English Trade in Deerskins and Indian Slaves
When the English came to America, the Native Americans of Georgia encountered one of the most profound forces for change: the world economy.
Forces for Change
At the time of English settlement in present-day Georgia, the Native Americans of the South already were well into a profound process of transformation that had begun
In interior Georgia, Muskogee-speaking survivors of the collapse abandoned large areas and began joining together at certain areas of aggregation. One such area centered along the Piedmont stretch of the Oconee River and another along the Upper Coastal Plain section of the Chattahoochee River. Native Americans who lived in coastal Georgia and the barrier islands fell under another force for change: Spanish missionaries. After the establishment of St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565, Spanish Catholic missionaries labored among the Guale and Mocama of the Georgia coast and the Apalachee and Timucua of present-day north Florida.
How the Indian Slave Trade Worked
Native Americans were transformed by the new trading system. It was a commercial trade in dressed animal skins—and Indian slaves. Slavery was not unknown to the indigenous peoples of the eastern woodlands, and they practiced a version of it at the time of contact with English traders. Once slaves became something to be bought and sold, however, a powerful new dynamic began shaping the lives of the Georgia Indians.
English traders would give European-made guns and ammunition to a group of Indians and demand that the guns be paid for with
Indian slave raiders captured slaves, mostly women and children, by the thousands and sold them to English, French, and Dutch slavers, who shipped them to the sugar plantations in the Caribbean, although some certainly went to the new coastal plantations in Virginia, South Carolina, and French Louisiana. For most native groups, already seriously weakened by losses from disease, slaving was a serious blow. Wherever slaving penetrated, the same processes unfolded: many Indian groups moved to escape slave raiders; some groups joined others in an effort to bolster their numbers and present a stronger defense; some groups became extinct after losses to disease and slave raiding; and all those left became part of the slave trade.
Slaving in Georgia
The trade in Native American slaves first began in the Northeast. The Iroquois, seeking access to European goods and war captives whom they adopted into their kin groups to replace their dead, began doing business with English, French, and Dutch traders in the first few decades of the seventeenth century. Almost immediately this trade created a shatter zone of regional instability from which shock waves radiated out for hundreds of miles. The Indians of Georgia certainly felt these shock waves since some Iroquois raiders probably raided into north Georgia and since many of the northern groups suffering under Iroquois raids began to break up and move long distances west and south, seeking refuge.
Slaving in the South, however, probably did not become fully established until some time in the late seventeenth century, when Jamestown traders, recognizing the need for slaves to work the tobacco plantations, engaged Piedmont groups like the Occaneechis and the Tuscaroras as slave raiders. Like the Iroquois, these Piedmont slavers first raided among their enemies close at hand. During this time Cherokee-speaking people living in the southern Appalachians may have moved southwest, away from the slave raiders, with some perhaps moving into areas of north Georgia that had been vacated during the collapse of the chiefdoms.
In the late 1650s another group of Indians fleeing Iroquois slave raiding, possibly the Erie, settled on the Savannah River. Here they became known as the Westos to the English and as Chichimecos to the Spanish. The Westos were predatory slave raiders, allied with English slavers in Virginia and heavily armed.
By 1679, in their strategy of playing the English and French off each other and in an effort to replace the hundreds who had died in an epidemic, Iroquois slave raiders struck out to the west and south. Thus began the Iroquois southern campaigns against the "flatheads," a term the Iroquois applied to all of the southern groups because of their custom of flattening the backs of their infants' skulls at birth. In the South the Iroquois ranged far and wide. The extant records document their presence in the Carolina Piedmont, in Georgia and Alabama, in northern Florida, in Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky. The Iroquois campaign lasted almost forty years; the Westos' reign of terror lasted almost twenty years.
Assailed from the north by the Iroquois and from the east by the Westos, Indians deep in the interior of Georgia sought refuge by moving southward and westward. The groups that had settled along the upper Oconee dispersed, with some moving to the Chattahoochee River and with some perhaps joining the Timucuas and Apalachees. Others moved closer to the Spanish mission Indians of Guale and Mocama, on the Georgia coast, and became known as the Yamasees. The Cherokees, somewhat protected by their mountain location, began to coalesce as an identifiable political entity. Cherokee towns took in many refugee groups and organized themselves into the divisions known during the Historic Period—the Overhill Towns, the Middle Towns, the Out Towns, the Valley Towns, and the Lower Towns. The latter two divisions made up the Cherokee inhabitants of north Georgia.
Westo slaving ended in 1681. When it became obvious that they were not under English control, the Carolinians hired a group of Shawnees, who had moved to the Savannah River in 1674 (possibly as one of many groups leaving the Ohio Valley because of Iroquois raiding) to destroy the Westos. A few years later, English pirates forced the Guales, Mocamas, and Yamasees to flee south to Amelia Island. In another testament to the unsettled alliances of the time, in 1685 the Yamasees, now allied with the English, began raiding the mission Indians for slaves, decimating the Timucua of northeast Florida by 1704.
By this time Carolina and Virginia traders also began to make contact with many of the natives in the interior of Georgia,
Formation of the Coalescent Societies
Meanwhile, the same forces swept into the west and north of present-day Georgia, as native slavers, trading with the English, French, and Dutch, raided far and wide throughout the eastern woodlands.
As the coalescent societies began to form, Native Americans in Georgia and throughout the South revolted against the slave trade and the English, in particular. This revolt, known as the Yamasee War of 1715, served the Indians' purpose of reforming the trade, if not annihilating the English. Although Indian slaves continued to be bought and sold,
When General James Edward Oglethorpe settled Savannah in 1733, the natives he encountered were quite different from the native peoples that Hernando de Soto had encountered two hundred years earlier; they were different even from the native peoples that the Virginia traders had encountered a hundred years earlier. For Oglethorpe encountered the great coalescent societies of the Late Historic Period, the Cherokees and the Creeks—societies quite experienced in dealing with Europeans. Their societies had been shaped by their experiences with Europeans and in response to the new world economy in which they now were enmeshed.
Kathryn E. Holland Braund, Deerskins and Duffels: The Creek Indian Trade with Anglo-America, 1685-1815 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993).
Robbie Ethridge and Charles M. Hudson, eds., The Transformation of the Southeastern Indians, 1540-1760 (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2002).
Charles M. Hudson and Carmen Chaves Tesser, eds., The Forgotten Centuries: Indians and Europeans in the American South, 1521-1704 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993).
Theda Perdue, Cherokee Women: Gender and Culture Change, 1700-1835 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998).
Theda Perdue, Slavery and the Evolution of Cherokee Society, 1540-1866 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1979).
Claudio Saunt, A New Order of Things: Property, Power, and the Transformation of the Creek Indians, 1733-1816 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999).
J. Leitch Wright Jr., Creeks and Seminoles: The Destruction and Regeneration of the Muscogulge People (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986).
Robbie Ethridge, University of Mississippi, Oxford
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