History ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 5-21-1970


The subject of this study is the reactions and obser­vations of British travelers who between 1660 and 1763 visited the American Indians located between the Ohio River and Spanish Florida and the Atlantic coast and the Mississippi River, It examines the reasons for the trips, the socio-economic back­grounds of the men, the tribes visited, and the quality and quantity of the Whites' comments.

The nearly fifty British subjects who are known to have traveled among the Southern Indians were diverse. Only about one-third of them made journeys specifically to visit native Americans, Slightly fewer than half of the Whites encountered the Indians without design. The intentions of the remainder are unknown, Most of the travelers were fairly well educated; their professions and social positions varied. One-­fourth were ministers or laymen in religious missions and an equal number were governmental officials. Other accounts were written by sea captains, surgeons, wealthy colonial aristo­crats, a Scottish baronet, an indentured servant, and a frontiersman.

The accounts of the area and tribes visited reveal much of the development of the Southern colonies during the period. In the half century following the Stuart Restoration, White settlement expanded west and south of Virginia, and most of the travelers were explorers of the Piedmont and the Caro­lina coast or early colonists of South Carolina. The Indians encountered by these individuals were small Siouan tribes for the most part. During the next fifty years the Cherokee Na­tion and the Creek Confederation received most of the Whites, and several Georgia colonists wrote of the Yamacraw. Through­out the century occasional travelers visited the pacified Indians of the Tidewater who had lost their independence.

Most of the impressions were concerned with easily ob­servable aspects of native society and culture. Lengthy and perceptive accounts touching on numerous items within Indian civilization were rare. Judging from the comments, the tra­velers were most interested in the appearance of the Red Men, their religion, their homes and villages, and their subsis­tence activities. Comments on the social customs, the dances and the medicine of the natives also regularly appeared. Most of the sojourners misunderstood Indian political organization and believed that elements of monarchy were present among the Red Men. Very few of the Whites condemned the Indians, and the strongest criticism came from ministers who were disap­pointed with attempts to convert the native Americans.

The accounts used were written by men who traveled in times of peace, and such persons had little interest in the strange, cruel aspects of native fighting. They showed a general awareness of the need to improve White-Indian rela­tions, but offered few specific suggestions. Totally lacking was any recognition of the profound conflict between the two civilizations. Several of the writers commented on the ac­ceptance by the Indians of certain White cultural items, but none theorized on the effect of the acculturation process that was underway.

The study reveals not only the nature of the Whites' interest in the Southern Indians, but also provides some in­sight into the culture of the travelers themselves. On the whole it indicates that the British were a practical people. Very few of the writers revealed any interest in either con­tributing to or detracting from the concept of the "Noble Savage." The British colonists were primarily interested in the maintenance of peaceful relations, in increasing the British influence, and in materially or spiritually profiting from the contact with the Indians, and most of the travelers recorded tangible and concrete knowledge which might help achieve these goals.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

William Minor Dabney

Second Committee Member

Ferenc Morton Szasz

Third Committee Member

George Winston Smith

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