14 November 2012

Enslaving Native Americans

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen, 1995, Excerpts

The Europeans’ enslavement of Native Americans has a long history. Textbooks used in elementary schools tell that Ponce de Leon went to Florida to seek the mythical fountain of youth; they do not say that his main business was to capture slaves for Hispaniola.

In New England, Indian slavery led directly to African slavery: the first blacks imported there, in 1638, were brought from the West Indies to be exchanged for Native Americans from Connecticut. On the eve of the New York City slave rebellion of 1712, in which Native and African slaves united, about one in four was enslaved and one slave was Indian. A 1730 census of South Kingston, RI, showed 935 whites, 333 African slaves, and 223 Native American slaves.

The center of Native American slavery, like African American slavery, was South Carolina. Its population in 1708 included 3,960 free whites, 4,100 African slaves, 1,400 Indian slaves, and 120 indentured servants, presumably white. These numbers do not reflect the magnitude of Native slavery, however, because they omit the export trade. From Carolina, as from New England, colonists sent Indian slaves [who might escape] to the West Indies [where they could never escape], in exchange for black slaves. Charleston shipped more than 10,000 Natives in chains to the West Indies in one year!

Intensified warfare and the slave trade rendered stable settlements no longer safe, helping to de-agriculturize Native Americans. To avoid being targets for capture, Indians abandoned their cornfields and their villages and began to live in smaller settlements from which they could more easily escape to he woods.  Ultimately, they had to trade with Europeans even for food. As Europeans learned from Natives what to grow and how to grow it, they became less dependent upon Indians and Indian technology, while Indians became more dependent upon Europeans and European technology. Thus what worked for the Native Americans in the short run worked against them in the long run. In the long run, it was Indians who were enslaved, Indians who died, Indian technology that was lost, and Indian cultures that fell apart. By the time the pitiful remnants of tribes converted to Christianity and joined the Puritans’ “praying Indian towns,” they did so in response to an invading culture.

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