The First Americans

  By Hope, 2006; Revised
  Category: North America

In this booklet, I have written articles about the Eastern American woodlands in the period 1755 to 1815. Why these years? Why not earlier, or later? The reason is mainly because it is a huge field of topics, so to get it short and simple I chose this period. Also because this was the time of American liberation; the time when America changed from being a colony to being a supreme nation. Besides the historical limits, I also have only included a small geographical area. This area stretches from the Canadian border to Mississippi River in the north and east, and the state of Kentucky in south. That is why tribes like Cherokee, Creek and Choctaw are not elaborated, and the famous Davy Crockett has not been included. This is only because of practical reasons, or else I would not have been finished in time. Additionally, I haven’t touched upon aspects like religion, culture and social differences. I decided to only speak of war and the reasons why.

So who were the woodland Indians? The term woodland Indians is perhaps the most unspecific phrase to use when speaking about the nations of Eastern America. These tribes were divided into different linguistic groups, and further divided into nations. The two most notable of these are the Algonquians and the Iroquois.

The Iroquois

The Iroquois was one of the two linguistic groups of the north east woodlands. Five Iroquois tribes forged a league in order to maintain peace, but also to join forces against a would-be enemy. The five nations who established the league were the Seneca, Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga and Oneida. Later, in 1720, the North Carolina nation Tuscarora had troubles with the European settlers and therefore escaped north and joined the League of Five Nations. Yet, they were never fully accepted among the other nations of the League. This confederation was very successful. Though the five beginning tribes were small tribes, they ended up being the leading military power of the woodlands. Of course there were also other Iroquois speaking tribes, but they stood outside the League.

The Iroquois were powerful nations, mainly because they managed to maintain internal peace, and fought both the French and the Algonquians. The Iroquois were allied to the British, but they considered themselves as independent. However, that was not the view of the British crown. The name Iroquois is a French invention, and comes from the Huron word for Black Snakes. The Hurons – also called Wyandots – were allies of the French. Black Snakes is actually an insult, because the Iroquois were bitter enemies of the Hurons. The Iroquois call themselves Haudenosaunee.

The Algonquians

The Algonquians are perhaps the most widespread and largest linguistic group in the Native Americans – still today. They stretch from the Great Plains to the Eastern Coast. Tribes such as Cheyenne, Shawnees, Micmac are separated geographically, but not linguistically. Because of the great variety among the different tribes, it is difficult to write a summary of the Algonquians. Most Indian words we use today come from the Algonquin language, such as moccasin, raccoon, skunk and of course tomahawk. The name Chigaco also comes from Algonquin and means “skunk cabbage”.

The Algonquians were allied with the French from 1603 and onwards. They were also bitter enemies of the Iroquois because of the fur trade. They signed many treaties with the whites, but were betrayed more than often.