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Race in Colonial New England

The "Noble Savage" Did Not Disappear

Despite the devastating consequences of their defeat in savage conflicts such as King Philip's War (1675-6) and the rapid depletion of their numbers from European diseases, the Indians of New England never did simply "disappear" or "die out" as so many white settlers expected. Believing themselves specially selected by God to embark upon the mission of practicing His true faith in the New World, Puritans believed that the timely epidemics which plagued the Indians upon (or shortly before) their arrival were in fact holy signs that God had reserved this land for them.

Reeling from disease-induced demographic catastrophe, most Indians in the Massachusetts region recognized the futility of armed combat after 1676, and for the next century they waged what historian Colin G. Calloway has called "wars of quiet survival" to cope with an ever-expanding white population that encroached upon their lands and resources. Many Indians adopted some aspects of English language and culture while still fighting for their lands and rights in colonial courts and legislatures. They found little success there, and without their traditional hunting grounds or means of survival, a great many were reduced to begging or peddling. Some went on whaling voyages (an entirely foreign endeavor for them), worked as servants in white homes, or married men from other races. (Several Native American women accepted offers of marriage from black neighbors, especially in the absence of Indian men who had gone away to find work or who were killed in warfare or by disease).

The tribes that did survive retained a core of custom, belief, and identity, even if they needed to incorporate new ways of life and even new people into their communities in order to adapt and survive.

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