this alliance proved decisive in both King Philip’s and the Susquehannock wars. Of course, Mohawk warriors were also motivated by economic rewards, such as the bounties that settlers had placed on their enemies’ scalps. Meanwhile, the governor of New France became “Onontio,” or “father,” to the native peoples of the Maritimes and the St. Lawrence River area, the Ohio pays d’en haut, and the Choctaw of the Lower Mississippi Valley. In the 1680s and 1690s, Onontio unleashed his native “children” on the Iroquois of the Covenant Chain. The result was a major diplomatic coup for New France in the Grand Settlement of 1701 that, in effect, left the English without reliable native allies in the Northeast. Of course, neither the English nor the French depended solely on Native Americans to fight their wars. After decades of fighting alongside and against Native Americans, the Europeans, starting with the French, also began to incorporate native forms of warfare in their style of fighting. By the late seventeenth century, France’s regular troops stationed in North America (called the Troupes de la Marine) and the Canadian militia had adopted nativestyle warfare: small-unit operations, skirmishing, and what today we call guerrilla warfare.
The English made similar attempts to learn from both their Native American enemies and allies. In King Philip’s War, some English settlers recognized the difficulties of protecting a porous frontier, as well as the potential impact that destroying the Native American base of supply would have in stopping the guerilla attacks. Captain Benjamin Church of Plymouth therefore formed a company-sized unit of around thirty settlers, supported by native guides. Church’s aim was to take the field and best the native raiders that were then infesting the New England frontier. By the 1720s, British “rangers” could be found wherever and whenever the English and Native Americans came into conflict. In time, the rangers took advantage of the generous bounties on scalps that the British assemblies first had offered to their Native American allies. When combined with their forefathers’ legacy of extirpative war, they created Americans’ first way of war. Built on wide-ranging forays, scalping, and violence directed against enemy noncombatants, this first way of war became the centerpiece of American military culture well into the nineteenth century.