PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — About 350 years ago, in the midst of a conflict known as King Philip’s War, the English captured and enslaved a group of Wampanoag Native Americans.
The Wampanoags were shipped by boat to Tangier, once an English colony and now a major Moroccan city. When they arrived, they wrote to Massachusetts colony pastor and missionary John Eliot, whom they considered an ally, in a panic.
“They essentially wrote, ‘We were enslaved during the war, we’re serving in Tangier, and our simple request is just to be returned to our homeland,’” said Linford Fisher, an associate professor of history at Brown University. “As far as I can tell, they were never able to leave. They never saw their families again, and nothing was ever done.”
Their story, Fisher said, is one of countless heartbreaking tales of Indigenous enslavement that historians have only just begun to unearth in the past few decades. In 2015, in an effort to advance collaboration in the nascent effort, Fisher created Stolen Relations: Recovering Stories of Indigenous Enslavement in the Americas, an online repository that contains more than 4,400 records of Indigenous enslavement — and counting.
Originally created with his scholarly peers in mind, the project has now expanded to become an empowering tool for Indigenous communities and descendants of European colonizers alike who wish to confront their full, painful ancestral histories. It is also raising widespread awareness of Indigenous enslavement, a subject that’s long been omitted, glossed over or mentioned only obliquely in American classrooms.
“As the field kept on growing, and as I talked more and more with colleagues who were researching the same thing, I kept thinking that there should be some sort of centralized resource where we can all benefit from each other’s work,” Fisher said. “I hope the project will ultimately become a resource that is not only beneficial to researchers and educators but also to public historians, genealogists and tribal nations.”