Native American slaves in the South were familiar with the practice of bondage. Traditional kinship slavery was practiced by most groups in the region before the introduction of Europeans. The Europeans first who encountered this sort of slavery, on the other hand, saw something quite different.

A common theme among white observers was that their own cultural experiences influenced their perception of native activities. As a result, when missionaries from Oscar de Soto onward came across kinship-based servitude, they described it using the master-slave concept they were familiar with. 

Despite being inaccurate in its depiction of kinship enslavement in the 16th and 17th centuries, the European-style slavery paradigms are an appropriate representation in nineteenth-century America of the sort of plantation slavery practiced by American Indians in the Southeast.

Native American Slaves: Slavery In Indian Culture

native american slaves

Kinship played an important role in many Southern Native American slaves culture. If someone wasn’t part of the group, they were seen as outside and a possible enemy. Ceremony “adopting” outsider officials into the familial circle was common in diplomatic and commerce connections with foreign cultures. 

However, the situation was rather different when it came to foreign prisoners of war. Lost kin may be welcomed into the tribe; they may be executed in retaliation for the loss of relatives, or they may be forced into servitude. 

As soon as prisoners arrived in the settlement, the decision was typically made by one of the female residents. “In itself, a kind gesture on the captors’ side,” writes Almon Wheeler Lauber, enslavement is a “nice thing” compared to the possibly horrifying alternative.

They were not included in the kinship network because they were enslaved, but rather because they existed outside of it at the mercy of their captors. It was clear that their lives were in jeopardy because they were adversaries. 

This was not a profit-making machine since there was no commercialized agriculture at the time. Instead, these slaves toiled alongside their masters doing their everyday tasks. 

The Cherokee’s slaves, or at Baha’i, a nonhuman possession, were not passed down from generation to generation. They could, and frequently did, be accepted into the group at any time. 

“They cooked, dusted, collected firewood, farmed, offered sexual services, but are a lot like any other family friend,” says historian Claudio Saunt (Saunt 2005, p. 17). In her 1979 study, Theda Perdue asserts that slaves had a significant part in Cherokees’ understanding of their identity. 

A group of outsiders was needed to help determine community boundaries because the Cherokees place such a high value on autonomy and lack a centralized government. There are numerous other Native communities in the South that similarly used slavery.

The Native American Slaves Trade With The Indians

It was as a victim, not as a master, that Native Americans first encountered the English style of bondage typical in the colonial era. In a few years following their first interactions with the Indians, colonists began enslaving them. As many as one-third of the colonists were killed when the Powhatans led Strong brand value landed at Jamestown in 1622.

London-based publisher Lauber’s collection includes an excerpt from an article originally published there stating that Indian slaves “who previously are being used as friends, also may justly be coerced to slavery” can be sent to “the Summer Islands” for use (1915, p. 370).

The exploitation of Indians as slaves quickly spread beyond those who fought against English settlers. Various Indian tribes were sold for commercial items by colonial powers in exchange for their prisoners obtained from other Indian tribes. In the eastern possessions or the Caribbean, those captives would be sent. 

Allied Indians were pushed to raid those allies of their colonialism counterparts by European rivals. Many whites and natives were driven to extraordinary levels of violence by the promise of wealth. 

According to Lauber, “nearly the whole population of seven villages, in all, about 1400 inhabitants” were enslaved by South Carolinians & their Indian allies within Yamassee War (1915, p. 121). 

Slaves are just no longer an “other” against which one’s society might be defined, but a marketed commodity. Captives were never any longer an afterthought of war. Plantations were “inextricably linked” and “at the center,” says historian Alan Gallay, to the establishment of the enterprise system (Gallay, 2002, p. 7). 

From 1670 to 1715, approximately 24,000 & 51,000 American Indians are sold in the South, calling the slave trade “a most significant force affecting the South” (2002, p. 299).

Slavery affected both Indians and African-Americans at first, and they worked together and married each other, but as time went on, chattel slavery was only experienced by African-Americans.

The Indian slave trade has declined over time for a variety of reasons. When it came to plantation work, Native Americans were found to have a much greater death and abandonment rate than their black counterparts.

Lauber attributes these phenomena to the belief that a person’s actions are influenced by their surroundings “Indian culture was characterized by a devotion to individual freedom. 

The Indian was a creature that resisted every restriction when it was imposed by an external force because of its genetic and environmental influences. For many Southern Indian cultures, the traditional division of labor between men and women might well have played a major role. 

Women handled most of the domestic duties, while men were in charge of outdoor pursuits like hunting. In addition to restricting their independence, forcing Native American males to work in the fields violated traditional gender norms.

Regardless of the reason, Indians had a higher death rate and a higher chance of eluding capture. Furthermore, enslaving people whose families lived across the ocean was safer than enslaving people who lived just a few kilometers away and were armed.

In A Completely New Direction

By the end of the eighteenth century, the essential ideas of indentured servitude had finally taken shape in the imaginations of Indians in the South. The practice of colonial administration awarding Indian allies using African slaves and providing prizes for the recovery of runaways promoted the commercialization of human beings introduced through the slave trade. The American Revolution set in motion a chain of events that would lead to the Indian embrace of both the notion and the institution.

During the American Revolution, Native Americans east of the Mississippi experienced a turning point in their culture and history. When colonial powers clashed, Indian leaders were able to maintain some degree of autonomy & political influence.

Native American slaves were still able to appeal to the British authorities for protection against expanding settlers, despite the loss of French authority 1783’s treaty of Paris was the turning point. 

There was only a single white government left to contend with for the Native Americans, besides the Spanish (whose southeastern possessions were minor in comparison to that of the U.s and would not endure long). 

The falling deerskin trade weakened the economic power of the Indians, who were no longer needed as partners against the European powers. The southern Indians in particular realized by the 1790s that their chances of defeating the new national govt militarily were slim. An entirely new strategy was necessitated.

They believed that they would have to protect their lands by adopting European methods rather than by using physical weapons. In several tribes, prominent Indians married their girls to European traders, thus establishing those traders members of their kin circle & cementing a business tie with them.

Even in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the children of elite Indian marriages were enrolling in prestigious American institutions and universities. Some tribes, such as the Choctaw, accepted Christian missionaries into ancient lands, generally intending to provide their children with a proper education rather than convert them to Christianity. 

Most of the largest Southern tribes—Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, and Chickasaw—saw a growing trend of “American culture,” at least among their elites, within a generation or two. Plantation agriculture, which included widespread chattel slavery, was one of the most important parts of early Americanization.

Indigenous Peoples As Plantation Owners (Native Americans)

There were 512 slaves among the 17,963 Choctaws in Mississippi in1830 federal Choctaw census. In total, there were 66 people in control of native American slaves, although only 12 of them were white. Chief David Folsom had ten slaves, while Chief Greenwood LeFlore possessed 32. 

The Perry brothers controlled 51 outright. Mushulatubbee, the most notable “full-blood” ruler, had ten slaves, and not all slaveholders were multiracial. The number of slaves possessed by other tribes was roughly the same as their population.

However, owners were not always elites. As a rule, local producers who owned slaves had a more conventional mindset than the wealthy. Small-scale plantations worked in a very different manner from the bigger farms and plantations held by Indians’ white neighbors, therefore the experiences of black slaves on these farms were extremely distinct from those of their larger counterparts. 

native american slaves

They worked closely with their human property, sometimes acting as though they were family, and we’re more prone than larger slaveholders to treat their property in the same manner as kinfolk slaves. 

Several white travelers noted the “lax” care slaves got from these owners, and many Africans would subsequently claim that their Indian masters provided greater care for them than white slave owners. 

Native American slaves: After the Indian Removal Act, this trend was maintained in the Indian Territory but became less common. By the end of the Civil War, the lives of Indian slaves were little different from those of slaves in other parts of the United States.