Native American & African Slaveries Intersected in New England & Caribbean
From New England to the Carribbean
As 12.5 million African peoples were enslaved throughout the Americas between 1492 and 1880, 2 to 5.5 million Indigenous peoples were enslaved in New England colonies and the Caribbean as well. They were routinely deported as slaves to Barbados, Bermuda, Jamaica, the Azores, Spain and Tangier in North Africa.
Enslavement of Indigenous peoples in New England, how it intersected with enslavement of Africans in the region, and the connection between New England and Caribbean slaveries are rarely explored dimensions in history. Historians such as Linford D. Fisher, associate professor of history at Brown University, seek to bring them to light.
Fisher’s recent study, “Why shall wee have peace to bee made slaves,” examines en mass enslavement of New England’s Indigenous peoples during and after King Philip’s War (1675-1678).
The study also delves into the fate of those who surrendered, generational impacts, and the complex alliances and compromises made during that period.
Named after Wampanoag chief Metacomet–who adopted the English name Philip–King Philip’s War took place in the colonies of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maine. It resulted in devastation for the Wampanoags and their Narragansett allies.
Although systemic enslavement of Indigenous peoples is documented as early 1636 during The Pequot War (1634-1638), King Philip’s War was the point at which colonial settlers intensified their centuries-long campaign to “disappear” millions of East Coast Indigenous peoples through lifelong and even heritable slavery, forced removals, renaming, racial reclassifications, falsification of records, detribalizations, and institutionalizations.
Racial reclassifictions, for instance, ensured that people dispossessed of their land could not reclaim it once settlers imposed identities that progressed from “Indian” to “slave” to “colored” to “mulatto” to “black.”
“The shadow of native enslavement in New England extends into the 18th century and beyond,” says Fisher. “There are records of people petitioning for freedom in the 1740s who were the descendants of Native Americans first enslaved during King Philip’s War.”
An unintended outcome of colonial settler thirst for land and forced, unpaid labor was the increased collaboration and kinship between enslaved Indigenous and African peoples, which became one of the biggest fears in the colonial world. Settlers utilized laws and lies to tear those relationships apart for centuries.
Colonial anxieties are also exhibited in the 1676 Barbados Act to Prohibit New England Indian Slave Importation, which Fisher explores in his 2014 study, “Dangerous Designes.”
The previously lost Barbados Act outlined an import ban on enslaved New England Native Americans after the May 1675 attempted African revolt on the island.
Learn more through Brown University’s “Indian Slavery: An Unspoken History” discussion and check out recommended reading below.