Lethal Encounters: Englishmen and Indians in Colonial Virginia

Lethal Encounters: Englishmen and Indians in Colonial Virginia

Lethal Encounters: Englishmen and Indians in Colonial Virginia

Lethal Encounters: Englishmen and Indians in Colonial Virginia

Synopsis

This in-depth narrative history of the interactions between English settlers and American Indians during the Virginia colony's first century explains why a harmonious coexistence proved impossible.

Britain's first successful settlements in America occurred over 400 years ago. Not surprisingly, the historical accounts of these events have often contained inaccuracies. This compelling study of colonial Virginia is based upon the latest research, shedding new light on the tensions between the English and the American Indians and clarifying the facts about storied relationships.

In Lethal Encounters: Englishmen and Indians in Colonial Virginia, the author examines why the Anglo settlers were unable to establish a peaceful and productive relationship with the region's native inhabitants. Readers will come to understand how the deep prejudices harbored by both whites and Indians, the incompatibility of their economic and social systems, and the leadership failures of protagonists like John Smith, Powhatan, Opechacanough, and William Berkeley caused this breakdown.

Excerpt

In an article on “the genocides of indigenous peoples,” Elazur Barkan writes that in the United States “the notion of genocide, while warranted as much or more than in … other countries, is still confined to radical writers. It is intriguing, indeed, that no mainstream American historians have written about the fate of Native Americans as genocide.” The validity of Barkan’s observation is immediately apparent to anyone who has read their works. The term “genocide” is rarely encountered in narratives of the American experience, even though the term has been in wide use elsewhere ever since the mid 20th century. That omission is striking, as American folk history has long regarded the story of colonization and Western expansion as a story of racial warfare and extermination. Most often, prior to the mid 20th century, the story was told as a morality play wherein vicious savages sought to halt, through indiscriminate violence, the onward march of civilization and Christianity. Killings of Indians were therefore often necessary for the safety of the civilized. That theme, present in the earliest writings of colonists, figured prominently in the apologias for the American Revolution. The Declaration of Independence spoke of the “the merciless Indian savages, whose known rules of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.” Among the crimes charged against George III was his alleged use against his dissident colonists of those practitioners of genocide. However, it was not always the Indian in American memory who was the initial perpetrator of mass killing. A quip of uncertain origin that made the rounds of the lecture circuit from the 19th century onward held that when the settlers (most often represented as Pilgrims but sometimes as Scotch-Irish) arrived at these shores, they first fell on their knees, then fell on the Indians. Despite its obvious element of exaggeration, that quip contained historical memories history textbooks seldom, if ever, reflected.

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