(October 25, 2018) — This is probably my final blog about the 17th Century and enslavement of Native Americans during that time. Unless something more comes to light that reveals additional ancestral involvement, this post rounds out my explorations into my 17th Century family roots. Just to review, I have learned that my ancestors participated in the enslavement of Native Americans, slaughtered indigenous people during the 17th Century and confiscated the land, the natural resources, and the livelihood of native people. That is not all they did, but it is a lot. To be sure, my ancestors faced difficult conditions and made choices to ensure their own survival at a time when the moral compass governing their choices was very different than my own.
I am again drawing heavily from Professor Newell’s book, Brethen By Nature: New England Indians, Colonists, and the Origins of American Slavery, published in 2015 by Cornell University Press. She writes, “Indian slavery became the forgotten story subsumed in the larger story of racialized slavery in both history and memory. But Indians were the charter generation. … New England colonists created a slave regime that purposely refrained from clearly identifying which populations were susceptible to slavery and the precise conditions that slaves would face” (p. 238). My ancestors were those colonists. They used the experience of enslaving Indians to help work through some of the legal and social mechanics associated with enslavement in general: fugitive slave laws, miscegenation laws, clarifying who “inherited” the status of being enslaved and those who did not, family autonomy — namely the theft of it by stealing children away to serve as families to whom their parents owed debts, and the foundation for perpetual chattel slavery based on race were all legal choices my ancestors made that ensured the continuing practice of enslavement.
In the aftermath of King Philip’s War, the three New England colonies enacted laws that required escaped slaves to be returned to their enslavers. As with any new law, it needed enforcement and strategies/agreements. So, the practice of enslaved people carrying passes when away from their enslavers’ property became common. The difference between indentured servants and enslaved people became clearer: indentured people were required to serve for a period of time and were largely European immigrants; some where Scots prisoners of war transported to the colonies as a punishment for crimes of rebellion in Scotland (like my 8 times great grandfather, Daniel Forbush). When enslaved Indians fled, it is entirely possible they knew where to go to seek safety, how to survive on the land, and which Indian tribes would help them, or more seriously, which would have returned them to their enslavers.
Enslavement in those days was an intimate arrangement in that the enslaved often lived in close proximity to their enslavers — that is not to say they lived in the same level of comfort, but that their duties often included the intimate care of the family and their domestic needs. Still, the numbers of Indigenous people eligible for enslavement was shrinking, so ensuring that children born to enslaved parents were enslaved perpetuated the status to future generations. In some cases, children were born from mixed parentage. Anti-miscegenation laws were established to ban this practice which resulted in children born to non-Europeans would have a marginalized status — read: potentially enslavable.
Another means of enslaving people was through criminal law and punishment for convictions. Indians who experienced poverty, and who were in debt, were sometimes required to pay off that debt through years of service. Poverty, in and of itself, was an economic reality imported from England through colonial practice of a monetized economy. Furthermore, Newell writes that “Blacks and Indians received harsher punishments and more frequent corporal punishment than Euro-Americans for identical crimes,” (p. 233).. that is still true in 2018. These laws are the scaffolding that supported American chattel slavery.
But, again, I want to avoid passive voice writing. So, let’s put some action into these words. Beyond formally owning enslaved people, accomplishing these goals of creating an economy that included enslavement “required the active participation of multiple town officials and tacit assent of many more colonists,” (Newell 2015, p. 221). And, “between 1685 and 1720, colonial governments passed a spate of legislation regarding people of color” to exploit, demean, diminish, and marginalize Indians and Africans. To profit from their captivity. To gain wealth, property, status, and influence at the end of gun, through the use of the lash, by deceptive treaties and agreements, etc. Of course. Power is a seductive thing, apparently. My ancestors understood that those who control the rules will reap the benefits of the system. It was their system. It was our families’ livelihoods, at the expense of thousands of others whose claim to the land, the region, and its natural resources my ancestors stole. Judges, magistrates, and other officials ratified these practices. Newell writes that “constables had to serve writs and arrest the Indians, punish them physically, and sell them at [auction]: juries and judges had to condemn them; neighbors had to testify against them, help capture them when they ran away, and otherwise reinforce the claimant’s ownership,” (p. 222). It took a whole village of leaders, working together, agreeing to terms, passing laws, enforcing those laws, paying the rewards for the scalps of murdered Indians, and profiting from the stolen labor of the enslaved.
My ancestors did this, directly and indirectly; fully and partially. Many of the records have been lost about precisely which of my ancestors did what to whom, but documentation as to who my ancestors were, where they lived, when they lived, and (in some cases) their occupations, survive.
My 17th Century ancestors in Massachusetts include:
Daniel and Rebecca (Perriman) Forbush
Edward and Agnes (Bent) Rice
Deacon Thomas and Dorcas (Rice) Forbush
Cornelius and Eunice (Forbush) Cook
Eleazer and Melatiah Metcalf
Eleazer and Judith Metcalf
Roger and Sarah Conant
Lot and Elizabeth (Walton) Conant
Nathaniel and Hannah (Mansfield) Conant
Nathaniel and Elisabeth (Hains) Conant
Samuel Edson I, II, and III
Robert and Christian (Turner) Carver
John and Millicent (Ford) Carver
Eleazer and Experience (Blake) Carver
Thank you for reading this. Next, I anticipate writing about early 18th Century Massachusetts and Maine.