The Spanish conquistadors are generally believed to have treated Native Americans more cruelly than any other nation’s colonists. England’s colonists, however, were equally hostile toward the natives they encountered. The success of England’s colonies depended on the exploitation of Native Americans who were forced off their lands. Religion was often used to justify the poor treatment of the natives. Both England’s economic system and religion led to Native American oppression.
John Rolfe introduced tobacco to the colony of Jamestown, Virginia in 1612. Jamestown’s tobacco growers made a lot of money by trading tobacco with the Europeans. Tobacco, however, tears up the land where it is planted so the colonists began to covet Native American lands. The Powhatan tribe tried to repel the land-grabbing English in 1622 and succeeded in killing a third of the settlement’s inhabitants. The colonists, however, successfully put down Native American uprisings throughout the decade. The Native Americans were forced to give up their lands so the colonists could grow even more tobacco.
In addition to their desire for land, the English also used religion to justify bloodshed. In 1637, New England Puritans exterminated thousands of Pequot Indians, including women and children. Captain John Underhill led the attack. He stated that the Pequot “broke forth into a most doleful cry, so as if God had not fitted the hearts of men for the service, it would have bred in them a commiseration towards them. But every man being bereaved of pity fell upon the work without compassion, considering the blood they had shed of our native Countrymen.” The Pequot had previously killed several English captains so the Puritans claimed God supported their extermination of the Pequot for the killing of Englishmen. Since they were Christians and the Pequot were seen as heathens, the Puritans felt justified in their actions.