Back To CourseIntro to Anthropology: Help and Review
25 chapters | 485 lessons
As Americans, we pride ourselves not only on our common values but also on our ethnic, cultural, and political diversity. When we think of Indians, however, we often forget diversity and instead imagine that all Indians are the same and have been the same throughout time. While different Indian groups possess commonalities with each other, the term 'Indian' describes peoples of tremendous geographic, cultural, linguistic, and political diversity. Moreover, each group of Indians experienced contact with the European settlers differently. In this lesson, we will learn about one of these diverse groups, the Narragansett Indians. We'll explore their way of life and their interaction with other Indians and New England colonists.
When the colonists arrived in New England in the early 17th century, the Narragansett were some of the most powerful Indians in the southeastern New England region. The Narragansett inhabited what is now Rhode Island, and although they numbered in the thousands, they lived in small bands of several hundred people. They were part of the Algonquian-speaking peoples, a linguistically and culturally similar but not united group of Indians in the region including the Pequot, Mohegan, and Wampanoag Indians.
The Narragansett way of life differed greatly from that of the European settlers which, as you can imagine, led to serious misunderstandings and decades of conflict. Colonial men, for example, saw farming as the man's role, while in Narragansett culture the women were responsible for the farming and the men hunted, fished, and made weapons and tools. The settlers established permanent homes and fenced their property, while the Narragansett were mobile and had no concept of either private property or personal ownership of land or goods. Narragansett rulers, called sachems, won loyalty by generous gift giving, whereas leaders in Europe often maintained power through accumulating riches and disseminating fear. Finally, in warfare, the Narragansett sought captives and tribute from their defeated foes, while the European style of warfare aimed to destroy the enemy.
Conflict between the settlers and the Narragansett did not start immediately. Roger Williams, a minister living in Massachusetts in the 1630s, demonstrated how the Narragansett and colonists could live relatively amicably together. Unlike most of his fellow colonists, Williams acknowledged that the Indians occupied the land first and believed the settlers should purchase the land from the Indians rather than just take it. Williams's fellow Massachusetts colonists strongly resented this idea and banished him. The Narragansett provided Williams with refuge and sold him land to create the town of Providence. Unfortunately, the Williams model of Indian relations would not be the norm.
In 1637, the year of the Pequot War, the Narragansett could not have known that the story between the Indians and the colonists would end with the decimation (though not destruction) of Indian peoples. Indeed, no pan-Indian identity yet existed. What the Narragansett did know was that the Pequot Indians were their rivals and they hoped to capture some Pequot to boost their numbers, which had declined with the European diseases the settlers brought with them. In May 1637, the Narragansett and settlers surrounded a Pequot village in the Mystic River Valley in Connecticut, set the village on fire, and shot any Pequot who tried to escape the flames. In the end, about 400 Pequot died, most of whom were women, children, and old men. Rather than acquiring the captives they thought would come from the war, the Narragansett aided the English in massacring the Pequot village.
In 1642, a Narragansett sachem, or leader, named Miantonomi considered the destruction to Indian peoples that resulted from warfare with the settlers. Miantonomi urged an alliance between all the different Indians in the region. Only through unity, Miantonomi argued, could the Indians effectively resist the colonists and preserve their way of life. Unfortunately, the historic differences between the Indians and some Indians' strategic alliances with the settlers meant Miantonomi's ideas never took hold and the Mohegan Indians killed him in 1643.
In the spring of 1675, war broke out again between the Indians led by the Wampanoag sachem, Metacom, or King Philip, and the colonists. After some New England colonists hanged three Wampanoag Indians, the Wampanoag began attacking colonial homes and towns. The colonists, in turn, began killing Indians, including Wampanoag and Narragansett. The warfare was particularly deadly since both sides had learned from each other - the Narragansett and other Indians had acquired the colonists' flintlock musket while the colonists had learned the very effective Indian tactics of guerrilla warfare, which involved setting traps, ambushes, and shooting from concealed hiding spots. The warfare was deadly to both sides, but by the summer of 1676 the Narragansett and other Indians had exhausted their ammunition supplies and surrendered to the colonists. After King Philip's War, the once-powerful Narragansett were significantly reduced in both numbers and status. Indeed, by 1815, the Narragansett numbered in the hundreds. Despite this drastic population loss, the Narragansett survived and continue to exist today.
One of the most powerful Indian groups in the New England region, the Narragansett pursued different strategies in response to the presence of European settlers: they sold land to Roger Williams; they allied with the English during the Pequot War; their sachem, Miantonomi, urged a pan-Indian unity; and they fought against the New Englanders during King Philip's War. These different strategies represented the Narragansett's attempts to make sense of and adapt to their changing way of life. While colonial warfare and disease ultimately diminished the population and power of the Narragansett, the tribe persists to this day.
|People & Events||Explanations|
|Narragansett Indians||some of the most powerful Indians in the southeastern New England region; they inhabited what is now Rhode Island|
|Algonquian-speaking peoples||a linguistically and culturally similar but not united group of Indians in the region that included the Pequot, Mohegan, and Wampanoag Indians|
|Sachems||Narragansett leaders won loyalty by generous gift giving|
|Roger Williams||a minister living in Massachusetts in the 1630s; he demonstrated how the Narragansett and colonists could live relatively amicably together|
|Pequot War||May 1637, the Narragansett and English settlers surrounded a Pequot village in the Mystic River Valley in Connecticut, set the village on fire, and shot any Pequot who tried to escape the flames|
|Miantonomi||Narragansett leader who considered the destruction to Indian peoples that resulted from warfare with the settlers and urged an alliance between all the different Indians in the region|
|King Philip's War||costly war between the Indians of the region and the English; the once-powerful Narragansett were significantly reduced in both numbers and status|
Study the entire lesson in one sitting or explore portions at a time, then find out if you can:
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Already a member? Log InBack
Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.
To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page
Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.
Back To CourseIntro to Anthropology: Help and Review
25 chapters | 485 lessons