I was reading In the Days of Poor Richard by Irving Bacheller (the full book can be viewed here). At the beginning of the book, there is a long paragraph describing the main character that goes like this:

The first time I saw the boy, Jack Irons, he was about nine years old. I was in Sir William Johnson's camp of magnificent Mohawk warriors at Albany. Jack was so active and successful in the games, between the red boys and the white, that the Indians called him 'Boiling Water.'

Though no date is given, I think the scenario being described in this quote is set in the middle of the 18th century, judging by the name Sir William Johnson. The quote seems to indicate that the Mohawk people and the colonists cohabited well with each other, to the point of letting their children play with each other, and interacting with them.

This detail directly contradicts with what I know (or think I know) about the relationship between Native Americans and colonists during the 18th century. I did some searching around the Internet and all I found was confirmation of what I already know. According to this website and this website, the Native Americans and the colonists did have a good relationship with each other in the 1600s, but over time, the relationship gradually went sour due to various reasons such as diseases brought by the colonists and bloody conflicts. By the 18th century, the Native Americans had already developed trust issues with the colonists and vice versa, as echoed in a few paragraphs later of In the Days of Poor Richard (this is a description of another character named Solomon).

He had been the best scout in the army of Sir Jeffrey Amherst. As a small boy he had been captured by the Senecas and held in the tribe a year and two months. Early in the French and Indian War, he had been caught by Algonquins and tied to a tree and tortured by hatchet throwers until rescued by a French captain. After that his opinion of Indians had been, probably, a bit colored by prejudice.

I'm very conflicted about these details, since the book claims to base itself on "old letters, diaries, and newspaper clippings in the possession of a well-known American family", which implies that the author did careful research for the book he wrote. So my question is: is the detail of the Native Americans getting along with the colonists described in In the Days of Poor Richard historically accurate?

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    People are people, not elements of faceless historic forces. There is nothing incompatible with individuals getting along perfectly well even when we know that groups of which they are a member will later collide. E.g., the informal Christmas Truce in 1914. Both can both be true parts of the same story. As to whether history had to happen the way it did...I wish I knew.
    – Mark Olson
    May 24, 2021 at 17:13
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    I'm not an expert of this historical period by any means, but it might be relevant that sir William Johnson advocated a politics of compromise with the Native Americans and a strong opponent of westward expansion of the colonies. It's not the first time I read of him having an uncommonly good relationship with the Iroquois. Jun 2, 2021 at 6:40
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    The premise of your question "...the Native Americans and the colonists did have a good relationship with each other in the 1600s, but over time, the relationship gradually went sour due to various reasons such as diseases brought by the colonists and bloody conflicts..." is impossibly broad. There were myriad groups of people speaking myriad languages in the new world when Europeans arrived (whenever they arrived). There is not even close to one story that can be characterized and good or bad. Jun 3, 2021 at 1:30

1 Answer 1


All of the land in the colonies was originally owned by various Indian groups whose populations were declining rapidly due to diseases from Europe, while the populations of the colonists were growing through births and immigration and they needed more land.

So land deals between the Indians and the colonists were natural, and usually benefited both sides. But humans being human, relations between various Indian groups and various groups of colonists often deteriorated into bloody wars.

In Pennsylvania with its strong Quaker element, the government purchased land from various Indian groups during the early 18th century. And those were mostly very fair deals compared to most.

It was not until the "Walking Purchase" of 1737 that the Pennsylvania government cheated a group of Lenape Indians by taking more land in a deal than the Indians expected, and they only dared to do so because they had already arranged that the Iroquois, the powerful overlords of the Lenape, would not intervene on behalf of the Lenape.

And that was still a lot less bad than the outright conquest a number of other colonies used at various times.

I note that it was common for Indians to capture enemies and assimilate them into their tribes. I have read that about 1700 many Iroquois villages had populations who were mostly assimilated from tribes the Iroquois had more or less genocided during the Beaver Wars.

And of course a number of colonists were captured and assimilated into Indian groups.

A number of white persons also voluntarily joined various Indian groups.

Similarly white colonists sometimes captured Indians and sold them as slaves in the Caribbean or kept them as slaves themselves. Indians whose homes became surrounded by incoming settlers often more or less assimilated into the colonial society which was now the majority of the population.

I have read that many 19th century New England sailors and whalers were New England Indians.

So there were a number of Indians who were white, and a number of white people who were Indians. And sometimes those assimilated regained contact with their relatives in the other group.

There were also a number of people born to mixed parents, who usually joined one group or the other and often acted as intermediaries between them.

The Dutch established a permanent trading post at Albany, New York,t o trade with the Indians, in 1614. Trade with the Indians was a significant part of colony economy, and trade with the settlers became an even more significant part of the Indian economy as the Indians began to use more and more European goods and lost their skills to make things the old way.

Thus there was a lot of peaceful contact between Indians and the colonists.


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    Can you support the assertion that "All of the land in the colonies was originally owned by various Indian groups. . . ."? That contradicts most of what I've read on the topic. J. L. Bell has a very nice explanation of Red Jacket's understanding of Native American "ownership" of the land.
    – MCW
    May 24, 2021 at 18:41
  • @MCW - I'd like to read more of that myself. My understanding is that specific tribe/nation members might not "own" specific parcels of land, but native tribes and nations as a whole totally had territory that they considered exclusively theirs.
    – T.E.D.
    May 26, 2021 at 1:27
  • my error. Little Tutle, not red jacket. here is one of the articles; click through for others.
    – MCW
    May 26, 2021 at 9:15
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    @MCW - Hmm, interesting. I think when they said "White People" in there, it would be more accurate to say "Englishmen". That's a natural outlook for people who grew up on an island. Europe had much the same issue, where centralized people like Frenchmen and Spaniards tended to consider distant rivers and mountains good borders, whereas people like Germans and Basques had a tendency to live in connected communities on both sides of said rivers and mountains, and didn't see it that way at all.
    – T.E.D.
    May 29, 2021 at 2:00

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