The Indian Slave Trade

The Indian Slave Trade


american Indian in traditional headdress European colonists caused a change in Native American slavery, as they created a new demand market for captives of raids. Especially in the southern colonies, initially developed for resource exploitation rather than settlement, colonists purchased or captured Native Americans to be used as forced labor in cultivating tobacco, and, by the eighteenth century, rice, and indigo. To acquire trade goods, Native Americans began selling war captives to whites rather than integrating them into their own societies. Traded goods, such as axes, bronze kettles, Caribbean rum, European jewelry, needles, and scissors, varied among the tribes, but the most prized were rifles. English colonists aped the rationales of their Spanish and Portuguese counterparts: they saw the enslavement of Africans and Native Americans as a moral, legal, and socially acceptable institution; a rationale for enslavement was as part of a "just war", where the taking of captives and using them as slave labour was viewed as an alternative to a death sentence. The escape of Native American slaves was frequent, because they had a better understanding of the land, which African slaves did not. Consequently, the Natives who were captured and sold into slavery were often sent to the West Indies, or far away from their home.

picture of group of traditional Indians
The first African slave on record was located in Jamestown. Before the 1630s, indentured servitude was dominant form of bondage in the colonies, but by 1636 only Caucasians could lawfully receive contracts as indentured servants. The oldest known record of a permanent Native American slave was a native man from Massachusetts in 1636. By 1661 slavery had become legal in all of the existing colonies. Virginia would later declare that "Indians, Mulattos, and Negros to be real estate," and in 1682, New York forbade African or Native American slaves from leaving their master's home or plantation without permission.

Europeans also viewed the enslavement of Native Americans differently than the enslavement of Africans in some cases; a belief that Africans were "brutish people" was dominant. While both Native Americans and Africans were considered savages, Native Americans were romanticized as noble people that could be elevated into Christian civilization.

New England
The Pequot War resulted in the enslavement of some of the surviving Pequot by English colonists in New England.
The Pequot War of 1636 led to the enslavement of war captives and other members of the Pequot by Europeans, almost immediately after the founding of Connecticut as a colony. The Pequot thus became an important part of New England's culture of slavery. The Pequot War was devastating: the Niantic, Narragansett, and Mohegan tribes were persuaded into helping the Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Plymouth colonists massacre the Pequot, with at least 700 of the Pequot killed. Most enslaved Pequot were noncombatant women and children, with court records indicating that most served as chattel slaves for life. Some court records show bounties on runaway native slaves more than 10 years after the War. What further aided the Indian slave trade throughout New England and the South was that different tribes didn't recognize themselves as members of the same race, dividing the tribes among each other. The Chickasaw and Westos, for example, sold captives of other tribes indiscriminately so as to augment their political and economic power.

Furthermore, Rhode Island also participated in the enslavement of Native Americans, but records are incomplete or non-existent, making the exact number of slaves unknown. The New England governments would promise plunder as part of their payment, and commanders like Israel Stoughton viewed the right to claim Native American women and children as part of their due. Because of lack of records it can only be speculated if the soldiers demanded these captives as sexual slaves or solely as servants. Few colonial leaders questioned the policies of the colonies' treatment of slaves, but Roger Williams, who tried to maintain positive connections with the Narragansett, was conflicted. As a Christian he felt that identifiable Indian murderers "deserved death", but he condemned the murder of Native American women and children, though most of his criticisms were kept private. Massachusetts originally kept peace with the Native American tribes in the region, but that changed, and the enslavement of Native Americans became inevitable. Boston newspapers mention escaped slaves as late as 1750. In 1790, the United States census report indicated that the number of slaves in the state was 6,001, with an unknown proportion of Native Americans, but at least 200 were cited as half-breed Indians (meaning half African). Since Massachusetts took the advance in the fighting of the King Philip's War and the Pequot War; it is most likely the Massachusetts colony greatly exceeded that of either Connecticut or Rhode Island in the number of Native American slaves owned. New Hampshire was unique: it had very few slaves, and maintained a somewhat peaceful stance with various tribes during the Pequot War and King Philip's War. Colonists in the South began to capture and enslave Native Americans for sale and export to the "sugar islands" such as Jamaica, as well as to northern colonies. The resulting Native American slave trade devastated the southeastern Native American populations and transformed tribal relations throughout the Southeast. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the English at Charles Town (in modern South Carolina), the Spanish in Florida, and the French in Louisiana sought trading partners and allies among the Native Americans by offering goods such as metal knives, axes, firearms and ammunition, liquor, beads, cloth, and hats in exchange for furs (deerskins) and Native American slaves.

Traders, frontier settlers, and government officials encouraged Native Americans to make war on each other, to reap the profits of the slaves captured in such raids or to weaken the warring tribes. Starting in 1610, the Dutch traders had developed a lucrative trade with the Iroquois. The Iroquois gave the Dutch beaver pelts; in exchange the Dutch gave them clothing, tools, and firearms, which gave them more power than neighboring tribes had. The trade allowed the Iroquois to have war campaigns against other tribes, like the Eries, Huron, Petun, Shawnee, and the Susquehannocks. The Iroquois also began to take war captives and sell them. The increased power of the Iroquois, combined with the diseases the Europeans unknowingly brought, devastated many eastern tribes. 

Credit: From Wikipedia

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