Sunday, October 12, 2008

Indian Slavery in Colonial Times Within the Present Limits of the United States.

Author: Lauber, Almon Wheeler

Citation: New York: Columbia University, 1913

IN all sections where captives in war or kidnapped Indians were purchased from the natives, such buying was closely connected with the fur trade. The general fickleness and instability of the Indian’s character, which caused the tribes to change their allegiance so readily from one white race to the other, made easy the acquisition of slaves along with other commodities. The routes along which the fur trade was carried on facilitated both the acquisition of Indians and their transportation to the markets. And the fact that furs and the agricultural products of the south were not commodities that competed with English wares eliminated opposition to the traffic in Indians.1

Throughout the region of the Mississippi Valley and the Great Lakes the “coureurs de bois” collected furs and purchased slaves,2 both of which they sold to Carolina traders at the mouth of the Mississippi River, and in some cases they went to the Carolinas directly to effect their sales.3 Throughout the Carolinas, the Mississippi and Illinois country and the west, the fur and Indian trade was heavy. By 1720 the Carolina fur trade had reached very large dimensions, and the trade in Indians had developed proportionally, so that at “set times of the year” a flourishing

1 Hewat, op. cit., i, p. 126.
2 Margry, op. cit., vi, p. 316.
3 Ibid., v, pp. 178, 354, 360, 361; Wisconsin Historical Society Collections, xvi, p. 332.


business in “dressed deer skins, furs and young Indian slaves” was carried on by the traders.1

In the Carolinas the custom of purchasing their prisoners from the friendly Indians, the holding of these captives in the colony as slaves, or, possibly, their subsequent sale to the West India islands, existed almost from the beginning of the colony.2 But the proprietors, anxious to cultivate the friendship of the Indians, forbade, in the temporary laws sent out to Governor Sayle in 1671, that any Indian on any pretext whatever be made a slave, or without his own consent be carried out of the country.3

Yet the traffic in Indians continued. The adventurous nature of the settlers,4 combined with the need for laborers which could be partially supplied by the use of Indians at home or by the negroes for whom they could be readily exchanged in the islands, and coupled with the attraction of good prices which the Indians brought when sold for cash, induced both planters and government officials to enter largely into the trade.

1 South Carolina Historical Society Collections, v, pp. 166, 460-462; Narratives of Early Carolina (Woodward’s relation of his Westo voyage), p. 133, in Original Narratives of Early American History; Calendar of State Papers, colonial series, vii, p. 634. One of the instruments of supply was the Cherokee. Thomas, The Indians of North America, etc., p. 96; Logan, The History of Upper Carolina, i, p. 174.
2 In 1666 Robert Sanford, secretary of the proprietors, made a voyage from Cape Fear to Port Royal and reported to the proprietors that the Indians of that section were anxious for friendship with the whites “notwithstanding we . . . had killed and sent away many of them.” Robert Sanford’s Relation of his Voyage in 1666, in Charleston Year Book, 1885, p. 292.
3 Rivers, A Sketch of the History of South Carolina, etc., appendix, p. 353; Journal of the Grand Council of South Carolina, August 25, 1671—June 24, 1680, p. 84.
4 For the character of the Carolina settlers, see McCrady, The History of South Carolina under the Royal Government, pp. 297-298.


To supply the ever-increasing demand for Indian slaves, the tribes of the south and southwest constantly preyed upon each other. The matter of international rivalry also entered largely into the policy of the Carolinians. The Indians of the south and west were divided in their allegiance to the three white races, Spanish, French and English. Each of these three nations sought not only to win and hold the allegiance of as many of the tribes as possible, but also to use these tribes to strike at its rival’s allies, and the readiness with which the English, especially, bought the captives for slaves served to keep up a continuous series of depredations of tribe upon tribe.1

The Westo, an important tribe on the southern border of South Carolina, furnished a number of such captives during the latter part of the eighteenth century in spite of their two treaties made with the proprietors, 1677 and 1678, in which they promised not to prey upon the smaller and weaker tribes who were friends and allies of the English.2 In 1693, the Cherokee sent a delegation to Governor Smith of South Carolina to complain of the Esaw, Congaree, and Savannah who were preying upon those tribes and selling the captives thus obtained as slaves to the English. The Savannah, like the Westo, were so acting in violation of their treaty by which they agreed not to molest neighboring tribes.3 In 1706, English Indian allies attacked Pensacola

1 Rivers, op. cit., p. 126, holds that but little credit can be given to the assertion that the colonists instigated the tribes against each other for the purpose of trading in their captives. Hewat, op. cit., i, pp. 126-127, asserts that the colonists early found out the usefulness to this end of setting one tribe of Indians against another. Lawson, The History of Carolina, etc., p. 325, tells of the Coranine Indians inviting the Machapunga Indians to a feast, taking them prisoners and selling them to the English.
2 Rivers, op. cit., p. 126; Hewat, op. cit., i, p. 127.
3 Hewat, op. cit., i, p. 127.


and carried off members of the Apalachee tribe for sale as slaves.1 On July 10, 1708, Thomas Maine, an agent of the general assembly of South Carolina, reported to that body that the Talapoosa and the Chickasaw, incited by the good prices which the traders offered them for captives, were engaged in making slaves of the Indians on the lower Mississippi who were subject to the French. In this instance one finds the usual excuse given by the English in such cases: “some men think it both serves to lessen their number before the French can arm them, and it is a more effective way of civilizing and instructing them than all the efforts used by the French missionaries”.2

The French asserted that the policy of the English of Carolina in setting one Indian tribe against another was a part of their plan for driving the French from Louisiana and the Mississippi River country.3 The process of obtaining Indian slaves through trade was, then, a part of a great political contest. The alliance of the leading tribes, such as the Chickasaw and the Choctaw, meant much to both English and French from the territorial and the commercial standpoints. In consequence, no effort was spared by either of the white races to obtain a dominating influence over these tribes in order to use them for their own benefit. This benefit consisted largely of the gain in trade both in furs and slaves. The French sought to dissolve this friendship by telling the Chickasaw that the English were only seeking to destroy them by having them wage war for slaves, and that when they were sufficiently weakened by war the English would fall upon them and sell them all as slaves.4

1 French, op. cit., pt. iii, p. 36.
2 Public Records of South Carolina, 1706-1710, p. 197; B. P. R. O., vol. 620.
3 Winsor, The Mississippi Basin, etc., p. 133. The English in their turn accused the French of pillaging the traders.
4 Margry, op. cit., iv, pp. 406, 507, 516.
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