Slave Codes, Liberty Suits and the Charter Generation

Episode 12, Season 2

The Americas were built on the lands, labor and lives of Indigenous peoples. Despite being erased from history textbooks after the so-called first Thanksgiving, Indigenous peoples did not disappear. Colonial settlers relied on the cooperation, exploitation and forced labor of their Native neighbors to survive and thrive in what became North America. Focusing on New England, historian Margaret Newell introduces us to the Charter Generation of systematically enslaved people across this continent.


Earn professional development credit for this episode!

Fill out a short form featuring an episode-specific question to receive a certificate. Click here!

Please note that because Learning for Justice is not a credit-granting agency, we encourage you to check with your administration to determine if your participation will count toward continuing education requirements.

Subscribe for automatic downloads using:

Apple Podcasts | Google Music | SpotifyRSS | Help


Margaret Newell: Caesar ran away from his master, a blacksmith named Samuel Richards in 1739, and presented himself at the home of the local Justice of the Peace, Joshua Hempstead. And Caesar said he was a free man, and no man's slave, because his mother, a woman named Betty, had been, he claimed, wrongfully enslaved and kept in slavery so that he had been born a free man.

Margaret Newell: She was probably a Pequot Indian, and as a young girl had been separated from her family, made a refugee during King Philip's War, and sold at auction in New London. But these refugees were not to be sold as slaves for life. Many people who acquired Indians through these auctions in Connecticut and Rhode Island held them as slaves for life, and then tried to lay claim to their offspring. So this is basically what had happened to Caesar.

Margaret Newell: And Hempstead heard this case and he sent it to a jury. His community in New London decided that Caesar had been inappropriately enslaved and ordered his freedom. So Caesar won a jury trial.

Meredith McCoy: Caesar’s story reminds me of the importance of grounding our teaching of hard history in individual people’s lived experiences. Thinking about individual people helps us to remain focused on their humanity and dignity, and it also helps students remain engaged with the broader stories we're trying to tell.

Meredith McCoy: With my American Studies students at Carleton College, we've been reading City of Inmates, Kelly Lytle Hernández's fantastic new book. City of Inmates traces the history of incarceration in Los Angeles through the lens of settler colonialism. It's a story that begins with the Tongva people and their mistreatment at the hands of Spanish colonists, who introduced prisons as a way to police Indigenous bodies in an attempt to remove Tongva people from their homelands. Reading Hernández’s book, the connection between unfree forms of labor like enslavement, debt peonage, and chain gangs becomes clear.

Meredith McCoy: In the midst of talking about prisons as a violent system used in an attempt to eliminate Tongva—and later Chinese, Mexican, and Black—people, Hernández also tells stories of resistance. She talks, for example, about Native prisoners' many strategies for escaping from jail, and provides examples of Black-Native solidarity against incarceration. These are the stories that my students found most impactful during our class discussions. Using specific stories to connect structures of oppression with individual resistance helped them make sense of the hard history Hernández is telling.

Meredith McCoy: By bringing out these stories, Hernández develops what she calls a "Rebel Archive." She writes, "Grappling with conquest and elimination is a daunting task. How can historical perspective be helpful if it overwhelms us with the enormity of the work ahead?" Hernández goes on to say that the Rebel Archive "shows us more than conquest and elimination at play." It shows "resilience, protest, and rebellion—as it tenaciously documents how the criminalized, policed, caged, deported and kin of the killed have always fought back. They jimmied open the cages of conquest and stole away. They nursed the incarcerated. They took the settlers to court. They passed plans of revolution. They sang love songs. They charged the US government with genocide. And they set the city on fire."

Meredith McCoy: The Rebel Archive Hernández documents provides a model for how we might approach teaching the hard history of enslavement in our own classrooms. Continuing to center specific stories of the resistance of enslaved people provides us an opportunity to focus on their resilience. And as we do, the stark contrast between a system meant to dehumanize and individuals like Caesar who refused to become objects becomes all the more clear.

Meredith McCoy: I’m Meredith McCoy, and this is Teaching Hard History: American Slavery, a special series from Teaching Tolerance—a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. This podcast provides a detailed look at how to teach important aspects of the history of American slavery. In each episode we explore a different topic, walking you through historical concepts, raising questions for discussion, suggesting useful source material and offering practical classroom exercises.

Meredith McCoy: In our second season, we are expanding our focus to better support elementary school educators, to spend more time with teachers who are doing this work in the classroom, and to understand the often-hidden history of the enslavement of Indigenous people in what is currently the United States.

Meredith McCoy: Talking with students about slavery can be emotional and complex. This podcast is a resource for navigating those challenges, so teachers and students can develop a deeper understanding of the history and legacy of American slavery.

Meredith McCoy: In this episode, historian Margaret Newell examines the history of Indigenous enslavement in New England. In an interview with my co-host Hasan Kwame Jeffries, she tells us about the intimate cross-cultural relationships between English and other Europeans and the Indigenous peoples they were enslaving in their homes. We will look at important instances of resistance and resilience, as Native people used the settler legal system to secure their own freedom. And we will learn about some easy-to-access resources that you can use to teach these same stories in your classroom.

Meredith McCoy: I'm so glad you can join us.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I am really excited to welcome to the podcast, Margaret Newell, my friend, my colleague here at the Ohio State University, softball player extraordinaire. So Margaret, your areas of expertise include colonial and revolutionary history, Native American history. And when we think about colonial New England, we conjure in our mind certain images, a certain narrative about relationships between English colonists and settlers and Indian people. What is that narrative, and what are some of the problems with that?

Margaret Newell: One of the really pernicious narratives is the eradication of Indians from history. The assumption that they're sort of there for the Pilgrims, but they just go away. They cease to exist. They're overwhelmed by European technology, by European disease, by European superiority, and they just sort of disappear. The Indians are, in fact, essential to the survival of the colonial project and to the success of the colonial projects. You know, both through the kinds of voluntary help they gave, and for the involuntary help through slavery. Slavery is another testimony to the continued presence of Native Americans throughout the colonial period and their importance in colonial society, even though it's a very negative and involuntary participation. It's a way to restore Native Americans more generally to the story.

Margaret Newell: Including Indians helps us understand the regional differences and the regionality of African slavery in the Americas. In other words, it's a way to move away from the plantation complex as the only site of slavery, to think about other sites of slavery like the household. And to think about how maybe it was different to be an enslaved person in New England than it was to be an enslaved person in Barbados than it was to be an enslaved person in Virginia. And how was that different? And to be an enslaved person in Quebec or New Orleans or Santa Fe. You know, what things made it different?

Margaret Newell: Most enslaved people before 1700 everywhere are enslaved Indians. By the 18th century, there's been a big increase in the number of enslaved Africans entering New England, which had been dominated by Native Americans before then. The system of slavery in English America had become extremely developed. You know, elaborate legal codes created within these colonial legislatures in other regions. And there's so much travel, there's so much trade, there's so much engagement that New England colonial leaders and would-be colonial slaveholders know what the law is in other places, and they want to see their system brought in conformity with the changes they've seen elsewhere. So by the 18th century, the American colonists of English descent had created a full-blown slave system: hereditary slavery, chattel slavery, dehumanizing laws. And, you know, the question in New England was whether those laws would end up applying there as well. So they applied some, not others. They really kind of parse the system and make some changes, but resist others, including making slavery hereditary. So it's partly the influence of this global slave trade, these shared practices, that are not just English by this period, that are also in Spanish America, French America as well, this consensus, slave-holding consensus.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: But there's an influence as well between Native populations in New England on English populations in New England. In other words, there's a cultural exchange that's going back by the time you get to 1739, century-plus. And a political exchange and allies, and I mean conflict. So is that influencing some of this decision-making as well?

Margaret Newell: So all through the first decades of colonization in New England, there are a lot of complicated relationships between English and Indians, but many of them are relationships of trade, of alliance, of mutual interests, of communication, of mutual aid in warfare, and of kind of daily interactions. People often think of Indians and colonists as being—you know, living in very separate zones. And maybe they come together on this thing called the frontier. But, you know, people were in and out of each other's homes all the time. The English settled as close to the Indians as they could. They farmed Indian fields. They dug up Indians' caches of corn and other goods, and that's how they survived the first couple of years in Plymouth. You know, the Indians help, the Indians trade. All these things are what made colonization possible. So there's proximity amongst these settlements from the start.

Margaret Newell: And there's lots of interactions. I have all sorts of examples of Indians wandering in and out of English houses and vice versa. You know, some scholars look at the rhetoric surrounding warfare between Europeans and Native Americans and see, you know, cultural dislike, demonization, othering of Native Americans. And I look at the record and I see something very different and much more complex. So I think in times of great tension, the English might use, you know, very extreme language in describing Native Americans, dehumanizing, demonizing language, but they use that language to describe the French in times of extreme warfare as well. You know, I agree with those historians that don't see race as the main way in which people understood and identified and thought about people of other races and ethnicities that they were encountering. Instead, I actually think that the English thought of the Indians as people like themselves, which makes their decision to enslave them to me all the more complicated and problematic and in need of explanation. These aren't people being brought to them as slaves already. These are people that they are actively enslaving and continued to do so through the whole colonial period, sometimes in very personal ways. You know, sometimes they're enslaving people that they know, that are neighbors, that they might have interacted with in other ways before they enslaved them. So, you know, this is a highly personal set of decisions involved in enslavement. But I don't think it has to do with viewing the Indians as the ultimate others by any means.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: When you place sort of Indian slavery against, or up against in comparison with African enslavement here, we often think about sort of African enslavement or enslavement of African people being sort of the dominant set force. But as you were pointing out, I mean, it's majority enslaved Indians for the longest time. And so in a way, it's kind of a beginning, as opposed to sort of an offshoot of African enslavement. You've written about it or called it the charter generation.

Margaret Newell: Right. I borrowed that term from the great historian Ira Berlin. For him, for Berlin, the charter generation were Creolized, you know, enslaved Africans, people who'd acquired European languages and had maybe passed through a number of different slave societies before they arrived in North America. But I argue that the Indians are the charter generation, and charter generations, really. So you have several generations of enslaved Indians in New England and in Virginia too, before they're outnumbered by the importation of enslaved Africans in the 18th century.

Margaret Newell: And I think this is important to think about for a number of reasons. One is that the presence of these Indians shapes the system of slavery. So New England's first out of the gate with the slave code. 1641, Massachusetts, is the first law of slavery in English America. Before Barbados lays out a complete code, you know, before Virginia. And Virginia in the 1640s will begin creating law by law, bit by bit, a code that distinguishes servants of African and Indian descent, but it's going to take several decades before that system's fully developed. So New England's first out of the gate with its slave code. But it's a very vague slave code, the hereditary nature of slavery was not encoded into law in New England, that children would be enslaved after their parents. Doesn't mention race. It really mentions who can and cannot be enslaved. Who can be enslaved, who are captives, people condemned to slavery by the legal authorities. You know, those are the categories of people who are enslavable.

Margaret Newell: And Indians fit both bills, because the colonists had just engaged in a major war against Native Americans in 1637 and 1638, had taken captives, had brought them into their homes. So I think that this law is meant to distinguish Indian captives from the kinds of English indentured servants that had been the main labor source, up until then. And that's published, the New England law code. The Massachusetts colonial legislature, the various laws that it passes are in published form, and they're actually available on a number of online platforms. The language will be a little archaic, but you could print some of these things out and take them to your classes, and maybe put them alongside some of the documents on African slavery in Virginia and so on that you have. You could pair those codes and that can be very interesting.

Margaret Newell: Labor's one of the central challenges facing colonial societies. It can never get enough labor. They always want labor, but they don't want to satisfy those labor demands in a free labor market. They don't want to pay people the wages that they would have to pay them in a free labor market. So they're choosing systems that bind people, whether be indentured servitude or slavery. The other problem New England faces is that indentured servants don't really want to go there after 1640 and even a little bit before. It's got a bad reputation as being Puritan, as being repressive religiously, as being a place where there's sort of harsh treatment. And both of those are true. And it's not viewed as a place where one gets rich quickly. So Virginia has a reputation also as a deathtrap and a place of political oppression, as does Barbados. But in both those places, you know, there are stories of former servants becoming rich planters. So, I mean, I think the dream of escaping servitude and then ending up as a wealthy person's more part of the attractive propaganda of Virginia and Barbados.

Margaret Newell: So by the mid- to late-17th century, there's also a lot more places to go to in English America. You can go to Pennsylvania and not have to do compulsory military service, enjoy religious toleration, etc. So New England's not attracting that much immigration. When the first generation of servants that they brought with them finish their terms, these people do not want to work for wages. They don't want to be bound again as servants. So the New England colonists really are facing a labor shortage. And their response to that shortage is to enslave Indians. So this is how Indians become the majority slave population, and why New England becomes a place that develops the legislation first. And the other part of your question about the charter generation, too, is other sorts of intimate relationships between English and Europeans. More than the visits to each other's homes and more than the shared trade and material life and occasional shared interests and diplomacy, you know, many of these English families have Indians living in their homes with them. And the most intimate relationships of sleeping together, of eating together, of socializing together. And of accounts of some of these early families in Connecticut and in Massachusetts and in Long Island—which was settled by New Englanders—of people who can speak Native American languages because there had been a Native American woman raising them, cooking for the family, so that they acquired Algonquian or Iroquoian language growing up in their homes. Of the fact that these early New Englanders when they reminisce about their childhoods, what food do they talk about? They talk about samp, which is a cornmeal mush or a kind of stew that might be flavored with squash, pumpkin, also Native American food. Or venison. Venison caught by Native Americans, most likely.

Margaret Newell: So I mean, even when people are reminiscing about their early childhoods and their early lives, they're reminiscing about maple sugar, all these things that Native Americans introduced into the foodways of New Englanders. So we don't think about cultural exchange in Indian slavery, and we just don't know as much about it as we do about African influence on the larger American culture. So it's a field that people have worked in for a long time, and have revealed quite a bit about those exchanges. And we've just begun to ask those questions about the Native American influence on the larger New England culture. And I'd say it's profound. Beyond foodways, I think we could point to even, you know, religion. Often those scholars have long sort of looked at New England ceremony and had seen kind of a shift from a very stripped-down ceremonial life to a much more elaborate one. So usually, we ascribe that change to changes in Europe, the influence of the Baroque, the influence of similar shifts in larger English culture.

Margaret Newell: But Heather Kopelson and other historians have pointed to the fact that maybe this is just constant contact with Native Americans. You know, they're baking the communion bread that people are consuming in their Puritan church rituals every weekend. You know, they're holding funerals that are extremely elaborate. And over time, Puritans start holding more elaborate funerals. Is this because of the influence of the European Baroque? Or because they're going to Indian funerals and thinking, you know, there's something spiritually meaningful about commemorating death in a more elaborate way than we have been? So I think we can start thinking about those questions and asking those sorts of questions.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: The cultural exchange or the cultural influence really has me wondering about what kind of work were enslaved Indians doing in Colonial America.

Margaret Newell: Well, the other thing that I think is very interesting about Indian slavery in New England, and I think it's worth talking about in a larger context, is that most of the enslaved were working in households, and in fact, the majority of enslaved people in what would become the United States worked in households. We know much more about plantation slavery because plantations kept better records. But the majority of the enslaved through the Civil War actually lived and worked in households. And their experiences could be very different from the experiences of people in large plantations. You know, socially they might be more isolated. They might be the only person of color or one of a couple of people of color within the household. They'd also be living with the Euro-American family in the same household, you know, sleeping in the same rooms, eating at the same table, much more likely to be engaging in daily interaction and intercultural exchange with that family.

Margaret Newell: They were going to be doing the same kinds of work that the master's family did. So for women this meant taking care of children, washing, cooking, maybe taking care of a garden right outside the house. But for Native American women, this meant learning new skills. They were going to have to learn dairying, the care of domestic animals, the making of cheese and butter, things that weren't part of their earlier existence. Women were the homebuilders, the agriculturalists. For Native Americans, that was going to have to be men's work for a person enslaved on a New England farm. So this meant lots of changes for men and their work, too. They were going to have to become agricultural workers. So for Native Americans, this was going to force some adjustments and changes, and sometimes very difficult ones, and their expectations about what it meant to be a man or a woman.

Margaret Newell: Men also worked as soldiers. So these people who were fighting the Colonial wars, including the French and Indian War, including wars against Native American groups on the northern frontier of New England, as many as 20 percent of the forces that Colonial militias deployed and the provincial forces, which were more professionalized, they were sort of in-between a militia and the British regulars, 20 percent of those forces could be Native Americans at any given time. So they're a crucial fighting force. Some of those people are going to be enslaved, some of them are going to be free, who were participating as soldiers.

Margaret Newell: They were fishermen. They were the first whalers. So they're participating in very valuable industries. Men and women, enslaved Indian men and women, and free Indian men and women worked in the first ironworks in Connecticut and Massachusetts, too. So, you know, some basic industry as well. They were interpreters. They were messengers. The English were notoriously terrified of going any more than a few miles from their homes, got lost all the time. You know, really found it difficult to navigate the territory. They had difficulty orienting themselves, had difficulty dealing with forests, woods, swamps, other sorts of topography that—you know, England was largely a deforested country by the time a lot of these people had come. So they're very terrified of the woods, finding their way. So they needed Indians to be guides, and they needed Indians to help them communicate with other settlements. So the Indians were the ones who were carrying messages between colonial leaders, between towns, you know, between colonies, over land. Just generally being, you know, a Native American mail service essentially, that was helping keep this empire and colonial society together.

Margaret Newell: So those are kind of the typical sorts of things. But they might—you know, they would build boats, they would make shingles, you know, prepare livestock for export, do everything that made the New England economy hum and that allowed households to survive and thrive. So, you know, the survival, and the thriving of these Colonial societies was dependent on the labor of enslaved people.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: The survival was more than just a meal on Thanksgiving, apparently.

Margaret Newell: That's right. That's right. It was every day, which was apparent, you know, there was a lot of gunfire at that first Thanksgiving too. Celebratory, but you know ...

Meredith McCoy: This is Teaching Hard History: American Slavery, and I'm your host Meredith McCoy. Along with this podcast, you can find our new, first-of-its-kind K-5 framework for teaching slavery to elementary students, including: 20 age-appropriate "essential knowledge" sections, over 100 primary source texts, and six inquiry design models – at Here’s Hasan Kwame Jeffries and Margaret Newell.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: What's the impact of Indian enslavement on Indian communities?

Margaret Newell: Well, I think the impact is devastating. I think Indian slavery is important to think about for many of the reasons we very talked about: their contribution to the economy, you know, its role in warfare, it's both a product and a cause of warfare of many of the Indian wars, within so-called Indian wars and American colonial history have slavery at the root, the desire for captives on the part of the Europeans. You know, it's part of the demographic catastrophe. You know, you have families separated. You have children taken from their parents. You know, you have men deployed in very high-risk, high-mortality kinds of activities. So fishing. You know, fishing was the most deadly thing you could do is—you know, fishing and warfare are the two most high death-rate professions in early America.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And by fishing, you don't mean just casting a reel.

Margaret Newell: I don't mean—no, I mean, you know, trying to take down a whale in an open boat and going on a fishing vessel. It's not even—it's the accidents. It's falling. It's, you know, having stuff fall on you. It's drowning. All those things. So those were sort of always high-risk professions. And then warfare. And then separation. If men are being deployed in these things, you know, fishing was something you were attached to a boat. You might be away for years. Or you might be a sailor. You might be sent to the Caribbean or something like that, where you ran the danger of being illegally enslaved and sold there. And all these things happen. So all these things undermine Native American households, undermine their subsistence, undermine their ability to reproduce and maintain culture, too. So it's demography, it's the maintenance of culture, it's the maintenance of community and tradition. And for people for whom kinship is everything, is identity, is an extreme central value of their society. So this kinship's just being put under so much stress and strain.

Margaret Newell: So, you know, you've got all different sorts of, you know, political, social, cultural and personal losses arising from enslavement. But, you know, in terms of the effects of slavery on Indians, it's a story about change over time. Slavery's a constant threat for the free Indians who remain the majority population in New England. The other element of Indian slavery is there's always large populations of free Indians nearby. It is not a situation, as with African slavery in the first few generations where most Africans are enslaved. Not all. There's always some free people of color, but most are enslaved. That's not the case for Native Americans, right? There's always substantial communities of free Native Americans, even in the areas of densest enslavement. And of course, there are powerful Native American confederacies surrounding all colonial outposts. The Spanish, French and English are surrounded by, you know, large, powerful, threatening Native American alliances with population and power.

Margaret Newell: So I mean, you've got kind of a complicated geopolitical situation. So for Native Americans, you know, I think in New England, the threat of slavery is a tool that the English use to threaten entire groups, to push them into alliance, to demand tribute, you know, giant cash payoffs. To terrorize individuals and families, to force people off land, to punish people who are really protesting illegal takings of their land and property, or takings of their goods, who might, you know, take livestock that have strayed onto their cornfields and are destroying their corn. Those Native Americans who take actions like that could find for themselves face charges, fines and enslavement as a result. So slavery is a form of control, and a threat towards the free population that permits other sorts of dispossessions. So it's part of this system of colonization. It's part of the demographic pressure Native Americans are under. And we see that happening in New England.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: You know, in thinking about some of the parallels and similarities between Indigenous enslavement and African-American enslavement, I'm drawn to ideas of resistance and examples of resistance. And one of the ways in which enslaved African-Americans resisted slavery was by using the law and filing lawsuits. Not often, but where they could. We think about different places in late-colonial era, Revolutionary era in Massachusetts, of course, Dred Scott.

Margaret Newell: Mm-hmm.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: But those weren't the first lawsuits to be filed by people who were enslaved in America. Native Americans did something very similar.

Margaret Newell: They did. And in fact, I found a number of cases. One of the cases I became very interested in involved a man named Caesar. Caesar ran away from his master, a blacksmith named Samuel Richards in 1739, and presented himself at the home of the local Justice of the Peace, Joshua Hempstead. And Caesar said he was a free man and no man's slave. Using strong language, he claimed to be a free person because his mother, a woman named Betty, had been, he claimed, wrongfully enslaved and kept in slavery, so that he had been born a free man. She was probably a Pequot Indian, and as a young girl had been separated from her family, made a refugee during King Philip's War. Many Native Americans who just were fleeing from the war, non-combatants, were rounded up by colonial forces and sold at auction. So she was sold at a dockside auction in New London and was purchased by a ship's captain. And when this man died, Betty became the property of the widow. And when she remarried a ship's captain from Long Island, his name was Thomas Young, Betty was brought to Long Island. There she entered into a relationship with an enslaved man in the household of the ship's captain.

Margaret Newell: These refugees were not to be sold as slaves for life. Connecticut law had set a limit. Connecticut established sliding age scales. So young children might be held in slavery for anywhere from 15 to 30 years, but they were supposed to be freed at the end of that term. But many people who acquired Indians through these auctions in Connecticut and Rhode Island just simply failed to free them at the end of their set period and held them as slaves for life, and then tried to lay claim to their offspring. So this is basically what had happened to Caesar, that he had been taken, trafficked into a different colony in New York. You know, all these things contributed to Betty's loss of freedom and therefore Caesar's loss of freedom.

Margaret Newell: And Hempstead heard this case and he sent it to a jury. Then begins a long court battle in which Caesar gained the backing of a number of lawyers. So he had legal representation. He had people that supported his case and helped him make his case. And Joshua Hempstead was the kind of person that a man like Caesar might not have known what kind of hearing he would get. This took place in New London, Connecticut, which was the county that had the highest proportion of enslaved people of any county in Connecticut. So it's a hub of the slave trade. Hempstead himself owned an African slave. He had, as Justice of the Peace, had sold Native Americans at auction. Because of fines they had received from courts, he had bought Native Americans at auction to work for him at similar auctions or taken Native Americans as laborers in lieu of his pay. He trafficked in enslaved Africans and sold them to his neighbors. So this was a man, a farmer, a family man, and someone deeply embedded into the economy of slavery, as many of his fellow New Londoners were.

Margaret Newell: And his community in New London decided that Caesar had been inappropriately enslaved and ordered his freedom. So Caesar won a jury trial. His master, you know, fought this case vociferously, and appealed as far as he could within the Connecticut colonial system, but Caesar remained at large. Caesar's case, and the case of many other people who bring freedom suits is made possible by the fact that enslaved people in New England retained the right to testify in court. And that's a right that was stripped from them in many other slave societies over time by the late-1600s and early-1700s. Many enslaved Africans and Indians elsewhere had lost that right to appear in court.

Margaret Newell: Getting back to your initial point about some of the similarities between Indian slavery and African slavery too, Hasan, is that the other thing I've recently discovered about Caesar is that he also sued for reparations. So Caesar sued again a few years later as Caesar Freeman, demanding payment for all the years he had worked for Samuel Richards as an unpaid laborer. And he received a settlement. Whether he was actually able to collect it from Richards is another question. But, you know, this case also showed, again, jury sympathy with Caesar and with the illegality of his enslavement. So then in other words, this was a man who had a sort of standing in the community, and he had friends of many races. He had a lot of social capital. And that interested me too, the idea that many of these enslaved Native Americans and bi-racial people were really embedded in their communities. And that these communities had begun to question the morality and legality of slavery in colonial America as early as the 1730s and even earlier than that.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: So should we read into the jury's sympathy, as you put it, as I'm sure some would, as colonial New England being really abolitionist, right? I mean, being—at the heart of it, they were really just anti-slavery and just waiting for the moment. And every chance they got, they just freed people. I mean, is that the way we should read this?

Margaret Newell: No, no. I don't think so at all. And, you know, just think about Joshua Hempstead. Caesar's case didn't make Joshua Hempstead go out and free the enslaved African man in his own household. And it didn't make Hempstead stop participating in the slave trade himself. And, you know, Hempstead kept a diary. It's a great source of information about everyday life in New England. And this diary's published, too. So for you teachers looking for documents, the diary of Joshua Hempstead is published. You could photocopy pages and share it with your students. But he also had a long essay about a woman who lived in the household of a neighbor who had been also a child captive in King Philip's War. And when she died, he actually wrote a long eulogy for her. And nowhere in this eulogy did he mention the fact that his fellow Justice of the Peace had kept this woman as a slave and not freed her her whole life, even though both of them knew what the law was, and both of them know that she should have been freed. And litigation surrounding her children and grandchildren continued for decades afterwards.

Margaret Newell: And so, you know, these people actually know they're operating in a moral and ethical and legal gray area and they continue to do so. So what I'd say that Caesar's case shows is a shifted opinion, and that's exemplified by the jury verdict and also by the lawyers who represented him. So I mean, I think there's a group within New England society that's starting to question slavery. And they're putting together arguments, and they're sharing arguments and strategies with one another. But this is a movement that enslaved people are pushing themselves, that communities of color are pushing and initiating, aided by a small group of English colonists who also are starting to question slavery more broadly. So I mean, it's the beginning of what's a slow process.

Margaret Newell: What's interesting is that these sorts of freedom cases like Caesar's, like others that I found in this period, that many of them make it to the colonial legislatures. The colonial legislatures were the courts of last appeal. They were sort of like the Supreme Court. And in Connecticut, in the era where suits like Caesar's are being appealed to the colonial legislature, there's a tremendous debate over these cases at that level. And they really don't want to rule. They don't want to make a decision because there's a sizable population that not only wants to keep slavery, but wants to make it harsher. They wanted to bring New England slavery into conformity with the way slavery was practiced by then in Virginia and Barbados and elsewhere. They want to strip the enslaved from the few rights they retained, like the right to bring cases to court, for example. And they want to lay out that the children of enslaved people will be enslaved after them. These are areas that remained vague or unspecified in New England law.

Margaret Newell: But there's also a faction that doesn't want to do these things. Just doesn't really want to abolish slavery, but feels that because the majority of the enslaved had been Native Americans and there were so many Native Americans implicated in slavery, that they are uncomfortable with going all in and creating a slave regime that will strip these people of humanity and make it a perpetual system. So those are the factions that I see battling. And the result is a non-decision, is a recognition that people are being abused within the system in violation of the law. But at the same time, their sole desire not to engage in the, you know, kind of most nakedly exploitative aspects of slavery and to encode that into local law either. So I'd say that's more of the—that's kind of the spectrum that I see in operation. And these are English colonists who will be very uncomfortable with any law that implicates Indians and anti-miscegenation laws. They might go along with laws prohibiting intermarriage between Africans and English, but they don't want that law to include Indians. So this is also an anti-slavery movement that's maybe parsing ethnicity a little bit, and may be more comfortable with laws that dehumanize Africans and less comfortable with laws that are dehumanizing Indians in these situations.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And what's driving that? I mean, what is driving the need to distinguish between Native Americans and Africans in this situation?

Margaret Newell: I think it's partly demography. The 18th century is the high tide of importation of enslaved Africans into the English colonies. So this is really transforming the demography of slavery. And it loops back to the jury in Caesar's case and why they sided with him. I think a century of cohabitation is influencing those jurors in the courtroom that freed Caesar. But I think some of those sentiments and feelings had been there from the earliest encounters with Native Americans. There's a long court case involving a woman named Betty Cohees. This man on whose land she lives, Christopher Champlin, is really trying to get control of Betty's labor. But ultimately, he's actually trying to enslave this free Indian woman. And she fights this effort over a period of a decade. And he's trying to enslave her for debt, for her husband's debt. And when I look at the papers for this case, that lots of English people file depositions. And, you know, what they really talk about is all the different times they came and visited Betty and her husband Peter in their wigwam. This is the language people use. People are over at these people's house all the time. The English neighbors come over, they hang out, they talk, they eat grapes. You know, they admire Peter's gun. When Peter dies, many English neighbors attend his Indian funeral. This involved a feast and dances that went on for 10 days.

Margaret Newell: So I mean, this is daily life in New England, is to interact with Native Americans in a variety of ways, to actually observe their religious culture, you know, observe their ceremonies, to communicate and form relationships. And in fact, I think it's in some ways it's the very familiarity with Native Americans that enhances their value as slaves, because these are often—you know, they do the work. They know how to do the work. They're, you know, familiar with these households. So that kind of familiarity is part of the story.

Meredith McCoy: This is Teaching Hard History: American Slavery. We can see in New England how the desire for cheap, bonded labor was tied to early colonial interests. To understand more about the systemic role of slavery and colonialism and it’s modern-day permutations, be sure to listen to episode two of this season, Indigeneous Enslavement, Part 1 with Historian Christina Snyder. Again, here’s Hasan Kwame Jeffries and Margaret Newell.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: The question that came to mind as you were talking was about, thinking as a teacher, the ways in which teachers can use law in this colonial era in New England in comparison and contrast, to teach about Indian slavery. And we talked about Caesar and filing the freedom suit, and I'm thinking about, as you described, these pressures that Native American communities are under. And obviously, if you're an enslaved Indian, you're under an extraordinary amount of pressure as well. But pairing the two, this consistent pressure, and yet we see these cases, these examples of resistance. What are some of the other ways in which enslaved Indians are resisting, and free Native communities may be resisting the enslavement of their people as well?

Margaret Newell: Well, a little earlier I mentioned this case of Betty Cohees and how I'd found—I got a lot of things out of looking at her long, legal fight to avoid becoming an involuntary servant or slave of the Champlin family. And not just that she had lots of different sorts of relationships with English neighbors, but also that she paid a terrible price for fighting to protect her own slavery. She basically bound her two sons to another English neighbor, who provided her with legal advice and legal support and allowed her to pay and maintain this case. So, you know, a sad outcome. But at the same time, she did everything she could to maintain touch with those boys. And when her husband died, when their father died, she negotiated leave for them to come and attend important rituals surrounding his death. So those boys were given two weeks to come and participate in the funeral and the ceremonies that surrounded it. And I found other examples of people negotiating with their owners similar sorts of things.

Margaret Newell: So there's a man in Massachusetts in the 17th century who negotiated the right to go visit his wife for a couple of weeks every year. Now the contract specified that if he overstayed he would lose his privilege. I mean, you know, these negotiations also are ways of, you know, maintaining control over the situation. There's a cost to the negotiation. But the negotiations to me suggested ways in which Native Americans articulated what was important to them, which was family, and really worked to try to protect and preserve language and ceremonial life, religious life and kin ties.

Margaret Newell: So people, you know, parents made titanic efforts to try to stay in touch with children and family members who were taken away from them or were enslaved. Mothers who were forced in a situation where they had to bind their children out, would try to participate in that system and oversee it to the extent that they could. So, you know, these contracts in which people—so Indian slavery could take many forms. So it could be people, particularly in the 17th century who were war captives, taken in war, taken during wartime during all this confusion, and auctioned off by colonial authorities, or just kept as tribute or booty by the people participating in these wars. So individuals would just take captives and take them home with them as part of their payment for military service. So you've got all these—warfare brings all these people into enslavement.

Margaret Newell: But then the colonial legal system becomes another way that people become enslaved, particularly in the 18th century, but already by the 17th century. All of these threats of slavery that I'd mentioned earlier became real in colonial courtrooms. Once the English colonists were in a position to, through conquest, through warfare, to exert sovereignty over more and more Native Americans, and then claim that they were subjects of English colonial societies, then they could compel these people into court. So, you know, protecting your land might bring a charge of trespassing. You'd have to pay a fine. If you couldn't pay the fine, you'd be sentenced to servitude. You'd be sold at a public auction to pay that fine, plus court costs, plus all these other fines and moneys that would be added to your debt. If you borrowed money as a relative was sick with the, you know, European disease for medicine and you couldn't pay the bill, you could be sold to pay that bill. Or you might have to put a child—you know, sell a child essentially into indenture to pay those bills to keep you free as the breadwinner. So the courts become engines of enslavement, and these become almost entirely racialized situations.

Margaret Newell: So in the 17th century, some English people might be sold at—you know, sold to pay these sorts of debts. And by the 18th century, it's much less common to see that happening for the English. So it's really, you know, people of color who are being sentenced to servitude by the courts. So under those circumstances, I see parents just making sure these contracts have a beginning and an end. That they provide for the children, that there is something in those contracts about food, about apparel, about good care, about training, about literacy. So you can tell the difference between a contract in which a parent's not present and a parent is present. And so I see parents, you know, in terrible circumstances still trying to work the system and get the best sort of—best protection for their children. Parents of children who have been bound into service, the children who are bound into service. A woman in Bristol, so now part of Massachusetts, goes to court because she hears that the man who owns the child's indentures is about to sell this child to another colony. Now once you're out of the locality, anything can happen. So parents trying to sue to just prevent sale of their children outside of the colony, to keep them close, where they can help them and protect them from all these abuses that could occur.

Margaret Newell: So those are ways that—you know, some forms of resistance. You know, other forms of resistance, you know, involved the classic damage to tools or the modes of work. People sometimes run away for short periods of time. You know, just sort of take—you know, take breaks. They tried to retain some control over their own social lives, and created spaces of sociability. So they could be attics, these other sort of almost little private taverns that were kind of known, particularly in urban areas, but in rural areas too, back porches where people could go get a drink, but also socialize with free people, free people of color, you know, fellow enslaved Indians and Africans and working-class English people. English colonists would also show up at these group activities. So there were, you know, areas of sociability and sometimes places to carve out independent life. People created households and got married, you know, and through relationships tried to carve out some independence and to resist slavery that way. I've also found more violent forms of resistance, of infanticide, of child murder, of, you know, arson and other kinds of ways that the enslaved resisted slavery.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: How about flight?

Margaret Newell: Yes, definitely runaways. So even though running away is not as easy as scholars used to think, scholars writing about slavery used to claim that the Indians weren't enslaved because they didn't make good slaves, because they died too easily, or because it was just too easy for them to get away, so the colonists didn't bother. The colonists made it tough to run away. They imposed fugitive slave laws from the earliest period of capture and enslavement. So the treaties that followed the Pequot War in 1638 spelled out enormous fugitive slave penalties for any free Native American groups, even those that had allied with the English in that war. If they sheltered runaways, they themselves could be enslaved. So they really—and they went after runaways. So they sent, you know, interpreters. They went out, you know, got local contacts to go try to find these runaways. But in all of these conflicts and all of these cases over the years, people did run away.

Margaret Newell: There are other cases of runaways. In the early 1700s, the New England colonies, you know, sort of thwarted in their ability to take captives, enslave Indians in the Northeast, began to import Indians from other areas in which English colonial expansion involved slaving and the slave trade. A number of Spanish Indians in Penobscot, Maine, stole a boat and tried to sail it back to St. Augustine, Florida, and had to be captured at sea, basically. A group of Spanish Indians collaborated in a mass escape with some enslaved Africans in Sandy Hook, New Jersey, and stole a ship that had guns mounted. And they also had to be tracked down by—a British naval frigate basically had to stop them. But they were headed back home. So I mean, people were trying to get back home, which is pretty interesting. And there were two sort of mass escapes in Boston involving Spanish and Carolina Indians. And I actually have—I can read one of these newspaper ads for you if you want.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Please. Please.

Margaret Newell: So this particular event, I believe it's from 1711. So it's, "Ran away from their masters at Boston on Friday the 14th of this instant, September, the following Indians: from the Reverend Mr. Samuel Miles, a Carolina Indian man named Toby, age about 20 years of age, of middle stature." And then the ad goes on to talk about the fact that Toby has four suits of clothes with him. Clothing's extremely expensive. It's actually a great thing to bring when you run away because it can be fenced and sold and you could use it to make money along the way. Plus, you could do a few costume changes. So a lot of runaways bring extra clothes with them, because that's sort of bringing money with you to a certain extent. Toby's got, you know, a black hat with silver lace and all kinds of other things with him. "From the Honorable Colonel Thomas Savage, a Carolina Indian woman named Jenny, about 40 years of age, pretty, thickset woman." And Jenny's got a number of—a couple of dresses and petticoats and different sorts of things with her. "From Mr. John Stanford Taylor, a Carolina Indian woman named Palice." Talks about what she's got on. "From Mr. John Beecham, a leather dresser, a Spanish Indian man named Manue." I wonder if that's Manuel. It's hard to say. "Aged about 19 years of age." And also their descriptions. And there's four or five more people involved in this particular escape.

Margaret Newell: And, you know, this ad tells you who they're working for, too. One of them is in the household of a very well-known minister. So the people who are likely to own Indian slaves were the wealthiest and most prominent people in these societies. Were the first adopters. So Governor John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts owned nine Indian slaves, has them in his draft will. Massachusetts, established in 1630, he's got nine slaves by the time he drafts his will in 1639. He's got four different estates on land that had been Indian land. And he deploys these people amongst these different estates. So the same thing's true in the 18th century. It's Samuel Miles, a well-known minister. It's Thomas Savage, you know, also an important figure in colonial politics. It's the tailors, it's the leather dressers. You know, so this also gives you a sense of what these people might have been doing in these households. The newspapers also tell me what skills people have, you know? And give me a sense of what kinds of work people are doing. And show me that by this period, you know, Native Americans know how to do dairying. They're advertised as knowing how to do dairying. They're advertised as knowing how to do the kinds of needlework that European people expect. So they bring not only their own skill set of management of resources unique to New England, cooking resources, you know, hunting resources, medicinal resources, they bring this huge skill set to these households, but they've also acquired all these new skills.

Margaret Newell: So there's lots of examples of these sorts of activities. So even in the period in which enslaved Africans are becoming a majority slave population, about a third of the runaway ads from the era's newspapers in New England involve enslaved Indians. So they're also part of that group. And they're running away with other people. And they're combining forces with enslaved Africans in some of these escapes as well.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: It seems in so many ways that those ads can be really useful in the classroom because they're so telling. I mean, not only destination, people trying to go home, who they're running away with, age, what they're taking, but then also who's placing the ads, as you mentioned, right? Sort of that demographic population. It seems like all of this taken together offers a different narrative, not just of sort of the experience of native people in New England during this era, but really the experience of what New England was during this era.

Margaret Newell: I mean, that's what I'd like to convey, you know, on a number of fronts. You know, I just think our image of the household in early America has to consider the variety of people that were living in these households and that were interacting with these households. So I think restoring a sense of the multicultural quality and multi-ethnic quality of these towns and households, and their relationship. And really, their comfort with these relationships. Now, you know, slavery's not an equal relationship, you know? You know, so some of these relationships are mediated by the extreme hierarchy and oppression of slavery, but they're still maintaining other sorts of relationships with people of color, with people of different ethnicities in their communities. And I feel like there has been a literal whitewashing of the New England story, of its economic success, of the culture, of religion, et cetera, that I think, you know, restoring a more accurate portrayal complicates that narrative quite a bit. And like I said, I think we're just at the beginning of teasing out, you know, how the various influences come together, and what the impact of these various influences were.

Margaret Newell: You know, I think at the most basic level, I'm an economic historian at heart, so I tend to look at material things. And, you know, it's really revised my sense of wealth and the origins of American wealth and prosperity that I think, you know, really talking about a giant transfer of wealth, wealth and land, you know, wealth and labor from Native Americans and from African and African Americans to your American population. So that's an important part of the story, as well as, you know, these other sorts of complicated relationships. And, you know, we haven't really talked about another important relationship that emerges out of slavery, and that's the relationship between Native Americans and Africans. So, you know, I mentioned earlier the kind of demographic pressures that slavery and enslavement put on the Native American population in New England. And one of the things I mentioned about was a men's absence and their deployment in these really dangerous activities. And, you know, male captors were more likely to be killed in warfare as well, or just summarily executed. Not all, but some.

Margaret Newell: So the ratios between men and women in these Native American communities become very distorted. So there's a lot more women than men. So the intermarriage and various sorts of relationships between African Americans and Native Americans become much more common in the 18th century. So some of this is happening in the context of slavery, kind of like Caesar's mother, who ends up in a household that has an enslaved African man. You know, the woman that Joshua Hempstead eulogized as such a great servant all her life, you know, who should've been freed, but wasn't. But she married a man named—an enslaved man in another household named York, and had a family with him. So who were the available partners for you? You know, who were you allowed to marry? Who did you interact with? So people who were household slaves, you know, married other slaves in that household or married slaves in nearby households.

Margaret Newell: And then in the communities of free Indians in Narragansett and Mashpee, Massachusetts, Nipmuc, and even in Wabanaki and other groups, there's substantial intermarriage between Native Americans and African Americans there, too. And that had lots of kind of interesting and complicated results. So, you know, one result was that these communities became very—I mean, I like to say they're sort of modern in that they were multi-ethnic. And they adjust to lots of different people's customs and beliefs and practices. So many of these Native American communities had taken in refugees from other Native American communities who already had a fair amount of mixing. So, you know, there's a quality at which they were struggling with and yet achieving the creation of multicultural and multi-ethnic communities in a way that, you know, became a later path for America as a whole. You know, that they're kind of on the leading edge of a kind of modern approach, or modernity as we might define it in ways that I find kind of interesting.

Margaret Newell: But another consequence was that the children of these unions might be at high risk for enslavement. So children of a union between an African American and an Indian sometimes would be just held as enslaved, held as slaves or taken as slaves by a master, even if the mother was a free Indian, if the father was a slave, the master would try to keep that child. And they were often—Rhode Island, there is a little bit of difference within New England in terms of the slave code and slave law. So Rhode Island, after this giant mass enslavement of people in the context of King Philip's War, Rhode Island banned the further enslavement, the subsequent enslavement of Indians. So people violated this law all the time, but one way they tried to get around it was just by claiming that the victims were African or biracial. So, you know, being biracial puts you in a kind of legal limbo in Rhode Island. And none of the other colonies had any laws against enslaving Indians. So, you know, as the population is becoming more African, as the population of the enslaved is becoming more African, you know, any association with Africanness put people at greater risk. So, you know, people were just getting kidnapped.

Margaret Newell: So there's a girl named Sarah Chockham in Rhode Island, and somehow she ended up as a—she probably was an indentured servant, but she might actually just have been the child of a servant in a household in Rhode Island. And she gets trafficked in what had to have been a kind of plot. It involved four different, very rapid exchanges of people who knew each other from Rhode Island, across Long Island Sound to Connecticut. And in the last exchange, sold her as a slave, slave for life in a very elaborate contract that went on and on about what it meant to be a slave for life. And, you know, that's in perpetuity and so on so forth. So this girl's transformed from a free person to a slave by human trafficking. That's really very—a lot of similarities with what we see today. And it's possible she didn't realize. She thought she was an indentured servant and was supposed to be freed at a set time. So she's in this household of a shopkeeper in New London for a couple of years, and then I think she probably realized she was not going to get freed when she hit the age at which servants were usually freed. So she ran away and went back to her community in Rhode Island. And her mother was sort of a known figure in what was called the Indian town there. And she brought suit that she had been—you know, she explained this history and brought suit.

Margaret Newell: And Rhode Island was a colony with a very high proportion of slaves, Indian and African. And the section where the Indian town was was the place that had the most plantation-like operations of any place in New England. So there were people there that owned dozens of slaves, that, you know, engaged in large-scale production of livestock. There's even some tobacco growing there and in Connecticut. I mean, so these were the people that were closest to the planter society of Virginia at the time. So slavery's very, very much enmeshed in these communities. These are communities that are really starting to put the crunch on both free Indians and free Africans in lots of ways. They're just trying to prevent free Africans from keeping livestock. They're trying to prevent slaves from visiting other people's houses. I mean, all these laws are being passed at the local town level. They're trying to prevent Africans and Indians from mixing socially and creating social space and space for exchange. Native Americans are still holding markets and big trade fairs. They're trying to keep Africans from showing up at these fairs and so on. And at that moment, this girl, you know, shows up in a courtroom and tries to sue for her freedom and she wins.

Margaret Newell: I mean, again, I'd expect, you know, in the bastion of slavery, the justice court takes her case, sends it to a jury. Jury says illegal enslavement, and they go back and sort of shame and humiliate all these people in Connecticut. So, I mean, this is a multi-colony case. There's court hearings in New England, too. She wins hands down completely, even after these other people, kidnappers in New London appeal. And she sues for reparations too, and is also awarded reparations. So I mean, these reparations cases just expose all of the seamy kinds of trafficking and show me she's not alone. I mean, how people got—how free people were turned into slaves in this society through really just outright kidnapping. And if the neighbors didn't do anything about it, if nobody protested, if the victims didn't have, you know, the language skills, the money, you know, the legal aid, I mean, you needed money to bring a court case. So, Sarah, once her former master appealed, her New London master appealed, she had to post bond. I mean, she had to post a lot of money, you know, to be able to fight these cases. So, you know, you had to have support to really make these cases work, which is why the cases don't represent the average. They are unusual cases of victory. But think of all the people that, you know, aren't showing up on historical records, who weren't able to bring these sorts of cases because they didn't have the resources to do it or the support.

Margaret Newell: And I have plenty of evidence of other people for whom, you know, they cannot resist these kidnappings. And they become enslaved, you know, in a personal act outside—they haven't been condemned by a court or anything. I mean, this is how slavery's working in a place like New England. It's working in a very personal way. And it's the state's failure to protect and intervene. So sometimes the state is causing the enslavement, it's selling people into slavery. It's participating to bolster the system. It's not really intervening to enforce its own laws and protect people in other ways, because the people who are tasked with law enforcement are the ones who are enslaving people and owning the slaves. You know, and slavery starts as an elite practice in the early- to mid-17th century, and it becomes democratized in the late-17th and 18th century. You know, slave ownership moves down to really kind of very ordinary families, and it lets these families amass wealth. And let's white men engage in politics and other moneymaking activities and, you know, just permits a lot more comfort and wealth for these households.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: When I think about the narratives of American history and how they play out publicly, I have been following closely some of the criticism of the 1619 Project, and most recently I see a groundswell coming from the political right, saying that we're going to have a 1620 project and it's all gonna be about sort of New England and the cradle of democracy. It seems that they're going to be in for a rude awakening if they really dig deep into—in looking for a slavery-free society, if you will.

Margaret Newell: Yeah. No, I think that's the story about all these colonial societies that adopt slavery. I mean, it's just—even the ones that come in who are going to do it different this time. You know, Virginia is all over—it's the land of the Negra, the Spanish abuse of Indians, and we're not going to do that. They do it almost immediately. You know, New France, you know, the colonies of South Carolina and Georgia, which initially are set up to exclude slavery, buckle very quickly. And it's often really what the locals want that prevails. And what the locals want is to bind people's labor. So it's a very interesting and very sad—you know, it seems to be the colonial, you know—is essential to the colonial project. So well, you know, the 1619 people also tried to launch the House of Burgesses as the first elective representative body kind of went by the wayside as part of that celebration too. Yeah. No, I'm ready for 1620, you know? I mean, I think these are complicated stories.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Absolutely.

Margaret Newell: You know, it's like—you know, this is the thing. Yeah, the democracy did emerge. You know, these are societies with courts and, you know, procedures and so on. I mean, that's all to the good, generally. You know, who gets to take advantage of them and what are they used for? You know, that they're only as good as the people that occupy them, too. Slavery is one of the biggest and most important threads within the narrative of American history. So in a sense, acknowledging the presence of Native Americans in that narrative, then brings Native Americans more generally into the larger narrative of American history in ways that they really aren't involved in much history teaching. Native Americans tend to come in at the beginning and then they don't really come into the narrative too much after that. They might pop up here and there, but they're not in a kind of sustained way. So, you know, integrating the Native American story into the story of slavery is not just historically appropriate, but I think it's a way to, you know, consider Native Americans as part of what is, you know, an essential and formative thread in the creation of America.

Margaret Newell: And finally, I think it's important to understand the ways in which native slavery shaped the slave regime, because that in turn, you know, shaped the regime in which Africans entered and, you know, met different sets of experiences. And then the arrival of enslaved Africans changed life in dramatic ways for Native Americans as well, right? So, you know, Tiya Miles has a wonderful recent article where she talks a little bit about settler colonialism, which is this idea of, you know, the Europeans literally trying to replace Indians, seeking to replace Indians by, you know, bringing in population to settle the land and replace the native inhabitants. And, you know, she said enslaved Africans occupy this sort of complex position because they're sort of the tools of settler colonialism, you know? Yet they're not the people, you know, in power in these situations. So I think in thinking about all the complicated relationships, you know, marriage, community, that Indians and Africans created, it's also true that the arrival of Africans in greater numbers created new pressures. It did bring the adoption of some slave codes in ways that damaged the status of all Native Americans in New England, free and enslaved. And it pushed the relationship and the categorization and the way people thought about differences amongst people more—pushed it more in a direction of the creation of racial hierarchies. Now Indians occupied a different place in that hierarchy, but nonetheless, you know, you now had a racialized society with three categories by the mid-18th century. And so those are all things that I think where the inclusion of Indians makes for a more accurate and a richer portrayal, and helps us understand not only the history of slavery, the history of these colonial societies, but also Native American history.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Margaret Newell, I can't thank you enough for taking the time out to share these wonderful thoughts and insights and observations. It certainly has me rethinking the entire narrative of this early history. So thank you so much.

Margaret Newell: It's been my pleasure, Hasan. Thanks for the great questions.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Absolutely.

Meredith McCoy: Margaret Newell is a professor of history at The Ohio State University. She was awarded the 2016 James A. Rawley Prize for her book, Brethren By Nature: New England Indians, Colonists, and the Origins of American Slavery. She is also the author of From Dependency to Independence: Economic Revolution in Colonial New England.

Meredith McCoy: Teaching Hard History is a podcast from Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, helping teachers and schools prepare their students to be active participants in a diverse democracy. Teaching Tolerance offers free resources to educators who work with children from kindergarten through high school. You can find these online at

Meredith McCoy: Most students leave high school without an adequate understanding of the role slavery played in the development of what is currently the United States, or how its legacies still influence us today. This podcast is part of an effort to provide comprehensive tools for learning and teaching this critical topic. Teaching Tolerance provides free teaching materials that include over 100 texts, sample inquiries, and a detailed K-12 framework for teaching the history of American slavery. You can also find these online at

Meredith McCoy: Thanks to Dr. Newell for sharing her insights with us. This podcast is produced by Shea Shackelford. Russell Gragg is our associate producer, with additional support from Barrett Golding. Gabriel Smith provides content guidance. And Kate Shuster is our executive producer. Our theme song is "Different Heroes" by A Tribe Called Red (featuring Northern Voice), who graciously let us use it for this series. Additional music is by Aaron Ximm and Chris Zabriskie.

Meredith McCoy: If you liked what you heard, please share it with your friends and colleagues. And then tell us what you thought. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We always appreciate your feedback.

Meredith McCoy: I’m Dr. Meredith McCoy, assistant professor of American studies and history at Carleton College. And we’re your hosts for Teaching Hard History: American Slavery.


Return to Episode Listing

Illustration of person holding and looking at laptop.

New Virtual Workshops Are Available Now!

Registrations are now open for our 90-minute virtual open enrollment workshops. Explore the schedule, and register today—space is limited!

Sign Up!