Native American Nations

BP Natives Shield

If there is one phrase that might best epitomize Native Americans in the seventeenth century, it is “the beginning of the end”—the beginning of the end of freedom, of self-governance, and for some tribes, of existence. Many coastal tribes are being forced inland, are under a European yoke, or have disappeared entirely. As European expansion grows, so does the forced retreat of Native Americans. Even so, many Native American peoples stand their ground. In some instances, they are aided by geography, in others by alliance with competing European nations. Often, both geography and alliance play a role. The colonial expansion of European powers is both hindered and abetted by Native Americans, inevitably to the detriment of these peoples. On a smaller scale, sea rovers—pirates and privateers—often benefit from an alliance with various Native Americans, but also exploit many as slaves, and often enough find themselves on the receiving end of Native American weaponry.

Native American Factions

Caribs (Kalinago)

William Dampier once described the Caribs of the Caribbean—the “Island Caribs”—as “a sort of Warlike Indians, delighting to rove on the Sea in Periagoes or large Canoes.” Master seafarers, the Caribs make long voyages for both trade and war in seagoing pirogues and bacassas, reserving canoes for local travel. These craft are often decorated with carved bas-relief at the stern—a monkey in one example—and occasionally with boucaned human limbs as trophies as well. Although the Caribs have a reputation as cannibals—the word cannibal is believed to be a transcription error for Caribal—the practice is largely ceremonial. In the Caribbean, the Caribs have managed to hold their own against European expansion. Early in the century they are often allied with the Spanish against the Dutch and English, later in the century with the French against the English. By the 1680s there are also a large number of “Black Caribs” or Garifuna on Saint Vincent Island, the product of shipwrecked, escaped, and captured slaves brought into the Carib community. On the northeast coasts of South America are the “Mainland Caribs” or Kalinago, whose culture is very similar to that of the Island Caribs. Although expert literally from early childhood in the bow and arrow, warrior Caribs are often also armed with European swords and flintlock muskets supplied by the French. Their raids are swift; they do not linger. Ambush and other tactical deceptions are their preferred way to make war.

Darien (Cuna)

Long known among Europeans as a dangerous Native American people on the perilous Isthmus of Darien (Isthmus of Panama)—the butcher buccaneer l’Olonnais died deservedly at their hands—the Darien forge an alliance with English buccaneers via John Gret, a Darien boy kidnapped by an English buccaneer and raised by the Miskito. Off and on for three decades, Darien-English alliances support raids on the Spanish at Santa Maria and treks across the Isthmus to the South Sea. The Darien are adept at coastal travel in canoes on both the Caribbean and South Sea coasts, and many of their people live on the San Blas Islands at the Isthmus. The Darien are courageous in warfare, and often implacable enemies of the Spanish, who have been unable to subjugate or convert them. By the end of the century many former buccaneers, particularly French, have settled on the Caribbean coast among the Darien. Described as athletic and as swift runners, the Darien arm for war with a bow and a quiver of arrows, a lance or two, and a Darien war club or a European machete or cutlass. “Surprizal”—attack by surprise, including from ambush—is their preferred tactic. Using the bow and arrow with great accuracy from “ambuscade,” the Darien close for the coup de grâce with lance or war club.

Caribbean Tribes (1630-1737) &
South American Tribes (1630-1800)

All European settlements in the Americas interact, often violently, with Native Americans, no matter where on the continents the colonies are founded. Mariners, whether seeking wood and water or shipwrecked, often interact with tribes beyond areas settled by Europeans. In the Caribbean, English buccaneers have a long-standing alliance with the Miskito, dating to the first half of the century and the Providence Island Company. Inhabiting what is today known as the Mosquito Coast of Honduras and Nicaragua, the Miskito often provide “strikers” for buccaneer crews. The strikers provide sea turtle and manatee as provisions, and hunt ashore as well, along with fighting alongside buccaneers on their raids. Hundreds of tribes are in Brazil in amity and conflict with the Dutch and Portuguese. Some fight with the Dutch against the Portuguese, others vice versa. Often, members of the same tribes may fight against each other alongside opposing European factions. Many of the Native peoples in Brazil are adept at both European tactics as well as guerrilla warfare. Some Brazilian tribes ally with Bandeirantes on their colonial explorations and Native American slave raiding, while others obviously oppose them. Maroon colonies in Brazil come into conflict with Native Americans as well.

Northeastern Woodland Tribes
Iroquois (1620-1783) & Wabanaki (1620-1783)

Extensive English and French colonial settlement in the northeast of North America has brought instability, conflict, and disease to Native Americans in the region. Not only are Native Americans pitted against encroaching European settlements, but they are recruited into larger conflicts between the English and French. The Huron, for example, often ally with the French while their enemies of the Iroquois Confederacy ally with the English. Conflict is almost constant, with raids for prisoners and plunder common. As English colonies expand, so does the need to seize territory, resulting in the displacement of many Native Americans. Some of the defeated are sold into slavery, including Wampanoag warriors sold in Jamaica after their defeat during King Philip’s War in Massachusetts. But Native American warfare here is not conducted only ashore, but also at sea. Via canoes and captured European craft, many coastal tribes raid European fishing and merchant vessels in harbors and sometimes in coastal waters. Some Native Americans join French privateer crews, and on at least one occasion Native Americans capture English sloops and force their crews to serve aboard these now Native American men-of-war. Although the bow and arrow is the primary Native American weapon in the region, many tribes acquire flintlock muskets and become expert in their use, even to the point of being able to make many of their own repairs. Ambush and quick surprise raids and withdrawals are common tactics, but many of the Northeastern Woodland peoples also make large-scale long-range raids against both Native American and European enemies. Warfare between the English and French in the region will continue through the eighteenth century, engaging Native Americans as both allies and enemies.

Southeastern Woodland Tribes

Stretching from Virginia to Florida, from the Appalachian Mountains to much of the Gulf Coast, the Southeastern Woodland tribes are in constant contact with Europeans, many of them mariners and sea rovers. Trade and conflict predominate, and the English, Spanish, and French play off tribal animosities among each other. Many Native Americans are sold into slavery, including members of the Powhatan after Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia. The English at South Carolina align with the Westo and Yamassee against the Spanish in Florida, seeking trade in deer hides and other skins, and Native American slaves as well. Likewise do the Spanish make alliances with Floridian tribes against the English. Buccaneers and other treasure hunters often seize Floridian Native Americans as divers to salvage Spanish wrecks. As English traders and Spanish and French explorers stretch inland, they interact with the great alliances of the region: the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw. The French first explore the Mississippi River valley from the north, then establish a short-lived colony on the Gulf Coast, where local peoples are often hostile to all interlopers. As French interests expand along the Gulf Coast, and permanent colonies are founded from 1698 onward, European trade and conflict with and among the Southeastern tribes increases. The Spanish attempt to subjugate and “convert” Southeastern tribes; the French attempt to live among them; and the English simply push them out of the way when they can. No matter the manner of interaction, it spells eventual doom for the Southeastern peoples. Many fight back, armed with native bow and arrow, tomahawk, and when they can acquire them, flintlock muskets with which they are quite adept.


BP Spain ShieldBP England Shield BP France Shield BP Natives Shield BP European Shield BP Unaligned Shield