Freedmen with Indian Ancestors


In the 18th century, British colonies in the Southern US encouraged the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks and Seminoles to own black slaves. Some of these nations, notably the Seminoles, also took in escaped slaves and refused to give them up when whites came demanding the return of fugitive slaves. In 1750, slavehunters were sent to retrieve a slave living in the Creek Nation. A Creek chief stood between them and the black man, cut their rope and threw it in the fire. The posse returned empty-handed. In 1770, a white observer reported that the Creeks allow slaves their freedom when they marry, which "is permitted and encouraged" and their children were considered free. Contemporary Euro-American records revealed a European fear for black/Indian mixing, for there were instances of Africans and Indians joining together in armed resistance against Europeans. A British officer had warned, "Their mixing is to be prevented as much as possible." In 1751, South Carolina law stated: "The carrying of Negroes among the Indians has all along been thought detrimental, as an intimacy ought to be avoided. A 16th century French colonial dispatch also stated "Between the races we cannot dig too deep a gulf". In the 19th century, a number of high ranking Seminoles married black wives – Chief Osceola was one of them. It was said that 52 of his 55 body guards were black. Seminole King Philip too had a black son John Philip, half brother to Chief Wild Cat. King Philip, Chief Osceola and Wild Cat were key figures in the 2nd Seminole war between the US and the Seminole Nation.10 The US General Sidney Jesup apparently saw the mixing of blacks and Indians in the Seminole Nation as a threat: .. the 2 races … are identified in interests and feelings…Should the Indians remain in this territory, the negroes among them will form a rallying point for runaway negreos from adjacent states. When Native Americans in the United States were driven off their land by Europeans, some sought refuge in black communities, passing as 'colored' (of mixed Afro-European ancestry). article Indian in the Family explores the topic of black/Indian mixing in the US. (

American slavery began to change from the Indian to the "blackamoor" African in the years between 1650 and 1750. Though the issue is complex, the unsuitability of Native Americans for the labor intensive agricultural practices, their susceptibility to European diseases, the proximity of avenues of escape for Native Americans, and the lucrative nature of the African slave trade led to a transition to an African based institution of slavery. During this period of transition, however, the colonial "wars" against the Pequots, the Tuscaroras, the Yamasees, and numerous other Indian nations led to the enslavement and relocation of tens of thousands of Native Americans. In the early years of the eighteenth century, the number of Native American slaves in areas such as the Carolinas may have been as much as half of the African slave population. During this transitional period, Africans and Native Americans shared the common experience of enslavement. In addition to working together in the fields, they lived together in communal living quarters, produced collective recipes for food and herbal remedies, shared myths and legends. The intermarriage of Africans and Native Americans was facilitated by the disproportionality of African male slaves to females (3 to 1) and the decimation of Native American males by disease, enslavement, and prolonged wars with the colonists.

As Native American societies in the Southeast were primarily matrilineal, African males who married Native American women often became members of the wife's clan and citizens of the respective nation. As relationships grew, the lines of distinction began to blur. The evolution of red-black people began to pursue its own course; many of the people who came to be known as slaves, free people of color, Africans, or Indians were most often the product of integrating cultures. In areas such as Southeastern Virginia, The Low Country of the Carolinas, and Silver Bluff, S.C., communities of Afro-Indians began to spring up. The depth and complexity of this intermixture is revealed in a 1740 slave code in South Carolina: all Negroes and Indians, (free Indians in amity with this government, and Negroes, mulattos, and mustezoes, who are now free, excepted) mulattos or mustezoes who are now, or shall hereafter be in this province, and all their issue and offspring…shall be and they are hereby declared to be, and remain hereafter absolute slaves. (Patrick Minges, Beneath the Underdog: Race, Religion and the "Trail of Tears" Union Seminary Quarterly Review Email: Union Theological Seminary, New York )

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