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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 16, No. 2
June, 1938

Gerald Forbes

Page 163

Christopher Columbus inaugurated Indian slavery in this hemisphere when he introduced the culture of sugar cane in the West Indies. The Caribbean planters were prosperous while the supply of enslaved native labor was adequate, and the number of planters increased with their prosperity. Consequently the demand for Indian slaves increased. Disappointed gold seekers were quick to find remuneration in supplying the demand for slaves, and their ships soon had removed most of the Bahama native population.1 Spanish land grants included the bodies of the natives occupying the areas, and the Catholic Majesties sanctioned Indian slavery as being in accord with the laws of God and man—otherwise the Indian could not be reclaimed from idolatry.2 Those Indians who escaped enslavement were forced to pay tribute.3

The Spanish plantation system was modified in 1529 when Cortez transferred it to the continent. Officially, no Indian was given the Spaniards to serve them nor were the families, persons, or goods of the natives to be wronged.4 Hernando de Soto, on the contrary, when he explored the southeastern area of the present United States, was equipped with chains and iron collars with which to shackle captives. DeSoto's principal assistant held an estate in Cuba and needed slaves. The patent of Ponce de Leon provided that the Indians on any islands that he might discover

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should be distributed among the members of the expedition, so that each might be well paid.5 Thus was the servitude of the American aborigines established by the first Europeans, but by 1650 the Spanish laws placed a ban on the use of Indians as burden carriers.6

The enslavement of the southern Indians had been started before the Carolina colonizing patent had been granted (1663). A group of New Englanders settled at the mouth of the Cape Fear river in 1660; but the hostility of the Indians forced them to abandon the colony in three years. The Indians had been aroused by the activity of the colonists in kidnaping the native children and selling them into slavery in New England.7 One of the reasons for the Tuscarora War was the enslavement of Indian children.8 Lord Baltimore was authorized by Charles I to put the Indians to death or save them, and at that time the salvation of the natives was equivalent to slavery.9

Two decades after the founding of the Carolinas, one observer avowed the relations of the English and the Indians to be most friendly. He called attention to a special court established by the proprietors to settle differences between the settlers and the natives.10 But that condition likely pertained to a small area, because the next year (1683) the colonists were warned of the evils and dangers likely to result from enslavement of the Indians.11

The first and chief offenders in the enslavement of the Indians were the English traders, who acquired the services of the natives in all possible ways. Some of these English men lived among the tribes and maintained groups of slaves with which to capture Indians for sale into servitude in the West Indies.12 By 1685 the Indian slave trade was a business in the Carolinas. In

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addition to the traffic of the traders, the slave market was increased by numerous Florida captives taken by the Yamassee, whose raids were encouraged by the English.13 The proprietors decreed that no Indians be sold as slaves unless they were taken in war with the English.14 The efforts of the proprietors, and their agents the governors, were futile, however.15 With the expanding of the relations of the colonists with the Indians, South Carolina became the center of the slave traffic in natives.16

The most spectacular slave raid was led by Colonel Moore in 1703 against the Indian towns in northern Florida. Probably Moore, formerly governor of South Carolina, took about 1,500 Indian captives back to Charlestown; but not all of them were sold as slaves. Moore was angered when the officials prevented the sale of all the prisoners, for the profits of the expedition had thus been reduced and he argued that his men should receive about one hundred pounds each from the spoils of the enterprise.17 Earlier in the century an attempt had been made to regulate the traffic through the licensing of the traders,18 but by 1707 South Carolina was encouraging the slave trade. Bolts, locks, and shackles were supplied the traders. Special brands were supplied to differentiate the tribal origins of the captives.19 The South Carolina Assembly (1707) set up a Commission of nine members to direct the slave business of the traders. The Commission attempted to regulate the trade, but without success, and more Indian slaves than before were transported to Boston, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, and the West Indies. An

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act was passed by the Assembly to empower the commanders of expeditions to purchase Indian prisoners more than twelve years of age. These slaves were then to be bought for not more than seven pounds by the Public Receiver and sold by the proprietors in the West Indies. The purchase and enslavement of a free Indian was forbidden, and the penalty for conviction was sixty pounds.20

The greedy Carolina traders, however, sold their goods for high prices and paid the Indians low rates for their pelts, thus promoting economic servitude. They intrigued to incite intertribal wars and bought the captives of both sides.21 In 1715 the once-friendly Yamassee's uprising was caused in part by the fear that they too were to be enslaved by their allies, the English.22

Apparently the Yamassee War largely was the result of economic injustice, and other neighboring Indians joined in butchering the English. The English had divested the Indians of their lands by fraud and force. They had asserted that the Indians had no more claim to the soil than the bear or deer. To enslavement the English had added such abuses as beating, mutilation, theft of personal property, and pursuit with dogs.23 It was believed that about 15,000 Indians participated in the attack on the English.24

This uprising did not end the Indian slave traffic, however, for the next year a decree was issued making it illegal to brand the captives with hot irons. It provided for branding by tattoo with oil and gunpowder. This decree may have been disregarded, however, for at a later date three branding irons for marking slaves and peltry could be purchased for one pound ten shillings.25 By 1732 the South Carolina slave business was no longer a major trade.26 But the Creeks still feared enslavement in 1763 when the

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Treaty of Augusta was signed. The Creeks refused to go nearer Charleston than Augusta for this treaty conference.27 By 1780 all the southern coastal Indians had been exterminated or had retreated to the interior and joined the stronger tribes.28

The uses of the Indian slaves were limited. The first Europeans found them convenient as burden carriers. DeSoto at one time had eight hundred burden carriers.29 The Indians during this exploratory period served also as guides and interpreters. In colonial Louisiana the Indian slaves tilled the soil.30 In the first half of the seventeenth century the Spanish started the fortress at San Augustin on which the Apalachee Indians worked for sixty years.31 In 1685 Doctor Woodward became ill while among the Creeks, and he was borne on a stretcher to Charleston, while one hundred and fifty braves carried his peltry.32 By the beginning of the eighteenth century the Indians were being used as guides, farmers, porters, household servants, interpreters, and builders. As porters they were very important to the English traders, who by 1707 were selling much goods to tribes living seven hundred miles inland.33 This use of the Indians amounted to slavery, although the natives retained their freedom, for the trader would give the native a bit of cotton cloth or a string of beads for the portage of a heavy bundle of pelts across a fourth of a continent. With beads, hoes, axes, guns, powder, and shot, the traders gathered fifty thousand tanned skins for exporting at Charleston in 1709.34 That year Charleston extended its trade to the Mississippi.35 By the time of the Yamassee War the traders in the in-

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terior were demanding porters of the various tribes. These porters would be expected to carry burdens of seventy to one hundred pounds as far as five hundred miles.36 In 1717 the Savannah factor sent a shipment of beaver skins to Charleston for which the porters received each nine inches of stroud cloth, and those who were loaded for the return trip were given each one pair of cotton stockings.37 The most satisfactory use of the Indian slaves, however, was as hunters and fishermen.38 An Indian hunter was expected to gather three hundred pelts annually.39 In 1712 a South Carolina law permitted an owner to work his Indian slaves for hire. About thirty years later a committee, seeking ways to encourage immigration, included a proposal that slave owners be prevented from teaching their servants trades that would compete with the skills of newly-arrived whites.40

The continental Indians had no Las Casas, as had the Caribbean natives, and the South Carolina proprietors granted the privilege of selling the captive aborigines as the "cheapest means of encouraging the soldiers of the infant colony." Governor West saw in the sale of the captive Indians a means of paying for the defense of the colony. The Assembly wished to control the slave business, and offered Governor Johnson two hundred pounds for his cooperation, but he refused because the perquisites of his office were more profitable. At New Orleans, Bienville requested the Minister of Marine for authority to trade Indians for negroes in the West Indies. He would have traded three Indians for two negroes, because the Indians ran away and were not so docile.41 The value of the Indians as slaves is to be seen in the fact that during the Tuscarora War (1711-1712) more than seven hundred were sold for ten pounds each. If an Indian captive were killed, the public treasury paid the captor ten pounds, which must have been less than the sale price or there would have been no incentive

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to spare the life.42 By 1713 the colony of North Carolina was dealing in Indian slaves to be shipped to the West Indies. Two years later the laws were changed to provide for public auctions of the slaves that brought revenue to the colony, but the buyers were required to send the Indians to the Indies within two months. By 1721 South Carolina had placed an import duty on Indian slaves. As early as 1703 Indian slaves were considered taxable property in South Carolina, while in 1690 they were looked on as property that might be used in the payment of debts.43

In their home areas the captive Indians were difficult to govern. When enslavement was attempted near the scene of capture, the Indian was in a position to escape momentarily. The unconquered remnant of the tribe might prove dangerous to the captors of their relatives.44

The West Indies offered the chief market for the Indians, for there they could be exchanged for the more tractable negroes or could be sold for good prices. But when the New Englanders had depleted the supply of nearby natives they bought servants from Maine and the Carolinas. Cotton Mather once bought a Spanish Indian as a gift for his father.45

The number of enslaved Indians is difficult to determine, and likely will remain an estimate. Colonel Moore captured more than one thousand, and the raids of Barnwell, Nairn, and Palmer brought nearly fifteen hundred more Indians to slavery by 1724.46 In 1708 Indians were believed to have supplied one-fourth of the slaves in South Carolina.47 In that year Governor Johnson reported that there were five hundred Indian men in slavery, six hundred women, and two hundred children.48 For comparison, there were reported 4,100 negro slaves in the colony.49

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The economic results of the enslavement of the Indians were various and numerous. One of the reasons for founding Georgia as a non-slave colony was to forestall the escape of Carolina slaves.50 The slavery traffic resulted in inter-tribal wars, which disrupted the colonial trade with the warring Indians and their neighbors. The wars also cleared large areas of the native population, opening more territory for the expansion of the English colonies. Since the traffic in Indian slaves was profitable, the proprietors became jealous of the incomes of their officials and removed several governors, thereby preventing stable government in the colony of South Carolina. While the enslavement of the natives injured the trade in English goods by depopulating whole regions, it was in turn an aid to business, for through the forced labor of the Indians the traders transported stocks of merchandise far and gained an economic hold on the interior. Thus did the Indian porters serve to spread geographic knowledge among their conquerors.51

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