Native American Slaves

I was teaching my World Studies students about the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and one of my students raised an interesting question. Why didn’t the European Americans use Native Americans as slaves? After all of the other injustices heaped on the Native Americans, why not take it a step further and enslave them? Andrew Jackson apparently thought tearing them away from their homeland and forcing them to Oklahoma was fine, so what stopped the U.S. from totally humiliating them?

This was dealt with quite recently, if you search on slavery on GQ going back a few days.

Answers are
(1) If you’re talking about Europeans in the Americas generally, they did use them as slaves. Mostly the Spanish colonies. However, two serious problems existed: die-offs from exposure to Old World (European and African) diseases, issues of control.

(2) In North America, again they were used as slave labor, but the problem of low population density when anglo-american expansion occured, plus ready availibility of black slaves from Africa or the Caribbean, relative ease of escape for Native America captives… In the end genocidial activities were more cost effective.

Add racist justifications that one “race” was more suitable than another and bingo.

The Spaniards did start out keeping the Native Americans as slaves. HOWEVER, the population of Natives was wiped out by about 95 percent due to disease and mistreatment and such.

So the Spaniards simply went to Africa to employ more slaves.

Gruesome, eh?

And the reason it was easier for the “Indians” to run away was because they were already home, and knew local woodcraft, which animals/plants to eat, which mountains to cross etc.

The African slaves were an ocean away from all such things they knew and understood, so it was safer to stay in slavery.

But some African slaves in Meso-America escaped the Spaniards and interbred with the natives they met; the resulting mixed-race people were called Cimaroons.

The recent GQ thread was called, appropriately enough, Slaves.

Add to all this the twist that many American Indians in the South (e.g. the Cherokee) were slave owners.

Quite a few Indians were enslaved in New England early on, but as Five said, they found it quite easy to escape if they were kept as slaves in New England. After the Pequot War in the 1630s, a number of the Pequot people were sent into slavery in Bermuda, from where it was next to impossible to escape.

It should also be noted that Native Americans engaged in slaveholding among themselves, even among the hunter-gatherers of the Pacific Northwest. They were almost entirely war captives, primarily women and children. The most famous Indian slave was Sacagawea. There was also a case of a white sailor shipwrecked on the Northwest coast being held as a slave.

I don’t know if this was some kind of propaganda, but I had read somewhere that the Spaniards started importing slaves from Africa as a (supposedly) humanitarian gesture toward the native Indians–because (again supposedly) Africans had such better stamina for slavery, whereas Indians had a distressing proclivity toward being killed by it . . .