Native Village
Youth and Education news
January 2010 Volume 1

The First Slaves
By Rick Green,0,7633792,print.story
Condensed by Native Village

Last year, "Tall Oak" Weeden and a delegation of Wampanoag Indians and Mashantucket Pequots went hunting for remnants of this forgotten slavery era.

Searching for clues, they traveled to St. David's Island in Bermuda. There they met a small clan claiming to be descended from New England Indian slaves shipped to the island centuries ago. Weeden's group was convinced it was true when they saw the faces, dances and rituals of the St. David's Indians.

"I was struck by how much they looked like us," said Michael J. Thomas, a Mashantucket tribal leader.

According to local legend, the wife and son of King Philip might have been among those on St. David's. After the king's death, his wife, Wootonekanuske, is said to have married an African. This kept alive the genealogical line with Indians in New England.

The Pequots plan to dig even further into slavery's hidden history, Thomas said.  "What's to be learned is a more accurate perception of Colonial-era history," he said. "It helps people to understand our insecurities of today."


Connecticut: In May of 1637, Puritans massacred up to 700 Pequots in a single hour near today's Mystic, CN. Six weeks later, they cornered the remaining "most terrible" Pequots -- 200 old men, women, and children  -- who had been hiding in a swamp.

A group -- perhaps 17 and mostly children -- were thought to have been exported as slaves. Others were given to soldiers as wartime booty.

This began a dark century in American history: the New England Indian slave-trade.

Like many Indian slaves sent from America, there is little record of what happened to them.

"There are a lot of things that people in America don't have any idea about,"' said Everett "Tall Oak" Weeden, who has Pequot and Wampanoag ancestry. "History has been sanitized."

By the time the Treaty of Hartford ended the war in September, the English had killed or enslaved more than 1,500 Pequot men, women and children. By the time King Philip's War began, Indian slaves from many tribes were a common sight across southern New England.

By 1676, captives from King Philip's War were filling New England cities, further frightening the English. Most Indians exported out of New England were from Massachusetts, whose towns suffered the most from Indian attacks.

Colonists considered these wars as "civilized" English against the "savage" natives. But a note left by Nipmuck Indians reveals much about the time: "We have nothing but our lives to loose but thou has many fair houses and cattell & much good things."

As the 17th century wore on, New England colonists soon outnumbered natives by about 2 to 1.  By the end of the 1600s, there were probably thousands of Indian slaves.

Indians often came to public auction "tied neck to neck. " They sold for half of what an African might bring.  At times, there were so many captured Indians that a few bushels of corn or 100 pounds of wool served as payment.  Slaves bound for slave markets in Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and elsewhere were packed tightly into ships.

The money their profiteers had paid for them was used by Colonial authorities to finance more wars against the Indians.

Some Indians were sold as indentured servants to be freed at age 24. Others were bound for indefinite periods.  Children sold as indentured servants had to serve 10 years. However, if they got into trouble with Puritan Courts, they served longer terms.

Almon W. Lauber in his 1913 book, Indian Slavery in Colonial Times, writes: "The general court appointed certain persons in each county to receive and distribute these Indian children proportionately, and to see that they were sold to good families.

Slavery helped dispose of war captives, make profits for greedy traders, and fill the high demand for labor. Indian slavery lasted well into the 1700s when the practice faded because so many Indians had been eliminated, and because African slaves were more in demand.

The deaths of Indian men through war, disease and slavery led to many intermarriage between native women and African males. The arrival of African slaves would help assure the survival of some Indian communities. In the 20th century, tribes such as the Narragansetts and Pequots have members with African-American heritage and features.

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