Indian Slavery in Colonial Times Within the Present Limits of the United States (1913): Almon Wheeler Lauber

“Indian slavery…has been ignored…the one book that deals at length with the subject…is…Lauber’s ‘Indian Slavery in Colonial Times.”’ – The Enslavement of the American Indian in Colonial Times (2005)
“An exceptional resource. Considers precontact indigenous systems, French and Spanish slaver, and the activities of the British.” -Origins of Slavery: Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guide (2010)
“Lauber, Indian Slavery in Colonial Times…remains the standard book on the white enslavement of Native Americans.” -American Slavery: 1619-1877 (2003)
“Lauber published…an impressive array of evidence pointing to the ubiquity of Indian slavery by European colonists.” – Indian Slavery in Colonial America (2009)

What was the driving force behind the little-known practice of Indian enslavement during colonial times? Was it the necessity of disposing of war captives, the greed of traders, or the simple demand for labor?

In his 1913 book “Indian Slavery in Colonial Times,” Almon Wheeler Lauber broadly defines “slave” as a “prisoner held by his captor as an inferior and forced to labor for him, or sold into servitude or freedom for the financial benefit of his captor.” His book describes four kinds of enslavement: (1) by the Indians; (2) by the Spaniards; (3) by the French; (4) by the English.

The various chapters in the book deal with enslavement by the Indians themselves, enslavement by the Spanish and French, the number of Indian slaves, the processes of enslavement, property relations, methods of employment, treatment of slaves, and the decline of Indian slavery. The chapters on enslavement by the Indians themselves and by the Spanish and French are of interest from a western standpoint, the remaining two-thirds of the book being devoted to Indian slavery in the English colonies on the Atlantic coast.

The vast majority of so-called Indian slaves were really prisoners of war, who could not be safely released, and whom it would have been inhuman to kill.

Both Spain and France used Indian slaves as guides, interpreters, camp laborers, cooks, and mistresses. Both nations attempted to educate the Indian through their religious orders. Spain in 1543 enacted a law to end Indian slavery in Spanish America, while France passed laws for manumission and issued decrees against the Indian slave trade. With each nation the enslavement of the Indians was found to be generally unsatisfactory and less profitable than the enslavement of Blacks.

Among the English colonies Indian slavery was general, the Carolinas holding the largest number and New Hampshire but very few. These slaves were obtained in warfare, by kidnapping, by trade, and through punishment for violations of law and order. In both customary and statutory law Indian slavery was recognized: property rights were protected, courts settled disputes as to ownership, and fugitive slave laws were enacted. Throughout the English colonies Indian slaves were employed as hunters, fishermen, guides, domestic servants, soldiers, laborers, and, in some instances as craftsmen. As a rule, however, they were not satisfactory, and as the indentured servants and Negro slaves multiplied, the number of Indian slaves declined.

They were always most numerous in Massachusetts and South Carolina. In 1708, there were in the latter colony fourteen hundred Indian slaves, mostly women and children, but this large number was due to recent captures in invasions of French, Spanish, and Indian territory. It is stated that fifteen years later the number of such slaves to be found in the same colony was “very few”.

About the author:

Almon Wheeler Lauber (1880-1944) studied Indian slavery as a Ph D. student.

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