From warrior to soldier: New England Indians in the colonial military, 1675--1763

Date of Completion

January 2009


History, United States|History, Military|Native American Studies




From 1689 to 1726, Massachusetts and Connecticut officials greatly valued the martial abilities of Indian men from southern New England, recruiting them in large numbers. Notwithstanding colonial fears and outright hostility, Indian military skills and temperament gave Native Americans significant leverage in negotiating pay, terms of service and other aspects of their military experience. Soldiering for a colony provided generations of Indian men with an outlet for validating manhood on their own terms in a setting comparable to traditional war parties. Military service supplied an important source of income for Indian communities. Moreover, the security needs of colonists provided opportunities for native leaders to negotiate with provincial governments during recruitment and validation of their status through appointments as leaders of special all-Indian companies.^ In spite of the seeming advantages, a combination of economic dependence on whites combined with lending practices aimed at appropriating indigenous land and labor, led many natives to become ensnared in a system of debt peonage. Pressed into indentured servitude to pay their debts, Indian men responded to the high wages and incentives offered by recruiters seeking to enlist them. At some point in his lifetime virtually every Indian man from the region served in the military; many did so repeatedly. This study examines what motivated them to enlist and explores the meaning and changing nature of their experiences. ^ Between 1740 and the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, economic, social and political transformations dramatically altered the ability of southern New England natives to shape their experiences in the military or to reap the same benefits from service that they once had. Not only did war become deadlier, but increased metropolitan military leadership, the larger size and scope of the conflicts, Native Americans' demographic decline, and a growing emphasis on European-style warfare and tactics devalued the skills for which New England's Indian men had been recognized. Moreover, emerging imperial racial ideologies redefined Indians among British Americans, intensifying discrimination against them and rendering them unreliable in the minds of English commanders. Ranger units staffed by Anglo-Americans or British troops were now introduced, lessoning the need for Indian soldiers. By the end of the Seven Years' War, provincial military service no long offered Native American men with the roles and concomitant rewards it had for three generations. Ultimately, the Anglicization of the colonies and the victory over the French and their Indian allies undermined the status Native American soldiers had enjoyed. ^