Brothers among Nations: The Pursuit of Intercultural Alliances in Early America, 1580-1660

By Cynthia J. Van Zandt | Go to book overview
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2
Laying the Groundwork for Alliances
Language, Maps, and Intercultural Suspicion

European colonial expeditions were given explicit directions for observing new lands and peoples, and these observations provided information that colonial sponsors believed was crucial to the success of their ventures in distant lands. They were not intended merely to provide a template for colonialism and conquest, although they were unquestionably in the sponsors' self- interest. Attempts to acquire systematic knowledge of new lands, waterways, and trade routes also invariably included efforts to obtain information about new peoples and their alliances and political systems. For Europeans active on the North American eastern seaboard, the pursuit of alliances with native peoples was a widely shared goal for well over a hundred years.1 Many Native Americans shared that goal as they incorporated Europeans into existing kinship and cooperative systems; however, Indian peoples quickly learned that not all Europeans would make trustworthy allies.

The period from 1580 to 1640 was one of crucial intercultural experimentation with collaborative efforts in the region stretching from New England to the Outer Banks of what is now North Carolina. Much of the groundwork for successful cultural interpretation and alliance building was established well before the successful English and Dutch colonies took root in the Chesapeake, Delaware-Hudson, and New England regions. Indeed, Indians and Europeans laid the foundation for some of the most important intercultural relationships before 1640.

This chapter draws on materials from several of the earliest and often ignored European colonial ventures. Most of the colonial expeditions to eastern

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