Thursday, November 29, 2012

Slavery In The Massachusetts Bay Colony

As reported in Mass Moments --  In 1638, a ship returned toSalem from the West Indiesafter a seven-month voyage. Its cargo included cotton, tobacco and, as far as we know, the first African slaves to be imported into Massachusetts. When the Pequot Indians lost a war with the English in 1638, the fate of the vanquished was to be enslaved by the victors. The defiant Pequots made poor slaves, however, and many of them were shipped to Bermuda in exchange for African bondsmen. In 1641 the Massachusetts Bay Colony adopted a code of laws that made slavery legal. It would remain so for the next 140 years.

Men in Puritan-era Massachusetts bought, sold, and held African slaves from the 1630s onward. In 1641 Massachusetts Bay Colony was the first of Britain's mainland colonies to make slavery legal.

The first mention of a black person in the colony dates from 1633. An English visitor published "a true and lively" description of New England for readers back at home. It includes an account of Indians who ". . . were worse scared than hurt" when they came upon a black man in the woods. They sought help from a local farmer who "finding him to be a poor wandering blackamore [black man], conducted him to his master." It is possible that this man was not a slave but an indentured servant. In any case, it seems clear from the Indians' reaction that black men were a rare sight in Massachusetts during the first decade of English settlement.

Within a few years, the situation changed markedly. In 1636-1637 the Pequots fought and lost a war with the English, who enslaved Indians they took captive. The Pequots resisted enslavement, however, and frustrated that the Indians would "not endure the yoke," the Puritans sent them to Bermuda in exchange for African slaves.

On February 28, 1638, the governor of the Bay Colony noted in his journal that a ship arriving from Bermuda had African slaves aboard. "Mr. Pierce, in the Salem ship, the Desire, returned from the West Indies after seven months. He . . . brought some cotton, and tobacco, and Negroes." Earlier ships may well have carried enslaved Africans to Massachusetts, but this is the first documented case.
The slaves traveling on the Desire represented a public investment by the colony's leaders. In March of 1639, the General Court voted to reimburse the man who had purchased the Africans for his expenses; he was to repay the colony from the proceeds when he sold the slaves.

The legal status of slavery in the Bay Colony was codified two years later when Massachusetts adopted the "Body of Liberties." While this document guaranteed civil rights to British colonists, paradoxically it also specified that slavery was allowed in cases where slaves were "taken in just wars, [or] as willingly sell themselves or are sold to us." A 1670 law made it legal for the children of slaves to be sold into bondage; beginning in 1680, the colony had laws restricting the movement of blacks.

Because the colony was not well suited to plantation agriculture, most Massachusetts masters rarely owned more than one or two slaves. Slave-owners tended to live in coastal towns; their bondsmen were frequently used to assist in the family business. As a result, Massachusetts masters generally preferred younger slaves, who were less expensive than older ones but who could be easily trained for specialized tasks. It was not unheard of for a Massachusetts man to send a quantity of rum aboard a ship bound for the Indies with instructions for the captain to bring home a slave child.

The slaves who came to Massachusetts tended to be those "left over" after West Indian plantation owners had purchased the strongest or "likeliest" men and women for field work. The younger or weaker Africans were sent on to New England and sold individually or in small groups. In 1717 one New England trader advised his brother that, if he could not get a good price for all his slaves in the West Indies, to "bring some home; I believe they will sell well." Indeed, the institution of slavery played a central role in the economy of colonial New England.

Ships left Boston, Salem, and Newburyport with fish to feed the enslaved Africans laboring on the sugar plantations of the West Indies and lumber to build barrels in which to ship sugar and molasses. Vessels returned from the Indies loaded with molasses and often carrying a number of enslaved men and women to be sold in the Bay Colony. The molasses were distilled into rum, some of which was sold locally; the rest was shipped to Africa and traded for captured black men and women.

Since masters rarely owned enough slaves to justify building a separate residence, most slaves in colonial Massachusetts shared the living quarters and domestic routine of their master's family. Later apologists claimed this arrangement created bonds of affection and familiarity that eased the plight of the slaves, and it is true that in some cases conditions were less harsh in New England than on southern plantations. Still, the Puritan missionary John Elliot "lamented . . . with a bleeding and burning passion, that the English used their Negroes but as their Horses or the Oxen, and that so little care was taken about their immortal Souls."

In 1700 there were approximately 90,000 people living in New England. The black population numbered about 1,000, roughly half of whom lived in Massachusetts. Within the colony, the blacks were clustered in Boston and other coastal towns. Slaves were a small enough minority that Massachusetts slave owners had little reason to fear an uprising. Even so, in 1723 Boston passed a law forbidding slaves to be on the streets at night or to be found "idling or lurking together."

By the mid-1700s African slavery was well established in Massachusetts. Newspapers in coastal towns regularly carried advertisements for "likely" young Africans, just arrived or, better yet, "seasoned" for several months or a year in the West Indies. Tax collectors recorded the value of slaves owned, and wills show that slaves were distributed along with other property.

In 1752, black people made up 10% of Boston's population. On the eve of the Revolution, Massachusetts had over 5,200 black residents, more than any other New England colony but still a small number compared to colonies in other regions.

Massachusetts was the first state in the new nation to abolish the institution of slavery. As a result of lawsuits brought by African Americans, in 1783 Massachusetts courts declared that "the idea of slavery is inconsistent with our own conduct and [the Commonwealth's] Constitution." (source: Mass Moments)

Benito Cereno

Benito Cereno By Herman Melville

Story Summary

On the morning of September 17, 1799, Amasa Delano, the captain of an American sealer, looks out on the bay of St. Maria, a small, uninhabited island off Chile, and sees an unidentified ship moving clumsily toward the harbor. To assist the ship in safe passage, he travels by whale-boat to the vessel, a handsome Spanish trader now fallen into serious disrepair. His perusal of the ship's discipline finds no officers, numerous black slaves milling about and doing odd jobs, and the captain, Don Benito Cereno, too weak and nervous to do much more than what his black servant directs him. Cereno, who maintains a mysteriously evasive veneer, explains that his men and passengers have been depleted by scurvy, fever, and the buffeting of storms near Cape Horn. Unable to maneuver the San Dominick to safe mooring, they have been at the mercy of the sea. Captain Delano, observing unusual glances and ambiguous remarks from Spanish sailors, remains for a day to distribute much-needed water and food to the crew and provide material for sails.

At the end of the day, Delano, planning to lend a navigator from his own crew to help the ship on its way to Conception (currently spelled "Concepcion"), descends to his boat to return to the Bachelor's Delight. Don Benito, who has rejected Delano's offer of coffee aboard Delano's ship, suddenly leaps into the whale-boat and is soon followed by Babo, his black slave, who indicates with upraised dagger that he intends to kill his master. Delano realizes that Don Benito is a prisoner and that the peculiar circumstances aboard the San Dominick are an elaborate charade perpetrated by rebels to make him believe that Don Benito is still in charge.

Benito Cereno

Led by Delano's mate, the Americans take possession of the Spanish ship and render aid to the weakened captain. The next month in Lima, the assembly testify before a royal inquiry concerning the capture of the San Dominick. Don Benito states in his deposition that, in May of 1799, the San Dominick, on its way up the western coast of South America to Lima, was overrun by black slaves, who had been allowed to wander at will. The rebels, led by Babo and Atufal, ordered the murder of some passengers and all but six of the crew. They made an example of the slave dealer, Don Alexandro Aranda, whom they mutilated, stabbed, then stripped of flesh and nailed to the bow for a figurehead.

When the facts of the recapture of the San Dominick are revealed, Babo is identified, hanged, and burned. His severed head gazes from a pike above the plaza. Don Benito, unable to shake off the horror he has undergone, retires to a local monastery on Mount Agonia, where he dies three months later. (

Slaves in the 16th Century Seville

Slaves in the XVI century Seville

" There are infinite number of black and black all over Ethiopia and Guinea, the quales serve us in Seville and are brought by way of Portugal ", so we had the reporter Luiz de Peraza, in the first third of the century XVI.

Compared with other cities of the Kingdom of Castile, slaves were a large group in Seville , and this for the intermediate condition between the Old World and the New. According to a census conducted by church officials in 1565, there were 6327, resulting in an approximate ratio of one slave for every fourteen people (7% of the population) may be many more if, as is likely, in that number were not including Islamic and blacks baptized they were few, but many Turks and Berbers who refused to abandon their religion. A large majority of them were black, which should add also increasing the amount of free blacks and mulattos, so it is safe to say that about 10% of the population was black or mulatto Seville.

Seville, Lisbon, were the two Western cities own the largest colony of slaves. Through sales, rent, barter, tampering or leakage ahorramientos and cries, paraded activity world slave or slaves of the Five Hundred Sevilla: African slaves (Moors and black), canaries since the fifteenth century, and American brought in the first decades of the century.

There were two determinants of slavery: the war and the birth . For the first there had been many slaves among Muslims living in the mainland and those obtained from the conflicts in North Africa. Also as many slaves were Moors , called " white slaves ". After the rebellion of the Alpujarras in 1569, the reduction of whole populations to slavery was not uncommon, although many of them regained their freedom-payment of a ransom, others who had no financial means maintained their slave status. It is estimated that after the capture of Málaga Sevilla were sent to 2300 Moors. These slaves were not included in the lists of deportees of 1610 for damaging the interests of the owners, giving for some Moriscos were offered as slaves to escape expulsion.

Blacks , and in the fifteenth century, came from Portugal via the Algarve, and some of America in the second half of the sixteenth century. Castilla never had war with black populations, but because of the Portuguese explorations of the West African coast, and to the demand for slaves for use in America, Sevilla became a trading and re-export market, where it was common to find merchants black slaves who were operating in the stands of the Cathedral. Those seeking this type of merchandise were mainly Portuguese, but were also involved in this business Genoese, Florentines, English, Flemish and Seville. In Sevilla were so numerous that a contemporary inhabitants said " resembled chessmen chess: many tight-black-and white . " Hence the comparison of Seville with a "checkerboard" to which many have referred to describe it.

Besides slaves and Muslims had canaries , mainly from Gran Canaria and Tenerife. Less numerous, the canary was imported from the fifteenth century. Although in the Levant was the large sales area, Sevilla also knew of its existence at the end of the XV. The annexation of the Canaries made ​​from Seville, which causes all kinds of relations between the archipelago and the Andalusian capital, above all, in the first quarter of the sixteenth century, saw the presence of slaves sold in the stands island. A king or guanarteme grancanario took up residence in the Puerta de la Carne accompanied from its servers as Andrés Bernáldez testimony.

. Blacks were prized as slaves in Seville XVI for their docile nature. Besides housework, it was not uncommon for black intimate relationship with their masters, hence born mulattos. Mulata in the kitchen, painted by Velázquez in 1620 (National Gallery. Dublin)

No American slaves abounded , only in the first decade of the sixteenth century-known is the story of Fray Bartolome de las Casas, owner of one that brought his father Indies ( 1 ) - were imported some until the Crown forbade his traffic. These natives of the New World came mainly from the Spanish, San Juan, Puerto Rico and Brazil. The slaves were treated as quickly vetoed, unless they were rebels or cannibals, but the conquerors abused and deceived Crown impersonating such who were not.

Thus we find black slaves, mulattoes, white and colored parrot that roamed the streets, plazas, markets, fountains, doors and neuralgic places like the stands-where-auctioned, Arenal or Altozano, incorporating a colorful exotic Sevillian population. It was difficult to distinguish, first, by its color and outfit, then, because often tattooed on their cheeks carry a S and a nail (slave), a lily, a star, San Andres blades or the name of his master . When wandering the city did accompanying their owners or attentive to the tasks entrusted to them.


Slave labor in Sevilla was not usually too hard. Owning slaves was wanted as a sign of prestige and distinction, the fact of having a cheap labor. Therefore, the majority were in domestic service and tasks of the servants, especially women. Some were employed in workshops, in particular Muslims were prized for their knowledge of the craft of silk. Others were porters, wet nurses, smelters, tanners, esparteros, potters, masons or raised by nuns, as that which the famous Sevillian doctor gave her daughter Monardes professed in the convent of San Leandro. People's acquired as investments and used as back in business. It was common to see them used to borrow money. The owners gave to the lenders as collateral or mortgaged, without being responsible for any abnormalities that were given then. 

Sometimes, their masters only concerting with them a daily amount for their work, leaving them free to earn money as they could and save the need to buy their freedom by the "letter ahorría". Just the word save (release) comes from the root (horro: From Arabic Hispanic Urr and Urr this classical Arabic, free, according to the Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy of Language).

However, it could also be found in the city slaves who were entrusted the heavier tasks, and even degrading. He had that were used to carry heavy loads at the port, work simple water carriers or messengers. Some slaves were engaged in prostitution, even if this was done without the consent of its owner could be repudiated and brought to justice. But the slave prostitute can not be black or mulatto , to avoid this conmixtio sanguinis so feared by the Medical Renaissance unnatural that confusion of blood in which always wins the most impure: fornication with black or mulatto veins lead to customer Lower blood and degrade women in the scale of respectability. ( 2 )

Everyone had and traded in slaves, including notable characters. No slave was a " luxury "reserved for royalty or the merchants. Any artisan owned one or more slaves to help him in his business (shoe stores, bathrooms, ...) or attended him at home, or with him or served him as merchandise to pawn.

Steps of the Cathedral of Seville, the usual place for the sale of slaves in the sixteenth century

The price of a slave was based on gender, age, physical condition and situation as when unleashed famines and plagues these impacted on prices. As the years went up in value and 20 ducats was passed 80 and 100. In sales could be stated that the piece was not possessed, nor had light eyes, or was drunk, thief or huidora, or that it was "good war" (authorized their slavery) circumstance that slaves sometimes canaries was untrue . Also, to avoid deceit, purchases were made ​​conditional to check the powers of the slave.

The relationship of the slave with his owner used to be acceptable and in many cases of absolute familiarity. When it did, it was normal for the master to grant him freedom or death, sometimes before. The release of the slave could be made ​​by a clause in the will or through the aforementioned " ahorría letter "signed by a notary public. Many of them enjoyed such confidence with their owners that they did not hesitate to have illicit relations with black women breeding mulattoes. More than the Moorish, the black came into the privacy of the lords or ladies-sometimes as a confidant-for docility, joy, grace, grace and easy assimilation.

Once manumitted, freed slaves continued to act and live as they were under the servile condition. Some even tried to go to the New World alone, with their families or with their masters. As we said, the other black owned the Moorish character, which did not prevent drunk sometimes causing quarrels and deserving suspicion of whites that aliase temorosos with the Moors. There was so municipal measures to control them, without much success, given their number and dispersion. Dispersion in the sense that, as servants, could live at home with their masters, but there were also areas where concrete or collaciones appreciate their concentration (San Bernardo, San Ildefonso) and until unionization around a brotherhood of religious overtones, as we shall see later.

In Sevilla, according to the chronicles, the slaves would gather around Santa María la Blanca , who was also a neighborhood frequented by pimps and unsavory characters, all of whom frequently organized quarrels and scandals, they did intervene continually to justice. There on Sundays and holidays used to celebrate great dances, with tambourines, drums and other instruments of his native cultural tradition.

Thus, in the interlude "The onlookers", anonymous and attributed by some to Cervantes, relates an event that takes place in the small square of Santa María la Blanca, outside the church of that name, near the Puerta de la Carne , " in which placetilla usually together countless black men and women ". In this interlude appears an "expert in black" for the first time in European literature, which argues the stereotype assigned to them as disobedient, talkative, very rational, children and passionate about dance, guitar and drums, as " Quirky and funny as they think and say . " Recurring characters, playing the stereotype, many other stage works of great popular success.

On the basis of slavery, in the pagan world, had been advocated nothing less than Aristotle and was being practiced in all Mediterranean countries, especially regarding prisoners in wars to which spare his life . The code of the Seven Games (1265), critical legal work of the reign of Alfonso X the Wise, considered as causes of slavery the law of war, birth and vending. For the wise king there are three kinds of men: " omes or are free, or are servants or aforrados to Latin freedmen are called . "

The Church did not answer the existence of slavery , which was perfectly accepted by theologians of the sixteenth and in general by society at the time. His justification for their own existence in the Bible, both the Old Testament (Book of Leviticus) in regulating the rights of the servants, and the New Testament, St. Paul asked to " Slaves, obey in all things your masters in this world .. . ", but also require the masters:" Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly "(Colossians 3: 22 ff).

For blacks, the medieval mind this color associated with evil, so diabolical, very graphically, the late Father Leon century, when describing Jail inmates Real de Sevilla, said that " never lacking in the lads prisons demon's skin ... ". Not surprisingly, it has always represented the Devil as a black beast.

For this ease with which slavery was accepted at the time we tried, one of the largest groups of the "masters" was the church. A large group and with enough income to afford not one but several slaves. For example, in this sense affidavits collación sales in the Tabernacle Church manifested a marked presence in the slave market (of course, that parish was the Cathedral and its clerics abundant living environment).

Some examples might be those of your own Master Rodrigo Fernandez de Santaella, canon, an outstanding theologian and founder of the University of Seville, who in his own will he leaves her a slave housewife, which she wanted and if he pleases no was given him to buy one of their own. Just as his executor, the canon also Seville Alonso Campos, in his will sold at Colegio Santa Maria de Jesus (future University of Seville) two slaves, Fernando and Juan, in fifty ducats, " which could serve as a steward and cozinero and This phage ansi serve the Collegio said because they are well treated and they fagan be good Christians . " If not wanted, could acquire the monastery of San Jeronimo for the same price. In a second codicil of 1529 had only two slaves that gave Andres Trujillo, priest of the Shrine. Most, if not all, the canons were "captives".

However, the Church strove to protect. Already in 1393 the archbishop of Seville Gonzalo de Mena founded a Brotherhood to help them, and built a hospital for them, as well as a chapel and meeting place, next to the current Black Earl Street, where they could meet for dances and parties. This pious cleric defended in many cases the interests of the slaves against their masters. Actually, it could only be the unfaithful slave, although baptism alone could not redeem the slave, although he made ​​no Christian could never become free.

Somewhat later could have one as mayoral and judge to resolve internal affairs of the group and represent the community in some cases. In 1475 it was John of Valladolid goalkeeper chamber of the Catholic Monarchs, who during his lifetime was known by the nickname of " black count ", which then served to designate the street above, after the present church of Los Negritos . Read what he says about the chronicler Ortiz de Zuniga:

There were years from the ports of Andalusia navigation frequented the coast of Africa and Guinea, where black slaves were brought, and abounded that this city ... Excelling in some capacity, gave one Mayoral title, sponsoring others with their masters and the Justices composing their quarrels. Thus isat acredítalo old papers and a certificate of the Catholic Monarchs, given in Dueñas November 8 this year -1475 -, which gave title for one called John of Valladolid, the Porter House:

"Of the many good, loyal é, é signal services we have you dated and fazeis every day, and because we know your sufficiency and ability and willingness, you facemos Mayoral and Judge of all blacks and mulattoes-Parrots-, free or captive, who are captives é é are horros-freedmen-in very noble and loyal city of Seville, and in all his archbishopric, é can not fagan sayings facer or black men and women, and Loros and Loras, no parties nin judged between them except to you the said Juan de Valladolid, Black, our Judge and Mayoral of these Blacks, Parrots and Loras, and command that you may know of the debates and lawsuits and weddings and other things including non é any other one, Because you are person enough to do so, or who hobiere your power, and you know the laws and ordinances that should have, and we are informed that we are of a noble lineage among those blacks "

A Slave Shackle In Kansas

Slave Shackle

From the Kansas Historical Society, "Slave Shackle," One man chose to break the law by cutting this shackle from an enslaved person's ankle.

Escaped slaves crossed the Missouri border into Kansas Territory in increasing numbers after 1857. Some continued north into free states or Canada, but others stayed in Kansas hoping to start new lives in freedom.

This shackle is a very rare object and illustrates the efforts of both Blacks and Whites in opposing slavery. In 1860 Robert McFarland was asked by a neighbor to help rescue an abused slave at Lexington, Missouri. As a blacksmith, McFarland had the necessary tools to cut the shackle from the slave's leg. Many years later, when donating the shackle to the Society, McFarland wrote a letter describing the incident:

"As near as I can recollect it was in the fall of 1860 at Lexington, Mo., that a Virginian came to me stating that James Hicklin--a rich farmer living 4 miles east of Lex. & who (while an honest dealing man was very hard on his slaves) was treating an old slave in a barbarous manner & that he thought the slave should be relieved of the torture. . . . I told my informer to conduct the Negro to my shop in the night & I would take the shackle from his leg.
"Late in the night they came and I found an old Negro man--partly grey haired--apparently 60 years of age--around whose leg (I think the left one) was riveted [sic] a heavy shackle to which was attached what seemed like a trace chain. On the other end of the chain--about 5 ft from the shackle--was a heavy iron ball weighing about 20 lbs which the Negro (when going to or from his work) was obliged to carry by placing the chain over his shoulder with the ball hanging behind. His shin & ancle [sic] was very sore from the constant rubbing of the iron (although somewhat protected by rags wound around the parts). The appearance of the leg & ancle with the offensive smell emitted from the sores so aroused our sympathies that [we] wished we could change the irons from the slave to the master."

McFarland removed the ball and chain and threw them into a nearby well, then buried the shackle near his foundry to hide what he had done because the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made it a federal crime to aid escaping slaves. The slave probably escaped to Kansas by walking upstream along the Missouri River, a favorite route of those held in bondage on farms along the waterway. By this time, several Kansas cities on the border were the preferred destinations of fleeing slaves. This is particularly true of Leavenworth and Fort Scott, where army forts offered protection and opportunities for employment. The free Black population of Leavenworth alone grew from 14 in 1855 to 192 in 1860.

The Civil War began just a few months after McFarland freed the unnamed slave. He made shot for the Union forces during the war and, after the conflict, his wife Olive Edwards McFarland operated a school for African American children in the basement of their house in Lexington. The McFarland family moved to Kansas in 1871, eventually settling in Wichita where Robert opened a foundry and machine shop. They brought with them the shackle, which Robert had dug up at the end of the war. In 1893 he donated it to the Society as "a memento of slave times." It is on display at the Kansas Museum of History.  (source: Kansas Historical Society)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Indian Slavery in the Americas by Alan Gallay

Indian Slavery in the Americas
by Alan Gallay

The story of European colonialism in the Americas and its victimization of Africans and Indians follows a central paradigm in most textbooks. The African “role” encompasses the transportation, exploitation, and suffering of many millions in New World slavery, while Indians are described in terms of their succumbing in large numbers to disease, with the survivors facing dispossession of their land. This paradigm—a basic one in the history of colonialism—omits a crucial aspect of the story: the indigenous peoples of the Americas were enslaved in large numbers. This exclusion distorts not only what happened to American Indians under colonialism, but also points to the need for a reassessment of the foundation and nature of European overseas expansion.

Without slavery, slave trading, and other forms of unfree labor, European colonization would have remained extremely limited in the New World. The Spanish were almost totally dependent on Indian labor in most of their colonies, and even where unfree labor did not predominate, as in the New England colonies, colonial production was geared toward supporting the slave plantation complex of the West Indies. Thus, we must take a closer look at the scope of unfree labor—the central means by which Europeans generated the wealth that fostered the growth of colonies.

Modern perceptions of early modern slavery associate the institution almost solely with Africans and their descendants. Yet slavery was a ubiquitous institution in the early modern world. Africans, Asians, Europeans, and Native Americans kept slaves before and after Columbus reached America. Enslavement meant a denial of freedom for the enslaved, but slavery varied greatly from place to place, as did the lives of slaves. The life of a genizaro (slave soldier) of the Ottoman Empire, who enjoyed numerous privileges and benefits, immensely differed from an American Indian who worked in the silver mines of Peru or an African who produced sugar cane in Barbados. People could be kept as slaves for religious purposes (Aztecs and Pacific Northwest Indians) or as a by-product of warfare, where they made little contribution to the economy or basic social structure (Eastern Woodlands). In other societies, slaves were central to the economy. In many areas of West Africa, for instance, slaves were the predominant form of property and the main producers of wealth.

As it expanded under European colonialism to the New World in the late fifteenth through nineteenth centuries, slavery took on a new, racialized form involving the movement of millions of peoples from one continent to another based on skin color, and the creation of a vast slave-plantation complex that was an important cog in the modernization and globalization of the world economy. Africans provided the bulk of labor in this new system of slavery, but American Indians were compelled to labor in large numbers as well.

In the wake of the deaths of indigenous Americans from European-conveyed microbes from which they had no immunity, the Spanish colonists turned to importing Africans. A racist and gross misinterpretation of this event posited that most Indians could not be enslaved because of their love for freedom, while Africans were used to having their labor controlled by “big men” in Africa. This dangerous view obscured a basic fact of early modern history: Anyone could be enslaved. Over a million Europeans were held as slaves from the 1530s through the 1780s in Africa, and hundreds of thousands were kept as slaves by the Ottomans in eastern Europe and Asia. (John Smith, for instance, had been a slave of the Ottomans before he obtained freedom and helped colonize Virginia.) In 1650, more English were enslaved in Africa than Africans enslaved in English colonies. Even as late as the early nineteenth century, United States citizens were enslaved in North Africa. As the pro-slavery ideologue George Fitzhugh noted in his book, Cannibals All (1857), in the history of world slavery, Europeans were commonly the ones held as slaves, and the enslavement of Africans was a relatively new historical development. Not until the eighteenth century did the words “slave” and “African” become nearly synonymous in the minds of Europeans and Euro-Americans.

With labor at a premium in the colonial American economy, there was no shortage of people seeking to purchase slaves. Both before and during African enslavement in the Americas, American Indians were forced to labor as slaves and in various other forms of unfree servitude. They worked in mines, on plantations, as apprentices for artisans, and as domestics—just like African slaves and European indentured servants. As with Africans shipped to America, Indians were transported from their natal communities to labor elsewhere as slaves. Many Indians from Central America were shipped to the West Indies, also a common destination for Indians transported out of Charleston, South Carolina, and Boston, Massachusetts. Many other Indians were moved hundreds or thousands of miles within the Americas. Sioux Indians from the Minnesota region could be found enslaved in Quebec, and Choctaws from Mississippi in New England. A longstanding line of transportation of Indian slaves led from modern-day Utah and Colorado south into Mexico.

The European trade in American Indians was initiated by Columbus in 1493. Needing money to pay for his New World expeditions, he shipped Indians to Spain, where there already existed slave markets dealing in the buying and selling of Africans. Within a few decades, the Spanish expanded the slave trade in American Indians from the island of Hispaniola to Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Cuba, and the Bahamas. The great decline in the indigenous island populations which largely owed to disease, slaving, and warfare, led the Spanish to then raid Indian communities in Central America and many of the islands just off the continent, such as Curacao, Trinidad, and Aruba. About 650,000 Indians in coastal Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Honduras were enslaved in the sixteenth century. Conquistadors then entered the inland American continents and continued the process. Hernando de Soto, for instance, brought with him iron implements to enslave the people of La Florida on his infamous expedition through the American southeast into the Carolinas and west to the Mississippi Valley. Indians were used by the conquistadors as tamemes to carry their goods on these distant forays. Another form of Spanish enslavement of Indians in the Americas was yanaconaje, which was similar to European serfdom, whereby Indians were tied to specific lands to labor rather than lords. And under the encomienda system, Indians were forced to labor or pay tribute to an encomendero, who, in exchange, was supposed to provide protection and conversion to Christianity. The encomenderos’ power survived longest in frontier areas, particularly in Venezuela, Chile, Paraguay, and in the Mexican Yucatan into the nineteenth century.

By 1542 the Spanish had outlawed outright enslavement of some, but not all, Indians. People labeled cannibals could still be enslaved, as could Indians purchased from other Europeans or from Indians. The Spanish also created new forms of servitude for Indians. This usually involved compelling mission Indians to labor for a period of time each year that varied from weeks to months with little or no pay. Repartimiento, as it was called, was widespread in Peru and Mexico, though it faded quickly in the latter. It persisted for hundreds of years as the main system for organizing Indian labor in Colombia, Ecuador, and Florida, and survived into the early 1820s in Peru and Bolivia. Indian laborers worked in the silver mines and built forts, roads, and housing for the army, church, and government. They performed agriculture and domestic labor in support of civilians, government contractors, and other elements of Spanish society. Even in regions where African slavery predominated, such as the sugar plantations in Portuguese Brazil and in the West Indies, Indian labor continued to be used. And in many Spanish colonies, where the plantations did not flourish, Indians provided the bulk of unfree labor through the colonial era. In other words, the growth of African slavery in the New World did not diminish the use of unfree Indian labor, particularly outside of the plantation system.

Whereas in South America and the islands of the West Indies, Europeans conducted the bulk of slaving raids against Indians, (except in Brazil, where bandeirantes of mixed blood were employed for slaving), much of the enslavement of Indians in North America above Mexico was done by Indians. North American Europeans did enslave Indians during wars, especially in New England (the Pequot War, King Philip’s War) and the southeast (the Tuscarora War, the Yamasee War, the Natchez War, just to name a few), but ordinarily Europeans, especially the English and French, purchased their Indian slaves from Indians. Colonists lured Indians to supply Indian slaves in exchange for trade goods and to obtain alliances with the Europeans and their Indian allies. Indians slaved against not only their enemies, but Indians they had never met. Many Indians recognized they had little choice but to become slavers. If they did not do the Europeans’ bidding they could easily become victimized themselves. It was not unusual for peoples victimized by slaving to become slavers, and for those who had been slavers to become the object of raids.

Colonists participated in Indian slave trading to obtain capital. It was as if capital could be created out of thin air: one merely had to capture an Indian or find an Indian to capture another. In South Carolina, and to a lesser extent in North Carolina, Virginia, and Louisiana, Indian slavery was a central means by which early colonists funded economic expansion. In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, a frenzy of enslaving occurred in what is now the eastern United States. English and allied Indian raiders nearly depopulated Florida of its American Indian population. From 1670 to 1720 more Indians were shipped out of Charleston, South Carolina, than Africans were imported as slaves—and Charleston was a major port for bringing in Africans. The populous Choctaws in Mississippi were repeatedly battered by raiders, and many of their neighboring lower Mississippi Valley Indians also wound up spending their lives as slaves on West Indies plantations. Simultaneously, the New England colonies nearly eliminated the Native population from southern New England through warfare, slaving, and forced removal. The French in Canada and in Louisiana purchased many Indian slaves from their allies who swept through the Great Lakes region, the Missouri Country, and up into Minnesota. All the colonies engaged in slaving and in the purchase of Indian slaves. Only in the colonial region of New York and Pennsylvania was slaving limited, in large part because the neighboring Iroquois assimilated into their societies many of those they captured instead of selling them to the Europeans—but the Europeans of those colonies purchased Indian slaves from other regions.

Slaving against Indians did begin to decline in the east in the second quarter of the eighteenth century, largely a result of Indians’ refusal to participate in large-scale slaving raids, but the trade moved westward where Apaches, Sioux, and others continued to be victimized by Comanche and others. From Louisiana to New Mexico, large-scale enslavement of American Indians persisted well into the nineteenth century. Slave markets were held monthly in New Mexico, for instance, to facilitate the sale of Indians from the American West to northern Mexico. After the Civil War, President Andrew Johnson sent federal troops into the West to put an end to Indian slavery, but it continued to proliferate in California.

The paradigm of “what happened” to American Indians under European colonialism must be revised. Instead of viewing victimization of Africans and Indians as two entirely separate processes, they should be compared and contrasted. This will shed more light on the consequences of colonialism in the Americas, and how racism became one of the dominant ideologies of the modern world. It is time to assess the impact of slave trading and slavery on American Indian peoples, slave and free. (source: Yale's Gilder Lehrman)

The General Grant Tree

Ulysses S. Grant

Although there is no information about White House Christmas cards sent out by Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th President of the United States, and his wife, Julia, the Grant name has been connected with two important events involving Christmas itself. During his first presidential term in 1870, the former General in Chief of the Union Army signed into law the bill that had been introduced by Illinois Congressman Burton Chauncey Cook, making Christmas a legal holiday. The bill also declared that New Year’s Day, the 4th of July, and Thanksgiving Day would also be national holidays.

The other significant Christmas-related event involving Ulysses S. Grant was the naming in 1867 of a giant sequoia tree as the General Grant Tree (this took place two years after the end of the Civil War and two years before Grant was elected president). Located in California southeast of Yosemite National Park, in what is now called Kings Canyon National Park, the approximately 2,000-year-old tree today measures almost 270 feet high, 40 feet across its base with a circumference of 108 feet. In 1926 President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the huge sequoia the “Nation’s Christmas Tree.” Three decades later, President Dwight Eisenhower proclaimed the tree to be a national shrine and a living memorial to those who gave their lives serving the United States. Each Christmas, a wreath is laid at the tree’s base to honor the United States’ fallen war heroes.

Grant’s ascension to the presidency from his roots is an interesting and eventful saga. Born Hiram Ulysses Grant on April 27, 1822 in Point Pleasant, Ohio, he was the son of Jesse Root Grant and Hannah Simpson Grant. As a youth, he attended schools in both Ohio and Kentucky and also worked on his father’s farm tending to the family’s horses.

When Grant was 17, his Congressman, Thomas L. Hamer, nominated him for admission to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. An average student who specialized in horsemanship, Grant graduated from the Academy in 1843. Following a two-year stint on the southwestern frontier in Louisiana and Missouri, Grant fought in the Mexican War under the commanders General Zachary Taylor and General Winfield Scott. Although he was cited for bravery, Grant later wrote in his memoirs he felt the war was unjust in that it was waged by the United States against much weaker Mexico, purely to gain land for the purposes of extending slavery.

The Georgetown, Ohio boyhood home of President Grant, where he celebrated many Christmas holidays before enrolling in the United States Military Academy at West Point.

After the end of the war in 1848, Grant married Julia Boggs Dent, the sister of his West Point classmate and friend, Fred, whose life he had saved during the war. Over the course of the next 10 years, Ulysses and Julia would be blessed with their four children. His career in the army, however, was not a happy one. Grant served at posts in Michigan, New York, the Washington Territory, Oregon, and California. Since his salary was so low, Grant had to leave his family behind. Although he had reached the rank of captain, Grant suffered from depression because of isolation and homesickness. On July 31, 1854, he abruptly resigned from the Army, purportedly because he was found drunk while on duty and was threatened with possibly being court-martialed.

For the rest of the decade, Grant tried to support his family with various occupations while living near St. Louis, Missouri, and then in Galena, Illinois. He tried his hand at farming and working as a bill collector. Towards the end of 1857, the family was having such a difficult time financially that Grant had to pawn his watch and chain in order to purchase Christmas presents for his wife and children. It was while he was working as an assistant at his father’s leather shop in Galena in the spring of 1861 when the Civil War broke out. Grant excelled as a recruiter, and showing great leadership ability, he was quickly promoted to brigadier general that summer.

Grant distinguished himself in battles in Tennessee, prompting President Lincoln to exclaim, “I can’t spare this man. He fights!” Grant’s successes continued with the capture of Vicksburg in Mississippi, a victory that gave the North control of the Mississippi River, and proved to be a turning point in the war. Subsequently promoted several more times, Grant as supreme commander of all Union forces oversaw other generals’ strategies in the South and West as well as leading the campaigns in the East and forcing the main southern Army led by General Robert E. Lee to flee Richmond, the Confederate capital. Showing respect and caring, Grant accepted Lee’s surrender with fair and generous terms at Appomattox Court House in Virginia in April of 1865.

Grant remarked in his memoirs that the end of the war made him feel “sad and depressed” since he could not feel happy about defeating an enemy who had “fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause.” Days after the surrender, sadness was brought forth again as Grant had to be a pallbearer at the funeral of assassinated President Lincoln.

Most historians will agree that Grant was the perfect person to head the Union armies at the time when he did and that his career as a general was the apex of his public life. Following the war, Grant was made a full general by President Andrew Johnson and oversaw the demobilizing of the Union Army and the implementation of the Reconstruction period. Grant’s popularity as a war hero was so huge that at the Republican Convention in 1868, he was unanimously nominated for the office of President of the United States. Unfortunately, Grant’s ability as a politician left a lot to be desired.

The 270-foot high General Grant Tree located in California's Kings Canyon National Park. President Coolidge named the giant sequoia the "Nation's Christmas Tree" in 1926.

There is no information available concerning how the Grant family may have celebrated the Christmas holiday. Exchanging White House Christmas cards was not yet a standard practice and there is no mention of a White House Christmas tree being displayed in the executive mansion.

President Grant’s administration was filled with many men who were unsuited for the positions to which Grant named them due to the fact that he appointed personal friends and former army colleagues, who in general, were dishonest, corrupt, and/or totally unqualified. His own lack of skill dealing with the problems of Reconstruction and his indecisiveness regarding the economic issues which led to the Panic of 1873 did not help his prestige.

The biggest failures of his administration, however, involved the several scandals which ultimately reflected on the President himself, even though he was not personally involved in any of them. The Black Friday Scandal of 1869; the Whiskey Ring Affair in 1875; the Credit Mobilier Scandal involving Grant’s first Vice President, Schuyler Colfax; and the Sanborn incident linking his Secretary of the Treasury, William A. Richardson, to a tax collection scheme were all blights on his administration. Regardless of how corrupt or ineffectual things became, Grant unwisely remained loyal to his friends and to his political contributors who served themselves well rather than the President and the nation. Upon leaving office in 1877, he wrote to Congress, “Failures have been errors of judgment, not of intent.”

After leaving the presidency, Grant and his family traveled around the world, finding that his popularity from being a war hero surpassed his regard as President of the United States. He privately was considering another run for the presidency in 1880 but ultimately – and wisely – lent his support to James A. Garfield, who was elected the 20th President. Grant’s political career had come to an end.

In 1881, former President Grant and his family moved to New York City where they had purchased a home. For income, the Grants lived off of money friends had raised for them. Unfortunately, the family’s entire portfolio was invested in a banking partnership whose funds were swindled, causing the Grants to be (as they were 25 years before) without financial resources. In addition to the family’s dire financial plight, it was also around this time when Grant found out that he was suffering from throat cancer. To compound the family’s problems, on Christmas Eve in 1883, the former president injured his hip after slipping on a sidewalk that was covered with ice. He quickly contracted pneumonia and suffered from boils and bedsores during his confinement.

In 1885, Congress voted to reinstate Grant’s full general ranking along with providing a decent salary. While terminally ill, Grant had been moved to Mount McGregor in Saratoga County, New York for health reasons, and this was where he spent his last days working on his memoirs, writing his recollections in longhand since he was unable to speak because of the cancer which was killing him. The well-received publication earned the family more than $450,000.

Ulysses S. Grant died on July 23, 1885 at Mount McGregor. His body, as well as Julia’s, lies in the large mausoleum called Grant’s Tomb, overlooking the Hudson River in New York City. (source: White House Christmas Cards)


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