Indian slave trade in the American Southeast

Native Americans living in the American Southeast were enslaved through warfare and purchased by English and French colonists throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, as well as held captive through Spanish-organized forced labor regimes in Florida. Emerging colonies in Virginia, Carolina (later, North and South Carolina), and Georgia imported Native Americans and incorporated them into chattel slavery systems, where they intermixed with slaves of African descent, who would come outnumber them. Their demand for slaves affected communities as far west as present-day Illinois and the Mississippi River and as far south as the Gulf Coast. The trade in enslaved Native Americans sent tens of thousands of them outside the region to New England and the Caribbean as a profitable export.

Natives were sometimes used as labor on plantations or as servants to wealthy colonist families, other times they were used as interpreters for European traders. The policies on the treatment and slavery of Native Americans varied from colony to colony in the Southeast. The Native American slave trade in the southeast relied on Native Americans trapping and selling other Natives into slavery; this trade between the colonists and the Native Americans had a profound effect on the shaping and nature of slavery in the Southeast.[1] A number of Native societies, armed with European firearms, oriented themselves around waging war to capture slaves from other Native peoples, selling them into slavery. The slave trade and warfare that facilitated it drove many other Native societies to flee their homelands, breaking apart existing communities and eventually leading to a new map of peoples and ethnic groups in the region.

Structure of the tradeEdit

In many cases the colonists would trade with Native Americans; giving them goods and weapons, such as the flintlock musket, in exchange for beaver pelt and the capturing of other natives to be sold into slavery. One of the first groups to set up such agreements was the Westos, or Richehecrians, who originally came from the north into Virginia and are said to be descendants of the Erie. After an attempt to end the agreements the Savannah people filled the role previously held by the Westos; and eventually the role fell to the Yamasee and the Creek.[1]

The captured Native Americans were brought to the Carolina colony to be sold and were often then sold to the Caribbean, where they would be less likely to escape, or were sold to one of the other thirteen colonies.[2][3][4] This trade of slaves was not a very self-sustaining venture. Either the native population was being wiped out and those who were not being killed or captured became the captors; and as the population of natives available for capture dwindled then the captors began to fall into debt with the colonists whom they were trading with. This debt and frustration that began the Yamasee War of 1715, which would ultimately be one of the factors that lead to the demise of the trade system in the Carolinas.[5]

Slavery in the Southeastern ColoniesEdit

The British colonies of Virginia, Carolina, and Georgia imported enslaved indigenous peoples as workers during the 17th and early 18th centuries. The Carolina colony became a major exporter of enslaved Native Americans to other colonies, including those of New England and the Caribbean. The southern colonies were known for their use of slavery to keep their large plantation economy running. It is usually assumed that all of the slaves were from Africa, but Native Americans were also frequently enslaved, and in some cases were used more than African slaves.[6]

The Native American slave trade in the colonial Southeast was brought to its peak with the use of the European weapons as well as the trade by natives of natives in exchange for more ammunition for weapons as well as other English goods. However, the involvement of the Natives in the slavery of other Natives was not a model that would be able to sustain itself for a long time, and the depletion of 'resources'—Native Americans in this sense being the resources—coupled with Native American revolts including the Yamasee War of 1715 would effectively become one of the factors that led to Native Americans no longer being the primary race enslaved in the colonial southeast.[1][7]

Slavery in the CarolinasEdit

The trade between Carolina colonists and Native peoples was the core feature of the Carolina Colony from its founding in 1670 to the early 1700s.[7] European colonists offered weapons, alcohol and manufactured goods in exchange for animal skins and Indian slaves.[4][7][8] Charles Town (later Charleston, South Carolina) became a major port for exporting enslaved Indians. The profits from this trade system allowed for the Carolina colony to then set up its plantations which mainly produced rice and indigo, and bringing with it the African slaves who would then work the plantations.

Peter H. Wood found that by 1708 South Carolina's population totaled 9,580, including 4,100 African slaves and 1,400 Native American slaves.[9] African men composed 45% of the slave population while Native American women composed 15% of the population of adult slaves in colonial South Carolina.[9] Moreover, the Native American women populations outnumbered the Native American men population, and the African men population greatly outnumbered the African women population.[9] This imbalance encouraged unions between the two racial groups with many former slaves mentioning a notable Native American relative one or two generations before them.[9] The unions also lead to an obvious but unknown number of mixed children of African and Indigenous bloodlines.[9] By 1715 the Native American slave population in the Carolina colony was estimated at 1,850.[10] Prior to 1720, when it ended the Native American slave trade, Carolina exported as many or more Native American slaves than it imported Africans.[2][3][4]

This trade system involved the Westo tribe, who had previously come down from further north. The Westos were given English goods in exchange for beaver and other animal pelt and capturing natives to be sold into slavery. Colonial traders encouraged their Indian trading partners to engage in warfare and accumulate captives; they lent their backing to the Stono War of 1674 and the Westo War of 1680.[7] The Goose Creek Men, a small number of planters who moved from Barbados to the Carolina colony, benefited from this trade and offered large quantities of weapons to the Westo, Savannah, Yamasee, and Siouan-speaking "Settlement Indians" to facilitate it.[11] Colonists and their Yamasee allies went to war with the Tuscarora in 1712, defeating them and capturing hundreds as slaves.

In the first decade of the 18th century, French traders living with the Kaskaskia Illinois, and Miami peoples worked incited warfare to procure slaves for the Carolina market, as well as for sale in New France.[12]

Slavery, especially of Native Americans, was allowed in the legislative framework of the colony with the creation of "Slave Codes" soon after the creation of the colony.[7] As slaves, the natives were expected to hunt while the black slaves worked the plantations. As trade with the Native Americans continued, so did the slavery of Native Americans; however, due to a growing trade monopoly in the colony, some of the colonists, such as Henry Woodward, were trying to limit the amount of trade done with the natives.[1] However, Queen Anne's War (1702–1713) interrupted the building campaigns against trading and allowed for increased sales of slaves in Charleston.[7] Escape was relatively easy for the Native Americans, as they knew the land well and often were not far from their own people. The slave owners' solution to the problem of escaped native slaves was to send them to work in the West Indies, or to another thirteenth colony where they would not be able to escape easily.[4]

However, the Yamasee War, which began in 1715, eventually ended the colony's purchase of Native Americans as slaves, making the colony more reliant upon the labor of black slaves.[5][7]

Slavery in Colonial GeorgiaEdit

The colony of Georgia was established in 1732, and its founder James Oglethorpe ensured that slavery was prohibited in the colony. However, the 1735 law which prohibited slavery, only disallowed the enslavement of Africans and not Native Americans.[6] One of the first of the Native American slaves in Georgia were those brought down with the Musgrove family of South Carolina.[6] Historian Rodney Baine found that reports of purchases of Native American slaves continued in 1738, and that Indian slaves continued to work Georgia plantations in 1772.[6]

Slavery in FloridaEdit

The Florida peninsula was under the control of the Spanish until the mid 1700s when it was briefly owned by the British, only to be returned to Spain a few years later. Prior to the British Florida interval, there was a period in the early 1700s during which Spanish Florida was a hotbed for the raiding natives from the northern Carolina and Georgia areas. Though they were left alone for the most part by one of the original raiding groups, the Westos—who are said to be descendants of the Erie People, Spanish Florida was heavily targeted by the later raiding groups the Yamasee and Creek. These raids in which villages were destroyed and natives captured or killed drove the natives to the hands of the Spanish who attempted to protect them as best they could. However, the strength of the Spanish dwindled and as the raids continued, the Spanish and Natives were forced to retreat further into the peninsula. The raids were so frequent that there were barely any natives left to capture and so the Yamasee and Creek began bringing fewer slaves to the Carolina colonies to continue the trade. The retreat of the Spanish only ended when the Yamasee and Creek entered what would later be known as the Yamasee War with the Carolina colony.[1]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e Ethridge, Robbie Franklyn, and Sheri Marie Shuck-Hall. 2009. Mapping the Mississippian Shatter Zone: The Colonial Indian Slave Trade and Regional Instability in the American South. U of Nebraska Press.
  2. ^ a b Perdue, Theda (1979). Slavery and the Evolution of Cherokee Society, 1540–1866. University of Tennessee Press. pp. 207 pages. Retrieved 28 February 2019.
  3. ^ a b Katz, William Loren (3 January 2012). Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage. Simon and Schuster. p. 254. Retrieved 1 March 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d Gallay, Alan (2009). "Introduction: Indian Slavery in Historical Context". In Gallay, Alan (ed.). Indian Slavery in Colonial America. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. pp. 1–32. Retrieved March 8, 2017.
  5. ^ a b Ramsey, William L. 2003. "'Something Cloudy in Their Looks': The Origins of the Yamasee War Reconsidered." The Journal of American History 90 (1): 44–75.
  6. ^ a b c d Baine, Rodney M. 1995. "Indian Slavery in Colonial Georgia." The Georgia Historical Quarterly 79 (2): 418–24.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Brown, Philip M. 1975. "Early Indian Trade in the Development of South Carolina: Politics, Economics, and Social Mobility during the Proprietary Period, 1670–1719." The South Carolina Historical Magazine 76 (3): 118–28.
  8. ^ Vere, David La (2013). The Tuscarora War: Indians, Settlers, and the Fight for the Carolina Colonies. UNC Press Books. p. 98. ISBN 978-1-4696-1091-7.
  9. ^ a b c d e Yarbrough, Fay A. (2008). "Indian Slavery and Memory: Interracial sex from the slaves' perspective". Race and the Cherokee Nation. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 112–123.
  10. ^ Snyder (2010), "Indian Slave Trade" [Ch. 2], in Slavery, pp. 46–79.
  11. ^ Vere, David La (2013). The Tuscarora War: Indians, Settlers, and the Fight for the Carolina Colonies. UNC Press Books. pp. 98–99. ISBN 978-1-4696-1091-7.
  12. ^ Rushforth, Brett (2014). Bonds of alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic slaveries in New France. Place of publication not identified: Univ Of North Carolina Press. p. 173. ISBN 978-1-4696-1386-4.