“A Native Indian of New England Born and a Free Man”: Stories of Indian Slavery and Freedom in colonial Rhode Island

Thursday, October 27, 2016
5:30 PM
Rhode Island Hall 108
60 George Street 

Prof. Newell's book Brethren by Nature: New England Indians, Colonist, and the Origins of American Slavery (Cornell University Press, 2015), explores the enslavement of Indians by the English Colonists in New England.

Massachusetts became the first English colony to legalize slavery in 1641, and the colonists’ desire for slaves shaped the major New England Indian wars, including the Pequot War of 1637, King Philip’s War of 1675–76, and the northeastern Wabanaki conflicts of 1676–1749.  When the wartime conquest of Indians ceased, New Englanders turned to the courts to get control of their labor, or imported Indians from Florida and the Carolinas, or simply claimed free Indians as slaves.

Drawing on letters, diaries, newspapers, and court records, this talk will try to recover the slaves’ own stories and shows how they influenced New England society in crucial ways. Indians lived in English homes, raised English children, and manned colonial armies, farms, and fleets, exposing their captors to Native religion, foods, and technology. Some achieved freedom and power in this new colonial culture, but others experienced violence, surveillance, and family separations.

Slavery linked the fate of Africans and Indians. The trade in Indian captives connected New England to Caribbean and Atlantic slave economies. Indians labored on sugar plantations in Jamaica, tended fields in the Azores, and rowed English naval galleys in Tangier. Indian slaves outnumbered Africans within New England before 1700, but the balance soon shifted. Fearful of the growing African population, local governments stripped Indian and African servants and slaves of legal rights and personal freedoms. Nevertheless, because Indians remained a significant part of the slave population, the New England colonies did not adopt all of the rigid racial laws typical of slave societies in Virginia and Barbados. Second and third generation Indian slaves fought their enslavement and claimed citizenship in cases that had implications for all enslaved peoples in eighteenth-century America.

 

Margaret Ellen Newell received her A.B. in History and Spanish from Brown University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Early American History from the University of Virginia.

Her research and teaching interests include colonial and Revolutionary America, Native American History, economic history, material culture, and comparative colonial American/Latin American History. Her most recent book, Brethren by Nature: New England Indians, Colonists, and the Origins of American Slavery won the 2016 James A. Rawley prize for the best book on the history of race relations in the U.S., awarded by the Organization of American Historians. Other publications include From Dependency to Independence: Economic Revolution in Colonial New England(Cornell University Press, 1998; new edition 2015); “The Birth of New England in the Atlantic Economy, 1600-1770,” in Peter Temin, ed., Engines of Enterprise: An Economic History of New England (Harvard University Press, 2000); a review of American economic history through 1800, "The Colonial Economy," in The Blackwell Companion to Colonial America, ed. Daniel Vickers (2002); and "The Changing Nature of Indian Slavery in Colonial New England," in Reinterpreting the Native American Past. ed. Colin Calloway and Neal Salisbury (2003); and an article on "Indian Slavery in New England" in an anthology on Indian slavery in early American edited by Allan Gallay.