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Reviewed by:
  • The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670–1717
  • Gary B. Nash
The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670–1717. By Alan Gallay (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001. xviii plus 444 pp.).

Drawing on English, Spanish, and French sources, Alan Gallay has written a superb book on the Indian slave trade that played a central role in the emergence of South Carolina’s economy and political relations while shaping the character of its people. Not since Verner Crane’s The Southern Frontier, 1670–1732, published seventy-four years ago, have we had such a detailed and insightful account of the horrific series of Indian wars that engulfed the lower southern colonies in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Gallay reckons that the colonizing South Carolinians enslaved and exported thirty to fifty thousand Native Americans between 1670 and 1720. Putting this into perspective, he notes that the Carolinians shipped more Indians from Charleston, to be sold in New England, the Caribbean, and other places than they imported Africans through the South’s premier seaport. This is not a case of genocide, which occurs when policy makers schedule a subject people for extinction. Rather, it is a case of grisly behavior by profit-minded Englishmen unrestrained by religion, moral values, or government.

South Carolina’s colonial pioneers march onto the stage Gallay recreates as a particularly vicious, self-aggrandizing breed. “No other mainland English colony,” he writes, “endured such a long period dominated by an incorrigible and politically corrupt elite”(p. 3). By the end of the seventeenth century, the colony “was out of control”—oblivious to the desires of the home government to stop the pernicious policy of fomenting Indian wars in order to obtain more Indian slaves. He suggests that it was this “singular history and political culture” that produced the rabid fire-eater proslavery advocates and nullifiers 150 years later. [End Page 265]

Gallay makes only passing comparisons between the Indian relations that developed in Virginia and South Carolina, but it is implicit in this finely researched book that Carolina’s geographic position necessarily thrust it into a tri-cornered competition with Spanish Florida and French Louisiana that intensified the Indian slave trade. Absent this imperial struggle, white South Carolinians probably wouldn’t have had the self-restraint to eschew the profits to be made by making war on native peoples; nonetheless, the Anglo-French-Spanish competition heightened the incentive for waging war against tribal peoples because attacking tribes allied with the Spanish and French was a key way of defeating the French and Spanish themselves.

Gallay is not romantic about native peoples of the Southeast region. He makes tribal involvement in the enslavement of indigenous peoples a sub-theme of this important book. The parallel is striking between the swelling African slave trade, where one tribal society made war on another in order to send slave coffles westward to the awaiting ships on the east side of the Atlantic, and the Indian slave trade where one Indian society made war on another in order to send slaves eastward to the awaiting ships on the west side of the Atlantic. Nor is Gallay romantic about the Spanish and French as colonizers more kindly disposed toward native peoples. Although the French and Spanish tried to stop the wars of Indian enslavement fomented by English colonizers and their Indian allies, it was for them largely a matter of trying to save their own Indian allies upon whom their own survival depended. In all, Gallay presents us with what must be the ugliest story to be told about inhumanity and naked pursuit of self-interest in the colonial period of North American history.

What became of the thousands of Indians shipped from Charleston to distant point where they would find it almost impossible to escape and return to their native lands? Gallay has been unable to find sources that even indicate how many Indian slaves clambered off ships in the port towns of New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. We know that they arrived in these northern locations only...

Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 265-266
Launched on MUSE
2003-09-05
Open Access
No
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