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The influx of European materials made warfare more lethal and changed traditional patterns of authority among tribes. Formerly weaker groups, if they had access to European metal and weapons, suddenly gained the upper hand against once-dominant groups. The Algonquian, for instance, traded with the French for muskets and gained power against their enemies, the Iroquois. Eventually, native peoples also used their new weapons against the European colonizers who had provided them.

Explore the complexity of Indian-European relationships in the series of primary source documents on the National Humanities Center site.

Environmental changes

The European presence in America spurred countless changes in the environment, setting into motion chains of events that affected native animals as well as people. The popularity of beaver-trimmed hats in Europe, coupled with Indians’ desire for European weapons, led to the overhunting of beaver in the Northeast. Soon, beavers were extinct in New England, New York, and other areas. With their loss came the loss of beaver ponds, which had served as habitats for fish as well as water sources for deer, moose, and other animals. Furthermore, Europeans introduced pigs, which they allowed to forage in forests and other wildlands. Pigs consumed the foods on which deer and other indigenous species depended, resulting in scarcity of the game native peoples had traditionally hunted.

European ideas about owning land as private property clashed with natives’ understanding of land use. Native peoples did not believe in private ownership of land; instead, they viewed land as a resource to be held in common for the benefit of the group. The European idea of usufruct—the right to common land use and enjoyment—comes close to the native understanding, but colonists did not practice usufruct widely in America. Colonizers established fields, fences, and other means of demarcating private property. Native peoples who moved seasonally to take advantage of natural resources now found areas off limits, claimed by colonizers because of their insistence on private-property rights.

The introduction of disease

Perhaps European colonization’s single greatest impact on the North American environment was the introduction of disease. Microbes to which native inhabitants had no immunity led to death everywhere Europeans settled. Along the New England coast between 1616 and 1618, epidemics claimed the lives of 75 percent of the native people. In the 1630s, half the Huron and Iroquois around the Great Lakes died of smallpox. As is often the case with disease, the very young and the very old were the most vulnerable and had the highest mortality rates. The loss of the older generation meant the loss of knowledge and tradition, while the death of children only compounded the trauma, creating devastating implications for future generations.

Some native peoples perceived disease as a weapon used by hostile spiritual forces, and they went to war to exorcise the disease from their midst. These “mourning wars” in eastern North America were designed to gain captives who would either be adopted (“requickened” as a replacement for a deceased loved one) or ritually tortured and executed to assuage the anger and grief caused by loss.

The cultivation of plants

European expansion in the Americas led to an unprecedented movement of plants across the Atlantic. A prime example is tobacco, which became a valuable export as the habit of smoking, previously unknown in Europe, took hold ( [link] ). Another example is sugar. Columbus brought sugarcane to the Caribbean on his second voyage in 1494, and thereafter a wide variety of other herbs, flowers, seeds, and roots made the transatlantic voyage.

A 1646 Dutch painting depicts a man seated at a table smoking a long white clay pipe with evident enjoyment.
Adriaen van Ostade, a Dutch artist, painted An Apothecary Smoking in an Interior in 1646. The large European market for American tobacco strongly influenced the development of some of the American colonies.

Just as pharmaceutical companies today scour the natural world for new drugs, Europeans traveled to America to discover new medicines. The task of cataloging the new plants found there helped give birth to the science of botany. Early botanists included the English naturalist Sir Hans Sloane, who traveled to Jamaica in 1687 and there recorded hundreds of new plants ( [link] ). Sloane also helped popularize the drinking of chocolate, made from the cacao bean, in England.

The cover of Sir Hans Sloane’s catalog of the flora of the New World is shown. The title begins, “Voyage to the Islands Madera, Barbadoes, Nieves, St. Christophers, and Jamaica; with the Natural History of the Herbs and Trees, Four-footed Beasts, Fishes, Birds, Insects, Reptiles, &c., Of the last of those Islands.”
English naturalist Sir Hans Sloane traveled to Jamaica and other Caribbean islands to catalog the flora of the new world.

Indians, who possessed a vast understanding of local New World plants and their properties, would have been a rich source of information for those European botanists seeking to find and catalog potentially useful plants. Enslaved Africans, who had a tradition of the use of medicinal plants in their native land, adapted to their new surroundings by learning the use of New World plants through experimentation or from the native inhabitants. Native peoples and Africans employed their knowledge effectively within their own communities. One notable example was the use of the peacock flower to induce abortions: Indian and enslaved African women living in oppressive colonial regimes are said to have used this herb to prevent the birth of children into slavery. Europeans distrusted medical knowledge that came from African or native sources, however, and thus lost the benefit of this source of information.

Section summary

The development of the Atlantic slave trade forever changed the course of European settlement in the Americas. Other transatlantic travelers, including diseases, goods, plants, animals, and even ideas like the concept of private land ownership, further influenced life in America during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The exchange of pelts for European goods including copper kettles, knives, and guns played a significant role in changing the material cultures of native peoples. During the seventeenth century, native peoples grew increasingly dependent on European trade items. At the same time, many native inhabitants died of European diseases, while survivors adopted new ways of living with their new neighbors.

Questions & Answers

Which plan resolved the issue of representation for the U.S. Constitution?
Nichole Reply
Which of the primary features of grassroots Progressivism was the most essential to the continued growth
Ren Reply
who invented the comedy movie without soun
Sami Reply
Comedy in film ad early as 1895 in film by Louis Lumier. Utilized slapstick.
Victor
which of the following is not one of the tasks women performed during the revolution?
Donna Reply
Women were gen not involved in politics or combat
Victor
Which country etablished the first colonies in the americas
Alex Reply
which part of the America's? what year?
Kyle
Jamestown = England. if I had to guess that's the one you are looking for
Kyle
Spain. area of new Mexico I think.
Christie
the first encounter with Americans in this te Indian was Christopher Columbus from spain bt he not establish a colony and the first colony was Britain in Jamestown I think
Bernard
Spain, first settlement was La Navidad est on Columbus' first voyage and which was destroyed by natives by 1493. on subsequent voyages of Columbus and others, Spain colonized Carribean islands such as Cuba.
Victor
in what ways did westward expansion provide new opportunities for women and african americans?\
cavausier Reply
Women were involved in establishing communities. They did a lot of work in turning roughboomtowns into more civilized places that had all the benefits of such. The West was characterized by greater freedom for women e.g. women were first granted suffrage in Wyoming and other Western states.
Victor
What source did the Roman Catholic church have
robbie Reply
Please clarify: do you mean what sources do they made their authority on?
Victor
impact of coming of Portuguese in kenya
Brian Reply
impact of coming of portuguese
Brian
impact of coming of portuguese
Brian
introduced new crops, disrupted local trade and communication, introduced Christianity but had limited success converting locals
Victor
What was the first problem that Franklin Roosevelt dealt with during his "First Hundred Days"?
Bryan Reply
The Great Depression
wy
worst cover up! they should feel dumb! they we're trapped in, on both sides of the East and West borders of the Islamic forces, Columbus was desperate and started voyage due to the events of his time!
Abdul
The Banking Crisis
Victor
a better word for Columbus is "determined" not "desperate."
Victor
Which of the following protests was directly related to federal policies, and thus had the biggest impact in creating a negative public perception of Hoover presidency
Steven Reply
the Bonus Army
Victor
what mistakes did Britain mak the lost them the colonies
Victor Reply
tax without representation
JOE'S
they did not give the colinies any representation
Victor
they also imposed taxes ,such as the stamp Act, on those it is unwise to offend; lawyers, business men and other men of influence
Victor
the american revolution
Angelica Reply
what started the American revolution
Futuremfan
immediate cause: British tried to seize weapons stored by local militia which led to a confrontation
Victor
the British handling of the situation was quite inept and they allowed things to escalate out of control.
Victor
hi...can you state benefit of U.S constitution
Chimi Reply
bill of rights
Tom
it provided a political framework which provifed stability while at the same time permitting freedoms which allowed the American people to flourish
Victor
bill spelled out rights so there wpuld be no confusion
Victor
Among the major cause of American civil war, can I have a brief account on social cause?
Rinchen Reply
The issue of slavery between South America and North America that lead to the American Civil War
Sanusi
not sure what you mean by "social" causes. Do you mean things like differences between Northern ers & southerners?
Victor
The N & S developed very differently. This led to clashing outlooks and agendas. Slavery was the "irepressible conflict" that made compromise impossible.
Victor
what was the purpose of Operation Valkyrie?
Matthew Reply
I have no idea
Sanusi
that was the WWII attempt by German officers to overthrow Hitler.
Victor

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Source:  OpenStax, U.s. history. OpenStax CNX. Jan 12, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11740/1.3
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