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  • Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America
  • Kathleen Bragdon
Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America. By Christina Snyder (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 2010) 344 pp. $29.95

Snyder's ambitious survey of the captivity practices of southeastern Indians from the pre-contact era through the nineteenth century attempts "a new perspective on race, slavery, and freedom" (12). Snyder uses a multitude of primary and secondary sources to trace a change from kin-based captivity motivated primarily by the need to replace community members to a race-based pattern, feeding directly into the racialized enslavement of African Americans that came to characterize much of the [End Page 301] Southern economy in the nineteenth century. In eight chapters, Snyder provides one example after another drawn from firsthand accounts, archaeological data, and ethnographic descriptions. Her narrative is full of violent images and quotations, emphasizing the ferocity of southeastern Native life in the pre-contact and early contact era, and the links between warfare and the taking of captives. She is less detailed concerning the subsequent fate of captives in pre-contact times; although it is likely that, as in the later period of Native histories, captives were fully integrated into their host communities and rarely treated as chattel.

Snyder argues that pre-contact captivity practices and warfare were re-made to satisfy the European colonial demand for labor (45-47). In this respect, Snyder sometimes conflates captivity and enslavement. For example, she writes, "The capture and trade of enemy people was nothing new for Indians, but as they began to participate in a trans-Atlantic economy that placed a high value on slaves, warriors began to take unprecedented numbers of captives" (48). She suggests, however, that this slave trade coexisted alongside the continued practice of replacing lost community members through capture, as in the Iroquois Mourning wars (48). Her second chapter, focusing on the Chickasaws—whose power and influence in the region was tied to their heavy involvement in the slave trade with Carolina colonists—is also replete with violence, emphasizing the Native view of others as fearful and distrustful (58). Yet even the Chickasaws adopted and integrated captives, especially women and children. In the end, Snyder concludes that the slave trade led to new power relations among Native societies, elevating groups such as the Chickasaw to power and serving, ironically, to preserve native order (79).

Snyder returns several times to the subject of how native people incorporated others into their communities, seemingly without racial prejudice. Thus, she argues in Chapter 5, "Owned People," that eighteenth-century travelers were likely to encounter captive people of many backgrounds in Native communities, some of whom were enslaved or forced to do menial labor. Snyder further suggests that after the Revolution, Natives began to categorize their enemies and captives racially (180), and some of them began to purchase African slaves themselves (187). Yet, even then, blacks in Native communities were sometimes incorporated into Indian families (201). The Seminoles in particular, as discussed in Chapter 8, incorporated African members as "junior members" and tributaries (213, 227).

Although its historical detail and wealth of sources is welcome, this book represents a dangerous trend: Like several other recent histories that focus on the American South, this book erroneously implicates the Native Americans who lived there not only in their own displacement but also in the development of racialized slavery. [End Page 302]

Kathleen Bragdon
The College of William and Mary


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pp. 301-302
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