- Black Slaves, Indian Masters: Slavery, Emancipation, and Citizenship in the Native American South by Barbara Krauthamer
With Black Slaves, Indian Masters, Barbara Krauthamer joins a small yet dedicated group of scholars who have examined the historical intersections between the lives of Native Americans and people of African descent. In her work, Krauthamer is especially interested in highlighting how Choctaws and Chickasaws exploited the labor of people of African descent and developed a legal code that replicated the racial hierarchy of the southern United States. She argues that the enslavement and the mere presence of people of African descent forced Choctaws and Chickasaws to reimagine and renegotiate their ideas about gender, citizenship, and the economy. Krauthamer stresses that scholars must understand slavery, emancipation, and the freedpeople’s battle for citizenship in the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations in order to comprehend more fully southern history and U.S. history. Her exploration follows a fairly chronological organization starting with a description of slavery in the pre-removal Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations and concluding with a discussion of race and citizenship in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Krauthamer uses journals, letters, congressional records, and WPA slave narratives to construct her account of slavery and the fight for freedom in Choctaw and Chickasaw country.
Krauthamer’s investigation of slavery in the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations begins east of the Mississippi. She describes how Choctaws and Chickasaws became immersed in the traffic of slaves that connected Native economies with the Atlantic slave trade. By the nineteenth century, the trade networks of the American South fed Choctaw and Chickasaw demands for manufactured metal tools, sugar, and, most notably, enslaved people of African descent. When the federal government began to push Choctaws and Chickasaws out of the Mississippi valley and into Indian Territory in the 1830s, they carried these enslaved people on the trek. They also brought a discriminatory ideology and legal code that defined people of African descent as a permanent underclass and protected Native slaveholders’ interests in human property. Krauthamer uncovers the same brutality and exploitation of enslaved people in the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations that historians have found in the slaveholding United States. Floggings, the division of families, and even murder were all part of the slaves’ experiences in Native nations. Yet violence and [End Page 595] the separation of families did not fully typify enslaved people’s realities. Krauthamer dedicates an entire chapter to enslaved people’s relationships with Christianity and the American missionaries who swept into Indian Territory to convert both slaves and their masters. For enslaved people, Christianity and missionaries provided opportunities for religious autonomy, work off the plantations, and, for the luckiest, liberation from bondage. In the chapter on slave resistance, Krauthamer notes that those slaves without the means to obtain legal freedom sought liberty and voiced opposition to their impressment through a variety of other tactics. At the homes of the Choctaw Pitchlynn family, enslaved people talked back to their masters, ran away, and, in at least one case, murdered their oppressors.
In the last third of her work, Krauthamer focuses on the lives of people of African descent during and after emancipation and convincingly demonstrates that slavery’s end brought forth one of the greatest challenges to the sovereignty of nations in Indian Territory. Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, Choctaw and Chickasaw lawmakers and slaveholders had worked to solidify a legal and social divide between Indians and “Negroes.” Yet with Choctaw and Chickasaw defeat alongside their Confederate allies in the American Civil War, U.S. treaty negotiators sought to weaken these divides by imposing emancipation in Indian Territory. Federal policy challenged Native people’s right to self-government and to define their own citizenry. With the end of slavery, U.S. intervention forced Choctaws and Chickasaws to debate the future of people of African descent in their midst. After the treaty of 1866, freedpeople engaged in a long fight with their former masters for citizenship within the Choctaw...