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Indians and Slavery

 

            Indian slavery is an important part of South Carolinas history that many know nothing about.  No other state has as many historic documents that chronicles Native American enslaves people and slavery as South Carolina.  As the historian Lauber concludes Indian slaves were most numerous in South Carolina and the number of Indians exported was larger than that from any other colony.  Indian slavery intermingles with every aspect of the colonial record of South Carolina.  Indian slavery began soon after settlers arrived, and persisted through the colonial period.  Knowing about the Indian enslavement is important, impressive, and persistent role in the history of South Carolina and because it has affected the Native American citizens of the State.  Indian slavery contributed to the development of the colonyeconomically, agriculturally, politically, and legally.  Indian slavery in colonial South Carolina made a large and indelible mark upon the tribal histories of the Indians not only of South Carolina, but of the southeastern United States.  In short, the destiny of many of the Indian tribes of the region was influenced and determined by Indians Affairs which centered in Charleston.

 

            It was slavery more than war or disease that destroyed the small coastal tribes.  As early as 1683 the Proprietors had heard that the settlers were making war on Indians around Winyah Bay in order top obtain slaves.  Since the Proprietors had given permission to sell Indian captives in the West Indies, the trade in slaves was stimulated and soon the colonists could not distinguish between Indians taken in war and those acquired in other ways.

 

            Indian slave trade was expanded when a Scottish colony was started at Port Royal in 1684.  The first law relating solely to slavery was passed in 1691.  This law was operative for almost two decades.  The Assembly passed a regulation for slaves so comprehensive that it deserves to be called South Carolinas first slave code.  Much of the verbiage for this slave code was borrowed, in large part, from the Barbados Slave code of 1688.  The South Carolina statute defined any Negro, Mulatto or Indian who had been bought or sold as such, to be a slave, and the status was extended to the children of such persons.

 

            Although the laws of 1712, 1722, and 1735 recognized the children of Indian slaves to be slaves, they also recognized as free those Indians in friendship and amity with the provincial government.  The presumption of the law pf 1740, which continued Indian slavery, was in favor of freedom and placed the burden of proof upon those who claimed Indians as slaves.

 

            In the colonial records from 1683-1699, seventeen Indian slaves were mentioned, undoubtedly there were more.  A total of one hundred Indian slaves by 1700 is a conservative estimate.  By 1703, there were approximately 7,000 persons living in Carolina (these estimate do not include any of the isolate Native communities who were not counted, but focuses on the heavily populated areas.), of whom 3,000 were African slaves.  In addition, there were 350 Indian slaves; 100 men, 150 women and 100 children.  Indians constituted over ten percent of the total number of slaves.  Five years later, the population totaled approximately 8,100.  Over one-half were African slaves and an additional 1,400 Indian slaves.  There had been an increase of over 400 percent in the number of Indian slaves since 1703.  From 1704 to 1708, there is documented four bills of sale and three Wills which involve a minimum of 19 Indian slaves.  Within this period, the number of Indian slaves increased by 1,050.  Many changed hands for ready sums of money with no paperwork required.  This is partially explained by the fact that the Indians were not as expensive as the African slaves and at that time, were in reasonably good supply.  Some planters used them in their rice fields, until they could afford the Africans.

 

            In 1704, the General Assembly passed a law making their trusty slaves available in time of war.  A list of all able-bodied Negro, Mulatto and Indian slaves was prepared.  Consequently, Indian slaves fought for the Colony long before the American Revolution.  If the slave was maimed or killed in action the owner would receive compensation from the public treasurer.  Ultimately, there was extensive slave trafficking of Indian captives during the Tuscarora War of 1711 and Yamasee War of 1715-1716.

 

            The slave trade even deployed that assistance of other Indian groups, and therefore, encouraged many intertribal wars, unrests and disagreements among Indian peoples.

 

            Interestingly enough, the European colonial powers recognized the diplomatic potential of Indian slaves.  Some time these countries returned Indian slaves to their respective tribes to gain peace, friendship and military alliances.  The British practiced this along with the French and Spanish.  Although some historians contend that Indian slavery dwindled after the Yamasee War, but quite the opposite is true.  There were more Indians to be slaves and their labor was in demand.  There was an estimate of more 2,000 Indian slaves in South Carolina in 1724.  Indian slaves were branded like cattle.  The most common spot for branding men was the right or left breast, with the first of last initials of the owner.

 

            The slave code of 1740, which determined the legal destiny of slaves, was to endure to the end of the eighteenth century.  This code dated May 10, 1740, defined slaves and Chattel property, thereby abandoning the definition of slaves continued since 1696.  Slavery was thus based upon this law and its comprehensive definition, and not upon custom as it was in the past.  Children of slaves were to follow the condition of the Mother.  This was the most comprehensive slave code of the colonial period, it regulated the slave from cradle to grave.  After the enactment of the 1740 slave code, Indians and descendants of Indians were regarded as free Indians or Free People of Color in amity with the government until the contrary could be shown to differentiate between the enslaved Indians.  It is this phrasing in that code of 1740 which was later interrupted by the courts as the ending of Indian slavery in South Carolina.  However, are least 25 Indian slaves are recorded during the 1770s, with 12 of them as runaways and 3 included as a part of the inventory of estates.  The concluding phase of Indian slavery in South Carolina was incorporated in a series of laws enacted in the 1790s.  A statute enacted on December 21, 1792, two years after first United State census, was to prohibit further importation of slaves in the State which included Indian, Mulatto or Mestizo.  As late as 1838, Native Americans were in South Carolina fighting for their rights and re-evaluating the interpretation of the slave code of 1740.  During the course of Indian slavery in South Carolina, Indians were used in a variety of ways.  They were employed in the same ways that Negro slaves were utilized.

Photo of Book

         This article is one of many in the educational Teachers Guide South Carolina Indians Today edited by William Moreau Goins, Ph.D.    

To inquire on how to obtain a copy of this Teachers Guide, click on the book.