Native enslavement in the South
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Thanksgiving is coming soon! Some of us are particularly excited about it, while some folks tend to look at it as Black Friday Eve. Personally, I love so many things about the holiday.
It’s always a treasured time with family, and the menu is a strong part of it. I think the smells, the time spent cooking together and of course the shared meal at the end of all of it is just so special. Personally, one of my favorite memories is the James Bond marathon that would come on USA. I guess we all have different things that we cling to. There are also certain things about our history that we let slip.
The story of the first Thanksgiving is made up of so much that we have held on to, and just as much as we have let slip. What do we learn about Thanksgiving as children? In general, we learn that the pilgrims moved to the United States to pursue freedom from religious persecution. Luckily, they made friends with the Native Americans who willingly helped them along, and they supported one another. Everyone lived happily ever after, and this was celebrated by a shared meal of everyone’s ample resources.
The relationship between the Native Americans and the English pilgrims was not so co-supportive. I think most of us have an understanding of the relationship as less friendly visitor and more violent invader. There were facets of mutual aid between the Natives and the Pilgrims.
Among the numerous trade goods introduced to the Natives, guns were a tremendous commodity. While the Native Americans had found many ways to thrive, guns couldn’t be beat. Sadly, this became the lifeblood of the Native American slave trade.
Per a surprisingly in depth and well sourced summary on Wikipedia:
“Trade between Carolina colonists and native peoples was the core feature of the Carolina Colony from its founding in 1670 to the early 1700s. European colonists offered weapons, alcohol and manufactured goods in exchange for animal skins and Indian slaves. Charles Town (later Charleston, South Carolina) became a major port for exporting enslaved Indians. The profits from this trade system allowed for the Carolina colony to set up its plantations which mainly produced rice and indigo, and bringing with it the African slaves who would then work the plantations.”
Historian Peter H. Wood found that by 1708 South Carolina’s population totaled 9,580, including 4,100 African slaves and 1,400 Native American slaves. African men composed 45% of the slave population, while Native American women composed 15% of the population of adult slaves in colonial South Carolina.
Moreover, the Native American female populations outnumbered the Native American male population, and the African male population greatly outnumbered the African female population. This imbalance encouraged unions between the two racial groups, with many former slaves mentioning a notable Native American relative one or two generations before them.
The unions also led to an obvious, but unknown, number of mixed children of African and Indigenous bloodlines. By 1715 the Native American slave population in the Carolina colony was estimated at 1,850. Prior to 1720, when it ended the Native American slave trade, Carolina exported as many or more Native American slaves than it imported Africans.
Ironically, the other thing that we have let pass us by is that Thanksgiving was not even originally a holiday in celebration of the Pilgrims. Rather, it was meant as a time to raise morale following the Civil War by celebrating that for which we are grateful with family, thanks to the Lincoln administration.
I reckon what I’m trying to say is that it’s easy to let the important things pass us by. We can be grateful for the sequence of events that led to us being American citizens, for sure. I know I am. However, it is a deeper, truer pride if we can acknowledge openly that our circumstance of nation occurred as a result of the pain and suffering of others.
Similarly, we can reflect on how grateful we are for our family and friends. It is not always perfect, and a lifetime of family means pain and frustration as likely as joy, hope and love. Don’t just think up that for which you are thankful. Recognize and acknowledge everyone who helped you along the way, willingly or otherwise.