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Sir William Berkeley and Native American Slavery

Sir William Berkeley was a highly educated courtier in the regime of Charles I, then twice governor of Virginia.1 As governor, he stacked the Council and House of Burgesses with Royalist planters then institutionalized race-based slavery in 1661 and 1662.  Prior to that time in Virginia, Native American and Africans were theoretically forced laborers; legally classified as indentured servants like their European counterparts, who would be supposedly set free after seven years of work for a master.  After passage of this law, Native American and African servants were human chattel, who could remain slaves all their lives and whose children would be born slaves. Berkeley is still a highly controversial figure in Virginia. There are essentially two versions of his biography. One paints him as a misunderstood, aristocratic philanthropist, who did many good things for Virginia.  The other version paints him as an incompetent and arrogant royalist.  Neither of these versions dwells on the highly significant, covert roll that Berkeley played in the history of the Southern Highlands.  Much of his wealth came from trade with the Indians (or somebody in the wilderness.)  The Rickohockens purchased European merchandize from Berkeley with Native American slaves.  Less the readers believe the more flattering portraits of Sir William, here is a quote from a book that he wrote in 1671: “I thank God, there are no free schools, nor printing in Virginia; and I hope we shall not have these for a hundred years; for learning has brought disobedience, and heresy, and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them, and libels against the best government. God keep us from both.”2 There is something...

Indian Slaves in the Rocky Mountains

All through the Rocky Mountains, except in what we have called the northeastern triangle, this system of human slavery extended, and it had obtained such a root that it was very hard to extirpate. In Colorado it was brought to a summary end, so far as white slaveholders were concerned, in 1865, through the efforts of the government. Indian Agent Head, accompanied by Deputy Marshall E. R. Harris, visited all owners of Indian slaves and informed them that they must be released. Says Mr. Head, “I have notified all the people here that in future no more captives are to be purchased or sold, as I shall immediately arrest both parties caught in the transaction. This step, I think, will at once put an end to the most barbarous and inhuman practice which has been in existence with the Mexicans for generations. There are captives who know not their own parents, nor can they speak their mother tongue, and who recognize no one but those who rescued [!] them from their merciless captors.” In New Mexico and Arizona the slaves have not yet been fully emancipated. There were twenty Mexican slaves released from among the Navahos in 1883. In 1866 the number of Indians held as slaves and peons by the whites was estimated officially at two thousand. There are undoubtedly many Indian slaves held among the Mexicans in those Territories now, but the system of peonage, and the fact that they are kept in fear of expressing discontent, makes it difficult to release them. In Northern Mexico there are numbers of Indians, of our tribes, still held in...

The Case of the State Vs. Will

One of the most remarkable cases ever tried in the North Carolina courts was the case of The State vs. Will. It was the most important case on the subject of slavery and fixed a slave’s right to defend himself against the cruel and unjust punishment of a master. It was decided at the December term, 1834, of the Supreme Court (State vs. Will, 1 Devereux and Battle, 121-172). The facts of the case are as follows: Will was the slave of Mr. James S. Battle, of Edgecombe County, and was placed under the direction of an overseer named Richard Baxter, a man whose temper differed materially from that of his pious namesake. On January 22, 1834, Will and another slave had a dispute over a hoe which Will claimed the right of using exclusively, since he had helved it in his own time. The foreman, who was also a slave, directed another Negro to use the hoe, whereupon Will, after some angry words, broke the helve of the hoe and went off to work at a cotton screw about one-fourth of a mile away. The foreman reported the matter to Baxter, who at once went to his own house. While there his wife was heard to say: “I would not, my dear,” to which he replied very positively: “I will.” He then took his gun, mounted his horse, and proceeded to the cotton screw, ordering the foreman in the meantime to take his cowhide and follow at some little distance. He approached unobserved to Will, who was throwing cotton into the press, and ordered him to come down....

Apocalypto

I knew so little back then. I had only the slightest grasp of my Creek Indian heritage.  I couldn’t even begin to answer Dr. Piña-Chan’s questions.  I did tell him that we had a lot of gold in the Georgia Mountains, but our archaeologists said that the Indians didn’t know anything about it.  Even then, however, I agreed with Dr. Piña-Chan. Why would our Indians be so skilled with working copper, which is also abundant in some parts of the mountains, but not work gold? Well, anthropologists knew so little back then, too.  They were just beginning to translate Maya glyphs. They were completely baffled by the abandonment of the Maya cities.  They had no clue that Maya urbanization once covered much of the landscape of the Yucatan Peninsula, Chiapas and the Petan. Fortunately, I kept a journal that summer to jog my memory on what I saw.  However, in addition, the opportunity to meet on a personal basis with a man of his professional stature somehow left an indelible  record in the remote corner of my memory bank. It was a scene in the movie, Apocalypto, however, that brought all those memories back. The recently captured slaves are being marched into the Maya city to be processed.  They passed through a limestone quarry.  All the quarry slaves were wearing white turbans identical to those on the famous marble statues at Etowah Mounds. Now I finally understood Dr. Piña-Chan’s question about making statues of slaves. A little later in the movie, the newly captured slaves were walking among commoner houses. The landscape was covered with terra cotta potsherds from...

Early Slave Raid Period 1657-1684

In 1567 Captain Juan Pardo explored an extensive area of what is now the Carolina Piedmont & Highlands. He probably also traveled through sections of the upper Tennessee Valley and northeastern Georgia – possibly even SW Virginia. Licenciado (attorney) Juan de la Bandero recorded names of indigenous communities that he visited and gave some geographical descriptions of certain important towns; but gave incomplete information as to the locations of these communities. All but one of the political titles that Bandero recorded, are words in Muskogee or Hitchiti. Scholars are not aware of any other detailed accounts of the region for another 100 years. By that time the ethnic characteristics of the region had changed starkly. The archaeological records of most major towns in the Chattahoochee, Etowah and the Coosa River Basins suddenly end between 1585 and 1600. Many of the towns in the Highlands also apparently were abandoned, but there were exceptions. Tugaloo, at the headwaters of the Savannah was occupied by “somebody” continuously until after the Revolutionary War. The Spanish definitely continued to explore the region after 1567. There is much evidence of their visits, but currently no known chronicles describing the expeditions. This spring, the editor reported the discovery of a 1615 Spanish land claim high on a rock face in the Smoky Mountains. Spanish mining claims were carved into rocks along Nickajack Creek in Cobb County, GA (NW Metro Atlanta.) In 1690 a British Army expedition reported seeing a Spanish mining colony in the Nacoochee Valley of NE Georgia. Until the 1740s, both Spanish and French maps showed Spain owning all of the Chattahoochee River Basin...

Middle Slave Raid Period 1684-1706

Stark changes occurred during the mid-1680s in the Southeast. There were many movements of population as the intensity of attacks on the Spanish mission by the Westo, Chickmawka’s, Yamassee and pirates intensified. The Rickohockens were completely pushed out of their stronghold at the Peaks of the Twin Otter by Iroquois raids. The Iroquois had obtained firearms first from the Dutch, and now from the English. Many minor ethnic groups and villages in the Carolina’s had disappeared during the previous twenty years due to Rickohocken and Westo slave raids. Now African slaves were much more available, so the emphasis of the Native American slave raids shifted to the capture of youth to trade on the docks in Charleston, Port Royal and Georgetown for African slaves. The ratio was four Indians for one African. The American Indian slaves rarely lived past two harvest seasons on the sugar plantations of the Caribbean. They were so cheap as to be considered expendable. Basically, they were fed as little as possible, then worked to death. Many Southeastern indigenous tribes today think of themselves as pure descendants of ancient peoples – perhaps with a tad of European or African blood mixed in <chuckle>. However, it is clear from looking at the maps and reading the archives of the late 1600s, that Native American communities had become locations where remnant peoples assimilated. Somewhere between 90 and 95% of the population had been reduced by European plagues in the 1500s and early 1600s. The indigenous population had somewhat rebounded by the mid-1600s, but then the English-sponsored slave raids had decimated whole provinces and societies between 1660 and...

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