Christopher Columbus believed that Indians would serve as a slave labor force for Europeans, especially on the sugar cane plantations off the western coast of north Africa. Convinced that the Taino Indians of the Caribbean would make ideal slaves, he transported 500 to Spain in 1495. Some 200 died during the overseas voyage. Thus Columbus initiated the African slave trade, which originally moved from the New World to the Old, rather than the reverse.
By the beginning of the sixteenth century, Spain's experiments in enslaving Indians were failing. To meet the mounting demand for labor in mining and agriculture, the Spanish began to exploit a new labor force - slaves from western Africa.
Slavery was a familiar institution to many sixteenth-century Europeans. Although slavery had gradually died out in northwestern Europe, it continued to flourish around the Mediterranean Sea. Ongoing warfare between Christianity and Islam produced thousands of slave laborers, who were put to work in heavy agriculture in Italy, southern France, eastern Spain, Sicily, and eastern Europe near the Black Sea.
Most slaves in this area were "white" -- either Arabs or natives of Russia and eastern Europe. But by the mid-fifteenth century, the expansion of the Ottoman empire cut off the supply of white slaves. It was during the mid-fifteenth century that Portugal established trading relations along the West African coast, and discovered that it was able to purchase huge numbers of black slaves at a low cost - from the Africans themselves, who chose to make a profit off their enemies.
Several factors made African slaves the cheapest and most expedient labor source. The prevailing ocean currents made it relatively easy to transport Africans to the Caribbean. Further, because Africans came from developed agricultural societies, they were already familiar with highly organized tropical agriculture. The first African slaves were brought to the New World by the Spanish as early as 1501, where they would mine precious metals and raise sugar, coffee, and tobacco -- the first goods sold to a mass consumer market.
Thanks to its English-Caribbean colonial roots, South Carolina enslaved many more Africans than did North Carolina. Numbers are not easily obtained prior to 1700, but in a 1708 census there were approximately 3,000 African slaves in South Carolina - it is estimated that there were less than 500 in North Carolina at that same time. At the end of the Lords Proprietor's rule in 1729, South Carolina counted 40,000 African slaves, a full two-thirds of their entire population; North Carolina had 6,000 African slaves out of a total population of 36,000, or, one-sixth. Both colonies increased their numbers each year until slavery was finally abolished in 1865.
From the beginning of the existence of the Carolina colony, slavery was encouraged. Four of the eight Lords Proprietors of the colony were members of the slave trading company, the Royal African Company. In 1663, the Lords Proprietors encouraged settlers to have slaves by promising that they would be given 20 acres of land for every black male slave and 10 acres for every black female slave brought to the colony within the first year. This encouragement worked. By 1683, the black population was equal to the white population.
Like the other slave holding colonies, because of the sizeable slave population, South Carolina was in fear of slave insurrections. In order to help keep slaves from revolting, slave codes prohibited the sale of alcohol to slaves. In addition, to prevent cruelty to slaves, thereby dissuading rebellion, owners were prohibited from working slaves more than 15 hours between March 25 and September 25 and not more than 14 hours between September 25 and March 25.
North Carolina, on the other hand, had a large Quaker population that was opposed to slavery. Even though the slave population was small, Quakers established regular religious meetings for slaves and urged slaveholders to treat them well. In 1770, Quakers sought the prohibition of slavery. Unlike other slaveholding colonies, North Carolina did not have a concern about slave insurrections. There was not a slave rebellion until the 19th century.
From 1700 to the 1865, Charles Town (Charleston) was the primary port-of-call for slave ships, and more slaves passed through Charles Town than any other city in the English Colonies on the North American continent.
Charleston and Savannah quickly became the centers of this North American commercial slavery enterprise. In the latter half of seventeenth century, Native American nations throughout the South were played against each other in an orgy of slave dealing that decimated entire peoples.13 The Indian slave trade in the Carolinas, with these southern ports as their centers, rapidly took on all of the characteristics of the African slave trade. The Carolinians formed alliances with coastal native groups, armed them, and encouraged them to make war on weaker tribes deeper in the Carolina interior.
By 1693, the Cherokee had become objects of the slave trade to the extent that a tribal delegation was sent to the Royal Governor of South Carolina to protect the Cherokee from Congaree, Catawba, and Savannah slave-catchers.18 In 1705, the Cherokee accused the colonial governor of granting "commissions" to slave-catchers to "set upon, assault, kill, destroy, and take captive" Cherokee citizens to be "sold into slavery for his and their profit." 19 The Cherokee slave trade was so serious that it had, by the early half of the eighteenth century, eclipsed the trade for furs and skins, and had become the primary source of commerce between the English and the people of South Carolina.20
Africans and Native Americans shared the common experience of enslavement.25 In addition to working together in the fields, they lived together in communal living quarters, began to produce collective recipes for food and herbal remedies, shared myths and legends, and ultimately intermarried. Apart from their collective exploitation at the hands of colonial slavery, Africans and Native Americans possessed similar worldviews rooted in their historic relationship to the subtropical coastlands of the middle Atlantic.26 Considering historic circumstances, environmental associations, and sociocultural affiliations, the relationships among African Americans and Native Americans was much more extensive and enduring than most observers acknowledge. The intermarriage of Africans and Native Americans was facilitated by the disproportionate numbers of African male slaves to females (3 to 1) and the decimation of Native American males by disease, enslavement, and prolonged war against the colonists.27
During the intertribal wars encouraged by the English in order to produce slaves, the largest majority of those enslaved were women and children, in accordance with historic patterns of warfare among Native Americans.28 Therefore, the largest numbers of Native American slaves in the early Southeast were women; there were as much as three to five times more Native women than men enslaved.29 Slave owners often desired African men to work the fields paired with Native American women to also work the fields as well as help around the house.
As Native American societies in the Southeast were primarily matrilineal, African males who married Native American women often became members of the wife's clan and citizens of the respective nation. As relationships grew, the lines of racial distinction began to blur, and the evolution of red-black people began to pursue its own course. Many of the people known as slaves, free people of color, Africans, or Indians were most often the products of an integrating culture.32 Some aspects of African American culture, including handicrafts, music, and folklore, may be Native American rather than African in origin. The cultures of Africans and Natives intertwined in complex ways in the early Southeast, and material culture, like social organization, often reflected the blending of these two cultures.33
In areas such as Southeastern Virginia, the "Low Country" of the Carolinas, and around Galphintown34 near Savannah, Georgia, communities of Afro-Indians began to arise. The term "mustee" came to distinguish between those who shared African and Native American ancestry from those who were a mixture of European and African. Even after 1720, black and red Carolinians continued to share slave quarters and intimate lives; many wills continued to refer to "all my Slaves, whether Negroes, Indians, Mustees, Or Molattoes."35
As early as the latter years of the nineteenth century, ethnologists cited the deep relationship between African Americans and Native Americans. James Mooney in 1897 noted: "It is not commonly known that in all southern colonies Indian slaves were bought and sold and kept in servitude and worked in the fields side by side with negroes up to the time of the revolution... Furthermore, as the coast tribes dwindled they were compelled to associate and intermarry with the negroes until they finally lost their identity and were classified with that race, so that a considerable proportion of the blood of the southern negroes is unquestionably Indian."37 In his 1937 doctoral dissertation, James Hugo Johnston asserted, "The end of Indian slavery came with the final absorption of the blood of the Indian by the more numerous Negro slave. But the blood of the Indian did not become extinct in the slave states, for it continued to flow in the veins of the Negro."38
Excerpts from "all my Slaves, whether Negroes, Indians, Mustees, Or Molattoes" - Patrick Neal Minges