Wilberforce Institute Webinar: Indigenous Slavery in the Atlantic World

Thursday March 31, 2022

4PM-5.30PM BST

On Thursday March 31 we will welcome four speakers to talk about Indigenous slavery in the Atlantic world. The presenters are Sandi Brewster-Walker, Executive Director and Government Affairs Officer for the Montaukett Indian Nation; Linford D. Fisher, Associate Professor at Brown University; Rebecca Goetz, Associate Professor at New York University; and Brooke Newman, Associate Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. The webinar will consider a number of aspects of Indigenous enslavement in the Atlantic world, from a digital database project known as the North Fork People of Color, 1641-1827, to Indigenous freedom suits, to the unfree labor of Indigenous children, and the case of ‘Polly Indian’, who attempted to obtain freedom for both herself and her enslaved daughters on the basis of Native maternal ancestry.

To register for this event, please click here: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/5346536240171086349 After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

The issue of Indigenous slavery was overshadowed in Atlantic scholarship for many years by its African counterpart. But such slavery was ubiquitous in the Americas and in the Atlantic World. For native people, the risk of enslavement was constant, and all the major European colonial powers played a role in this enslavement.  And while Indigenous slavery varied in terms of its forms and its impact, it not only shaped the colonial world, but continues to affect people in the present.

Our speakers have provided a title and abstract below, but a brief introduction to them, their individual interests, and the theme of their talk is given here.  Sandi Brewster-Walker, a descendant of the Montaukett Indians, as well as their Executive Director and Government Affairs Officer, has been writing poetry, fiction, and non-fiction works since her teenage years; she published her first book in 2007.  She will talk about a digital database project known as the North Fork People of Color, 1641-1827, that brings together datasets relating to the first workforce of the East End of Long Island.

Professor Linford D. Fisher’s research and teaching relate primarily to the cultural and religious history of colonial America and the Atlantic world, including Native Americans, religion, material culture, and Indian and African slavery and servitude. In this talk he will present a series of Indigenous freedom suits in British Honduras Belize, in the 1810s and 1820s.

Professor Rebecca Goetz’s areas of interest include the histories of religion, race and slavery, and colonialism and empire in the Atlantic World and Indigenous North America. In this webinar she offers another view of enslaved Native People in the archive, focusing down on Indigenous testimonies from the 1570s.

Finally Professor Brooke Newman is a historian of early modern Britain and the British Atlantic, with special interests in the history of slavery, the abolition movement, and the British royal family. She will consider issues of gender, slavery, and kinship in the British Caribbean as revealed in a series of colonial commissions designed to gather information on the administration of justice in Britain’s West Indian territories, and increase Crown oversight of colonial law.

Titles and abstracts

Presenter: Sandi Brewster-Walker, Executive Director and Government Affairs Officer, Montaukett Indian Nation montaukett.executive.director@gmail.com

  • Title: Unfree Labor of Indigenous Children on Long Island
  • Abstract: North Fork People of Color, 1641-1827 is a digital database project bringing together datasets, which humanize the enslaved, indentured, freed, and free people that became the first workforce of the East End of Long Island. This presentation will discuss the journey and case of the eight-year-old indigenous girl Sarah, the daughter of Dorkas, both born free. Sarah was sold in 1689 by James Pearsall of Southold to John Parker, of Southampton to become his property for life.  In 1711, Sarah petitioned the Colonial Governor of New York, Robert Hunter.

Presenter: Linford D. Fisher, Associate Professor, Brown University
Linford_Fisher@brown.edu
 

  • Title: Resisting Race Shifting in Indigenous Freedom Suits
  • Abstract: All too often in colonial archives, colonists and administrators minimized or obscured the identity of Indigenous people in an effort to justify their enslavement. Indigenous people, when they were aware of it, resisted this race shifting. This presentation will draw on a few examples, including especially a series of Indigenous freedom suits in British Honduras Belize, in the 1810s and 1820s. 

Presenter: Rebecca Goetz, Associate Professor, New York University rag11@nyu.edu

  • Title: Enslaved Native People in the Archive
  • Abstract: The Archivo General de Indias, Spain’s archive of its colonial activities, was formed ostensibly to refute the “Black Legend” of Spanish cruelty towards Indigenous people. Yet contained within it are the testimonies of enslaved Native people, which often describe in excruciating detail the violence of Spanish slaving and slaveholding. This short discussion of Indigenous testimonies from the 1570s examines possible methodological approaches to slavery and this archive.

Presenter: Brooke Newman, Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University bnewman@vcu.edu

  • Title: ‘My Mother was an Indian’: Gender, Slavery, and Kinship in the British Caribbean
  • Abstract: Beginning in the 1820s, the British imperial government launched a series of colonial commissions of inquiry to gather information on the administration of justice in Britain’s West Indian territories and to increase Crown oversight over colonial law. The commissioners also rendered judgement on the contested legal status of imperial subjects—including enslaved people. This brief discussion focuses on the case of an enslaved woman in Tobago named Polly, also known as “Polly Indian,” who attempted to obtain freedom for both herself and her enslaved daughters on the basis of Native maternal ancestry. Polly’s case offers insight not only into the tactics adopted by enslaved men and women to negotiate for freedom during an era of imperial intervention in the legislative process of self-governing slave colonies but also the extent to which enslavers profited from the confusion surrounding Indian identity.
American Indian Slave Halter. Eighteenth Century, Great Lakes Region. Colonial Williamsburg Collection, 1996-816. Courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. At https://uncpressblog.com/2012/07/25/excerpt-bonds-of-alliance-by-brett-rushforth/ds1999-49/