Dominion and civility: Indians, Englishmen and the challenge of the first American frontiers, 1585-1685

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Stephen S. Webb


Native Americans, New England

Subject Categories

European History | History | United States History


Works in Early American History have failed to comprehend adequately the complexity of the interracial encounter between Indians and Englishmen during the first century of contact. This study emphasizes the importance of the divisions which existed both among and between the European and Native American societies inhabiting the first American frontiers, and the dialectical process which developed between the frontier and the English metropolis.

English metropolitans--the Crown officials, missionaries, and others charged with formulating and implementing a coherent policy toward Native Americans--came to the New World with a number of clearly-articulated objectives. They hoped to obtain a profit for their sponsors, whether crown or corporation. They needed to secure their colonial possessions from enemies both European and Native American. And they hoped to carry English civility and the reformed religion to the Indians. Drawing from a number of influences they could place the question of Indian relations within a context broader than that framed by the exigencies of securing survival on the English frontier. Their Anglocentric program would benefit Englishmen living on the frontiers, the Indians, and the crown. The metropolitans, however, failed to achieve their objectives. Native Americans, in the end, had little interest in becoming Englishmen, and resisted the English invasion. The English frontier population, meanwhile, whose subsistence and livelihood depended upon their access to, and control of, frontier resources, seldom obeyed metropolitan directives aimed at relieving frontier pressure on Indian lands. While metropolitans advocated secure and regular patterns of settlement, discipline, and peaceful relationships with the Indians, the frontier competed with Indians for control of, and access to, frontier resources.

In order to attain their objectives metropolitans needed to control the frontier and its inhabitants, both European and Native American. They failed both in the face of native resistance and because most frontier settlers developed attitudes toward "savage" peoples that were incompatible with the metropolitan program. The resulting tensions between frontier and metropolis profoundly effected interracial relationships and the course of American colonial development


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