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Louisiana Indians Enslaved and other places where the Indians were Whitewashed and Black Scrubbed

Two pictures of Tom Torlino, a member of the Navajo Nation, depicting him before and after his time at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, 1882.

Industrious Lumbee

Entwined Threads of Red and Black: The Hidden History of Indigenous Enslavement in Louisiana, 1699-1824 Leila K. Blackbird University of New Orleans

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After contact, these networks were also used by those settlers able to gain access to them. Frenchmen traded their goods up and down the Mississippi River into New France, in present-day Canada [Fig. 1].

13 Opelousas, the primary trading post located between colonial New Orleans and Natchitoches, was claimed by the French in 1720. It was there, during the mid-1760s, that a coureur de bois named Duchêne operated, buying and selling Native people to Frenchmen.

14 In 1765, Duchêne sold a young girl, 11 years and five months of age – referred to in the records solely as a prisoner of war, a “pure Indian squaw” – in the humid, backwater swamp at Barré Landing.

15 The buyer, Joseph Chrétien, called her Angélique, perhaps after his mother, Marie-Louise-Angélique Migneron.

16 Shortly after, Joseph also became the owner of a 3000-acre plantation, Chrétien Point, which was Opelousa-Atakapan tribal land, stolen and allotted through a royal land grant to Louis St. Germain.

17 There, Angélique gave birth to her daughter; fathered by the slave-trader Duchêne, Agnès was baptized a slave. 18 Duchêne later tried to buy Agnès from Joseph in exchange for another enslaved child, but he refused. Instead, Joseph enslaved multiple Natives in addition to Angélique and Agnès; faint documentary traces remain of Marie-Anne, Catherine, Narcisse, Thémier, Pierre, and Jeanne.19

1811 Slave Revolt begins at Andry Plantation in LaPlace with slaves marching along Mississippi River Road toward New Orleans. (Courtesy of folk artist Lorraine Gendron of Hahnville. An exhibit of the 1811 slave revolt created by Lorraine Gendron is on display at Destrehan Plantation.)

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In 1828, a freedom suit of a Black-Native woman of Natchez descent, named Marguerite Scypion, was heard by the Missouri State Supreme Court. An antecedent to the nowinfamous Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, Marguerite v. Chouteau ruled that Black people were prima facie “slaves by default” and that the descendants of Indians captured before 1769 were also lawfully enslaved.32

In fact, the enslavement of Natives remained legal in the U.S. until well after the Civil War.33 Angélique’s legacy – and the stories of the many thousands like her – may provide the reasons why. This study’s re-examination of slave records, compiled in Gwendolyn Midlo Hall’s Databases of Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy, further demonstrates that Indigenous enslavement in Louisiana did not end with the Spanish possession, nor with American rule [Fig. 2-6, 8].

In fact, a small minority of “full-blooded Indian slaves” were present in the records all the way into the Antebellum period, as were a larger number of enslaved Natives described by their enslavers as Black or mixed-race [Fig. 5-6]. 34 Out of 11,670 records of enslaved people not identified as “Black,” recorded in Louisiana parishes between 1770 and 1820, 760 people were recorded as “Indian” and 1,155 people were recorded as various categories of mixed-race Indians. The remaining records consist of people designated by their enslavers as “mulatto” and, due to the ambiguous racial labels applied to non-whites and the imprecise methodologies used when compiling records by colonial officials, this category also includes many Black-Native people whom deserve to be recognized as such.

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Frenchmen immediately enslaved Native Americans across New France, including Upper and Lower Louisiana. Although they came chiefly as traders to participate in and exploit the Native economy, French settlers saw no need to dramatically alter the systems already in place. Instead, they adapted Native cultural practices and manipulated Native trade and warfare to meet their own needs.52

They then implemented a form of cultural imperialism by routinely enslaving Native women, exercising marriage as sacrament and “Frenchification” as a transcendence of “savagery.”53 Vitally, none of the colonial records identify the thousands of Native women and young girls who were informally enslaved as unconsenting wives, or their children.

The widespread enslavement of Native Americans by the French culminated in the Natchez Uprising of 1729. Spanish judicial records, letters, succession inventories, property sales, and sacramental records reveal a complex picture of the continued enslavement of Native Americans from the French colonial period, as well as the “creolization” of their mixed-race descendants in Louisiana [Fig. 5-6]. 54

The Spanish Crown had previously established laws against Indian slavery across their empire, and O’Reilly issued a ban on the practice in the Louisiana after Spanish possession of the territory. White planter elites managed to circumvent O’Reilly’s order by using various racial designations to continue buying and selling enslaved people of Native descent, while also obstructing their access to manumission. The continuation of Indian slavery despite prohibition in Louisiana mirrored larger patterns exhibited elsewhere throughout the Spanish colonies.

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Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville’s subsequent war against the Chitimacha lasted until 1718.129 Slavery and slave-based economic models underpinned all of this bloodshed, and the captives produced by it formed the core of Louisiana’s first slave population.130 Enslaved Natives were first officially recorded in the Louisiana colony in the 1708 Census, which listed 80 “slaves all sauvages or sauvagesses from different nations.”131 By 1714, a couple of hundred enslaved people existed in the colony, almost all of whom were Indian. 132

In response to the increase in this population, the French Superior Council passed its own series of slave laws and regulations.133 Indian slavery was not only a large component of settlement plans, it played a central role in French mercantilism. Bienville, for example, later captured Native Americans and sold them into slavery in the French Caribbean at an exchange rate of two-for-one for enslaved Africans. He wrote that he believed it “accomplishes a great good for the colonists.”134 When Bienville’s older brother, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, tasked with locating the mouth of the Mississippi River by Louis Phélypeaux Comte de Pontchartrain, “discovered” the Biloxi Indians

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Pages 64-65 Great Highlights of Additional information

The Federal Writers' Project's Slave Narrative Project collected oral histories from thousands of formerly enslaved individuals in the United States in the 1930s. These narratives were designed to capture the stories and experiences of people who had lived through the era of American slavery, providing important insights into the lives of enslaved people and their families.

The term "Choctaw Indian" is used in a number of the narratives collected by the Federal Writers' Project, often in reference to the Indigenous heritage of the formerly enslaved individuals or their families. Here are a few ex