Slavery in Indian Country
The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America
Harvard University Press 2010
Most readers are probably more familiar with the context of slavery or captivity in the context the African slave trade than in the Americas. Some may assume that slavery in the Americas was exclusively a phenomenon that became institutionalized into chattel slavery and racially codified exclusively against African Americans by the seventeenth-century. There has been increased scholarly attention over the last decade to expand our ideas of slavery, including scholarship about enslavement of African Americans within the “Five Civilized Tribes.” However, there has been little focus on the long and nuanced history of Native American captivity practices.
Historian Christina Snyder argues that we have to re-imagine the history of captivity by understanding the evolution of such practices amongst Native Americans in her prize-winning book, Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America (Harvard University Press, 2010). Captivity practices existed amongst many indigenous nations from the pre-Columbian era throughout the nineteenth-century. She broadly describes the evolution of these practices from incorporating captives into kin networks, and to shifting notions of slavery that became codified by race. She begins her work by vividly describing Mississippian indigenous cultures of the pre-Columbian era, including the fascinating history of Cahokia, and the captives who were buried in these mounds. She also discusses the roles of Native American women, including Cherokee “beloved women” would were closely involved in determining the fate of captives. Her work is captivating and extensive, and greatly contributes to the historiography.