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Women and Natives in Colonial America


During the Colonial era of world history, Europeans explored other continents looking for new land, valuable resources, and trade opportunities. Contact between cultures from opposite sides of the globe changed the lives of millions of people and the course of world history. The Colombian exchange made a significant impact on the life of Native American people, completely changing the course of the development of their culture.

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New World provided explorers with new trade goods, and crops, fruits, and vegetables from American continents started to spread around the world, affecting agriculture on all continents. Tomatoes and potatoes changed the European diet and contributed to population growth (Shannon, 2019). Europeans also learned to use tobacco that soon grew very popular. The discovery of many new plants affected life and economic process around the globe creating new markets and trade routes. Many animals, including horses, donkeys, sheep, goats, and pigs, were brought from Europe to the Americas. This livestock was widely used in agriculture and transportation (Shannon, 2019). Learning to use horses for transportation and hunting, these tribes also expanded their territories.

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Apart from trade and culture, the Colombian exchange also led to the spread of the disease between the continents. The contact with new pathogens created a disastrous situation as people who had not been exposed to it before had not developed immune responses. Bringing livestock and people from the Old World, Europeans also transmitted diseases that were new to the indigenous people. Smallpox, measles killed millions of people, decreasing the native population by more than eighty percent (Ghio, 2017). In addition to that, the slave trade brought yellow fever from Africa to the New World.

The time of the European exploration of the Americas was a major truing point in the history of the world. The Colombian Exchange gave Europeans access to plants that became central for their agriculture and introduced horses to Native Americans, but also led to the spread of the diseases, killing millions of people. These diseases had a severe decrementing effect on Native Americans and became of the causes of their civilization.

From the beginning of the colonization of the continent, America was viewed as a land of new opportunities. But access to these opportunities was not equal for male and female settlers, leaving women with very few legal rights. The position of women in societies of European Settlers differed from colony to colony, being influenced by specific figures of life in the area and the cultural background of its inhabitants.

Culture in Massachusetts, for example, was shaped by puritan traditions, and the positions of men and women in that area were unequal. Female settlers did not have almost any legal rights, could not have property, and did not have access to education (Salmon, 2016). At the same time, in cities, like New York, the situation was different. Urban life allowed women to socialize and have jobs in light manufacturing, hospitals, and some other industries.

In contrast to European counterparts, in indigenous cultures, men and women had comparable social positions. According to the religious beliefs of many tribes, people originated from a female who gave birth to all living creatures. Worship to “mother earth” affected views on gender roles influencing status that women had in a group. As a result, before the colonial period, Native American women had jobs and responsibilities equivalent to men.

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Social structure in colonies was shaped by the culture of the settlers and the size of the settlement. Cities provided female inhabitants with more opportunities compared to rural areas, but in all the colonies, women enjoyed few legal rights and did not have an equal social position with men. On the other hand, females in indigenous tribes had a position, responsibilities, and jobs equivalent to males.


Salmon, M. (2016). Women and the law of property in early America. Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press Books.

Ghio, A. J. (2017). Particle exposure and the historical loss of Native American lives to infections. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 195(12), 1673-1673.

Shannon, T. (2019). Atlantic Lives: A comparative approach to early America. New York, NY: Routledge.

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