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Colonists Scalp Native Americans (February 20, 1725)

Today in Odd History, a group of American colonists attacked a Native American encampment in New Hampshire, taking 10 scalps, for which the British government paid a bounty of ВЈ 100 each.

The colonists, led by Captain John Lovewell, had been authorized to conduct revenge attacks for raids by the Indians against British settlements. They had had some success, killing and scalping an Indian man and taking a boy prisoner in December, 1724. On February 20, 1725, they came across an encampment, and hid in the woods until 2 AM. Once they were sure that the enemy was asleep, they fired volleys into the camp, killing 9 Indians and wounding one more. He tried to flee, but was chased down by a dog and killed. The dead were scalped, and in early March, Lovewell marched into Boston, wearing a wig constructed from several scalps, and carrying the plunder from the raid—blankets, moccasins, snowshoes and rifles.

Lovewell’s raids were the first recorded instances of Europeans scalping Native Americans. The practice is traditionally associated with North American Indian tribes. Episodes such as this one, however, have led some people to believe that the Europeans actually introduced scalping to America. In 1820, an Allegheny Seneca chieftain named Cornplanter claimed that the Indians were peaceful until Europeans came. There is also some evidence that if they did not invent scalping, European settlers did help to spread the practice westward as they emigrated across the continent. The archeological evidence, however, suggests that scalping did in fact originate in the Americas, and that it was widespread long before European contact. Skulls bearing evidence of scalping have been found throughout the Americas, many of them dating to hundreds of years before European contact. What the Europeans did introduce was the practice of paying bounties for scalps. These bounties led to an increase in scalpings by white settlers, male and female; a woman named Hanna Duston was actually known as "The Hatchet Lady" for her scalping activities. It seems likely that as scalping by whites became more common, Native Americans may also have begun taking more scalps, and that tribes which had not previously practiced scalping may have begun to do so in revenge for the scalpings carried out against their people. If this is the case, then Native Americans and European settlers may actually have taught each other to scalp.


The History Channel
Imagine Maine: Lovewell’s Fight
Cutting to the Chase of a Long-time Debate
The Earliest Scalping Victim in America
Scalping: Myth and Reality
Native Truth II

More on Colonial relationships with Native American tribes.

New Worlds for All...

New Worlds for All: Indians, Europeans, and the Remaking of Early America, by Colin G. Calloway
Calloway explores not only the devastating effect of colonization on Native American tribes, but also the more subtle influence that Native American cultures exerted on European settlers.


Indians and English:  Facing Off...Indians and English: Facing Off in Early America, by Karen Ordahl Kupperman
Drawing on oral tradition and the records of early English settlers, Kupperman paints a vivid portrait of the relationships between the Algonquins on the Eastern coast of North America and the English immigrants who settled there.

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