For American Indians, slavery in the New World persevered over four centuries while changing forms.
What’s it about?
Peter Nabokov looks at the size and nature of the massacres and enslavement of the America’s original inhabitants.
Whether the slavery systems were indigenous, European colonial, or US national, they grew into complex cultural matrices intertwining slavery, wealth and social power. Indigenous and Euro-American slave systems evolved and innovated in response to each other. North America was a vast, dynamic map of raiding, trading and resettling.
American Genocide: Indian Enslavement in America:
- For two centuries after Columbus’s arrival on the continent an enslaved Indian workforce was put to work throughout Mexico, Florida, the American Southwest, the South American Coast and the Philippines.
- As opposed to the transatlantic trade in African slaves there was no monolithic institution in which slaves were auctioned as commodities. Practices differed across the region and under different colonial powers.
- Right from the start of Spain’s colonization of North America there was resistance to the idea of slavery in Spain, although it never amounted to much.
- Loose estimates are that the system composed of some 2.5 million to five million Indians. Overwork, foreign pathogens, famine, and abuse contributed to the 90 percent decline in the North American Indian population between Columbus’s arrival and 1900.
- The slavery system bolstered hatred, discrimination, multiethnic animosities and all sorts of human suffering. Not least the terror of surviving amid bands of slave raiders.
- Slavery was a contributing factor in UCLA historian Benjamin Madley’s argument that genocide is the only appropriate term for what happened to native peoples in north-central California between 1846 and 1873.
Madley has documented his charge of genocide by years of scrolling through local newspapers, histories, personal diaries, memoirs, and official letters and reports.
These revealed what many indigenous groups endured at the hands of US military campaigns, state militia expeditions, impromptu small-town posses, and gold miners, as well as ordinary citizens who hunted natives on weekends.
Most western historians and demographers could agree that genocidal behavior toward the North American Indian population occurred during the nineteenth century.
Madley has concentrated on the killing in California during the bloody years between 1846 and 1873.
As gold drew ever more migrants to settle and colonialise California, the Indian communities came under attack. There was pervasive racism towards the states’s diverse and generally peaceful native population. Many of the atrocities were committed not by soldiers but by companies of militiamen. Natives were raped, starved, tortured and whipped with killing indiscriminant. The region was a quilt of many killing fields.
Take Away Points and Context
- For American Indians slavery in the New World took many forms that persevered over four centuries while changing according to local conditions, global pressures, and maneuvers to evade abolitionist crusades.
- The word ‘extermination’ was often used by military, religious and bureaucratic hardliners. For most, this outcome was considered no great tragedy – as an entire people were defined as savage and subhuman.
by Andrés Reséndez
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 431 pp., $30.00
by Benjamin Madley
Yale University Press, 692 pp., $38.00
American Genocide: Indian Enslavement in America. Your comments welcome below.