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Author Biography: Alan Gallay is professor of history at Western Washington University.
Winner of the 2003 Bancroft Prize
Winner of the 2003 Bancroft Prize
Selected by Choice as a 2003 Outstanding Academic Title
The South existed as a distinctive region from about the year A.D. 1000, when maize (zea mays) production increased substantially among the area's inhabitants. Easily storable and highly nutritional, maize bore little resemblance to today's corn, which has a much smaller percentage of the original caloric, mineral, and vitamin values. Roasted, pounded into hominy, fried, boiled, and baked, corn was processed by southern Indians into dozens of dishes from which many people received more than half of their calories. Archaeologists are unsure whether maturing political organization led to increased production or, more likely, increased production led to new and more sophisticated polities, but the results were the same: maize became the building block of the so-called Mississippian Cultures (1000-c. 1730), the most complex societies north of Mexico.
Maize allowed southern Indians to create permanent residences on stable farmsteads that were successively occupied for generations. Because of the rich soils and a favorable climate, southern farmers produced two crops of maize per year, a green corn harvested in summer and a second crop in autumn. Early in the Mississippian period, maize was stored in large below-ground pits. The rise of chiefdom polities (c. 1000) led to the pooling and storage of the surplus in aboveground structures at local centers. Storage life was usually one to two years, perhaps longer. Chiefs redistributed maize to commoners during droughts and exchanged surplus maize for prestige items from neighboring peoples. Maize was also incorporated into religious ceremonies, some of which persisted into the historic period, notably the Green Corn ceremony celebrated by many southern peoples.
Maize remained the South's preeminent food source even after European colonization. The Old South (early eighteenth century to mid-nineteenth century) built its wealth on cash crop staples: rice, cotton, tobacco, and sugar; but production of corn, rather than wheat, filled the basic dietary needs of humans and animals, shaping the region's culture, economy, and diet. Hominy, grits, and corn bread were more than just staples of southern cuisine. The ability to produce surplus corn was as important for Europeans as Indians-it meant that they could withstand the periodic ruin of their cash crops owing to bad weather and did not have to rely on food imports as did other plantation regions, notably the West Indies. The premier historian of southern agriculture, Lewis Cecil Gray, observed of the marriage between the South and maize: "Indian corn was universally grown from the earliest period of settlement. The taste acquired for it in the various forms in which it was prepared no less than its great economic advantages made it the staff of life for high and low.
With the rise of maize, hunting and gathering did not end, but intensive agricultural production allowed the native peoples to spend less time attaining subsistence and more time in craft production, religious and leisure activities, and warfare. It also meant that some individuals did not have to engage in subsistence and could specialize as administrators, servants, artisans, and perhaps soldiers. Surplus and specialization led to multitiered societies of elites and commoners. Archaeologists agree that the chiefdom polities all shared this inegalitarian social structure, though class relations varied in each. The ethnohistorical record-the reports of the first Spanish explorers-describes chiefs of substantial kingdoms carried in litters. Chiefs had the power of life and death over their subjects, and they ritually sacrificed commoners in religious ceremonies and at the death of the highest-ranking elites. Birth defined status, and at least some chiefs claimed descent from the sun, but personal skills, such as in warfare and hunting, could elevate an individual's rank within the hierarchy.
By comparing sites throughout the South and to other regions of the world, archaeologists can furnish much information on social and political organization. In general, they divide chiefdoms into two types: simple and complex. Simple chiefdoms were characterized by two-tiered organization, whereas the complex, or paramount chiefdoms, had three or more tiers. Paramount chiefdoms collected tribute from simple chiefdoms, thus the extra tier of organization. They generally had larger populations than simple chiefdoms, were highly organized, commanded huge amounts of labor, and conducted sophisticated military campaigns. Although some survived into the historic period, the paramount chiefdoms, and the Mississippi culture in general, peaked in the South in the fourteenth century.
Chiefs established networks of power, marrying kin into nearby villages, from which they received tribute and labor. They also built and maintained power by monopolizing religious rituals-the group's ideology-which gave them and their birth lines the right to rule. Rituals and religious life centered on the thousands of mounds built by Mississippian peoples throughout the South-hence the name often ascribed to them: the Moundbuilders. The mounds served as burial grounds for individuals and as platforms on which to build temples and houses for chiefs. Many were multilevel and used for hundreds of years. Archaeological examination of the mounds and their contents provides much of what we know of precontact peoples, in addition to the records left by the early Spanish explorers. From the mounds and surrounding village sites, archaeologists can assess stages of occupation, hierarchy, political organization, subsistence, nutrition, and patterns of trade.
Examination of burials provides the most substantial record of hierarchical organization among the chiefdoms. From skeleton remains we have learned that elites often had a better and more balanced diet than commoners. Prestige goods-items produced outside the chiefdom, badges of office, and highly specialized craft items-signify elite burials. Among these prestige goods were columella pendants, sheet-copper hair ornaments and headdresses, robes, pearls, discoidals, and ear ornaments. Fineware ceramics and marine-shell beads were others. John H. Blitz shows in his study of the Tombigbee River chiefdoms that the ability to produce and possess prestige goods was less distinct in the two-tiered simple chiefdoms than in the more stratified complex chiefdoms. In the simple chiefdoms, specialized craft production took place in small outlying villages, not just in local centers. The complex chiefdoms, by contrast, had more specialization, and the chiefs had greater access to distant trade goods and raw materials because of their control over external relations.
Signs of warfare are evident from burial remains, the building of bastioned palisades, and the ethnohistorical evidence that records endemic warfare between neighboring peoples. The advent of the bow and arrow in the Late Woodlands era (A.D. 600-1000) led to improved fortifications. The Mississippians constructed plastered palisades and wattle-and-daub houses to protect against fire arrows. Extensive moats and bastions increased the strength of local centers. Some of the palisades were quite large and built to protect fields as well as housing and storehouses. Cahokia, the largest known Mississippian center, used about twenty thousand logs in each of its four phases of palisades construction. Blitz suggests that fortification construction drew labor from outlying villagers, who would have benefited from the protection of their surplus-thus illustrating the ability of certain chiefdoms to command and organize many laborers over a fairly large area.
There is much disagreement about the causes of warfare. It is unclear whether chiefdoms pursued warfare to control natural resources, obtain captives for labor, or for other reasons. Complex chiefdoms undoubtedly employed their military to undertake conquest and exact tribute. Raiding was more common than conquest, but the scale of warfare may have owed as much to geography and demography as to any other factors. For instance, in the South Appalachian area, where chiefdoms had both a great deal of land, and buffer zones between them, warfare was largely confined to raiding, and Indians had little knowledge of the core center of neighboring chiefdoms. In contrast, in the central and lower Mississippi Valley, rival chiefdoms existed in close contact: warfare was extensive with conquest always a possibility.
Whether by raiding or conquest, if enemies reached one's mounds, then a disaster of the first magnitude occurred. Archaeologist David G. Anderson postulates that one reason why "major Mississippian centers, once abandoned, were not invariably occupied" was that desecration of mounds by invaders undermined elites' right to rule, for those rights were based on their genealogical-religious authority. Elites, Anderson argues, "were ideologically bound to remain about their place of origin." This may explain how Spanish explorers hastened the decline of many chiefdoms in the sixteenth century. Spanish abuse of chiefs and disrespect for sacred sites undercut the sanctity of native leaders. Moreover, Hernando de Soto's entrada (royally sanctioned expedition), in particular, but others as well, brought into closer contact Indians from competing chiefdoms. These Indians traveled with the Spanish or went to meet them. They may have used their newly gained knowledge of their neighbors' core centers for attacking sacred places. It took just one successful attack on the mounds to wreak havoc and destruction on these politically unstable polities.
Mississippian chiefdoms varied in size and complexity, but they shared many characteristics. The riverine system of the southeast encouraged the movement of goods and ideas, particularly on the Mississippi, Tombigbee, Coosa, and Savannah River watersheds, so even where extensive trade did not take place, there was enough exchange of goods and technology to create general cultural similarities. Religious iconography was similar throughout the region, particularly in the stylization of bird figures, bilobed arrows, and square-cross gorgets, which leads scholars to perceive much affinity in belief systems, though the nature of those beliefs remains elusive. A few scholars believe that resemblance between Aztecan and Mississippian symbols resulted from a network of direct exchange, but more believe that any shared morphology occurred discretely and not from direct contact.
Cultural, political, and social development varied from place to place, in part, however, as a result of cycling. Anderson defines cycling as "the recurrent process of the emergence, expansion, and fragmentation of complex chiefdoms amid a regional backdrop of simple chiefdoms." He perceives constantly shifting centers of power in the southeast "as first one community and then another assumes prominence." Cycling occurred for a variety of reasons. For one, the chiefdoms were politically unstable. Population growth, territorial expansion, and factional competition among elites all fed instability. A chief's death always presented the potential for internal problems. The Spanish explorers recorded murders of claimants and their supporters; internal divisions also led to break-offs of villages and simple chiefdoms, usually to join other chiefdoms. Only with difficulty, and the threat of military reprisal, could paramount chiefs maintain influence and control over their more distant villages-which through new combinations could challenge a chiefdom's core. With this pattern of rise and fall there was no linear development to a more sophisticated political structure, and it is unclear what new factors would have been necessary for the southern chiefdoms to have evolved, if at all, into states, without first having outside states organize chiefdoms into confederacies as a mode of control and taxation.
It also is unclear why so many of the major Mississippian centers disappeared by 1400. There is no archaeological evidence of severe climatic or environmental change or of epidemic disease or an increase in warfare. Likewise, the second wave of declension that occurred with the Spanish arrival in the sixteenth century is also difficult to document. Marvin T. Smith finds little archaeological evidence of pandemic disease in the early contact period in the South, though he assumes that it must have taken place. Other archaeologists repeat Smith's speculations as authoritative proof that disease must have been widespread. There is much ethnohistorical evidence of disease in the seventeenth century-but we are nowhere close to making informed judgments on the impact of disease in the sixteenth century, when the Spanish first arrived. There may not be a link between disease and the collapse of the chiefdoms because (1) so many chiefdoms disappeared by 1400, not 1500, before Europeans brought new pathogens to the region, and (2) the large waves of pandemic disease of the seventeenth century occurred after the collapse of the chiefdoms encountered by the Spanish in the sixteenth century. Moreover, the survival of the Natchez chiefdom into the early 1730s evinces that chiefdoms could and did exist side by side with European colonies. Chiefdoms also existed in similar form among some of the Natchez's neighbors, so it cannot be said that the European presence inherently caused the collapse of chiefdoms, either by disease or by the mere presence of a more sophisticated social and political system in the region. Disease and European expansion into the South might have contributed to some chiefdoms' disintegration, but there must have been other factors involved, because not all collapsed yet so many disappeared before European arrival.
Further disputes exist over the relationship of pre- and protocontact peoples to those of the historic period. In many instances, postcontact peoples did not inhabit the same exact area as their ancestors. Migration, and the creation of new towns and political identities, was quite common throughout the precontact and colonial South. Towns and groups of towns broke from one chiefdom and joined another, and remnants converged into new towns. Sometimes entire areas became nearly depopulated as large-scale outmigration occurred. Anderson has analyzed this situation along the Savannah River, home to numerous Amerindians, "until a nearly valleywide organizational collapse occurred in the 15th century," except along the headwaters. Likewise, the disappearance of the most significant and extensive chiefdom, Cahokia, near modern-day Saint Louis, is equally mysterious. The disappearance of polities and the movement of peoples do not negate the ancestry of the historic-era southern Indians to the earlier chiefdoms. They were as much the same peoples as the English were born of Angles, Saxons, Normans, and others.
Excerpted from THE INDIAN SLAVE TRADE by ALAN GALLAY Copyright © 2002 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission.
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|Note on the Text and Terminology|
|Pt. 1||The South to 1701|
|1||The Mississippian Era||23|
|2||Carolina, the Westo, and the Trade in Indian Slaves, 1670-1685||40|
|3||Crossroad of Cultures: Scots, Yamasee, and the Carolina Colony, 1684-1701||70|
|Pt. 2||Adjustments, 1698-1708|
|4||Arkansas, Tunica, Taensa, and French Missionaries: Communication Across the Cultural Divide, 1698-1700||101|
|5||Diplomacy and War, 1699-1706||127|
|6||British Imperialism and Indian Warfare in the South: John Stewart and Thomas Nairne||155|
|Pt. 3||Intentions, 1707-1711|
|7||Indians, Traders, and the Reform of the Indian Trade, 1707-1708||199|
|8||Defining the Empire: Carolina and the Conversion of Indians||223|
|9||Carolina's Indian Traders||241|
|Pt. 4||Repercussions, 1712-1717|
|10||The Tuscarora War||259|
|11||Contours of the Indian Slave Trade||288|
|12||The Yamasee War||315|