Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America

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Slavery existed in North America long before the first Africans arrived at Jamestown in 1619. For centuries, from the pre-Columbian era through the 1840s, Native Americans took prisoners of war and killed, adopted, or enslaved them. Christina Snyder's pathbreaking book takes a familiar setting for bondage, the American South, and places Native Americans at the center of her engrossing story.

Indian warriors captured a wide range of enemies, including Africans, Europeans, and other Indians. Yet until the late eighteenth century, age and gender more than race affected the fate of captives. As economic and political crises mounted, however, Indians began to racialize slavery and target African Americans. Native people struggling to secure a separate space for themselves in America developed a shared language of race with white settlers. Although the Indians' captivity practices remained fluid long after their neighbors hardened racial lines, the Second Seminole War ultimately tore apart the inclusive communities that Native people had created through centuries of captivity.

Snyder's rich and sweeping history of Indian slavery connects figures like Andrew Jackson and Cherokee chief Dragging Canoe with little-known captives like Antonia Bonnelli, a white teenager from Spanish Florida, and David George, a black runaway from Virginia. Placing the experiences of these individuals within a complex system of captivity and Indians' relations with other peoples, Snyder demonstrates the profound role of Native American history in the American past.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
“The American South, a familiar setting for bondage, reveals a new story,” in the hands of Indiana University assistant professor of history Snyder, who explores the Indian practice of enslaving prisoners of war in this instructive and remarkably readable book. “The South is more than the Confederacy,” she asserts; the major Native American nations (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole) were not merely “villains or victims or foils, but leading players” in slaveholding. She reaches back to early Indian captivity practices—and how conceptions of captives and their roles in Indian communities changed with the arrival of Europeans and Africans. During the colonial period, captives were chosen on the basis of gender and age, not race, but as a nativist movement (“a collective identity as red people”) emerged in the late-18th century, Americans, black and white, became the “common enemy.” By the early 19th century—when, among other factors, black slaves became more highly valued—Africans were specifically targeted. Snyder breaks new ground in this study reveals pre-colonial Southern history and restores visibility to Native American history in the region.(Apr.)
Library Journal
Native American slavery was brought to the scholarly forefront with Allan Gallay's The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670–1717. Now Snyder (American studies & history, Indiana Univ.) examines captivity in the same region from pre-Columbian times to the 1840s but focuses on the evolution of slavery from the perspective of individual Native American groups. She demonstrates that captivity, before the arrival of Europeans, played an important role in Native societies, as some captives became kinfolk while others became slaves. The Europeans introduced slavery for profit and racialized slavery in the region, which had different consequences for different Native groups. The scale of slavery grew exponentially, with some Native groups actively victimizing others to obtain slaves for trade with Europeans. The introduction of African slaves further confounded the situation, as some Native groups sought to absorb African peoples into their communities while others adopted European-style African slavery. Slavery ultimately profoundly affected how Native peoples interacted with one another, Africans, and Euro-Americans in the Southeast. VERDICT Highly recommended for all informed readers in this subject, who will also want to have read Indian Slavery in Colonial America, edited by Alan Gallay, and Eric Bowne's The Westo Indians: Slave Traders of the Early Colonial South.—John Burch, Campbellsville Univ. Lib., KY
Daniel K. Richter
Until Christina Snyder, no historian has told the story of the constantly evolving Native American tradition of enslavement that long pre-dated the arrival of Europeans and of Africans. Compellingly written and deeply researched, Slavery in Indian Country is a model of how foregrounding Native experiences can transform our understanding of American history. The "Slave South" will never look quite the same again.
Adam Rothman
Snyder illuminates a world where slavery and survival went hand-in-hand, an era when native people were both masters and slaves, and a culture that only gradually learned to define slaves by the color of their skin. Her narrative sweep, unflinching analysis, and astonishing research make this a disturbing and powerful book.
Kathryn Braund
Snyder skillfully explores Indian captive-taking, associated with warfare from the dawn of time, and its evolution and adaptation to new conditions after Europeans and Africans arrived and captivity was transformed into race-based slavery. Beautifully written, this is Indian and Southern history at its best.
Nancy Shoemaker
Deeply researched, authoritative, and indispensable, Slavery in Indian Country tells us how slavery as an institution changed from a kin-based to a race-based system and richly evokes what the experience of slavery meant to those who were enslaved.
Peter Kolchin
A fascinating new perspective on slavery in the American South, especially valuable for understanding slavery's great variability and change over time, and for offering new insight into race and race-making.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674048904
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/30/2010
  • Pages: 344
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Christina Snyder is Assistant Professor of American Studies and History at Indiana University.
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Table of Contents

  • List of Figures
  • Introduction

  1. Inequality, War, and Captivity
  2. The Indian Slave Trade
  3. Crying Blood and Captive Death
  4. Incorporating Outsiders
  5. Owned People
  6. Violent Intimacy
  7. Racial Slavery
  8. Seminoles and African Americans

  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Acknowledg ments
  • Index

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