How does society fill jobs that no one wants to do? One choice is that you can pay workers in these positions extremely well, making these hard jobs desirable. That is expensive, making it hard or impossible to turn a profit. The other option is to coerce people into performing that labor – through financial, legal, or violent means… In which way did landowners in colonial America solve this dilemma?
What was indentured servitude? What kind of rules governed the lives of servants?
Briefly describe the transatlantic slave trade.
Identify two ways in which slavery was different from indentured servitude.
How did slaves resist their masters?
What was Bacon’s Rebellion?
Indentured servitude was a system by which immigrants, typically young Europeans under 25, both men and women, came to the English colonies.
Farmers, merchants, and shopkeepers in the British colonies found it very difficult to hire free workers, primarily because it was easy for potential workers to set up their own farms by moving to frontier lands. Consequently, a common solution was to transport a young worker from Britain or a German state, who would work for several years to pay off the debt of their travel costs. During the indenture period the servants were not paid cash wages, but were provided with food, accommodation, clothing and training. The indenture document specified how many years the servant would be required to work, after which they would be free. Terms of indenture ranged from one to seven years with typical terms of four or five years.
Servants could not marry without the permission of their owner, were subject to physical punishment (like many young ordinary servants), and saw their obligation to labor enforced by the courts. To ensure uninterrupted work by the female servants, the law lengthened the term of their indenture if they became pregnant. But unlike slaves, servants were guaranteed to be eventually released from bondage. At the end of their term they received a payment known as “freedom dues” (typically a small parcel of land or a new suit of clothes) and become free members of society. One could buy and sell indentured servants’ contracts, and the right to their labor would change hands, but not the person as a piece of property.
Both male and female laborers could be subject to violence, occasionally even resulting in death. Historian Richard Hofstadter notes that, as slaves arrived in greater numbers after 1700, white laborers in Virginia became a “privileged stratum, assigned to lighter work and more skilled tasks.” He also notes that “Runaways were regularly advertised in the newspapers, rewards were offered, and both sheriffs and the general public were enlisted to secure their return. … The standard penalty in the North, not always rigorously enforced, was extra service of twice the time the master had lost, though whipping was also common.”
Transatlantic Slave Trade
The transatlantic slave trade was the forced transportation of enslaved African people, mainly to the Americas. The slave trade regularly used the triangular trade route and its Middle Passage, and existed from the 16th to the 19th centuries. The vast majority of those who were enslaved and transported in the transatlantic slave trade were Africans from central and western Africa, who had been sold by other West Africans to Western European slave traders (with a small number being captured directly by the slave traders in coastal raids), who brought them to the Americas. South Atlantic and Caribbean economies especially were dependent on the supply of secure labor for the production of commodity crops such as tobacco, sugar, and cotton to sell elsewhere in the colonies and in Europe.
The duration of the transatlantic voyage varied widely, from one to six months depending on weather conditions. The journey became more efficient over the centuries; while an average transatlantic journey of the early 16th century lasted several months, by the 19th century the crossing often required fewer than six weeks.
It is believed that African kings, warlords and private kidnappers sold captives to Europeans who held several coastal forts. The captives were usually force-marched to these ports along the western coast of Africa, where they were held for sale to the European or American slave traders. Typical slave ships contained several hundred slaves with about 30 crew members.
The male captives were normally chained together in pairs to save space; right leg to the next man’s left leg — while the women and children may have had somewhat more room. At best, captives were fed beans, corn, yams, rice, and palm oil. Slaves were typically fed one meal a day with water, if at all.
Slaves lived below the decks in conditions of squalor and indescribable horror. Disease spread and ill health was one of the biggest killers. Mortality rates were high, and death made conditions even worse. Many crew members avoided going into the hold because of the smell, the sights, and the sounds below deck. Even though the corpses were thrown overboard, living slaves might be shackled for hours and sometimes days to someone who was dead.
Current estimates are that about 12 million Africans were shipped across the Atlantic, although the number purchased by the traders was considerably higher, as the passage had a high death rate. Disease and starvation due to the length of the passage were the main contributors to the death toll, as diseases spread rapidly in the close-quarter compartments of the slave ships.
As a way to counteract disease, slaves were forced onto the deck of the ship for exercise. This frequently resulted in beatings from the crew because the slaves would be unwilling to dance for them or interact. These beatings would often be severe and could result in the slave dying or becoming more susceptible to diseases.
Slaves resisted in many ways. The two most common types of resistance were refusal to eat and suicide. Suicide was a frequent occurrence, often by refusal of food or medicine or jumping overboard, as well as by a variety of other opportunistic means.
Ottobah Cugoano, who was taken from Africa as a slave when he was a child, later wrote a book of his life and in it described an uprising aboard the ship on which he was transported to the West Indies:
“When we found ourselves at last taken away, death was more preferable than life, and a plan was concerted amongst us, that we might burn and blow up the ship, and to perish all together in the flames.”
Slave ships were designed and operated to prevent the slaves from revolting. Resistance among slaves usually ended in failure and participants in a rebellion were punished severely. Despite this, about one out of ten ships experienced some sort of rebellion.
The first Africans to be brought to British North America landed in Virginia in 1619. They arrived on a Dutch ship that had captured them from the Spanish. These approximately 20 individuals appear to have been treated as indentured servants, and a significant number of enslaved Africans earned freedom by fulfilling a work contract or for converting to Christianity. Like European indentured servants at the completion of their contract, many of these first African Americans were each granted 50 acres (200,000 m2) of land when freed from their indentures, so they could raise their own tobacco or other crops.
By 1650, there were about 300 Africans living in Virginia, about 1% of an estimated 30,000 population of people of English and European ancestry. Some successful free people of color, such as Anthony Johnson, in turn acquired slaves or indentured servants for workers. Some historians say this evidence suggests that racial attitudes were much more flexible in 17th-century Virginia than they would later become.
From this early start, American slavery was born. Slavery was an institution that lasted for more than three hundred years under which African Americans could expect to be held for life as the property of their masters. This system evolved over time, gradually becoming more strict and regulated. It also varied from owner to owner – some masters may have been more gentle or cruel than others, more generous or stingy with food, etc… But at the end of the day, an enslaved person was regarded by the law as little more than a piece of livestock – property that was totally at the mercy, or lack thereof, of their master.
In the 1660s, the colonial legislature adopted a law stating that all children born in the colony would take the status of their mothers, regardless of who their father was. Thus children born to enslaved mothers would be enslaved, regardless of their ethnicity or paternity. This was contrary to English common law for children of parents who are both English subjects, in which the child takes status from the father. But the law also meant that mixed-race children born to white women were born free, and many families of free African Americans were descended from unions between white women and ethnic African men during the colonial era.
Slavery became a racial caste – a status determined at birth, for life.
During the early 17th century, Virginia planters developed the commodity crop of tobacco as their chief export. It was a labor-intensive crop, and demand for it in England and Europe led to an increase in the importation of African slaves in the colony. By the mid-eighteenth century, there were 145,000 slaves in the Chesapeake Bay region, spread mostly on large plantations, as compared to 50,000 in the Spanish colony of Cuba, where they worked in urbanized settlements.
The treatment of slaves in the varied by time and place, but was generally nothing that you would wish to experience – slavery was brutal and degrading. Slaves were punished by whipping, shackling, beating, mutilation, branding and/or imprisonment. Punishment was most often meted out in response to disobedience or perceived infractions, but masters or overseers sometimes abused slaves to assert dominance.
An 1850 publication provided slaveholders with guidance on how to produce the “ideal slave:”
Maintain strict discipline and unconditional submission.
Create a sense of personal inferiority, so that slaves “know their place.”
Teach servants to take interest in their master’s enterprise.
Deprive access to education and recreation, to ensure that slaves remain uneducated, helpless, and dependent.
Under slavery, planters and other slaveholders owned, controlled and sold entire families of slaves. The slave population increased in the southern United States as native-born slaves produced large families. Slaves were at a continual risk of losing family members if their owners decided to sell them for profit, punishment or to pay debts. Slaveholders also made gifts of slaves to grown children (or other family members), such as on the occasion of their marriage. Masters considered slave children ready to work and leave home as young as age 12 or 14.
A few slaves retaliated by murdering their owners and overseers, burning barns, and killing horses. These acts were rare, however, given the strong, harsh reactions from neighboring whites who worried that any act of defiance might lead to a full-scale slave rebellion. Work slowdowns were probably the most frequent form of resistance and hard to control – slaves deliberately worked at a pace fast enough not to get in trouble, but no faster.
Bacon’s Rebellion was an armed rebellion in 1676 by Virginia settlers led by Nathaniel Bacon against the rule of Royal Governor William Berkeley. The governor’s dismissive policy with regard to land on its western frontier, along with other challenges including leaving Bacon out of his inner circle, refusing to allow Bacon to be a part of his fur trade with the Native Americans, and a lack of colonial response to Doeg American Indian attacks, helped to motivate a popular uprising against Berkeley, who had failed to address the demands of the colonists regarding their safety.
A thousand Virginians of all classes and races rose up in arms against Berkeley, attacking Indians, chasing Berkeley from Jamestown, Virginia, and ultimately torching the capital. The rebellion was first suppressed by a few armed merchant ships from London whose captains sided with Berkeley and the loyalists. Government forces from England arrived soon after and spent several years defeating pockets of resistance and reforming the colonial government to be once more under direct royal control.
It was the first rebellion in the American colonies in which discontented frontiersmen took part. The alliance between indentured servants and Africans (most enslaved until death or freed), united by their bond-servitude, disturbed the ruling class, who responded by hardening the racial caste of slavery in an attempt to divide the two races from subsequent united uprisings with the passage of the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705. While the farmers did not succeed in their initial goal of driving the Indians from Virginia, the rebellion did result in Berkeley being recalled to England.
For what reasons were emigrants leaving Europe? Why was North America an attractive destination?
Compare and contrast corporate colonies, proprietary colonies, and royal colonies.
What was the triangular trade? How did it link three continents? What different roles did the New England and Southern Colonies play in this trade?
How did the Quakers differ from those who lived in other regions of North America?
Describe the economic divisions that shaped the Southern Colonies.
The early 1600s saw the beginning of a great tide of emigration from Europe to North America. Spanning more than three centuries, this movement grew from a trickle of a few hundred English colonists to a flood of millions of newcomers. Impelled by powerful and diverse motivations, they built a new civilization on the northern part of the continent.
The first English immigrants to what is now the United States crossed the Atlantic long after thriving Spanish colonies had been established in Mexico, the West Indies, and South America. Like all early travelers to the New World, they came in small, overcrowded ships. During their six-to 12-week voyages, they lived on meager rations. Many died of disease, ships were often battered by storms, and some were lost at sea.
Most European emigrants left their homelands to escape political oppression, to seek the freedom to practice their religion, or to find opportunities denied them at home. Between 1620 and 1635, economic difficulties swept England. Many people could not find work. Even skilled artisans could earn little more than a bare living. Poor crop yields added to the distress. In addition, the Commercial Revolution had created a burgeoning textile industry, which demanded an ever-increasing supply of wool to keep the looms running. Landlords enclosed farmlands and evicted the peasants in favor of sheep cultivation. Colonial expansion became an outlet for this displaced peasant population.
The colonists’ first glimpse of the new land was a vista of dense woods. The settlers might not have survived had it not been for the help of friendly Indians, who taught them how to grow native plants—pumpkin, squash, beans, and corn. In addition, the vast, virgin forests, extending nearly 2,100 kilometers along the Eastern seaboard, proved a rich source of game and firewood. They also provided abundant raw materials used to build houses, furniture, ships, and profitable items for export.
Although the new continent was remarkably endowed by nature, trade with Europe was vital for articles the settlers could not produce. The coast served the immigrants well. The whole length of shore provided many inlets and harbors. Only two areas—North Carolina and southern New Jersey—lacked harbors for ocean-going vessels.
Majestic rivers—the Kennebec, Hudson, Delaware, Susquehanna, Potomac, and numerous others—linked lands between the coast and the Appalachian Mountains with the sea. Only one river, however, the St. Lawrence—dominated by the French in Canada—offered a water passage to the Great Lakes and the heart of the continent. Dense forests, the resistance of some Indian tribes, and the formidable barrier of the Appalachian Mountains discouraged settlement beyond the coastal plain. Only trappers and traders ventured into the wilderness. For the first hundred years the colonists built their settlements compactly along the coast.
Political considerations influenced many people to move to America. In the 1630s, arbitrary rule by England’s Charles I gave impetus to the migration. The subsequent revolt and triumph of Charles’ opponents under Oliver Cromwell in the 1640s led many cavaliers—“king’s men”—to cast their lot in Virginia. In the German-speaking regions of Europe, the oppressive policies of various petty princes—particularly with regard to religion—and the devastation caused by a long series of wars helped swell the movement to America in the late 17th and 18th centuries.
The journey entailed careful planning and management, as well as considerable expense and risk. Settlers had to be transported nearly 5,000 kilometers across the sea. They needed utensils, clothing, seed, tools, building materials, livestock, arms, and ammunition.
English colonies were organized in three different ways. In one plan, corporate colonies were established by joint stock companies. A joint stock company was a project in which people would invest shares of stock into building a new colony. Depending on the success of the colony, each investor would receive profit based on the shares he had bought. This investment was less risky than starting a colony from scratch, and each investor influenced how the colony was run. These investors often elected their own public officials. (An example of a joint stock company on another continent was the British East India Company.) Virginia was settled in this way.
Proprietary colonies were owned by a person or family who made laws and appointed officials as he or they pleased. Development was often a direct result of this ownership. Charles II granted William Penn the territory now known as Pennsylvania. Penn’s new colony gave refuge to Quakers, a group of millennial Protestants who opposed the Church of England. (Quakers did not have ministers and did not hold to civil or religious inequality, making them a dangerous element in hierarchical societies.) Penn was an outspoken Quaker and had written many pamphlets defending the Quaker faith. He also invited settlers from other countries and other Protestant minorities, and even some Catholics.
Finally, royal colonies were under the direct control of the King, who appointed a Royal Governor. The resulting settlement was not always identical to England. For example, England had broken with Catholicism during the reign of Henry the Eighth, and the Old Faith was seen not only as religious heresy but the prelude to domination by other countries. Yet Maryland’s grant of toleration of Catholics was granted as a boon from the British Crown. In 1634, Lord Baltimore appointed George Calvert of England to settle a narrow strip of land north of Virginia and south of Pennsylvania as a Catholic colony via a royal charter. Fifteen years later, in 1649, he signed the Act of Toleration, which proclaimed religious freedom for its colonists.
Portrait of the British Colonies
The Colonies are often considered as three groups: New England (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut), the Southern Colonies (Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia), and the Middle Colonies (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware). Sometimes the Carolinas and Georgia are counted as separate from the Chesapeake Colonies.
Most settlers who came to America in the 17th century were English, but there were also Dutch, Swedes, and Germans in the middle region, a few French Huguenots in South Carolina and elsewhere, slaves from Africa, primarily in the South, and a scattering of Spaniards, Italians, and Portuguese throughout the colonies. After 1680 England ceased to be the chief source of immigration, supplanted by Scots and “Scots-Irish” (Protestants from Northern Ireland). In addition, tens of thousands of refugees fled northwestern Europe to escape war, oppression, and absentee-landlordism. By 1690 the American population had risen to a quarter of a million. From then on, it doubled every 25 years until, in 1775, it numbered more than 2.5 million. Although families occasionally moved from one colony to another, distinctions between individual colonies were marked. They were even more so among the three regional groupings of colonies.
The New England Colonies
The northeastern New England colonies had generally thin, stony soil, relatively little level land, and long winters, making it difficult to make a living from farming. Turning to other pursuits, the New Englanders harnessed waterpower and established grain mills and sawmills. Good stands of timber encouraged shipbuilding. Excellent harbors promoted trade, and the sea became a source of great wealth. In Massachusetts, the cod industry alone quickly furnished a basis for prosperity.
With the bulk of the early settlers living in villages and towns around the harbors, many New Englanders carried on some kind of trade or business. Common pastureland and woodlots served the needs of townspeople, who worked small farms nearby. Compactness made possible the village school, the village church, and the village or town hall, where citizens met to discuss matters of common interest.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony continued to expand its commerce. From the middle of the 17th century onward it grew prosperous, so that Boston became one of America’s greatest ports.
Oak timber for ships’ hulls, tall pines for spars and masts, and pitch for the seams of ships came from the Northeastern forests. Building their own vessels and sailing them to ports all over the world, the shipmasters of Massachusetts Bay laid the foundation for a trade that was to grow steadily in importance. By the end of the colonial period, one-third of all vessels under the British flag were built in New England. Fish, ship’s stores, and woodenware swelled the exports. New England merchants and shippers soon discovered that rum and slaves were profitable commodities. One of their most enterprising—if unsavory—trading practices of the time was the “triangular trade.” Traders would purchase slaves off the coast of Africa for New England rum, then sell the slaves in the West Indies where they would buy molasses to bring home for sale to the local rum producers.
The Middle Colonies
Society in the middle colonies was far more varied, cosmopolitan, and tolerant than in New England. Under William Penn, Pennsylvania functioned smoothly and grew rapidly. By 1685, its population was almost 9,000. The heart of the colony was Philadelphia, a city of broad, tree-shaded streets, substantial brick and stone houses, and busy docks. By the end of the colonial period, nearly a century later, 30,000 people lived there, representing many languages, creeds, and trades. Their talent for successful business enterprise made the city one of the thriving centers of the British Empire.
William Penn founded Pennsylvania in large part as a refuge for Quakers. Quakers (or Friends) were a Christian group formally known as the Religious Society of Friends. Members of the various Quaker movements are all generally united in a belief that there is God in every one.
This idea challenged and threatened the Puritan leaders of New England whose authority was based on their status in the Church.
The persecution of Quakers in North America began in 1656 when English Quaker missionaries Mary Fisher and Ann Austin began preaching in Boston. They were considered heretics because of their insistence on individual obedience to the Inner light. They were imprisoned and banished by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1660, English Quaker Mary Dyer was hanged on Boston Common for repeatedly defying a Puritan law banning Quakers from the colony. Their books were burned, and most of their property was confiscated. They were imprisoned in terrible conditions, then deported.
Penn first called the area “New Wales,” then “Sylvania” (Latin for “forests” or “woods”), which King Charles II changed to “Pennsylvania.” On March 4, 1681, the King signed the charter and the following day Penn jubilantly wrote, “It is a clear and just thing, and my God who has given it me through many difficulties, will, I believe, bless and make it the seed of a nation.” Penn then traveled to America and while there, he negotiated Pennsylvania’s first land-purchase with the Lenape Indian tribe. Penn drafted a charter of liberties for the settlement creating a political utopia guaranteeing free and fair trial by jury, freedom of religion, freedom from unjust imprisonment and free elections.
Though the Quakers dominated in Philadelphia, elsewhere in Pennsylvania other groups were well represented. Germans became the colony’s most skillful farmers. Important, too, were cottage industries such as weaving, shoemaking, cabinetmaking, and other crafts. Pennsylvania was also the principal gateway into the New World for the Scots-Irish, who moved into the colony in the early 18th century. “Bold and indigent strangers,” as one Pennsylvania official called them, they hated the English and were suspicious of all government. The Scots-Irish tended to settle in the backcountry, where they cleared land and lived by hunting and subsistence farming.
New York best illustrated the polyglot nature of America. By 1646 the population along the Hudson River included Dutch, French, Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, English, Scots, Irish, Germans, Poles, Bohemians, Portuguese, and Italians. The Dutch continued to exercise an important social and economic influence on the New York region long after the fall of New Netherland and their integration into the British colonial system. Their sharp‑stepped gable roofs became a permanent part of the city’s architecture, and their merchants gave Manhattan much of its original bustling, commercial atmosphere.
The Southern Colonies
In contrast to New England and the middle colonies, the Southern colonies were predominantly rural settlements.
By the late 17th century, Virginia’s and Maryland’s economic and social structure rested on the great planters and the yeoman farmers. The planters of the Tidewater region, supported by slave labor, held most of the political power and the best land. They built great houses, adopted an aristocratic way of life, and kept in touch as best they could with the world of culture overseas.
The yeoman farmers, who worked smaller tracts, sat in popular assemblies and found their way into political office. Their outspoken independence was a constant warning to the oligarchy of planters not to encroach too far upon the rights of free men.
The settlers of the Carolinas quickly learned to combine agriculture and commerce, and the marketplace became a major source of prosperity. Dense forests brought revenue: Lumber, tar, and resin from the longleaf pine provided some of the best shipbuilding materials in the world. Not bound to a single crop as was Virginia, North and South Carolina also produced and exported rice and indigo, a blue dye obtained from native plants that was used in coloring fabric. By 1750 more than 100,000 people lived in the two colonies of North and South Carolina. Charleston, South Carolina, was the region’s leading port and trading center.
In the southernmost colonies, as everywhere else, population growth in the backcountry had special significance. German immigrants and Scots-Irish, unwilling to live in the original Tidewater settlements where English influence was strong, pushed inland. Those who could not secure fertile land along the coast, or who had exhausted the lands they held, found the hills farther west a bountiful refuge. Although their hardships were enormous, restless settlers kept coming; by the 1730s they were pouring into the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Soon the interior was dotted with farms.
Living on the edge of Native-American country, frontier families built cabins, cleared the wilderness, and cultivated maize and wheat. The men wore leather made from the skin of deer or sheep, known as buckskin; the women wore garments of cloth they spun at home. Their food consisted of venison, wild turkey, and fish. They had their own amusements—great barbecues, dances, housewarmings for newly married couples, shooting matches, and contests for making quilted blankets. Quilt-making remains an American tradition today.
The United States: An Open Ended History is a free online history textbook adapted and expanded upon from open sources. Its chapters are designed to address most state standards, splitting the difference between overarching themes, concise summary, and the kinds of vivid, personal details that make history memorable to the average student. Please use and share freely – to supplement or replace what you have at hand.
One – A Not So-Distant Past: Native America (Until 1600)
Imagine that you have come around the world to found a proverbial city upon a hill – a model of Christian living which you intend as an example for the world. What happens when the experiment spins out of control?
What was the Mayflower Compact? Without such a document, what might have happened in Plymouth?
Who was Squanto? In what ways was he able to help the Pilgrims during their early days in Massachusetts?
What did John Winthrop mean when he said he wanted Massachusetts to be “a city upon a hill?”
How did the people of Massachusetts deal with those citizens whose ideas diverged from those of the leadership?
What happened during King Phillip’s War?
The Plymouth Colony
During the religious upheavals of the 16th century, a body of men and women called Puritans sought to reform the Established Church of England from within. Essentially, they demanded that the rituals and structures associated with Roman Catholicism be replaced by simpler Calvinist Protestant forms of faith and worship. Their reformist ideas, by destroying the unity of the state church, threatened to divide the people and to undermine royal authority.
In 1607 a small group of Separatists—a radical sect of Puritans who did not believe the Established Church could ever be reformed—departed for Leyden, Holland, where the Dutch granted them asylum. However, the Calvinist Dutch restricted them mainly to low-paid laboring jobs. Some members of the congregation grew dissatisfied with this discrimination and resolved to emigrate to the New World.
In 1620, a group of Leyden Puritans secured a land patent from the Virginia Company. Numbering 101, they set out for Virginia on the Mayflower. A storm sent them far north and they landed in New England on Cape Cod. Believing themselves outside the jurisdiction of any organized government, the men drafted a formal agreement to abide by “just and equal laws” drafted by leaders of their own choosing. This was the Mayflower Compact.
In December the Mayflower reached Plymouth harbor; the Pilgrims began to build their settlement during the winter. Nearly half the colonists died of exposure and disease, but come spring, neighboring Wampanoag Indians provided the information that would sustain them: how to grow maize.
Some European expedition captains were known to increase profits by capturing natives to sell as slaves. Such was the case when Thomas Hunt kidnapped several Wampanoag in 1614 in order to sell them later in Spain. One of Hunt’s captives was a Patuxet named Tisquantum. Tisquantum eventually came to be known as Squanto (a nickname given to him by his friend William Bradford). After Squanto regained his freedom, he was able to work his way to England where he lived for several years, working with a shipbuilder.
He signed on as an interpreter for a British expedition to Newfoundland. From there Squanto went back to his home, only to discover that, in his absence, epidemics had killed everyone in his village. Squanto was the last of the Patuxet.
When the Mayflower landed in 1620, Squanto worked to broker peaceable relations between the Pilgrims and the local Pokanokets (a subgroup within the Wampanoag’s orbit). He played a key role in the early meetings in March 1621, partly because he spoke English. He then lived with the Pilgrims for 20 months, acting as a translator, guide, and adviser. He introduced the settlers to the fur trade, and taught them how to sow and fertilize native crops, which proved vital since the seeds which the Pilgrims had brought from England largely failed. Whatever his motivations, with great kindness and patience, Squanto taught the English the skills they needed to survive, including how best to cultivate varieties of the Three Sisters: beans, maize and squash.
In the fall of 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag shared an autumn harvest feast. This feast was a celebration of the first successful harvest season of the colonists. This three-day celebration involving the entire village and about 90 Wampanoag has been celebrated as a symbol of cooperation and interaction between English colonists and Native Americans. The event later inspired 19th century Americans to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday in the United States. The harvest celebration took place at the historic site of the Patuxet villages. Squanto’s involvement as an intermediary in negotiating the friendship treaty with Massasoit led to the joint feast between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag.
As food shortages increased, Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford relied on Squanto to pilot a ship of settlers on a trading expedition around Cape Cod and through dangerous shoals. During that voyage, Squanto contracted what Bradford called an “Indian fever.” Bradford stayed with him for several days until he died, which Bradford described as a “great loss.”
Considerable mythology and legend has grown up around Squanto over time, largely because of early praise by Bradford and owing to the central role that the Thanksgiving festival of 1621 plays in American folk history. Squanto was less the “noble savage” that later myth portrayed him and more a practical adviser and diplomat.
Massachusetts Bay Colony
A new wave of immigrants arrived on the shores of Massachusetts Bay in 1630 bearing a grant from King Charles I to establish a colony. Many of them were Puritans whose religious practices were increasingly prohibited in England. Their leader, John Winthrop, urged them to create a “city upon a hill” in the New World—a place where they would live in strict accordance with their religious beliefs and set an example for all of Christendom—an example of communal charity, affection, and unity to the world or, if the Puritans failed to uphold their covenant of God, “we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world” of God’s judgment. Winthrop’s sermon is often cited as an early example of American exceptionalism.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony was to play a significant role in the development of the entire New England region, in part because Winthrop and his Puritan colleagues were able to bring their charter with them. Thus the authority for the colony’s government resided in Massachusetts, not in England.
Under the charter’s provisions, power rested with the General Court, which was made up of “freemen,” required to be members of the Puritan, or Congregational, Church. This guaranteed that the Puritans would be the dominant political as well as religious force in the colony. The General Court elected the governor, who for most of the next generation would be John Winthrop.
The Puritan emphasis on reading directly from the Scriptures underscored the importance of literacy. In 1647 the Massachusetts Bay Colony enacted the “ye olde deluder Satan” Act, requiring every town having more than 50 families to establish a grammar school (a Latin school to prepare students for college). Shortly thereafter, all the other New England colonies, except for Rhode Island, followed its example.
The Pilgrims and Puritans had brought their own little libraries and continued to import books from London. And as early as the 1680s, Boston booksellers were doing a thriving business in works of classical literature, history, politics, philosophy, science, theology, and belles-lettres. In 1638 the first printing press in the English colonies and the second in North America was installed at Harvard College.
Like most Christians in the early modern period, Puritans believed in the active existence of the devil and demons as evil forces that could possess and cause harm to men and women. There was also widespread belief in witchcraft and witches—persons in league with the devil. “Unexplained phenomena such as the death of livestock, human disease, and hideous fits suffered by young and old” might all be blamed on the agency of the devil or a witch.
In 1692 a group of adolescent girls in Salem Village, Massachusetts, became subject to strange fits after hearing tales told by a West Indian slave. They accused several women of being witches. The townspeople were appalled but not surprised: Belief in witchcraft was widespread throughout 17th-century America and Europe. Town officials convened a court to hear the charges of witchcraft. Within a month, six women were convicted and hanged.
The hysteria grew, in large measure because the court permitted witnesses to testify that they had seen the accused as spirits or in visions. Such “spectral evidence” could neither be verified nor made subject to objective examination. By the fall of 1692, 20 victims, including several men, had been executed, and more than 100 others were in jail (where another five victims died)—among them some of the town’s most prominent citizens. When the charges threatened to spread beyond Salem, ministers throughout the colony called for an end to the trials. The governor of the colony agreed. Those still in jail were later acquitted or given reprieves.
Although an isolated incident, the Salem episode has long fascinated Americans. Most historians agree that Salem Village in 1692 experienced a kind of public hysteria, fueled by a genuine belief in the existence of witchcraft. While some of the girls may have been acting, many responsible adults became caught up in the frenzy as well.
Even more revealing is a closer analysis of the identities of the accused and the accusers. Salem Village, as much of colonial New England, was undergoing an economic and political transition from a largely agrarian, Puritan-dominated community to a more commercial, secular society. Many of the accusers were representatives of a traditional way of life tied to farming and the church, whereas a number of the accused witches were members of a rising commercial class of small shopkeepers and tradesmen. Salem’s obscure struggle for social and political power between older traditional groups and a newer commercial class was one repeated in communities throughout American history. It took a bizarre and deadly detour when its citizens were swept up by the conviction that the devil was loose in their homes.
The Salem witch trials also serve as a dramatic parable of the deadly consequences of making sensational, but false, charges. Three hundred years later, we still call false accusations against a large number of people a “witch hunt.”
The rigid structure of the Puritan rule was not to everyone’s liking. One of the first to challenge the General Court openly was a young clergyman named Roger Williams, who objected to the colony’s seizure of Indian lands and advocated separation of church and state. Another dissenter, Anne Hutchinson, challenged key doctrines of Puritan theology. Both they and their followers were banished.
Williams purchased land from the Narragansett Indians in what is now Providence, Rhode Island, in 1636. In 1644, a sympathetic Puritan-controlled English Parliament gave him the charter that established Rhode Island as a distinct colony where complete separation of church and state as well as freedom of religion was practiced.
So‑called heretics like Williams were not the only ones who left Massachusetts. Orthodox Puritans, seeking better lands and opportunities, soon began leaving Massachusetts Bay Colony. News of the fertility of the Connecticut River Valley, for instance, attracted the interest of farmers having a difficult time with poor land. By the early 1630s, many were ready to brave the danger of Indian attack to obtain level ground and deep, rich soil. These new communities often eliminated church membership as a prerequisite for voting, thereby extending the franchise to ever larger numbers of men.
At the same time, other settlements began cropping up along the New Hampshire and Maine coasts, as more and more immigrants sought the land and liberty the New World seemed to offer.
King Philip’s War
The Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower and founded Plymouth Plantation expended great effort forging friendship and peace with the American Indians around Cape Cod. They traveled long distances to make peace with Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag tribe, and Governor William Bradford made a gift of his prized red horse coat upon seeing that the chief admired it. Yet over the next 50 years, frictions and misunderstandings multiplied as wave after wave of Puritans and non-religious “strangers” (fortune-seekers not motivated by religion) kept arriving, often oblivious to the fragile peace carefully woven since the earliest arrivals. By 1675, the early efforts at friendship failed.
The Wampanoag tribe had entered into an agreement with the Plymouth Colony and believed that they could rely on the colony for protection. However, in the decades preceding the war, it became clear to them that the treaty was not stopping colonists from settling in Wampanoag territories.
Throughout the Northeast, Native Americans had suffered severe population losses as a result of pandemics of smallpox, spotted fever, typhoid, and measles, starting in about 1618, two years before the first colony at Plymouth had been settled.
The population of New England colonists totaled about 80,000 people. They lived in 110 towns, of which 64 were in the Massachusetts Bay colony, which then included the southwestern portion of the present state of Maine. The towns had about 16,000 men of military age who were almost all part of the militia, as universal training was prevalent in all colonial New England towns. Many towns had built strong garrison houses for defense, and others had stockades enclosing most of the houses. All of these were strengthened as the war progressed. Some poorly populated towns without enough men to defend them were abandoned.
Each town had local militias, based on all eligible men, who had to supply their own arms. Only those who were too old, too young, disabled, or clergy were excused from military service. The militias were usually only minimally trained and initially did relatively poorly against the warring Indians, until more effective training and tactics could be devised. Joint forces of militia volunteers and volunteer Indian allies were found to be the most effective. The officers were usually elected by popular vote of the militia members.
By 1676, the regional Indian population had decreased to about 10,000 (exact numbers are unavailable), largely because of epidemics. These included about 4,000 Narragansetts of western Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut, 2,400 Nipmucks of central and western Massachusetts, and 2,400 combined in the Massachusett and Pawtucket tribes living around Massachusetts Bay and extending northwest to Maine. The Wampanoags and Pokanokets of Plymouth and eastern Rhode Island are thought to have numbered fewer than 1,000. About one in four were considered to be warriors. By then, the Indians had almost universally adopted steel knives, tomahawks, and flintlock muskets as their weapons of choice. The various tribes had no common government. They had distinct cultures and often warred among themselves, although they all spoke related languages from the Algonquian family.
Metacomet was the son of the sachem Massasoit, the Wampanoag chief who had originally made peace with the people of Plymouth colony in the 1620s. Because of his closeness with the colonists during his youth, he adopted the name King Philip. Unfortunately, by the time he himself became chief of the Wampanoag in 1662, the period of peaceful coexistence had become a distant memory following conflicts over land use, diminished game as a consequence of expanding European settlement, and questions of whether or not the Native Americans would submit to English rule.
Starting in 1675, in a conflict known by the colonists as King Philip’s War, Metacomet used tribal alliances to coordinate efforts to push European colonists out of New England.
The war was the single greatest calamity to occur in seventeenth-century Puritan New England and is considered by many to be the deadliest war in the history of European settlement in North America in proportion to the population. In the space of little more than a year, twelve of the region’s towns were destroyed and many more were damaged, the economy of Plymouth and Rhode Island Colonies was all but ruined and their population was decimated, losing one-tenth of all men available for military service. More than half of New England’s towns were attacked by Indians.
The war largely ended with Metacomet’s death. His head was mounted on a pike at the entrance to Plymouth, Massachusetts, where it remained for more than two decades. His body was cut into quarters and hung in trees.
More than 1,000 colonists and 3,000 Indians had died. More than half of all New England villages were attacked by Indian warriors, and many were completely destroyed. Several Indians were enslaved and transported to Bermuda, including Metacomet’s son, and numerous Bermudians today claim ancestry from the Indian exiles.
Imagine you come home from school to find that, without your permission or knowledge, someone has begun building a new home in your backyard. When you confront them about this, they defend their right to do so – saying the space was just empty, grass and trees. You clearly weren’t using it anyway…
What is a joint stock company? Provide one specific example from the reading.
What challenges did the first settlers in Jamestown face? (2 examples)
What change did John Rolfe bring to Jamestown?
Why did the Powhatan and English come into conflict?
A For-Profit Colony
The Virginia Company of London was an English joint-stock company established in 1606 by royal charter by King James I with the purpose of establishing colonial settlements in North America. A charter was a license granted by the king granting a person, company, or group the authority to do something. In this case, the king granted a huge chunk of North America to the Virginia Company for the purposes of colonization, as the charter said, from “sea-to-sea” – despite the fact that the continent was already known to be populated by large numbers of Native Americans. While the new colony would be English territory, the charter gave almost complete control of colonial government to the Virginia Company. This was a for-profit business, first and foremost.
A joint-stock company is a business arrangement that allows many individuals to pool their savings together to undertake a large project – in this case, the colonization of North America, which would hopefully yield the kind of gold and silver that had come out of the Spanish conquest of South and Central America. Depending on the success of the colony, each investor would receive profit based on the shares he had bought. This investment was less risky than starting an English colony from scratch.
Virginia and Jamestown
The area laid out in the royal charter was named Virginia, after both the organizing Virginia Company of London and Queen Elizabeth, “the Virgin Queen.” Founded in 1607, the first settlement – a small triangular fort populated by about 100 settlers at the mouth of the James River – was named after King James I. Jamestown was the first permanent English colony in the Americas.
The English settlement at Jamestown was established on May 24, 1607, with the arrival of three ships commanded by Captain Christopher Newport. The initial small group of 104 men and boys chose the location because it was favorable for defensive purposes, but it offered poor hunting prospects and a shortage of drinking water. The island was swampy and isolated, and it offered limited space, was plagued by mosquitoes, and afforded only brackish tidal river water unsuitable for drinking. Although they did some farming, few of the original settlers were accustomed to manual labor or familiar with farming. Hunting on the island was poor, and they quickly exhausted the supply of small game. The colonists were largely dependent upon trade with the Native Americans and periodic supply ships from England for their food.
A series of incidents with the Native Americans soon developed into serious conflicts, ending any hope of a commercial alliance with them. This forced the settlers into close quarters, behind fortified walls, severely limiting their ability to farm the area and trade with other Indian tribes. Various attempts at farming led to kidnappings and killings by the Powhatans, while expeditions to establish relations with other Native Americans resulted either in the emissaries being ambushed and killed by the Powhatans, or proved fruitless in gaining sufficient supplies. The combination of disease, killings, and kidnapping almost obliterated the initial English population.
In addition, Virginia’s first government was weak, and its individuals frequently quarreled over policies. The colonists frantically searched for gold, silver, and gems, ignoring their own sicknesses. Made up of townsmen and adventurers more interested in finding gold than farming, the group was unequipped by temperament or ability to embark upon a completely new life in the wilderness. Indian raids further weakened defense and unification, and Jamestown began to die off. By the winter of 1609-1610, also known as the Starving Time, only 60 settlers remained from the original 500 passengers. The famine during that harsh winter forced the colonists to eat leather from their clothes and boots and resort to cannibalism.
Describing the Starving Time, George Percy, a president of the Jamestown colony recalled: “Now all of us at James Town, beginning to feel that sharp prick of hunger, which no man [can] truly describe but he which hath tasted the bitterness thereof. A world of miseries ensued . . . [and] some, to satisfy their hunger, have robbed the store, for the which I caused them to be executed. Then having fed upon horses and other beasts as long as they lasted, we were glad to make shift with vermin, as dogs, cats, rats, and mice. All was fish that came to net to satisfy cruel hunger, as to eat boots, shoes, or any other leather some could come by. And those being spent and devoured, some were enforced to search the woods and to feed upon serpents and snakes and to dig the earth for wild and unknown roots, where many of our men were cut off and slain by the [Indians]. And now famine beginning to look ghastly and pale in every face that nothing was spared to maintain life and to do those things which seem incredible …”
Two men helped the colony to survive: adventurer John Smith and businessman John Rolfe. Smith, who arrived in Virginia in 1608, introduced an ultimatum: “He that will not work, shall not eat”, equivalent to the 2nd Thessalonians 3:10 in the Bible. Under this dire threat, the colonists at last learned how to raise crops and trade with the nearby Indians, with whom Smith had made peace.
In 1612, John Rolfe discovered that Virginia had ideal conditions for growing tobacco. This discovery, and the breeding of a new, “sweeter” strain, led to the plant becoming the colony’s major cash crop. With English demand for tobacco rising, Virginia had found a way to support itself economically.
New plantations began growing up all along the James River.
Prosperity did not come quickly, however, and the death rate from disease and Indian attacks remained extraordinarily high. Between 1607 and 1624 approximately 14,000 people migrated to the colony, yet by 1624, there were only 1,132 living there.
The Powhatan Confederacy was where the English made their first permanent settlement in North America. It was ruled at the time by Wahunsunacawh (known to the English as Chief Powhatan).
According to research by the National Park Service, Powhatan “men were warriors and hunters, while women were gardeners and gatherers. The English described the men, who ran and walked extensively through the woods in pursuit of enemies or game, as tall and lean and possessed of handsome physiques. The women were shorter, and were strong because of the hours they spent tending crops, pounding corn into meal, gathering nuts, and performing other domestic chores. When the men undertook extended hunts, the women went ahead of them to construct hunting camps. The Powhatan domestic economy depended on the labor of both sexes.”
The Powhatan lived east of the Fall Line in Tidewater Virginia. They built their houses, called yehakins, by bending saplings and placing woven mats or bark over top of the saplings. They supported themselves primarily by growing crops, especially maize (corn), but they also fished and hunted in the great forest in their area. Villages consisted of a number of related families organized in tribes led by a chief (weroance/werowance or weroansqua if female). They paid tribute to the paramount chief (mamanatowick), Wahunsunacawh.
All of Virginia’s natives practiced agriculture. They periodically moved their villages from site to site. Villagers cleared the fields by felling, girdling, or firing trees at the base and then using fire to reduce the slash and stumps. A village became unusable as soil productivity gradually declined and local fish and game were depleted. The inhabitants then moved on. With every change in location, the people used fire to clear new land. They left more cleared land behind. The natives also used fire to maintain extensive areas of open game habitat throughout the East, later called “barrens” by European colonists. The Powhatan also had rich fishing grounds. Bison had migrated to this area by the early 15th century.
English settlers in the land of the Powhatan
Conflicts began immediately between the Powhatan people and the English; the English colonists fired shots as soon as they arrived (due to a bad experience they had with the Spanish prior to their arrival). Within two weeks of the English arrival at Jamestown, deaths had occurred.
The settlers had hoped for friendly relations and had planned to trade with the Virginia Indians for food. Captain Christopher Newport led the first English exploration party up the James River in 1607, when he met Parahunt, weroance of the Powhatan proper. The English initially mistook him for the paramount Powhatan (mamanatowick), his father Wahunsunacawh, who ruled the confederacy.
While on a hunting and trade mission on the Chickahominy River in December 1607, only seven months after building the fort on Jamestown Island, Captain John Smith, later president of the colony, was captured by Opechancanough, the younger brother of Wahunsunacawh. Smith became the first Englishman to meet the paramount chief Powhatan.
Captain John Smith imagined that someday the Virginia Indians would be doing all the work for the English, but Powhatan envisioned something different: he wanted Smith and the colonists to forsake the swamp and instead live in one of his satellite towns called Capahosick where they would make metal tools for him in exchange for full provision.
Much later, when Smith was writing a book about his life, he claimed that during his captivity, Pocahontas, Chief Wahunsunacawh’s daughter, had dramatically saved him from Powhatan’s clubs, but historians differ as to whether or not this was propaganda, or an actual native ritual. Smith’s capture represented just an example of the diplomatic strategies employed by Wahunsunacawh to make the English cooperate with and contribute to his expanding control in this region. Smith was released when he falsely promised to move the colony to Capahosick, just as the chief wished.
In 1608, the leaders of Jamestown realized that Powhatan’s friendship was crucial to the survival of the small Jamestown colony. In the summer of that year, he tried to “crown” the paramount Chief, with a ceremonial crown, to make him an English “vassal.” They also gave Powhatan many European gifts, such as a pitcher, feather mattress, bed frame, and clothes. The coronation went badly because they asked Powhatan to kneel to receive the crown, which he refused to do. As a powerful leader, Powhatan followed two rules: “he who keeps his head higher than others ranks higher,” and “he who puts other people in a vulnerable position, without altering his own stance, ranks higher.” To finish the “coronation”, several English had to lean on Powhatan’s shoulders to get him low enough to place the crown on his head, as he was a tall man. Afterwards, the English might have thought that Powhatan had submitted to King James, whereas Powhatan likely thought nothing of the sort.
After John Smith became president of the colony, he sent a force to occupy an island in Nansemond territory and drive the inhabitants away. At the same time, he sent another force to build a fort at the James River falls. He purchased a nearby fortified Powhatan village (present site of Richmond, Virginia) from another chief named Parahunt for some copper. Smith then renamed the village “Nonsuch,” and tried to persuade English colonists to live in it. Both these attempts at settling beyond Jamestown soon failed due to Powhatan resistance. Smith left Virginia for England in October 1609, never to return, because of an injury sustained in a gunpowder accident.
From Charter Colony to Royal Colony
Prosperous and wealthy from his investment in the new tobacco trade, John Rolfe married Pocahontas, daughter of Chief Powhatan, bringing several years of peace between the English and natives. However, at the end of a public relations trip to England, Pocahontas became sick and died on March 21, 1617. The following year, her father also died. Powhatan’s brother, a fierce warrior named Opchanacanough, became head of the Powhatan Confederacy. As the English continued to appropriate more land for tobacco farming, relations with the natives worsened.
After several years of strained coexistence, Chief Opchanacanough and his Powhatan Confederacy attempted to eliminate the English colony once and for all. On the morning of March 22, 1622, they attacked outlying plantations and communities up and down the James River in what became known as the Indian Massacre of 1622. More than 300 settlers were killed in the attack, about a third of the colony’s English-speaking population.
The remarkable death rate, as well as the high demand for cheap labor created by the booming tobacco industry, meant that recruiting new colonists was at times challenging to say the least. Most any colonist who could afford the journey had little interest in personally performing the hard labor that tobacco cultivation demanded.
Due to the high cost of the transatlantic voyage at this time, many English settlers came to Jamestown as indentured servants: in exchange for the passage, room, board, and the promise of land or money, these immigrants would agree to work for three to seven years. Along with European indentured servants, around 20 African slaves arrived in Jamestown in 1619. These slaves were captives taken from a ship headed for Mexico. Though these Africans started in Jamestown as slaves, some were able to obtain the status of indentured servant later in life.
Also in 1619, Virginia set up the House of Burgesses, the first elected legislative assembly in America. It marked the beginnings of self-government, replacing the martial law that was previously imposed on the colonists.
However, in 1624, King James revoked the Virginia Company’s charter, and Virginia became a royal colony. Its charter was transferred from the Virginia Company to the Crown of England, which meant that Jamestown was now a colony run by the English monarchy. While the House of Burgesses was still allowed to run the government, the king also appointed a royal governor to settle disputes and enforce certain British policies.
Another large-scale “Indian attack” occurred in 1644. In 1646, Opchanacanough was captured and while in custody an English guard shot him in the back—against orders—and killed him. Subsequently, the Powhatan Confederacy began to decline. Opechancanough’s successor signed the first peace treaties between the Powhatan Indians and the English. The treaties required the Powhatan to pay yearly tribute payment to the English and confined them to reservations.
How did the Americans justify their takeover of the Philippines? Are you convinced by this argument?
In your opinion, did American conduct during the war match these justifications? Why or why not?
How did the American military attempt to counter rumors of their brutality?
Annexation of the Philippines as a colony of the United States was often justified by those in the U.S. government and media on moral and racial grounds. The U.S. was simply doing its duty as an advanced, Western nation, spreading civilization, democracy, and capitalism to primitive Asians who enjoyed none of these things and were too simple to be trusted with self-government. Historian Stuart Creighton Miller writes that in this view, “Americans altruistically went to war with Spain to liberate Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Filipinos from their tyrannical yoke. If they lingered on too long in the Philippines, it was to protect the Filipinos from European predators waiting in the wings for an American withdrawal and to tutor them in American-style democracy.” Implicit in this attitude were notions of racial superiority and the inherent superiority of white America over primitive people of color.
The ugly reality of Americans colonial mission was laid bare by Dean Worcester, an American colonial official, who wrote in his memoirs that the Filipinos were “treacherous, arrogant, stupid and vindictive, impervious to gratitude, incapable of recognizing obligations. Centuries of barbarism have made them cunning and dishonest. We cannot safely treat them as equals, for the simple and sufficient reason that they could not understand it. They do not know the meaning of justice and good faith. They do not know the difference between liberty and license…. These Filipinos must be taught obedience and be forced to observe, even if they cannot comprehend, the practices of civilization.”
On February 11, 1899—only one week after the first shots of the war were fired—American naval forces destroyed the city of Iloilo with bombardment by the USS Petrel and the USS Baltimore. The city was then captured by ground forces led by Brigadier General Marcus Miller, with no loss of American lives.
Months later, after finally securing Manila from Filipino control, American forces moved northwards, engaging in combat at the brigade and battalion level in pursuit of the fleeing insurgent forces and their commanders. In response to the use of guerilla warfare tactics by Filipino forces beginning in September 1899, American military strategy shifted to a suppression footing. Tactics became focused on the control of key areas with internment and segregation of the civilian population in “zones of protection” from the guerrilla population (foreshadowing the Strategic Hamlet Program that would be utilized decades later, during the Vietnam War). Due to unsanitary conditions, many of the interned civilians died from dysentery.
General Otis gained notoriety for some of his actions in the Philippines. Although multiple orders were given to Otis from Washington to avoid military conflict, he did very little to prevent the breakout of war. Otis refused to accept anything but unconditional surrender from the Philippine Army. He often made major military decisions without first consulting leadership in Washington. He acted aggressively in dealing with the Filipinos under the assumption that their resistance would collapse quickly.
A member of the American colonial government offered an alternative theory on what Bell was achieving, noting in his official report that far from breaking the spirit of the Filipino people, the blanket policy of violence and destruction was:
… sowing the seeds for a perpetual revolution. If these things need be done, they had best be done by native troops so that the people of the U.S.. will not be credited therewith.
Otis also played a large role in suppressing information about American military tactics from the media. When letters describing American atrocities reached the American media, the War Department became involved and demanded that Otis investigate their authenticity. Each press clipping was forwarded to the original writer’s commanding officer, who would then convince or force the soldier to write a retraction of the original statements.
Meanwhile, Otis claimed that Filipino insurgents tortured American prisoners in “fiendish fashion.” During the closing months of 1899, Aguinaldo attempted to counter Otis’ account by suggesting that neutral parties—foreign journalists or representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross—inspect his military operations. Otis refused, but Aguinaldo managed to smuggle four reporters—two English, one Canadian, and one Japanese—into the Philippines. The correspondents returned to Manila to report that American captives were “treated more like guests than prisoners,” were “fed the best that the country affords, and everything is done to gain their favor.” The story went on to say that American prisoners were offered commissions in the Filipino army and that three had accepted. The four reporters were expelled from the Philippines as soon as their stories were printed.
U.S. Navy Lieutenant J.C. Gilmore, whose release was forced by American cavalry pursuing Aguinaldo into the mountains, insisted that he had received “considerable treatment” and that he was no more starved than were his captors. Otis responded to publication of two articles concerning this by ordering the “capture” of the two authors, and that they be “investigated,” therefore questioning their loyalty.
When F.A. Blake of the International Committee of the Red Cross arrived at Aguinaldo’s request, Otis kept him confined to Manila, where Otis’ staff explained all of the violations of international humanitarian law perpetrated by Filipino soldiers. Blake managed to slip away from an escort and venture into the field. Blake never made it past American lines, but even within American lines he saw burned out villages and “horribly mutilated bodies, with stomachs slit open and occasionally decapitated.” Blake waited to return to San Francisco, where he told one reporter that “American soldiers are determined to kill every Filipino in sight.”
H.L. Wells, a staunch imperialist writing in the New York Evening Post, excused the troubling American racial theories that contributed to the often callous violence that characterized the Philippine-American War “There is no question that our men do ‘shoot niggers’ somewhat in the sporting spirit, but that is because war and their environments have rubbed off the thin veneer of civilization…Undoubtedly, they do not regard the shooting of Filipinos just as they would the shooting of white troops. This is partly because they are “only niggers,” and partly because they despise them for their treacherous servility…The soldiers feel they are fighting with savages, not with soldiers.”
Waging the Filipino War
How was the class structure of Filipino society a challenge to carrying out the war against the Americans?
What was strategy of the Filipino war effort before the U.S. election of 1900? How and why did it change after the election?
Estimates of the Filipino forces vary between 80,000 and 100,000, with tens of thousands of auxiliaries. Most of the forces were armed only with bolo knives, bows and arrows, spears and other primitive weapons which were vastly inferior to those of the American forces.
A fairly rigid caste system existed in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial era. The goal, or end-state, sought by the First Philippine Republic was a sovereign, independent, stable nation led by an oligarchy composed of members of the educated class (known as the ilustrado class). Local chieftains, landowners, businessmen and cabezas de barangay were the principales who controlled local politics. The war was at its peak when ilustrados, principales, and peasants were unified in opposition to annexation by the United States. The peasants, who represented the majority of the fighting forces, had interests different from their ilustrado leaders and the principales of their villages – they were more likely to favor redistribution of land, tax reforms, and greater democracy, whereas the Filipino elites were more likely to favor a plan in which they replaced the Spanish elites, leaving the broader social order intact. Coupled with the ethnic and geographic fragmentation, aligning the interests of people from different social castes was a daunting task. The challenge for Aguinaldo and his generals was to sustain unified Filipino public opposition; this was the revolutionaries’ strategiccenter of gravity.
McKinley’s election victory in 1900 was demoralizing for the insurgents, and convinced many Filipinos that the United States would not depart soon – after all, the war was McKinley’s and the American people had just reelected him, thereby approving his actions. This, coupled with a series of devastating losses on the battlefield against American forces equipped with superior technology and training, convinced Aguinaldo that he needed to change his approach. Beginning on September 14, 1899, Aguinaldo accepted the advice of General Gregorio del Pilar and authorized the use of guerilla warfare tactics in subsequent military operations in Bulacan.
For most of 1899, the revolutionary leadership had viewed guerrilla warfare strategically only as a tactical option of final recourse, not as a means of operation which better suited their disadvantaged situation. On November 13, 1899, Emilio Aguinaldo decreed that guerrilla war would henceforth be the strategy. This made American occupation of the Philippine archipelago all the more difficult over the next few years. In fact, during just the first four months of the guerrilla war, the Americans had nearly 500 casualties. The Philippine Army began staging bloody ambushes and raids, such as the guerrilla victories at Paye, Catubig, Makahambus, Pulang Lupa, Balangiga and Mabitac. At first, it even seemed as if the Filipinos would fight the Americans to a stalemate and force them to withdraw.
Describe the actions of the Americans that might be labeled atrocities.
Imagine that an invading force was doing this sort of thing in your town – would this make you more or less likely to cooperate with them?
Imagine you are a soldier and your commanding officer has ordered you to burn down a village, then administer the water cure to anyone you capture in the process. What do you do?
If the goal of a war is to win, should there be rules in war? What should those rules be? How should captured enemy soldiers be captured? Should it matter if they wear a uniform? Should civilians be harmed?
What should happen to commanders or soldiers who break any rules you established in the previous question?
Following Aguinaldo’s capture by the Americans on March 23, 1901, Miguel Malvar assumed command of the Philippine revolutionary forces. Batangas and Laguna provinces were the main focus of Malvar’s forces at this point in the war, and they continued to employ guerrilla warfare tactics.
In late 1901, Brigadier General J. Franklin Bell took command of American operations in Batangas and Laguna provinces. Writing about his approach to the war, Bell said, “All consideration and regard for the inhabitants of this place cease from the day I become commander. I have the force and authority to do whatever seems to me good and especially to humiliate all those in this Province who have any pride….”
In response to Malvar’s guerrilla warfare tactics, Bell employed counterinsurgency tactics (described by some as a scorched earth campaign) that took a heavy toll on guerrilla fighters and civilians alike. “Zones of protection” were established, and civilians were given identification papers and forced into concentration camps (called reconcentrados) which were surrounded by free-fire zones. At the Lodge Committee, in an attempt to counter the negative reception in America to General Bell’s camps, Colonel Arthur Wagner, the US Army’s chief public relations office, insisted that the camps were to “protect friendly natives from the insurgents, and assure them an adequate food supply” while teaching them “proper sanitary standards.” Wagner’s assertion was undermined by a letter from a commander of one of the camps, who described them as “suburbs of Hell.”
On December 13, Bell announced that the killing of American troops would be paid back in kind. Whenever such an event occurred, Bell proposed to select a prisoner “by lot from among the officers or prominent citizens” and have him executed. On December 15, Bell announced that “acts of hostility or sabotage” would result in the “starving of unarmed hostile belligerents.” The warning to Malvar was clear: he either had to give up the struggle or the “detainees” would face mass starvation. To show that he meant it, on December 20 Bell ordered all rice and other food lying outside the camps to be confiscated or destroyed. Wells were poisoned and all farm animals were slaughtered.
By December 25, 1901, nearly the entire populations of Batangas and Laguna provinces had gathered into the reconcentrados. Families had to bring everything they could carry because anything left behind—including houses, gardens, carts, poultry and animals—was subject to confiscation or destruction by the U.S. Army. The reconcentrados were overcrowded, which led to disease and death. Between January and April 1902, 8,350 prisoners of approximately 298,000 died, and some camps experienced mortality rates as high as 20 percent.
Civilians became subject to a curfew, after which all persons found outside of camps without identification could be shot on sight. Men were rounded up for questioning, tortured, and summarily executed.” Methods of torture such as the water cure were frequently employed during interrogation, and entire villages were burned or otherwise destroyed.
Throughout the war, American soldiers and other witnesses sent letters home which described some of the atrocities committed by American forces. For example, In November 1901, the Manila correspondent of the Philadelphia Ledger wrote:
“The present war is no bloodless, opera bouffe engagement; our men have been relentless, have killed to exterminate men, women, children, prisoners and captives, active insurgents and suspected people from lads of ten up, the idea prevailing that the Filipino as such was little better than a dog… Our soldiers have pumped salt water into men to make them talk, and have taken prisoners people who held up their hands and peacefully surrendered, and an hour later, without an atom of evidence to show that they were even insurrectos, stood them on a bridge and shot them down one by one, to drop into the water below and float down, as examples to those who found their bullet-loaded corpses.”
Reports were received from soldiers returning from the Philippines that, upon entering a village, American soldiers would ransack every house and church and rob the inhabitants of everything of value, while those who approached the battle line waving a flag of truce were fired upon.
Some of the authors were critical of leaders such as General Otis and the overall conduct of the war. When some of these letters were published in newspapers, they would become national news, which would force the War Department to investigate. Two such letters included:
A soldier from New York: “The town of Titatia was surrendered to us a few days ago, and two companies occupy the same. Last night one of our boys was found shot and his stomach cut open. Immediately orders were received from General Wheaton to burn the town and kill every native in sight; which was done to a finish. About 1,000 men, women and children were reported killed. I am probably growing hard-hearted, for I am in my glory when I can sight my gun on some dark skin and pull the trigger.”
Corporal Sam Gillis: “We make everyone get into his house by seven p.m., and we only tell a man once. If he refuses we shoot him. We killed over 300 natives the first night. They tried to set the town on fire. If they fire a shot from the house we burn the house down and every house near it, and shoot the natives, so they are pretty quiet in town now.”
General Otis’ investigation of the content of these letters often consisted of sending a copy of them to the author’s superior and having him force the author to write a retraction. When a soldier refused to do so, as Private Charles Brenner of the Kansas regiment did, he was court-martialed. In the case of Private Brenner, the charge was “for writing and conniving at the publication of an article which…contains willful falsehoods concerning himself and a false charge against Captain Bishop.” Not all such letters that discussed atrocities were intended to criticize General Otis or American actions. Many portrayed U.S. actions as the result of Filipino provocation and thus entirely justified.
Why is it important for the Americans to claim that Filipinos were at least as brutal as they were?
There was surely violence on both sides of this conflict. Is the American violence, carried out by a more powerful invading force, different from that carried out by Filipinos?
Examine the cover of Life Magazine from May 22, 1902. It appears to be a realistic drawing at first, but it is actually a political cartoon. What does it mean?
U.S. Army General Otis alleged that Filipino insurgents tortured American prisoners in “fiendish fashion.” According to Otis, many were buried alive or were placed up to their necks in ant hills. He claimed others had their genitals removed and stuffed into their mouths and were then executed by suffocation or bleeding to death. It was also reported that Spanish priests were horribly mutilated before their congregations, and natives who refused to support Emilio Aguinaldo were slaughtered by the thousands. American newspaper headlines announced the “Murder and Rapine” by the “Fiendish Filipinos.” General “Fighting Joe” Wheeler insisted that it was the Filipinos who had mutilated their own dead, murdered women and children, and burned down villages, solely to discredit American soldiers.
In January 1899, the New York World published a story by an anonymous writer about an American soldier, Private William Lapeer, who had allegedly been deliberately infected with leprosy. The story has no basis in fact however, and the name Lapeer itself is probably a pun. Stories in other newspapers described deliberate attacks by Filipino sharpshooters upon American surgeons, chaplains, ambulances, hospitals, and wounded soldiers. An incident was described in the San Francisco Call that occurred in Escalante, Negros Occidental, where several crewmen of a landing party from the CSRecorder were fired upon and later cut into pieces by Filipino insurgents, while the insurgents were displaying a flag of truce.
Other events dubbed atrocities included those attributed by the Americans to General Vicente Lukban, the Filipino commander who allegedly masterminded the Balangiga massacre in Samar province, a surprise Filipino attack that killed almost fifty American soldiers. Media reports stated that many of the bodies were mutilated. The attack itself triggered American reprisals in Samar, ordered by General Jacob Hurd Smith, who reportedly ordered his men to kill everyone over ten years old. To his credit, Major Littleton Waller countermanded it to his own men. Smith was court-martialed for this order and found guilty in 1902, which ended his career in the U.S. Army. Waller was acquitted of killing eleven Filipino guides.
Sergeant Hallock testified in the Lodge Committee that natives were given the water cure, “… in order to secure information of the murder of Private O’Herne of Company I, who had been not only killed, but roasted and otherwise tortured before death ensued.”
On the Filipino side, information regarding atrocities comes from the eyewitnesses and the participants themselves. In his History of the Filipino PeopleTeodoro Agoncillo writes that the Filipino troops could match and even exceed American brutality on some prisoners of war. Kicking, slapping, and spitting at faces were common. In some cases, ears and noses were cut off and salt applied to the wounds. In other cases, captives were buried alive. These atrocities occurred regardless of Aguinaldo’s orders and circulars concerning the good treatment of prisoners.
Dean Worcester, an official in the American colonial government, recounts two specific Filipino atrocities as follows:
A detachment, marching through Leyte, found an American who had disappeared a short time before crucified, head down. His abdominal wall had been carefully opened so that his intestines might hang down in his face. Another American prisoner, found on the same trip, had been buried in the ground with only his head projecting. His mouth had been propped open with a stick, a trail of sugar laid to it through the forest, and a handful thrown into it. Millions of ants had done the rest.
Why is there so much debate over the number of Filipinos dead?
Why is there reason to be skeptical over numbers provided by the U.S. government?
Should famine and disease caused by the conduct of a war be considered a form of violence? Is this kind of death different from one that occurs during a shooting or a bombing?
The total number of Filipino who died remains a matter of debate. Some modern sources cite a figure of 200,000 total Filipino civilians dead with most losses attributable to famine, and disease. Some estimates reach 1,000,000 million dead. In 1908 Manuel Arellano Remondo, in General Geography of the Philippine Islands, wrote: “The population decreased due to the wars, in the five-year period from 1895 to 1900, since, at the start of the first insurrection, the population was estimated at 9,000,000, and at present (1908), the inhabitants of the Archipelago do not exceed 8,000,000 in number.” Another expert estimates that at least 16,000~20,000 Filipino soldiers and 34,000 civilians were killed directly, with up to an additional 200,000 civilian deaths, mostly from a cholera epidemic. Filipino historian E. San Juan, Jr. argues that 1.4 million Filipinos died during the war, and that constitutes an act of genocide on the part of the United States. The United States Department of State states that the war “resulted in the death of over 4,200 American and over 20,000 Filipino combatants,” and that “as many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died from violence, famine, and disease.”
There is a long tradition of resistance to colonial rule in the Philippines.
Couple of this with the country’s strong Catholicism – with its tradition of sainthood and martyrdom – and you have nation that is very aware of those who have sacrificed to advance the cause of the Filipino. Manila’s Rizal Park features the Gallery of Heroes, a row of bust sculpture monuments of historical Philippine heroes. These include: Andres Bonifacio, Juan Sumuroy, Aman Dangat, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, Gregorio Aglipay, Sultan Kudarat, Juan Luna, Melchora Aquino, Rajah Sulayman, and Gabriela Silang. Choose one of these personalities to commemorate in your own classroom. Write a brief description of their accomplishments to accompany a piece of artwork that celebrates their life for those who aren’t aware.
Jose Rizal never specifically advocated violence or even open revolt against
the Spanish, pushing instead for political reforms within the colonial structure. He wrote with such clarity and passion, however, that he become a symbol to revolutionaries – and this is why the colonial authorities decided he needed to die, in a plan that ultimately backfired, transforming him into a martyr. Debate with your class – “Does a national hero need to be a warrior – a violent figure? If not, why are so many warriors celebrated the world over as national heroes?”
Rudyard Kipling wrote a famous poem about the U.S. and its conquest of the Philippines. It is called “The White Man’s Burden.” The poem became so famous that it became the subject of parody as well. Read both the poem and one of its parodies and discuss it with your classmates using the included questions to help guide you.
Stereoscopic Visions of War and Empire – This exhibit juxtaposes the visual message presented by the stereoscopic images with excerpts from the letters written by U.S. soldiers that were first published in local newspapers and later collected in the Anti-Imperialist League’s pamphlet, allowing us to get a glimpse of the Philippine-American War as it was presented to Americans at home, reading the news or entertaining friends in their parlors.
“My name is Thomas Kenning. I am the creator of Openendedsocialstudies.org. I am an educator with approximately fifteen years of experience in classrooms ranging from preschool to university, though my primary focus is on grades six to nine in the field of social studies. I have a bachelors in secondary education from Indiana University and a masters in history from American University. I started this website because it is the kind of resource that I am always looking for myself – digestible lessons that expand the too limited American notion of “world history,” accompanied by questions that help students to process and apply (not just regurgitate and forget) what they are reading. If the idea is to build bridges to a broader view of the world – not wall our students in – then I hope this website is one of those bridges, rickety as it may be.
I am a firm believer that the best teachers are creative and resourceful, making dynamic use of the tools they have at hand. In that spirit, some of the basic text on this website is adapted from open sources (like Wikipedia), but every bit of it has been fact checked and cross-referenced with academic sources. I’ve made every effort to ensure accuracy, as well as balance, across this website. I stand by everything I have posted here – I use many of these lessons in my own classroom on a regular basis – but if you see something that strikes you as inaccurate, by all means, please let me know in the comments section of the page in question.
Thank you for choosing to use Openendedsocialstudies.org in your classroom.”
Thomas Kenning is an author, educator, and adventurer. He has written extensively about Washington, DC, including in the recently published Abandoned Washington, DC. Mr. Kenning is the creator of the award-winning Openendedsocialstudies.org, a library of free lesson plans and travel writing designed to foster a sense of wonder about the world and our place in it. When he is not travelling to some far flung corner of the Earth, he resides with his wife and daughter (a DC native!) – planning his next improbable adventure and trying to leave the planet a little bit nicer than he found it.
The balangay is a boat used by native Filipinos for at least 2,000 years. The balangay could cross open ocean – with navigation techniques involving the sun, the stars, the wind, cloud formations, wave patterns, and bird migrations. The word barangay – a variant – is also the word used to describe the basic unit of Filipino political organization, with a meaning similar to clan, before the arrival of the Spanish. Members of a barangay – typically 30 to 100 families – owed their allegiance to a datu, or chief, who ruled in conjunction with other datus. So, poetically you could think of your community as the people who were in the same boat as you.
While this system fell away under Spanish rule, the word barangay is still used to describe a neighborhood in the Philippines, an evocative double meaning in a nation so oriented to the sea.
There are a number of distinctions between the modern barangay or Barrio, and the city-states and independent principalities encountered by the Spanish when they first arrived in 1521 and established relatively permanent settlements in 1574. The most glaring difference would be that the modern entity represents a geographical entity, the pre-colonial barangays represented loyalty to a particular head (datu). Even during the early days of Spanish rule, it was not unusual for people living beside each other to actually belong to different barangays.
The barangay of precolonial times was either independent, or belonged to what was only a loose confederation of several barangays, over which the rulers picked among themselves who would be foremost – known as the Pangulo or Rajah. In most cases, his function was to make decisions which would involve multiple barangays, such as disputes between members of two different barangays. Internally, each datu retained his jurisdiction.
Who are the Filipinos?
Consider the map of the Philippines – how does the country’s unique geography lend itself to the diversity of its population?
There is no easy way to describe Filipino culture – no one settled definition – because the Philippines are a particularly diverse nation spread across some 7,000 islands, with hundreds of distinct languages and dialects, thousands of years worth of history, trade, and colonization serving to add color and flavor to what seems like a simple question.
Prior to the advent of European colonialism in the 1500s CE, much Southeast Asia including the Philippines was under the influence of greater India. India was a wealthy society with well-developed technology and religions. Indians spread throughout southeast Asia as professionals, traders, priests and warriors, bringing with them a written language (Sanskrit) and religion (Hinduism or Buddhism).
Numerous Indianized principalities and empires flourished for centuries in areas that would become modern Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam. Artwork, philosophy, models for royalty and class structure, as well as written languages in these lands were all influenced by India, similar to the way that Greek culture was a guiding influence on later European societies. However, each of these countries adapted, blended, and assimilated this Indian influence in its own unique way, giving rise to the great diversity of cultures seen even just in the islands that make up the modern Philippines.
By 1000 BCE, the inhabitants of the Philippine archipelago had developed into four distinct kinds of peoples: tribal groups, such as the Aetas, Hanunoo, Ilongots and the Mangyan who depended on hunter-gathering and were concentrated in forests; warrior societies, such as the Isneg and Kalinga who practiced social ranking and ritualized warfare and roamed the plains; the petty plutocracy of the Ifugao Cordillera Highlanders, who occupied the mountain ranges of Luzon; and the harbor principalities of the estuarine civilizations that grew along rivers and seashores while participating in trans-island maritime trade. It was also during the first millennium BC that early metallurgy was said to have reached the archipelagos of maritime Southeast Asia via trade with India.
What is the Boxer Codex, and what can it tell us about the Philippines?
Describe the general social structure of the prehispanic Philippines. In what ways is it similar to or different from the social structure in your own society?
Consider your status in your own society – to which corresponding class would you belong in ancient Filipino society? Justify your answer. Is this different from the class you WISH you belonged to?
Can identify any foreign influence assimilated into the social structure of the Filipinos?
The Philippines were ruled as a colony of Spain for 333 years. This colonial experience transformed the culture and social structure of the islands dramatically, as Spaniards converted Filipinos to Christianity, reorganized barangays into barrios that suited Spanish political needs, and reorganized farming and land use according to their own economic needs. The diverse languages and traditions of prehispanic Filipinos did not disappear completely, by any means, and much can be learned by talking to and studying the way of life practiced in various parts of the modern Philippines.
However, another important way that historians and anthropologists can gain greater insight into what the Philippines were like before the Spanish arrived is via the Boxer Codex, an illustrated manuscript commissioned by the Spanish around 1590. The Boxer Codex depicts the Tagalogs, Visayans, Zambals, Cagayanes or possibly Ibanags and Negritos of the Philippines in vivid color. The technique of the paintings, as well as the use of Chinese paper, ink, and paints, suggests that the unknown artist may have been Chinese. Since Spanish colonial governors were required to submit written reports on the territories they governed, it is likely that the manuscript was written under the orders of the governor. While it is written from an outsider’s perspective and contains many cultural biases that the Spanish carried with them, it is still an invaluable tool: this richly illustrated document provides a window into Filipino society at a time when the Spanish themselves were trying to gain a clear picture of it.
Paramount Leader of the confederacy of barangay states. In a confederacy forged by alliances among polities, the datu would convene to choose a paramount chief from among themselves; their communal decision would be based on a datu’s prowess in battle, leadership, and network of allegiances.
Datus were maginoo with personal followings (dulohan or barangay). His responsibilities included: governing his people, leading them in war, protecting them from enemies and settling disputes. He received agricultural produce and services from his people, and distributed irrigated land among his barangay with a right of usufruct.
Maginoo comprised the ruling class of Tagalogs. Ginoo was both honorific for both men and women.Panginoon were maginoo with many slaves and other valuable property like houses and boats . Lineage was emphasized over wealth; the nouveau riche were derogatorily referred to as maygintawo (fellow with a lot of riches).
Members included: those who could claim noble lineage, members of the datu’s family.
Powerful governor of a province within the caliphate or dynasties of Islamic regions. Their position was inherited by a direct descent in a royal bloodline who could claim the allegiances of the datu. Sultans took on foreign relations with other states, and could declare war or allow subordinate datus to declare war if need be. The sultan had his court, a prime minister (gugu), an heir to the throne (Rajah Muda or crown prince), a third-ranking dignitary (Rajah Laut, or sea lord) and advisers (pandita).
The timawa class were free commoners of Luzon and the Visayas who could own their own land and who did not have to pay a regular tribute to a maginoo, though they would, from time to time, be obliged to work on a datu’s land and help in community projects and events. They were free to change their allegiance to another datu if they married into another community or if they decided to move.
In Luzon, their main responsibility to the datu was agricultural labor, but they could also work in fisheries, accompany expeditions, and row boats. They could also perform irregular services, like support feasts or build houses
In Visayas, they paid no tribute and rendered no agricultural labor. They were seafaring warriors who bound themselves to a datu.
Members included: illegitimate children of maginoo and slaves and former alipin who paid off their debts
Members of the Tagalog warrior class known as maharlika had the same rights and responsibilities as the timawa, but in times of war they were bound to serve their datu in battle. They had to arm themselves at their own expense, but they did get to keep the loot they won – or stole, depending on which side of the transaction you want to look at. Although they were partly related to the nobility, the maharlikas were technically less free than the timawas because they could not leave a datu’s service without first hosting a large public feast and paying the datu between 6 and 18 pesos in gold – a large sum in those days.
Today, the word alipin means slave and that’s how the Spaniards translated it, too, but the alipins were not really slaves in the Western sense of the word. They were not bought and sold in markets with chains around their necks. A better description would be to call them debtors. Slaves who lived in their own houses apart from their creditor. If the alipin’s debt came from insolvency or legal action, the alipin and his debtor agreed on a period of indenture and an equivalent monetary value in exchange for it. The alipin namamahay was allowed to farm a portion of barangay land, but he was required to provide a measure of threshed rice or a jar of rice wine for his master’s feasts. He came whenever his master called to harvest crops, build houses, row boats, or carry cargo.Members included: those who have inherited debts from namamahay parents, timawa who went into debt, and former alipin saguiguilid who married.
Slaves who lived in their creditor’s house and were entirely dependent on him for food and shelter. Male alipin sagigilid who married were often raised to namamahay status, because it was more economical for his master (as opposed to supporting him and his new family under the same roof). However, female alipin sagigilid were rarely permitted to marry.Members included: children born in debtor’s house and children of parents who were too poor to raise them.
The Laguna Copperplate
What is the Laguna Copperplate? How does it further illuminate our understanding of early Filipino social structure?
Do you have documents that perform similar functions in your own society? What are they?
The Laguna Copperplate, a legal document inscribed on a copper plate in 900 AD, is the earliest known written document found in the Philippines. The document states that it releases its bearers, the children of Namwaran, from a debt in gold amounting to 1 kati and 8 suwarnas (865 grams; 27.8 troy ounces).
The Laguna Copperplate Inscription was found in 1989 near the mouth of the Lumbang River near Laguna de Bay, by a man who was dredging sand to turn into concrete. Suspecting that the artifact might have some value, the man sold it to an antique dealer who, having found no buyers, eventually sold it to the National Museum of the Philippines, where it was assigned to Alfredo E. Evangelista, head of its anthropology department.
Kasumuran; His Honor the Leader of Pailah, representing Ganasakti; (and) His Honor the Leader
han binwangan barjadi bishruta tathapi sadanda sanak kaparawis ulih sang pamegat de-
of Binwangan, representing Bisruta. And, with his whole family, on orders of the Chief of Dewata
wata [ba]rjadi sang pamegat medang dari bhaktinda di parhulun sang pamegat. ya makanya sadanya anak
representing the Chief of Mdang, because of his loyalty as a subject (slave?) of the Chief, therefore all the descendants
chuchu dang hwan namwaran shuddha ya kaparawis di hutangda dang hwan namwaran di sang pamegat dewata. ini gerang
of his Honor Namwaran have been cleared of the whole debt that His Honor owed the Chief of Dewata. This (document) is (issued) in case
syat syapanta ha pashchat ding ari kamudyan ada gerang urang barujara welung lappas hutangda dang hwa …
there is someone, whosoever, some time in the future, who will state that the debt is not yet acquitted of His Honor…
* Line 10 of the LCI ends mid-sentence.
A year later, linguist Antoon Postma noted that the inscription was similar to the ancient Indonesian script of Kawi. Postma translated the script and found the document dated itself to the Saka year 822, an old Hindu calendar date which corresponds to 900 AD, making the Laguna Copperplate the earliest example of writing ever found in the Philippines. The document pre-dated the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 and is from about the same time as the mention of the first known mention of Philippines in world history, in the official Chinese Song dynastyHistory of Song for the year 972.
The text of the Laguna Copperplate offers us a window into Tondo culture, an ancient Filipino barangay that thrived along the Pasig River, not far from modern Metro Manila. Because it is written in Kawi, an Indonesian script, and uses several Sanskrit loan-words, it demonstrates just how connected the Philippines were with other ancient societies in Southeast Asia.
New Voices, New Flavors
What outside cultures have contributed to the notion of what a Filipino is? Describe ways in which these newcomers have shaped the Philippines.
Archaeologists have found evidence for trade with China dating back nearly 2000 years. The first high volume trade began in the 10th Century CE. The Chinese brought ceramics (what we call china), tea, and silk, while the Filipinos offered raw materials like wood, wax, pearls, and tortoise shells. This trade happened regularly, often taking place on the beach. (Diorama in the Ayala Museum, Makati, Philippines, 2018.)
After Spanish conquest, the Chinese population in Manila rose dramatically. These Chinese were merchants facilitating trade between Spain and China, but their relationship with Spanish authorities was often characterized by mistrust and violence, as in 1603 when tensions spilled over into an uprising – that left some 20,000 Chinese dead. (Diorama in the Ayala Museum, Makati, Philippines, 2018.)
Trade and interactions with China have also shaped the culture of the Philippines since ancient times. Starting in the 900s CE, trade with China become more regular, leading to increased access to Chinese goods as well as intermarriage between Chinese merchants and local Filipino women. This exchange would culminate in the Manila galleon route during the Spanish colonial period. The arrival of the Spaniards to the Philippines attracted new waves of immigrants from China, and maritime trade flourished during the Spanish period. The Spanish recruited thousands of Chinese migrant workers called sangleys to build the colonial infrastructure in the islands. Many Chinese immigrants converted to Christianity, intermarried with the locals, and adopted Hispanized names and customs and became assimilated.
Trade brought Arab and Malay merchants to the Philippines, especially in the southern islands of Mindanao and Palawan. These traders brought with them their religion – Islam, which continues to be a crucial part of Filipino identity in these islands, where as much as 10% of the population is Muslim. In fact, it is possible that if the Spanish had arrived much later, Islam could have become the dominant religion of the Philippines; while the independent-minded barangays were conquered one by one by the Spanish, the Muslim sultanates of that existed upon their arrival were united by a cohesive religious identity that contributed to an increased ability to resist Spanish attempts to dominate these islands.
The arrival of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 began a period of European colonization. During the period of Spanish colonialism the Philippines was part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, which was governed and controlled from Mexico City. Early Spanish settlers were mostly explorers, soldiers, government officials and religious missionaries born in Spain and Mexico who worked to convert the Philippines into a country that is today 83% Catholic.
The Peninsulares (governors born in Spain), mostly of Castilian ancestry, settled in the islands to govern their territory. Most settlers married the daughters of rajahs, datus and sultans to reinforce the colonization of the islands. The Ginoo and Maharlika castes (royals and nobles) in the Philippines prior to the arrival of the Spanish formed the privileged Principalía(nobility) during the Spanish period.
In modern times, the Philippines was an American colony and protectorate, meaning that English became the language of business and education, and the economy and culture of the Philippines was influenced heavily by this interaction.
Seek out some Filipino recipes. There are also plenty of cooking tutorial videos online. Visit an Asian grocery store, purchase the necessary ingredients, and actually make a Filipino dish for dinner. And don’t forget dessert – halo halo is one of my favorites (only the Filipinos would think to put raw beans in an icy desert).
There is a long tradition of resistance to colonial rule in the Philippines.
Couple of this with the country’s strong Catholicism – with its tradition of sainthood and martyrdom – and you have nation that is very aware of those who have sacrificed to advance the cause of the Filipino. Manila’s Rizal Park features the Gallery of Heroes, a row of bust sculpture monuments of historical Philippine heroes. These include: Andres Bonifacio, Juan Sumuroy, Aman Dangat, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, Gregorio Aglipay, Sultan Kudarat, Juan Luna, Melchora Aquino, Rajah Sulayman, and Gabriela Silang. Choose one of these personalities to commemorate in your own classroom. Write a brief description of their accomplishments to accompany a piece of artwork that celebrates their life for those who aren’t aware.
“Cultures are like books, the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss once remarked, each a volume in the great library of humankind. In the sixteenth century, more books were burned than ever before or since. How many Homers vanished? How many Hesiods? What great works of painting, sculpture, architecture, and music vanished or never were created? Languages, prayers, dreams, habits, and hopes—all gone. And not just once, but over and over again. In our antibiotic era, how can we imagine what it means to have entire ways of life hiss away like steam? How can one assay the total impact of the unprecedented calamity that gave rise to the world we live in? It seems important to try.” – Charles C. Mann, author of 1491.
Openendsocialstudies.org is bringing the remnants of these vibrant cultures to life in your classroom – check out our library of free readings, lessons, and activities on precolumbian American civilizations.
The Three Sisters: Background information on the agricultural combination of maize (corn), beans, and squash that formed the backbone of the Mesoamerican and North American civilization, plus suggested activities.
The Maya: Illuminated Offspring of the Makers (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): The Maya people’s rich history can be traced back nearly four thousand years, during which time they have refined and extraordinary and vibrant culture all their own.
Teotihuacan: The Place Where the Gods were Born (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Who built these incredible ruins outside of present day Mexico City, which include one of the largest pyramids in all of history? How did this mysterious civilization influence its neighbors and successors?
The Aztec: Life Under the Fifth Sun in Old Mexico: A basic overview of the Aztec-Mexica, one of the final great civilizations to arise in the western hemisphere before the paradigm shifting Columbian Exchange, including the dramatic ways in which they harnessed and changed the environment around them to grow their capital city into one of the largest in the world.
The Inca: Andean Civilization in the Realm of the Four Parts (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): The tremendous success of the Inca was attained by harnessing and adapting the incredible achievements of the earlier peoples of the Andes, one of only six places in the world where civilization developed independently.A lesson in two parts:
Unrecognized Potential: Terra Preta, Ancient Orchards, and Life in the Amazon: Until relatively recently, was widely believed that the Amazon Rainforest was incapable of sustaining large scale human development. New findings have challenged this view, and evidence of ancient agriculture suggests that humans once developed this fragile region in ways so subtle that – in the form of carefully managed soils and prehistoric orchards – they have been hiding in plain sight all this time, challenging the basic tenants of “agriculture” as western eyes tend to recognize it.
I recently took trip to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Forgoing the usual tourist center of Cancun and the Riviera Maya, I headed inland to Mérida. From this, a Maya city turned Spanish colonial center turned Mexican provincial capital, one of the oldest inhabited places in the Western Hemisphere, I undertook a short series of day trips to the great Maya ruins of the Yucatan, including Chichen Izta, Uxmal, and Ek’ Balam.
To maximize my time – to make the most sense of my all too brief visit to this incredible region – I did my homework before I left the States. Of particular use to me – and to anyone looking to learn more about the Maya and their Mesoamerican neighbors – isThe Maya (People and Places) by Michael Coe. While certain passages were somewhat esoteric in their detailed account of the history of Maya archaeology, the book itself was eminently readable – a great resource for anyone looking to cut through the hype and 2012 sensationalism that soaks the usual Amazon search results.
Aimed at younger readers – but still rich and directly written, with lush illustrations – Ancient Maya by Barbara Somervill is a book that paints a nuanced portrait of this complex society. Suitable for a middle or high school library, and I can honestly say that as an educator I took a lot away from this book myself. It never speaks down to its audience, which is the sign that a book is truly accessible to all ages.
If you know of any other relevant books I should be looking at – especially if they might help to inform future travel and lessons here at Openendedsocialstudies – please leave a comment in the section below!