Stealing Indian Women: Native Slavery in the Illinois Country

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Based almost entirely on original source documents from the United States, France, and Spain, Carl J. Ekberg';s Stealing Indian Women provides an innovative overview of Indian slavery in the Mississippi Valley. His detailed study of a fascinating and convoluted criminal case involving various slave women and a m?tis (mixed-blood) woodsman named C?ladon illuminates race and gender relations, Creole culture, and the lives of Indian slaves-particularly women-in ways never before possible.

Carl J. Ekberg is a professor emeritus of history at Illinois State University. He is the author of many books, including the award-winning Colonial Ste. Genevieve and French Roots in the Illinois Country: The Mississippi Frontier in Colonial Times.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"With special attention to race, ethnicity, and gender, [Ekberg] focuses upon the relatively unexplored subject of Indian and metis slavery, which often blurred distinctions between captive, slave, and adoptee. . . . An important interpretive work for specialists and all academic libraries. Highly recommended."—Choice

"Stealing Indian Women is a fascinating examination. . . . A demonstration of Ekberg's absolutely tenacious research and mastery of sources on Illinois Country. . . . Ekberg's contribution will be definitive for some time."—H-France Reviews

"Ekberg presents perhaps the most complete portrait of any Indian slave women in eighteenth-century North America."—American Historical Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780252077234
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press
  • Publication date: 1/15/2010
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Pages: 236
  • Sales rank: 989,958
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Carl J. Ekberg is professor emeritus of history at Illinois State University. He is the author of many books, including the award-winning Colonial Ste. Genevieve and French Roots in the Illinois Country: The Mississippi Frontier in Colonial Times.

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Read an Excerpt

Stealing Indian Women Native Slavery in the Illinois Country
By Carl J. Ekberg University of Illinois Press Copyright © 2007 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-252-03208-0

Chapter One Colonial Louisiana

Marcel Trudel's seminal work on slavery in Canada, now nearly a half-century old, remains the starting point for examining Indian slavery in French North America. Viewing the institution from the vantage point of the St. Lawrence River valley, Trudel emphasizes that Indian slaves were introduced to the region tardily and without great enthusiasm. This stood in sharp contrast to early Spanish attitudes in the Caribbean, where, starting with Columbus, Indians were viewed as excellent prospects for enslavement. Second, Trudel explains that French-Canadians were introduced to Indian slavery by Indians themselves and, indeed, acquired their first "official" slaves as gifts from the Iroquois in 1671. During the following two decades, a steady but slow trickle of Indian slaves made its way into Montreal and Quebec from le pays d'en haut. For the nearly three decades between 1671 and 1699, Trudel managed positively to identify only twenty-eight Indian slaves within the major settlements of the St. Lawrence Valley. As Alan Gallay's recent book amply demonstrates, this situation in seventeenth-century French Canada was altogether different from that which obtained in Charles Town, Carolina, where Englishmen were engaged in wholesale commerce in Indian slaves by 1700.

Seventeenth-century French jurists did not generally accept slavery as a normal institution of human society within Europe. John Major, a Scot residing in Paris, defended Indian slavery on the basis of Aristotle's theory of the natural inequality of men, but this opinion did not resonate widely in France. French legal traditions leaned heavily against the existence of slavery on the soil of metropolitan France. On the other hand, overseas colonies gradually came to be viewed as altogether different legal entities on the issue of slavery. In this regard, the New World truly did constitute a wholly distinct universe. In a triumph of practicality and convenience over consistency in legal theory, an institution that was deemed unacceptable in metropolitan France was deemed perfectly acceptable in the overseas colonies.

But this intricate legal position developed slowly in French Canada, where Indian slavery remained a slightly amorphous institution. Trudel noticed that official record keepers in Canada throughout the seventeenth century eschewed use of the word "esclave." Slavery, in the minds of seventeenth-century Canadians, was a complex admixture composed of various concepts, traditions, and practices. Enslaving prisoners of war, a common practice in the ancient classical world, was also practiced by American Indians whom Canadians encountered. The itinerant Jesuit priest Pierre-François Xavier de Charlevoix remarked about the Iroquois: "In general, the greatest number of the prisoners of war are condemned to die, or to a very severe slavery in which their life is never secure." To this practice of enslaving prisoners was added traditional European concepts of social hierarchy, with the essential existence of a servant class, and the increasingly prevalent idea coming from the Anglo-American colonies of the Atlantic seaboard that slaves were chattels, pure and simple. Jacques Raudot, royal intendant in Quebec, finally institutionalized the last concept with his famous ordinance of April 13, 1709, which laid down a clear legal status for slaves, both black and red. Raudot, recognizing the incongruity of legalizing slavery only in select territories of the Bourbon monarchy's domain, took pains in drafting the ordinance to rebut the argument that metropolitan France's "constitutional" prohibition on slavery might apply to overseas colonies as well. Raudot's ordinance spoke of "the Indians called Panis, whose tribe is located far from here." Raudot, to whom the trans-Mississippian West was totally terra incognita, was likely referring to all Indian slaves brought from that faraway region. The intendant had no idea about the complexity of western tribes, and in his mind all Indians from the far West were "Panis" and therefore eligible for enslavement.

Following Raudot's ordinance, slavery became more common in Canada, although black slavery never took deep root there as it did in Louisiana and the Illinois Country. Trudel reckons that approximately 2,500 Indians served as slaves in Canada from the late seventeenth century through the end of the eighteenth and fewer than half that number of Africans. Brett Rushforth argues that "Fox men, women and children captured in ... raids continued to stream into Montreal even after the French-brokered peace [of 1716]," although "stream" may be too strong a word. The vast majority of Indian slaves in the St. Lawrence River valley came from the pays d'en haut and even farther west. Sixty-eight percent of Indian slaves in Canada for whom tribal designations are available were identified as "Panis [Pawnees]," which is an astonishingly high number even when taking into account that "Panis" was often employed generically to mean "Indian slave." Pawnees of one sort or another also made up the largest contingent of Indian slaves in Upper Louisiana.

Trudel's description of the origins of Indian slavery in the St. Lawrence Valley rings true when viewing the institution from the distant West. Frenchmen in the pays d'en haut and Upper Louisiana were first integrated into a system of Indian slavery passively, in a manner they could hardly reject. At Sault Ste. Marie in 1670, Father Jacques Marquette attended an ill Ottawa man who was suspicious of the local medicine man ("jongleur") and rejected treatment by him. The Ottawa had been "instructed" in the Christian faith but had not yet been baptized. Marquette's ministrations "disposed" him to be baptized, and the man's resulting spiritual rapture helped to heal his physical maladies. Gratefully informing Marquette that he had saved his life, the man expressed his gratitude by giving the priest an Indian slave who had been "brought up from Illinois." The good father could hardly have scorned such a gift, more symbolic than tangible, without alienating the Indians whom he wished to cultivate and convert, ad majorem Dei gloriam.

Moreover, the Society of Jesus, as will be seen below, found nothing inherently objectionable in the enslavement of either Indians or Africans, at least in the New World. Marquette remarked that the Illinois Indians "take many slaves whom they trade to the Ottawas for guns, powder, kettles, axes, and knives." In other words, tribes of the Illinois nation had the best access to slaves who had been captured west of the Mississippi River, whereas the Ottawas had the best access to manufactured goods coming from France via the St. Lawrence Valley. In circumstances, both geographic and economic, so conducive to the flowering of the entrepreneurial spirit, it would have been virtually inconceivable for a trade network involving Indian slaves not to have sprung up in the region of the western Great Lakes.

Daniel Greysolon Dulhut also experienced the Indian practice of conveying slaves as gifts tendered as tokens of friendship. In 1678, when Dulhut was preparing to depart the St. Lawrence Valley for the distant shores of Lake Superior (Duluth, Minnesota, is named after him), he "took measures to make myself known to the Natives, who having assured me of their friendship, and for proof thereof gave me three Slaves whom I had simply asked for in order to accompany me." In this instance, Dulhut took the initiative, wanting slaves to serve as canoemen for his far-flung travels, but the Indians who provided the three slaves viewed them as gifts designed to promote a friendship.

Robert Cavelier de La Salle, after returning north from his epoch-making expedition to the mouth of the Mississippi River in 1682 ("At the return from my discovery," as he put it), was encamped at the Chicago portage on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan. This portage, located at a low-lying continental divide, provided an easy route between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River's extensive drainage. From that strategic spot in the summer of 1683, La Salle wrote to the governor general of Canada, Joseph-Antoine le Febvre de La Barre, and informed him that he had received as a gift an Indian lad of fourteen or fifteen who had been captured by the Panimahas, next taken by the Osages, then conveyed to the Emissourites (Missouris), who had sold him to the Michigamea tribe of the Illinois nation, from which La Salle finally received him. We shall see below that this particular slave-trading network coming down the Missouri River remained active well into the eighteenth century and eventually involved the villages of the Illinois Country.

La Salle's Pana boy, having been enticed by another slave, a Pannesassa woman, had run off, but both runaways were eventually retrieved by La Salle's men. The boy remained with La Salle's party for some period of time and soon acquired a workable knowledge of spoken French. This permitted La Salle and the boy, from radically different backgrounds, to hold extended conversations about affairs in what Francis Parkman called "the Great West." The teenaged Indian lad was obviously an extraordinarily gifted and resilient fellow. La Salle's relationship with him has been examined by several scholars with different perspectives, all of whom note its importance in the history of Indian slavery in French North America. Among other issues, it reveals the broad geographical scope of the Indian slave trade before Frenchmen became entangled in it, for these "Pana slaves" had been brought a long way from their native villages west of the middle reaches of the Missouri River. Also revealing and significant is the fact that La Salle's Indian slaves were a woman and a young boy. When slave-raiding parties descended on Indian villages, the adult male villagers tended either to fight to the death or flee. Women, especially those with young children, were less inclined to exercise those options, which meant that a majority of Indians captured and enslaved were either women or children.

André Pénicaut, itinerant French carpenter and chronicler who traveled from Mobile Bay to the Illinois Country in 1711, observed that when Illinois Indians made war, "they are in no way so inhumane toward their prisoners as other Indians. If they capture young children they raise them in their own village and have the reverend Jesuit fathers instruct them in the Catholic religion." Pénicaut then concluded, matter-of-factly, that "if the captives are men who could be dangerous, or if they're aged [and therefore useless as slaves], they just smash in their heads." The Illinois were "humane" because they did not torture or burn their threatening or worthless prisoners-of-war but rather sent them to eternity with a single brain-bashing blow of a tomahawk. These circumstances meant that all tabulations of Indian slaves done in the Illinois Country villages during the eighteenth century reveal a preponderance of females and children.

"Pana slaves" may have come from any number of tribes living west of the Missouri River in what is now eastern Nebraska and northern Kansas. These included the Panis (Pawnee), Panis-Piqués (Wichita), Panis Noirs (Wichita), Panimaha (Skidi or Wolf Pawnee), and a variety of other Caddoan-speaking tribes with a bewildering array of names. Some of these tribes may have included the ancestors of today's Pawnees, but even that is not certain. Mildred Mott Wedel argues persuasively that La Salle's Pana boy actually had come from a specific tribe, the Southern Pawnee or Wichita, but by 1700 "Panis" had in French Canada come frequently to mean, more generally, "Indian slaves arriving from west of the Missouri River." In September 1760, just after the fall of Quebec, Pierre de Rigaud, marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnial-Governor Vaudreuil-of Canada wrote to François-Marie de Belestre, commandant in Detroit, that the surrender terms permitted French Canadians to "keep their Negro and Panis slaves but are obliged to give back those taken from the English." "Panis" continued to be employed throughout the eighteenth century in the villages of the Illinois Country, including St. Louis and Ste. Genevieve, sometimes with its generic meaning, "Indian slave," and sometimes in reference to various western tribes. The complicated issue of tribal names and affiliations for Indian slaves in Upper Louisiana is addressed in the table at the end of chapter 2.

* * *

The Illinois Country, situated as it was between Canada to the north and Louisiana to the south, was deeply influenced by both regions on virtually all issues, including Indian slavery. Slavery in one form or another was apparently practiced by many tribes located along the Gulf Coast long before contact with Europeans. J. Leitch Wright Jr., remarking on our general ignorance of Indian affairs, has correctly remarked, however, that "far more is known about slavery's antecedents in Europe during Greco-Roman times and the medieval era than its practice among the precontact Mississippians."

In March 1699, the Le Moyne brothers, Pierre d'Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Bienville, were exploring the lower reaches of the Mississippi River prospecting for suitable sites for future French settlements. A chief of the Bayogoulas gave to Bienville "as a sign of friendship a little Indian [apparently not a Bayogoulas] whom he had adopted," and Bienville reciprocated by giving the chief a fusil and some ammunition. In another account, the young Indian is described as twelve or thirteen and as "so distraught over leaving the Indians that he wept incessantly." In early Louisiana as in Canada, Indian slaves first came into French possession as gifts conveyed by Indians themselves. We also see in this case the confusing ambiguity between "adoption" and enslavement of Indians, an issue that will appear repeatedly in this study. How long Bienville kept this slave, or whether the boy may have accompanied him on his regular trips back to France, is not known.

Well before the founding of New Orleans in 1718, Frenchmen along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico (especially near Mobile Bay) were seeking slaves to labor in blazing heat and amid clouds of insects, conditions to which northern Europeans were not accustomed. In July 1706, Governor General Iberville died of yellow fever in Havana and was immediately succeeded by his brother, Bienville. One of the latter's first initiatives was to suggest exchanging Indian slaves from North America for African slaves coming from the Antilles: "Indians allied to us bring in slaves that are fine for agricultural work but are inclined to run away. The habitants want permission to exchange these [Indian] slaves for blacks from the Islands." Africans presumably would be less inclined than Indians to desert and become maroons. A year later, Jean-Baptiste-Martin Dartaguiette, naval commissioner at Mobile, wrote that if "the colonies of St. Domingue and Martinique would exchange blacks for Indian slaves, as the English do, the inhabitants here could soon establish considerable settlements." Dartaguiette's reference to English practice is revealing, and it supports Gallay's recent discussion of the English slave trade in the Carolinas.

Dartaguiette suggested an exchange rate of three Indians for two blacks, but the rate more frequently discussed along the Gulf Coast was two for one. In October 1708, Bienville wrote from Mobile that a French boat had arrived from St. Domingue with the intention of initiating a commerce in Indian slaves at that rate, and Bienville opined that such traffic would be a great boon to the local colonists. Some Indian slaves were in fact transported from early French Louisiana to the Caribbean Islands. In 1713-14, one Sieur Baron was master of the bark Attalante and had been commissioned to deliver provisions to "Mississippi," which likely meant the French settlement at Biloxi Bay on the Gulf Coast. Leaving "Mississippi" in May 1714, many of Baron's crew succumbed to the great heat in the Caribbean and fell ill, so Baron decided to put Attalante in at St. Domingue rather than sail directly to Martinique. Baron later recounted that "after selling some Indians taken from Mississippi, I invested in raw sugar and molasses," which he seemingly sold in Amsterdam. In flat, matter-of-fact prose, Baron described how he had casually consigned these Indians to a few years of hard labor on some sugar plantation and the certainty of an early death on an island where virtually everyone died young; the writer's insouciance is unsettling to the modern reader's eyes.


Excerpted from Stealing Indian Women by Carl J. Ekberg Copyright © 2007 by Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Preface xi

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction: The Illinois Country 1

Part I Indian Slavery

1 Colonial Louisiana 9

2 French Illinois 31

3 Spanish Illinois 50

4 Couples and Couplings 69

Part II The C?ladon Affair

5 Ste. Genevieve: The Old Town 97

6 Colonial Revelries 109

7 Indian Woman Dead 133

8 Indian Woman Free 144

9 The Black River 167

Conclusion: The Price of Freedom 181

Notes 191

Index 223

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