The History Detective

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The History Detective

Problem #2

Since in the 17th century both Native Americans and Africans were enslaved by the white American colonists, why did American slavery ultimately become a virtually all black institution?

Problem #2

Since in the 17th century both Native Americans and Africans were enslaved by the white American colonists, why did American slavery ultimately become a virtually all black institution?
At the beginning of the European colonization of North America in the early 17th century, the origins and nature of slavery as an institution were not always clear. We have historical evidence that many Native American tribes practiced some form of slavery even prior to the coming of the Europeans. Most often such slavery occurred as the result of conflict between tribes, with the winning side capturing some people from the losing side and making them slaves. But this form of slavery did not include the aspect of buying and selling individuals; instead such individuals were used primarily for small-scale labor. It would be inaccurate to say that something resembling slavery as an institution was in place in Native American society.
The introduction of Africans to the North American continent presents the historian with some conflicting information. Many Africans brought to North America in the early 17th century immediately assumed the position of being slaves, but other Africans seemed to have a much less clear status. Some African imports seemed rather to have a status that more clearly resembled that of white indentured servants who could essentially use their labor to purchase their freedom after a given length of time.
What is clear from the historical evidence is that the white European colonists had negative attitudes and opinions of both Native Americans and African Negroes. To many colonists Native Americans were uncivilized, brutal savages, and Africans were increasingly viewed as inferior, uncivilized savages who just happened to come from another continent. Such attitudes, when added to the more advanced firearm technology possessed by the Europeans, constituted a formula for oppressing and enslaving both the strangers the colonists found in the New World as well as strangers they imported to it.
Thus, throughout the 17th century and beyond, both Native Americans and African Negroes were enslaved by white European settlers. Although we lack absolutely precise information as to how many Native Americans were enslaved, it is believed they numbered in the tens of thousands. It is estimated that between 1670 and 1715 Carolina merchants handled from 30,000 to 50,000 Indians in the slave trade. While we have no evidence that blacks owned Indian slaves, the reverse was true, and many Indians not only owned black slaves but engaged in selling Negroes to whites. In the early 19th century it is estimated that the Cherokee nation owned almost 1,300 black slaves; the Chicasaw Indians held more than 5,000 Negroes as slaves at the beginning of the American Civil War.
Yet, while these cases of Europeans using American Indians as slaves are evident, as are the isolated cases of Indians owning black slaves, the fact is that by the beginning of the 19th century slavery in America had become institutionalized, and that institution was made up overwhelmingly of men, women, and children of African descent.
Why did this happen? Clearly there were advantages to enslaving more Native Americans because they did not incur the cost of transporting them from a distant continent thousands of miles away. Why then, in America, did slavery evolve from an institution utilizing the forced labor of both Native Americans and African Negroes to one that became Negro slavery?
Problem #2

Questions for Team Research

1. What evidence do we have regarding any different attitudes the English colonists had between blacks and Indians?

2. Why did white southern colonists focus on selling Indian slaves to the West Indies?

3. What were some of the elements of both African and Native American cultures which made them more or less likely to function well as


4. Were the geographic and/or environmental elements which impacted whether blacks or Indians would work better as slaves?

5. Why was the experience of both blacks and Indians better in South America than in the North American colonies?

Problem #2

Starting the Search for Evidence

Internet: Key Words & Phrases

Colonial attitudes toward Negroes in 17th Century America

Colonial attitudes toward Native Americans in 17th Century America

American slavery

Slavery in Caribbean and South America


Drescher, Seymour and Engerman, Stanley L., eds, A Historical Guide to World Slavery, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998

Gallay, Alan, The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670-1717, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2002

Jordan,Winthrop P., White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro 1550— 1812, NY, Norton, 1977

Kolchin, Peter, American Slavery: 1619-1877, NY, Hill and Wang, 2003

Wood, Betty, The Origins of American Slavery: Freedom and Bondage in the Colonies, NY, Hill and Wang, 1998

Colonial Americans Opinions of African Negroes and Native Americans
Rev. Cotton Mather, 1696

Mather was a prominent Puritan clergyman in Boston, Massachusetts.

Give Ear, ye pitied Blacks, Give Ear! It is allowed in the Scriptures, to the Gentiles, That they May keep Slaves; although the Law of Charity requires your Owners to Use you as those that have Reasonable Souls within you. Yes, 'twould be against the Conscience of any Good man to keep you for Slaves if he find himself unable to use you according to that Law of Charity. But the most of you have so little cause to desire your being any other than Slaves as you are, & where you are, that it would soon make you miserable to be otherwise. You are better Fed & better Clothed &C better Managed by far than you would be if you were your Own men. All that now remains for you is to become first the Good Servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, &C then of those that have purchased you

William Moraley, early 1730s

Moraley was a white English indentured servant in the middle colonies.

I have often heard them say they did not think God made them Slaves, any more than other Men, and wondered that Christians, especially Englishmen, should use them so barbarously. But there is a necessity of using them hardly, being of an obdurate, stubborn Disposition; and when they have it in their power to rebel, are extremely cruel.

William Byrd, \736

Byrd was an influential Virginia planter and slaveholder.

They import so many Negros hither that I fear this Colony will some time or other be confirmed by the Name of New Guinea. I am sensible of many bad consequences of multiplying these Ethiopians amongst us. They blow up the pride, & ruin the Industry of our White People who, seeing a Rank of poor Creatures below them, detest work for fear it should make them look like Slaves ...

Another unhappy Effect of Many Negros is the necessity of being severe. Numbers make them insolent, and then foul Means must do what fair will not. We have however nothing like the Inhumanity here that is practiced in the [Caribbean] Islands, & God forbid we ever should
Gov. James Glen, 1751

In a report to the British Board of Trade, the governor of South Carolina asserts that the American-horn slaves are content and have "no notion of liberty."

I have said there are 40,000 Negroes in the province, these if valued as new Negroes from Africa are now sold, may be reckoned at £20 sterling per head, but this valuation does not satisfy me for when it is considered that many of these are natives of Carolina, who have no notion of liberty, nor no longing after any other country, that they have been brought up among white people, and by white people have been made, at least many of them, useful mechanics, as coopers, carpenters, masons, smiths, wheelwrights, and other trades, and that the rest can all speak our language, for we imported none during the war. I say when it is considered that these are pleased with their masters, contented with their condition, reconciled to servitude, seasoned to the country, and expert at the different kinds of labour in which they are employed, it must appear difficult if not impracticable to ascertain their intrinsic value. I know a gentleman who refused five hundred guineas for three of his slaves, and there-fore there is no guessing at the value of the strong seasoned handy slaves, by the prices of weak, raw, new Negroes.

Francis Daniel Pasrorius, Pennsylvania, 1700

Pastorius was thefounder of German Town, thefirst German settlement in Pennsylvania.

The natives, the so-called savages...they are, in general, strong, agile, and supple people, with blackish bodies. They went about naked at first and wore only a cloth about the loins. Now they are beginning to wear shirts. They have, usually, coal-black hair, shave the head, smear the same with grease, and allow a long lock to grow on the right side. They also besmear rhc children with grease and let them creep about in the heat of the sun, so that they become the color of a nut, although they were at first white enough by Nature.

They strive after a sincere honesty, hold strictly to their promises, cheat and
injure no one. They willingly give shelter to others and are both useful and
loyal to their guests

I once saw four of them take a meal together in hearty contentment, and eat a pumpkin cooked in clear water, without butter and spice. Their table and bench was the bare earth, their spoons were mussel-shells with which they dipped up the warm water, their plates were the leaves of the nearest tree, which they do not need to wash with painstaking after the meal, nor to keep with care of future use. I thought to myself, these savages have never in their lives heard the teaching of Jesus concerning temperance and contentment, yet they far excel the Christians in carrying it out.

They are, furthermore, serious and of few words, and arc amazed when they perceive so much unnecessary chatter, as well as other foolish behavior, on the part of the Christians.

Each man has his own wife, and they detest harlotry, kissing, and lying. They know of no idols, but they worship a single all-powerful and merciful God, who limits the power of the Devil. They also believe in the immortality of the soul, which, after the course of life is finished, has a suitable recompense from the all-powerful hand of God awaiting it.

John Lawson, North Carolina, 1709

A British naturalist and explorer, Lawson visited many Indian settlements in the Carolinas and later settled in North Carolina. Just before the outbreak of the Tuscorara War, he was captured and killed by Tuscarora Indians.

They are really better to us than wc are to them. They always give us Victuals at their Quarters, and take care we are arm'd against Hunger and Thirst. We do not so by them (generally speaking) but let them walk by our Doors Hungry, and do not often relieve them. We look upon them with Scorn and Disdain, and think them little better than Beasts in Human Shape; though, if well examined, we shall find that for all our Religion and Education we possess more Moral Deformities and Evils than these Savages do, or are acquainted withal.

We reckon them Slaves in Comparison to us, and Intruders, as oft as they enter our Houses, or hunt near our Dwellings. But if we will admit Reason to be our Guide, she will inform us that these Indians are the freest People in the World, and so far from being Intruders upon us, that we have abandon'd our own Native Soil to drive them out and possess theirs. Neither have we any true Balance in Judging of these poor Heathens, because we neither give Allowance for their Natural Disposition, nor the Sylvian Education and strange Customs (uncouth to us) they lie under and have ever been train'd up to.. .We trade with them, its true, but to what End? Not to show them the Steps of Virtue and the Golden Rule, to do as we would be done by. No, we have furnished them with the Vice of Drunkenness, which is the open Road to all others, and daily cheat them in everything we sell, and esteem it a Gift of Christianity not to sell to them so cheap as we do to the Christians, as we call ourselves. Pray let me know where is there to be found one Sacred Command or Precept of our Master that counsels us to such Behaviour? Besides, I believe it will not appear, but that all the Wars which we have had with the Savages were occasion'd by the unjust Dealings of the Christians towards them.

Francis Cample, Pennsylvania, 1740

An Irish immigrant. Cample settled in the new town of Shippensburg in the Cumberland Valley.

Oct. 10th, 1740. The building of our little fort, and the digging of the well within its enclosure, has been a good work. Had it not been for the recent killing of young Alex[ande]r Askew, near to where Robert Mclnnis was shot seven years ago, the friendship of the Indians might not have been suspected, and this very necessary work might have been postponed until a more serious calamity would have overtaken us. I have no confidence in the friendship of these savages, and have always felt that we have been warming a viper which will some day show us its fangs. Our only safety, in my opinion, depends wholly upon our vigilance and the preparation we make in our defense....

March 10th, 1742. A quarrel occurred last night out at the Spring amongst a parry of drunken Indians, during which four of their cabins were set on fire and burned to the ground. One of the Indians, named Bright Star, a desperate man, was seriously injured in the fight, and will likely die of his wounds. I saw him not an hour ago, and considered him then in a dying condition. These savages will give us trouble yet.
Shikellamy, New York, 1745

An Oneida leader, Shikellamy expressed his opinion of Christians' attempts to convert the Indians, as recounted by a Moravian missionary.

We were told that two ministers and an Indian had been lately here—probably it was the Presbyterian [David] Brainerd and his interpreter Tatami. He had assembled the Delawares in Shikellamy's house, and (as Shikellamy's people told us) informed that that on Sundays they should assemble as the whites do and pray as they do. Hence he would build a house for that purpose, and stay with them two years...To this Shikellamy said: "We are Indians, and don't wish to be transformed into white men. The English are our Brethren, but we never promised to become what they are. As little as we desire the preacher to become Indian, so little ought he to desire the Indians to become preachers. He should not build a house here, they don't want one." Ihey departed for Philadelphia the next day.

Minavavana, French Canada, 1761

Minavavana, a Chippewa leader in French Canada, declared the Indians' position after the British conquest of French Canada.

Englishman, it is to you that I speak, and I demand your attention!

Englishman, you know that the French king is our is you that have made war with this, our father. You are his enemy, and how then could you have the boldness to venture among us, his children? You know that his enemies are ours

Englishman, although you have conquered the French, you have not yet conquered us! We are not your slaves. These lakes, these woods and mountains were left to us by our ancestors. They are our inheritance, and we will part with them to none. Your nation supposes that we, like the white people, cannot live without bread—and pork—and beef! But you ought to know that He, the Great Spirit and master of Life, has provided food for us in these spacious lakes and on these woody mountains.

Problem #2

Connection to Today
1. To what extent was white racism the justification for slavery and has racism remained in terms of international relations today?
2. Does actual slavery as an institution exist anywhere in the world today? If so, where does it exist and are they any efforts to end it?
3. What has been the result today of the different paths that blacks and American Indians took in our history?
4. From the perspective of America today whose lives are “better-off,” African Americans or Native Americans?

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