New Directions in Unfree American Indian Labor Histories

AHA Session 202
Labor and Working Class History Association 4
Sunday, January 4, 2015: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Empire Ballroom East (Sheraton New York, Second Floor)
Alan Gallay, Texas Christian University

Session Abstract

Slavery has long been a central element of North American historiography. Yet, while African American chattel slavery was brutal and ensnared millions, the story of slavery in the U.S. and its colonial antecedents extends well beyond the binary of black and white, slave and master. Although African chattel slavery is enshrined in United States historiography as the preeminent form of bondage, lesser-studied instances and forms of unfree labor deserve our attention.

Systems of servitude ensnaring Native Americans are one such arena that has recently garnered attention in scholarly conversations. Historians such as James Brooks, Alan Gallay, and Ned Blackhawk laid the foundations of this inquiry and more recently historians Christina Snyder and Brett Rushforth, among others, have also investigated American Indian servitude.[1]Their contributions have answered many pertinent questions, but have opened the door for scholars expand upon their methodologies and geographical scope.

Instances of unfree Indigenous labor are both complex and geographically diverse. From the Aleutian Islands to Alabama, from New England to New Spain and New France, and from Cahokia to California, Native American peoples were captured, bound, and employed without the freedom to quit. Some escaped, but some remained unfree. And while the thirteenth amendment is commonly thought to have abolished servitude and slavery, some Indian peoples remained unfree well into the 1880s.[2]This panel will expound upon the complexities of unfree Native American. It will explore the historiography of the field and new scholarly directions currently being framed.

[1] James F. Brooks, Captive and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship and Community in the Southwest Borderlands (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001); Alan Gallay, The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670-1717 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002); Ned Blackhawk, Violence over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008); Alan Gallay, Indian Slavery in Colonial America (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009); Christina Snyder, Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010); Brett Rushforth, Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

[2] Brooks, Captives & Cousins, 39.

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