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Mayflower, Day by Day - Tuesday, 1 June 1621

1 Jun 2021 3:07 AM | Soule (Administrator)

Land Sales                                                                               

One of the particularly surprising discoveries made from reading the land and court records of the colony deals with the Indians.  In almost every case, the initiative for land deals came from the Indians themselves, although (as Bangs points out in his Indian Deeds) in many, perhaps most, cases they were “invited” to sell by local settlers.  One court case involves a land "gift pretended to be given by Phillip the sachem," which the Plymouth leaders were suspicious of: it is not certain that the colonist ever actually was granted this land. Still another case involves two settlers from other colonies who were jailed for obtaining Indian land without official permission, which is highly unusual in colonial history. And, of course, the Indians could always reject an offer to sell, as they did in a 3 October 1665 listing. The Plymouth leaders were particularly interested in making sure that the Indians did not sell too much land. On 2 July 1665, while giving permission for colonists to buy Indian land, the Plymouth magistrates specified that any such purchase "doe not cause or breed any desturbance amongst the Indians.”  It certainly appears that the colony’s governors and assistants genuinely attempted to protect Indian land rights, in case after case.

This seems to have changed significantly around 1670, however.  The Indians (both individually and as a community) had got so far into debt that land became the only substantial asset that they could produce to settle with their creditors.  This is a sign of the tilt in the economic and political balance between the Indians and the settlers; perhaps it was inevitable, but it is also clear that there was no pattern of ruthless defrauding on the part of the colonists.  The economic imbalance left the Indians with only their land to exchange for what had become necessities.  The native leaders responded by establishing reservations, which seemed to be an effective way of limiting their losses.

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