The Spectrum of Slavery

An Analysis of the Range of Native- and African-American Relations, 17th-19th Centuries James D. Pierson

Page 1 The two most popular minorities studied in historical analysis of the United States are the Native-Americans and the African-Americans. However, despite the immense amount of scholarship available on these two groups, the literature on hand is practically mutually exclusive. Research and publications focus almost solely on the history of blacks and natives and their interaction with European culture, but as Jack D. Forbes says in his book Africans and Native Americans, “…relations between Native Americans and Africans have been sadly neglected. The entire Afro-Native American cultural exchange and contact experience is a fascinating and significant subject, but one largely obscured by a focus upon European activity…”1 This paper will analyze what primary sources are available from blacks and natives concerning their interaction in the Americas. The oral traditions of both groups frustrate historical attempts to analyze the societies in the times they existed. However, the available secondary sources and scholarly works will help to piece together the social relations and impacts of the intermingling of these two peoples. It is an imposing task, as the place blacks held in Native societies varied greatly among the different tribes. This paper will demonstrate and draw out those very differences. It will show that the interactions between Native Americans and African Americans in the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries varied greatly along a spectrum with extreme poles: one end in which blacks were subjected to a form of chattel slavery by Native Americans that was inspired by and equally as heinous as that practiced by white settlers in the American South; and the other end in which blacks, in particular escaped slaves, were welcomed as a part of the tribe and adopted into Native society. Blacks and natives interacted in almost every way imaginable except that there are no records of blacks owning Native Americans as slaves. Natives held blacks as slaves, sheltered

Forbes, Jack D. Africans and Native Americans: the Language of Race and the Evolution of Red-Black Peoples (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 1.


Page 2 runaways from Southern owners, hunted runaways to return them to their European masters, intermarried, had children together, were held as slaves together by white masters, and allied together to rebel against white control.2 However, native enslavement of Africans receives very little focus in the general scholarship of slavery. In the Historical Guide to World Slavery, the phenomenon of Native Americans enslaving Africans is mentioned only once. In the encyclopedic documentation of the slavery of the world, this topic receives only three sentences, a mere forty-eight words. It mentions in one sentence that nations such as the Cherokee adopted European style slavery, in the next sentence that slavery in other nations, the Seminole for example, was mild and lenient. It sums up the entire history of black-red relations with “Indian slavery was a multi-faceted phenomenon.”3 Though in essence true, this is a clear example of the sadly inadequate research and emphasis native/African relations received. In the two centuries before the American Civil War, tens of thousands of Africans were enslaved by Native Americans, yet this topic does not even merit an entire paragraph in a study of the subject of slavery. Major scholars of Native American studies have omitted or seemingly ignored the role African Americans played in native society. James W. Covington in his book The Seminoles of Florida does not mention the role blacks played in the composition and history of Florida until the attack by the Patriot Army in 1812. He completely disregards the effects runaway slaves had on foreign policy between Britain, Spain, and America and ignores the black population and their considerable impact on the formation of the Seminole nation. In his first chapter, he cites the migration of the original Native inhabitants of Florida and the different Creek tribes that moved

Deloria, Philip J. and Neal Salisbury, eds. A Companion to American Indian History. (Malden: Blackwell, 2002), 226-227. 3 Drescher, Seymour and Stanley L. Engerman, eds. A Historical Guide to World Slavery (New York: Oxford University press, 1998), 396.


Page 3 into Florida in the 17th and 18th Century without speaking of the growing population of runaway slaves in their midst. Covington also manages to present the origins of the word “Seminole” and its reference to Native groups in Florida without including blacks or the obvious link between the Spanish word cimarrón, the word maroon in reference to independent settlements of runaway blacks, and Seminole.4 This paper will try to rectify some of the omissions and problems in this field by focusing mainly on black-native exchanges within the so-called “Five Civilized Tribes,” or the nations of the Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole. These groups received their moniker because of the alacrity with which they adopted Western European traits and practices. More specifically, the two extreme poles of black-native interaction are most viable in analysis of the Cherokee on one end and the Seminole on the other. The Cherokee were one of many native tribes to enslave Africans. However, the ease with which they adopted chattel slavery as introduced by the European colonizers demonstrates the significance black slavery would play in the Cherokee Nation throughout the years. Whereas the Cherokee adopted slavery in a form as cruel as that of the white man’s, in other nations the presence of blacks was still complex and volatile though altogether friendly. The Seminoles of Florida have a long history of interactions with Africans, mainly those runaway slaves that had escaped slavery in the Carolinas and later Georgia and had found refuge in Spanish Florida. The interaction between the ‘red’ and the ‘black’ Seminoles was intricate and no single classification can be given to their relationship. Overall, they coexisted in a friendly manner, as allies and neighbors, and created a mutually beneficial relationship. Whatever is said about the Seminole society and its multi-racial characteristics, what can be concluded is that the relations between the natives and the Africans in Florida were altogether more positive than in the Cherokee Nation.

Covington, James W. The Seminoles of Florida. (Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 1993), 3-13.

Page 4 The Cherokee, though not the only native nation to practice chattel slavery, are a perfect example of a Native American population adopting European customs to the detriment of the African population. The Cherokee are an ancient population with a history stretching back to times long before the arrival of Columbus. Their nation had practiced lenient forms of slavery common among native peoples before the introduction of chattel slavery. Hernando de Soto and his expedition in the American Southeast encountered Cherokees in possession of other native slaves. Some chiefs even gave de Soto slaves to bear supplies, implying that these natives held ownership over others. This gave the Spaniards the impression that slavery existed among the Cherokee in the same manner as in the production-based European economy. However, further exploration would have exposed them to the fact that this form of slavery bore little relation to their own.5 Before the arrival of Europeans to North America the Cherokee had a form of slavery as a part of their tradition and mythology, but it did not exist as a formal institution in the same way it would for Europeans.6 This is more a result of their form of economy than anything else. Chattel slavery as an institution developed out of the production economy that characterized plantations in the New World. The Native Americans, with a subsistence economy that was not concerned with the production of surplus goods to be sold later, did not need slaves in the same way European planters did. As interactions between natives and whites increased during colonial expansion, natives were exposed to a new economic and labor model. Encouraged by the British and American governments throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries the Cherokee began to adopt popular European practices, including a production economy, and with that came slavery.

Perdue, Theda. Slavery and the Evolution of Cherokee Society, 1540-1866 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1979), 3-4. 6 Halliburton, R. Jr. Red Over Black: Black Slavery Among the Cherokee Indians (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1977), 5.


Page 5 Evidence has shown that Cherokee society was actually well suited to the adoption of chattel slavery. Twyman alleges that members of the Five Civilized Tribes were encouraged to adopt European racist attitudes against blacks in an effort to prevent any possible union between the two oppressed groups. Especially in the American Southeast, in Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee and Alabama, there were significant numbers of Africans, natives, and Europeans. As they extended west, European settlers had a strong fear that the natives and Africans would unite to resist European domination, much as the Seminole rebels were doing in Florida at the time.7 In an effort to prevent the two groups from forming a united front, each tribe was encouraged first by the British and then by the United States government to approve treaties and resolutions in favor of slavery. After a short time, all of the Five practiced slavery, had constitutions that included slave codes, and all had factions that fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. As Halliburton notes, specific of the Cherokee Nation but representative of the other tribes of the Five, from early on the natives thought of themselves as superior to other groups. Halliburton also states of the Cherokee, “They were an ethnocentric people and believed that they were superior to others, regardless of their tribes, races, or origins.”8 Neither the Cherokee nor other Native groups felt an intrinsic identification with Africans as people of color oppressed by ‘the white man’. Both Twyman and Halliburton are in agreement that Europeans, because of their fear of “the dark-skinned races joining forces”, imposed practices to separate the two peoples. Whites informed both the slaves and the natives of the atrocities of the other groups and the dangers of mutual association. Whites encouraged mutual animosity by employing natives as slave-catchers and by using blacks in armies fighting natives.9 In this way, the Europeans helped


Twyman, Bruce Edward. The Black Seminole Legacy and North American Politics, 1693-1845 (Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1999), 15-16. 8 Halliburton, 139. 9 Perdue, 41.

Page 6 to facilitate a mutual distrust between two groups that seem natural allies. As stated above, what Twyman fails to acknowledge and what Halliburton recognizes is that the natives frequently did not need the encouragement of whites to look down upon Africans. The Cherokee in particular and the other Five Tribes in general from the beginning accepted the institution of slavery without qualms. They saw Africans as beneath them and because of this attitude were willing to freely adopt the example of European chattel slavery. Halliburton expounds upon the Cherokee example of natives having few moral quandaries concerning the morality of African slavery. In fact, the biggest conflict within Native nations was not the adoption of slavery but the adoption of European practices of private land ownership. What became the important motivation was the individual gain available to those willing to embrace these two institutions. Powerful chiefs and warriors began to claim common land as their own and to use slaves taken from battle or given as gifts to farm it. And beyond this elite class, the women in Cherokee society were early proponents of the adoption of chattel slavery because of the benefits available to them. Women had a considerable amount of duties, including work in the field and in the house; the use of black slaves in the field would lessen their duties and give them more free time. Males on the other hand used the institution of slavery to provide further justification for not contributing to agricultural production. By embracing slavery, there was less work for the males to do and they could spend more time hunting, warring, or lounging.10 Cherokee society was open and welcome to black slavery and its adoption was facilitated by the personal gain made possible through slave labor. It is a commonly held belief that natives are naturally more sympathetic to the plight of their slaves and that native culture was so different from the Europeans that there must have been distinct differences. “Natives treated their slaves better,” is the primary illusion. This is an

Halliburton, 6-10.

Page 7 important myth that needs to be dispelled. Theda Perdue makes an important point about New World slavery as an institution, regardless of color. She states that slavery, because it was an economic tool, subjected the enslaved to the necessities of the economic system in which they existed. It is a matter of fact that in New World slavery societies, “custom, religion, or law rarely restrained a slave’s master from exercising whatever control or coercion seemed necessary to increase production and to maximize profits,”11. This overarching theoretical point concerning slavery negates the assumption that natives were naturally more lenient toward their slaves. Chattel slavery was about money and it developed independently in different societies yet still retained the same economical framework. There is no reason to believe that natives were kinder to their slaves. Both people operated under the same economic framework in which production was the goal. Saying natives were more lenient implies that Europeans, as a group and individually, are crueler for no other reason than intrinsic maliciousness. Available evidence both supports and contradicts Perdue’s argument that slaves under Cherokee masters faced similar atrocities and hardships as their counterparts under white masters. Of course, it is also possible to find evidence that slaves enjoyed their life on Southern plantations, but we know these cases to be a rare exception. As Halliburton states, it is claimed that black slaves of the Cherokee were treated as equals, that slave families were not broken up, and that intermarriage was common. There are also claims that Cherokee slaves were so well treated that they were not marketable to United States slaveholders.12 Some evidence from primary sources supports this. Henry Bibb (1815-1854) was a famous abolitionist that lived under both white and Cherokee masters throughout his life before running away from Indian Territory after the death of his Cherokee master. He later lived in Detroit and then moved to

11 12

Perdue, xii. Halliburton, 4.

Page 8 Canada after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. He was a strong abolitionist voice and published a narration of his own life. In it, he speaks of his sale to a Cherokee master in Indian Territory in Oklahoma in 1840. He speaks with great reverence of his Cherokee master and the manner in which he was treated. His comparisons between white and red slavery displays the inhumane treatment he received under his white masters and how comfortable his existence was in comparison to his servitude under the Europeans. He says in his narrative that, “All things considered, if I must be a slave, I had by far rather be a slave to an Indian, than to a white man, from the experience I have had with both.”13 However, this is a rare example of evidence of the leniency of Cherokee masters. There are ample sources citing the more cruel aspects of the Cherokee institution of slavery. Celia E. Naylor-Ojurongbe submitted her Ph.D. dissertation to the Duke University Department of History on the subject of African-Americans among the Cherokee and dedicated an entire chapter to disproving the myth of Cherokee leniency. She does admit that there are plenty of sources supporting the myth. In addition to Bibb’s narrative, she uses notes by American general Ethan Allen Hitchcock and the work of Theda Perdue. She also uses multiple laws enacted by the Cherokee Council and approved by Chief John Ross to counter these examples. She outlines a multitude of laws that restricted the rights of African Americans and gave harsher punishments to blacks that committed the same crimes as natives. NaylorOjurongbe also centers her argument on examples of slave resistance in Cherokee society as evidence that slaves abhorred slavery under natives as much as under whites.14 Patrick Minges’ book of slave narratives conducted by the Federal Writer’s Project during the 1930’s includes

Bibb, Henry. Narrative of the Life and Adventure of Henry Bibb, an American Slave (New York: Henry Bibb, 1849), 153. 14 Naylor-Ojurongbe, Celia. “More At Home with the Indians”: African-American Slaves and Freedpeople in the Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory, 1838-1907. (Ann Arbor, MI: Bell & Howell, 2001), 76-82.


Page 9 many firsthand narratives of the cruelties inflicted on black slaves by the Cherokee. In one particular interview, Phyllis Petite recounts her experiences under a Cherokee master. She states that her master made a business of the slave trade and frequently disciplined new slaves to keep them in line. “They didn’t have no jail to put slaves in, because when the masters got done licking them, they didn’t need no jail,”15 is what she remembers from her time of servitude with the Cherokee. Though there is skepticism as to the reliable nature of the interviews conducted by the FWP in the 1930’s, because of the age of those interviewed and the great amount of time that had elapsed since the abolition of slavery in the United States and among the native nations, it is still reasonable to grant them some amount of legitimacy. Most importantly, narratives such as the one provided by Petite, among others, though not taken for their specific recount of events, are important for the broad feeling of either fear or contentment of the slaves. General impressions of hate, pain, and mistreatment would remain strong through the years, much as the testimonies of European Jews concerning Nazi concentration camps are still accepted as legitimate 60 years after the experience. Missionaries to the Cherokees were the main reason for the propagation of the myth that Cherokee masters were kinder to their slaves: slavery for them had evolved into a moral and political issue. Religion has had a complex relation with slavery and the moral justification it provides since the inception of slavery as an institution. Concerning Native American slavery, the issue takes on another dimension of significance because of the way in which it lessened the importance and historical impact of the enslavement of blacks by Native Americans. It not only changed the adoption and continuation of Native American slavery, but distorted the historical perception of this significant event in American history. Originally, missionaries had arrived in Cherokee territory after the adoption of black slavery. Slavery was generally tolerated, and often

Minges, Patrick, ed. Black Indian Slave Narratives (Winston-Salem: John F. Blair, 2004), 78-81.

Page 10 times justified by them, because of the resources the black slaves provided missions. Black slaves were often hired out, donated, or bought for the benefit of the creation of housing for missionaries and churches for the communities. Supporters of missions in later years, mainly from the North, opposed the employment of slaves in missions and to the admittance of Cherokees who owned slaves into congregations. Missionaries, aware that the snubbing of the Cherokee elite and the denouncement of slavery would lead to their expulsion from native territories, reported to their superiors of the humane conditions with which the Cherokee treated their slaves to gain administrative approval for their interactions with natives.16 Cherokee slaveholders were also among the first converts to Christian missionaries. It is apparent that their acceptance of Christianity owed to the religion’s moral justification for slavery, as evidenced by a popular passage from 1st Timothy 6:1-5 that preaches that Christian slaves under Christian masters should be all the more subservient because those that benefit from their work are their brethren. One of the most popular sermons given to this audience taken from Titus 2:9-10: “Bid slaves to be submissive to their masters and give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to be refractory, or to pilfer, but to show entire and true Fidelity, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour.”17 The issue of missionaries and native slavery followed the Cherokee to Indian Territory. Here it seemed to take the opposite form, attempting to cut down slavery rather than support it. From the Annual Message of Chief John Ross to the Citizens of the Cherokee Nation of Oct. 6, 1856, Ross speaks of the complaints Native slave owners have with the missionaries from the American Board of Missionaries, “in regard to alleged improper conduct towards their slaves,”18. First, Ross states the official position that the Cherokee are an independent nation and outside
16 17

Halliburton, 93-94. Halliburton, 28. 18 Ross, John. The Papers of Chief John Ross, Volume 2. (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985), 397.

Page 11 entities, including the United States, have no right to interfere with internal affairs. “The existence of Slavery among us is sanctioned by our own laws”19 is enough reason for Ross to have sent a letter of inquiry and a poorly veiled remonstrance to the missionaries for preaching to slaves. Ross is clearly demonstrating that slavery had become a part of Cherokee society. They were no longer practicing it to curry favor with the Europeans or to act “civilized”, as ironic as the idea of enslaving Africans to appear civilized is. It had been integrated into their society; traditional Cherokee society had been fundamentally changed by interaction with Europeans. There is also the claim that intermarriages between blacks and natives were common. The marriage and offspring of Chief Shoe Boots and the slave of the white wife that had left him caused great conflict in the Cherokee Nation because of the controversy over citizenship laws and what sort of people could produce legitimate Cherokee children. Cherokee society was historically matrilineal and because of this new Cherokee laws were written to essentially delegitimize the offspring of all free or slave black women. Their constitution subjugated all blacks and their descendents to the role of second-class citizens by disallowing them the right to hold any public office or position of national importance.20 In 1824 Shoe Boots submitted a petition to the Cherokee National Council requesting the recognition of the three children he had had by his slave wife Doll as free citizens of the Cherokee Nation. The simple submission of the petition was controversial. By submitting it, he openly admits to having a sexual relationship with a black slave, having multiple children with her, and actually caring for them so much as to desire they be made citizens and eligible to inherit his estate upon his death.21 This petition is important in legal history in that it sets a

Ross, 397. Miles, Tiya. Ties that Bind: the Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 111. 21 Miles, 114-115.


Page 12 precedent of what status children of mixed blood have, and also the status a slave has when taken as a mate by a Cherokee citizen. Shoe Boots disregarded the status of his wife and in doing so he reinforces the power of male slaveholders in Cherokee society and further disenfranchises both women and blacks.22 The Council was in a tight spot in this situation: on the one hand, many in the government were committed to showing the American government that they were adopting European ways and practices. Approving intermarriage between a Cherokee and a black slave would have been a step in the opposite direction. The council members were also obligated to their fellow clansman and warrior and bound by tradition and loyalty to act on his behalf. The Council solved this problem by granting free status to the children produced by the marriage but denouncing the practice of intermarriage at the same time. They told Shoe Boots to stop having relations with his slave wife, explicitly underlining the words ‘slave’ and ‘woman’ in their response to emphasis her inferior status, and saying that having any more children by her could move them to reverse their decision. They also passed an act at the same time outlawing marriage between Cherokee or whites and black slaves, attributing monetary fines and lashings to anyone that broke this law.23 The National Cherokee Council renewed their position after removal to the West in an act approved on 19 September 1839 entitled, “An Act to Prevent Amalgamation with Colored People”. In it, John Ross puts his name to an act passed by the council again refusing free men and women from marrying “any person of color.” Committing such an offense was again given the punishment of up to 50 lashes.24 These examples, prompted by traditional norms and by the reorganization of Cherokee society because of European

22 23

Miles, 122-123. Ibid, 126-128. 24 Duncan, James W. “Interesting Anti-bellum Laws of the Cherokee Nation.” Chronicles of Oklahoma: Volume 6, Number 2. (Oklahoma City: University of Oklahoma Press, 1928), 179.

Page 13 pressures show the ways in which Cherokees displayed the strongest color prejudice of any known Native nation. The combination of internal traditions and external pressures prompted the Cherokee to reject association with races considered inferior. Intermingling did happen, but it was shunned and disapproved. Seminole red-black relations evolved in a completely different manner than those of the Cherokee or with the other three nations of the “Five Civilized Tribes” for that matter. The reason for this lies in the distinctive social and political system that dominated the Floridian peninsula during the formation of these relationships. The Spanish were in control of Florida since the establishment of St. Augustine in 1565 until it passed into American hands in 1821, with a 21-year period of British rule from 1763 to 1784. The changing national possession of Florida had profound consequences for relations between all types of people, red, black and white alike.25 The history of blacks and of the natives that came to be known as the Seminoles developed separately but these histories were soon intertwined in their struggles for freedom, autonomy, and prosperity. It is important to remember that in the Cherokee example, as well as with the Creeks and to a lesser extent the Chickasaws and Choctaws, blacks and natives did not identify each other as fellow peoples of color in danger of subjugation by white Europeans. Seminole-black interactions took a different form: both groups recognized the mutual benefits available to them through cooperation. Though evidence suggests that blacks were not considered true equals to the native Seminoles, there certainly were considerable amounts of mutual respect. In fact, the issue of Seminole identity is a volatile subject, even today. When referring to the Seminole Nation, especially in the time before the Seminole Wars, it is necessary to make a distinction between “red” and “black” Seminoles. The interaction between the natives


Porter , Kenneth Wiggins. The Black Seminoles: History of a Freedom-Seeking People (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996), 4-5.

Page 14 and the Africans in Seminole society was so great that a blanket term of Seminole, in general reference to a Native American group, misses many vital aspects of Seminole society. As early as 1687 the Spanish began enticing slaves of British owners in the Carolinas to seek refuge in Florida by offering them freedom and land to farm if they served in the military for the defense of Florida. The Spanish crown offered amnesty to escaped slaves from British territory. From an early time, free blacks served as an integral part of the defenses of Florida, particularly in the city of St. Augustine. The small but steady flow of escaped blacks to Spanish Florida all but ceased in 1763 when Spain ceded Florida to Britain in exchange for Cuba. In fact, many of the black colonists affiliated with the Spanish were evacuated to Havana to prevent their re-enslavement at the hands of the British. Many blacks chose to remain in Florida though, seeking refuge in the woods and swamps and among the Native populations. In the next 21 years of British control Florida was not an official safe haven for slaves, though slaves continued to escape to the uncharted interior of the peninsula. Escaped slaves began arriving in ever increasing numbers after the end of the American Revolution, when Spain regained control of Florida, only now the Spanish colonists were in conflict with the American government rather than the British over escaped slaves.26 In the mid to late 17th Century, groups of Lower Creek natives began migrating south into the Floridian peninsula, in part to avoid expanding British colonial encroachment and because of the instability in the Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama areas caused by other migrating natives. The arriving Creek segments, along with other native groups and tribes originally from Florida, became the newly formed Seminole Nation. The formation of this new nation prompted the Europeans to begin the use of natives as pawns in the power struggle between Spain and


Porter, 4-6.

Page 15 Britain.27 The Spanish crown used these newly arrived natives in Florida to disrupt British expansion in North America and the natives buffered themselves and strengthened their forces, while simultaneously weakening their opponents, by encouraging runaway slaves to join them as free men. This practice started in 1693 with the Royal Edict of Charles II of Spain and continued up to and beyond the end of Spanish control in Florida. The Edict of 1693 freed a number of escaped slaves that had recently arrived in Florida and encouraged them to go to St. Augustine. This royal edict was used as an important precedent for future Spanish colonists when dealing with escaped slaves. The escaped blacks were later recognized in 1738 as an integral part of the Spanish military forces in Florida when many of them were incorporated into the military garrison in St. Augustine.28 The Spanish had officially mobilized natives and runaways to fight the British and later the Americans and resistance would continue until the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the subsequent expulsion of Floridian natives. The first concrete example of joint African and native forces acting against British holdings in the Americas was during the Yamasee War of 1714-1716. In the war, Yamasee natives attacked the colony of South Carolina after the British colonists seized multiple Yamasees to repay trading debts. As the natives attacked, some of the black slaves of the colony revolted and attacked the British alongside the Yamasee. A concerted effort of British forces and loyalist natives repulsed the Yamasee/African forces and they fled south to St. Augustine. Though unsuccessful, this attack was the most powerful and deadly attack by native forces against a British colony and as such it was used as an example of the deadly effectiveness of the Edict of 1693 and the potential power of combined native and African forces, especially when

27 28

Porter, 4-5. Twyman, 27-28, 33.

Page 16 the remaining Yamasee and African rebels became incorporated into the Seminole nation.29 Outside of their joint military roles, it seems that the blacks and the natives got on together quite amiably. In general, information about the relationship between native Seminoles and Africans is infrequent and unreliable. Southern interests dominated the American government during the entire period prior to the Civil War. The only available accounts of the relations come mainly from individuals with a stake in the slave business, namely Southern politicians, soldiers, and elites. These sources are obviously biased in their observation of Seminole society, especially in light of its complex nature. Also, there are no available first person accounts of Africans and their relations with Native Seminoles. As such, surviving information concerning red and black Seminoles is skewed and sometimes unreliable. One such example of this kind of one sided primary source is taken from the journal of William H. Simmons, a member of the American forces that invaded Florida in 1812. Simmons makes his notes on Seminole society as he observed it by stating that the “negroes” uniformly testify to the kind treatment they received from their native masters. He states that they the Africans paid the natives a tribute that never resulted in a surplus of goods but was sufficient for immediate consumption. He noted that both the red and black Seminoles lived and dressed in similar manners and that blacks held a powerful position in society, serving as interpreters during dealings with the whites.30 Throughout his observations of the Seminoles, his notes about their interactions are based upon his shock at the contrast to those of America. His note that the blacks do not provide the natives with surplus goods shows his obsession with production and capitalism; he is awe-struck by the fact that they do not use their ‘slaves’ to make money, but only to provide sustenance. Documents from this era, written by white Southerners in particular,
29 30

Twyman, 38-39. Simmons, William H. Notices of East Florida with an Account of the Seminole Nation of Indians by a Recent Traveller in the Province, taken from Covington. (Charleston, SC: Privately published, 1822), 29-32.

Page 17 are rife with this kind of sentiment, showing the biased observations that populate the field. During the times before 1763, and especially during British occupation, Seminole chiefs were introduced to African chattel slavery. British sometimes gave African slaves as gifts, and many chiefs purchased slaves from the British, but the Seminoles were unfamiliar with the concept of total ownership and command of slaves. It is postulated by Porter that a system of primitive feudalism arose between the Seminoles and the new black population. They appear to have managed relationships with the blacks by supplying them with materials to live and farm, demanding a portion of the crop in exchange for protection under the tribe. However, as Simmons observed and unlike traditional European feudalism there are no reports of tribute demands beyond a reasonable measure. The comfortable status this afforded blacks in Florida enticed more runaways when news gradually reached Georgia and South Carolina. The whites observing this relationship most likely saw it as conventional chattel slavery because that was the labor form they were most familiar with. This was in fact beneficial in that Seminoles could assert ownership of a slave if their former master tried to reclaim him. The authority and sovereignty of the Spanish territory and the Seminole Nation backed their claim to ownership. The blacks and Seminoles most likely perpetrated this belief to protect the blacks from reclamation while similarities between Seminole society and Southern chattel slavery grew more and more distant. Actually, black functions only increased with time and necessity. Blacks served as interpreters, emissaries, and experts of white society for their Native allies because of their familiarity with white society. Relationships between the natives and the blacks changed and fluctuated because of the increased importance of blacks and their ever-increasing numbers.31 It appears that the Seminoles were the only Nation of the Five Civilized Tribes to practice

Porter, 4-7.

Page 18 a relatively lax and gentle form of slavery, referred to as “benevolent sharecropping” by Twyman.32 The explanation for this moderate enslavement has a strong case in the presence of a large and influential group of free, armed African rebels present in Florida. If they had been so inclined, any attempt by red Seminoles to enslave an African would have been an affront to their African allies, many of which had experienced the horrors of slavery in their lifetime. This coexistence developed into a faux-slavery, a front institution. On the one hand, true slavery in the same European model as the Creeks and Cherokee had adopted would have been impossible given the presence of the large group of African rebels in Florida. It was also undesired by both Seminole groups. The common belief that Seminoles practiced slavery was perpetrated by the Native-African alliance because of the legal implications. The United States government at this time recognized that Native nations had legal sovereignty. By claiming that their African allies were in fact their slaves they were protecting the African population from U.S. claims to ownership.33 This tactic worked in some ways and in others did not: multiple sources show that representative of the United States observed both the fact that the Native Americans claimed ownership over the blacks and also that the Africans held an important position in society, an observation that contradicted the native claims of ownership. Ethan Allen Hitchcock, an American general serving in the Second Seminole War, observed that, “whilst the Indian claimed superiority over the negro and held him a slave, in virtue of his superior courage, the negro maintained a sort of ascendency over the Indian by something like superior intelligence and a little education,”34 This passage demonstrates that Hitchcock recognized that the natives claimed ownership of the blacks in their midst, but that these claims were transparently contradicted by

32 33

Twyman, 18. Twyman, 17-18. 34 Croffut, W.A., Ph.D., ed. Fifty Years in Camp and Field: Diary of Major-General Ethan Allen Hitchcock, U.S.A. (New York and London: Knickerbocker Press, 1909), 78.

Page 19 the position of status the Africans held. The historically ambiguous relationship between the natives and the Africans is apparently a result of the importance the African rebels held in Seminole society. Whereas in the American South and in the Nations of the Cherokee, the Creek, and other native tribes Africans were never allowed to hold a position of power in society, the situation in the Seminole nation was opposite. The black Seminoles were important members of society, serving as warriors, interpreters, emissaries, and political consultants. In Florida the blacks were important to the security of the Seminoles and as such they were given a high level of autonomy. As runaways increased their numbers, it became increasingly unlikely that the native Seminoles would subjugate them. It is true that some African rebel groups paid a tribute to local natives groups, but that is a far cry from the slavery experienced by Africans in other Native nations. The individual power of some African rebels led to the propagation of the belief that Seminoles practiced a form of European chattel slavery. After the U.S. acquired Florida from Spain in 1821 the black Seminoles may have encouraged red Seminoles to claim some blacks as their legal property to prevent their reclamation by American owners. This tactic would have further shielded free blacks in Florida after the loss of protection under Spanish anti-slavery laws.35 This led to a complex relationship, in which the legal understanding of the United States was that a majority of the Africans in Seminole territory were slaves of Seminole natives. Yet among the natives and the Africans, both would have recognized that the Africans were quasiindependent, and sometimes the dominant force in Seminole interactions with foreign powers. An example of the impression the Americans had of the intricate and uncommon relations Seminole natives had with each other is available from Wiley Thompson, an agent to the Seminole community sent by the US Government in 1834 primarily to convince the

Twyman, 19.

Page 20 Seminoles to accept removal to the West. While in Florida and during his interactions with the white settlers and the Native and Black Seminoles, Wiley sent correspondence to Washington. One of his letters in particular, sent to Secretary of War Louis Cass just before the start of the Second Seminole War, sums up the American perception of relations between black and native Seminoles. In his letters, Thompson describes the life of ease and prosperity led by black Seminoles. He also tells Cass of the strong relationship between the natives and their ‘property’: “an Indian would almost as soon sell his child as his slave, except when under the influence of intoxicating liquors”.36 It was obvious to Thompson that the relationship between the blacks and the natives in Seminole society was much more profound than simply slave and master. There was a sense of community that grew among them to the point that blacks were considered almost equals, though he still recognized the natives of having legitimate ownership of the Africans. Things began to change as American presence in Florida increased. Florida was ceded to the United States in 1819, threatening the peace achieved at the end of the First Seminole War. The adoption of Florida by America opened up a wormhole of problems. Not only did the Seminole now have the specter of removal to the West hanging over them, but the black Seminoles were now in danger of being reclaimed by old masters or seized by American settlers moving into Florida. As a result, the mutual friendship between blacks and natives only grew stronger as the white presence increased. If any native group was going to negotiate with the Americans, they needed the black Seminoles to operate as translators. Also, if the Seminoles wanted to fight to resist removal, as they did in the Second Seminole War of 1835-1842, their black allies would be an indispensible fighting force. Likewise, blacks had little chance of retaining the semi-autonomy they enjoyed with the Seminoles without their support or

Dickens, Asbury and John W. Forney, Eds. “American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive of the Congress of the United States” Military Affairs: Volume 6. (Washington, D.C.: Gales and Seaton, 1861), 533534.

Page 21 protection. In fact, many blacks must have feared losing their independence and the relatively easy life they led as compared to their slave counterparts among the Americans. As a result, black and native Seminole relations grew stronger and stronger as American occupation intensified. Blacks also began to assert their power over Seminole affairs by actively resisting removal. Their great fear was that upon removal to the West, they would be captured by the Creeks they were to settle among and either become their slaves or be sold into the hands of Europeans.37 The Seminoles, black and red, were removed to Indian Territory between 1837 and 1842. They occupied an area in the center of the territory surrounded by the Creeks, Cherokee, Choctaws, and Chickasaws.38 From the moment of their arrival the presence of the independent blacks caused controversy. The greatest problems, something all the Seminoles had feared, were raids by nearby native nations, primarily the Creeks and the Cherokee. Also, as the Seminoles settled in their new land, old agreements and understandings within the community and between other groups were questioned or forgotten; in the case of the blacks, claims by white slave owners on black Seminoles were renewed.39 The transfer to the West also created other problems, but this time internally. In Florida, the blacks and natives had been co-dependent; each group needed the other to survive against the encroachment of white settlers and the American government. However, now that they were in Indian Territory, there was no threat of war and no powerful white presence to unite the two groups. Furthermore, the political pressures applied on the native Seminoles by pro-slavery US government officials and the slaveholding nations of the Creeks and Cherokee gradually pushed

Littlefield, Daniel F. Africans and Seminoles: From Removal to Emancipation. (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1977), 8-12. 38 Ibid, 68-69. 39 Ibid, 68-71.


Page 22 the native Seminoles to separate themselves from their black compatriots. Until recently, blacks had held an influential, independent place in Seminole society. Yet as their importance in Seminole affairs declined, the Seminole pressures to abandon their unconventional racial relationships grew more appealing. By following the example of the Creeks and Cherokees, the Seminoles gained legitimacy and improved their relationships with their neighbors. Race relations gradually declined up to and beyond the Civil War and were not officially remedied until treaty negotiations in 1866.40 These agreements brought black-native relations back almost full circle. As well as providing a contrast to black-red relations as demonstrated by the Cherokee, the Seminole in and of themselves offer a perspective into both good and bad relations between the two groups. The two Seminole demographics had experienced a roller coaster of positive and negative relations. Initial interactions in the 17th and early 18th Centuries had been overall negative, yet as time progressed they gradually improved. By the Second Seminole War, blacks and natives were almost equals in Seminole society, a unique example among all white and red societies in North America. However, after removal to the West, relationships deteriorated until native Seminoles resembled the domineering Cherokee and Creek natives. After the Civil War, relationships again improved and the Seminole had one of the most inclusive positions of acceptance of freedmen. Through the examples from the Seminoles and the Cherokees, the blanket statement expressed above from the Historical Guide to World Slavery that “Indian slavery was a multifaceted phenomenon,”41 is proven to be legitimate, if not extremely general. Though red-black relations in America is a subject sadly neglected in historical scholarship, it is all too easy to

40 41

Littlefield, 197-203. Drescher and Engerman, 396.

Page 23 extrapolate from the various sources that the issue of black slavery among Native Americans is shrouded in intricacies, generalizations, and exceptions to those generalizations. Though the Cherokee were cruel masters, of the same mold as Southern plantation owners, there were instances in which they cared for their slaves and may even have seen them as human beings. The case of Shoe Boots is brought to mind, an example of the controversies that arise from the conflict of the intermingling of traditional Cherokee culture and the encroaching European culture. And though the Seminoles demonstrated the most lenient and egalitarian practices of any society of the time, red or black, the fact that they distanced themselves from their one-time allies when they arrived in Indian Territory shows that their equal mindedness was regulated by circumstance. So even though the general assumptions, that Seminoles were kinder and fairer than others and the Cherokee were crueler and more exploitative than others, is true, they remain just that. They are general; they are imperfect labels applied to a group that doesn’t always fit the mold it was put into. The fact is that the arrival of the Europeans, and with them the Africans, wreaked havoc on native societies in more ways than the wars, diseases, and territory disputes. The introduction of Africans into native societies and their exposure to European social and economic patterns fundamentally challenged traditional Native American practices for every nation. And each nation adapted to these challenges in different ways. The truth remains, as general as it is sounds, that black experiences with Native Americans extended along a broad spectrum of treatment, both cruel and kind and altogether unique in American history.

Page 24 Bibliography Primary Sources Bibb, Henry. Narrative of the Life and Adventure of Henry Bibb, an American Slave. New York: Henry Bibb, 1849. Croffut, W.A., Ph.D., ed. Fifty Years in Camp and Field: Diary of Major-General Ethan Allen Hitchcock, U.S.A. New York and London: Knickerbocker Press, 1909. Dickens, Asbury and John W. Forney, Eds. “American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive of the Congress of the United States” Military Affairs: Volume 6. Washington, D.C.: Gales and Seaton, 1861. Duncan, James W. “Interesting Anti-bellum Laws of the Cherokee Nation.” Chronicles of Oklahoma: Volume 6, Number 2. Oklahoma City: University of Oklahoma Press, 1928. Minges, Patrick, ed. Black Indian Slave Narratives. Winston-Salem: John F. Blair, 2004. Ross, John. The Papers of Chief John Ross. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985. Simmons, William H. Notices of East Florida with an Account of the Seminole Nation of Indians by a Recent Traveller in the Province, taken from Covington. Charleston, SC: Privately published, 1822.

Secondary Sources Covington, James W. The Seminoles of Florida. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 1993.

Page 25 Deloria, Philip J. and Neal Salisbury, eds. A Companion to American Indian History. Malden: Blackwell, 2002. Drescher, Seymour and Stanley L. Engerman, eds. A Historical Guide to World Slavery. New York : Oxford University press, 1998. Forbes, Jack D. Africans and Native Americans: the Language of Race and the Evolution of Red-Black Peoples. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993. Halliburton, R. Jr. Red Over Black: Black Slavery Among the Cherokee Indians. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1977. Littlefield, Daniel F. Africans and Seminoles: From Removal to Emancipation. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1977. Miles, Tiya. Ties that Bind: the Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005. Naylor-Ojurongbe, Celia. “More At Home with the Indians”: African-American Slaves and Freedpeople in the Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory, 1838-1907. Ann Arbor, MI: Bell & Howell, 2001. Perdue, Theda. Slavery and the Evolution of Cherokee Society, 1540-1866. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1979. Porter, Kenneth Wiggins. The Black Seminoles: History of a Freedom-Seeking People. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996. Twyman, Bruce Edward. The Black Seminole Legacy and North American Politics, 1693-1845. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1999.

Page 26 Bateman, Rebecca B. 1990. “Africans and Indians: A Comparative Study of the Black Carib and Black Seminole.” Ethnohistory 37: 1-24. Bolt, Christine. American Indian Policy and American Reform: Case Studies of the Campaign to Assimilate the American Indians. London; Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1987. Brooks, James F., ed. 1998. “Confounding the Color Line : Indian-Black Relations in Historical and Anthropological Perspective.” American Indian Quarterly 22: 125-258. Dramer, Kim. Native Americans and Black Americans. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1997. Forbes, Jack D. Black Africans and Native Americans: Color, Race, and Caste in the Evolution of Red-Black Peoples. Oxford, UK; New York, NY, USA: Blackwell, 1988. Giddings, Joshua R. The Exiles of Florida; or, the Crimes Committed by our Government Against the Maroons Who Fled from South Carolina and Other Slave States, Seeking Protection Under Spanish Laws. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 1964. Howard, Rosalyn. 2006. “The ‘Wild Indians’ of Andros Island: Black Seminole Legacy in the Bahamas.” Journal of Black Studies 37: 275-298. Junne, George H. Blacks in the American West and Beyond--America, Canada, and Mexico: A Selectively Annotated Bibliography. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2000. Katz, William Loren. Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage. New York: Atheneum, 1986. Landers, Jane. Black Society in Spanish Florida. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999. Littlefield, Daniel F. Africans and Creeks: From the Colonial Period to the Civil War. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1979. Lovett, Laura L. “African and Cherokee by Choice.” American Indian Quarterly 22: 203.

Page 27 May, Katja. African Americans and Native Americans in the Creek and Cherokee Nations, 1830s to 1920s : Collision and Collusion. New York: Garland Publishers, 1996. Mulroy, Kevin. Freedom on the Border: the Seminole Maroons in Florida: the Indian Territory - Coahuila and Texas. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1993. Pescatello, Ann M., ed. Old Roots in New Lands: Historical and Anthropological Perspectives on Black Experiences in the Americas. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1977. Salzman, Jack, ed. American Studies: An Annotated Bibliography. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Taylor, Quintard. In Search of the Racial Frontier: African Americans in the American West, 1528-1990. New York: Norton, 1998. Thybony, Scott. “Against All Odds, Black Seminole Won Their Freedom.” Smithsonian 22: 20. Wright, J. Leitch. Creeks & Seminoles : the Destruction and Regeneration of the Muscogulge People. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986.

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