Are there historic examples of slave emancipation leading to mass starvation?

Are there historic examples of slave emancipation leading to mass starvation?

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I was reading this article about "1 Million New Afrikan / Blacks Died From Starvation & Disease When Slavery Ended & Reconstruction Period ( Largest Biological Crisis of 19th Century)" and I was wondering if this is unique to the case of the civil war in US or if it ever happened in another country? I mean where freeing slaves with one decision led to tragedy?

I may note that in the 1850 census the number of blacks was listed as 3,233,057 and in the 1860 census it was 3,853,478, an increase of 620,241 or 19.18 %, while the number of mulattoes was 405,751 in 1850 and 588,352 in 1860, an increase of 182,601 or 45.00 %.

Population of the United States in 1860; Compiled from the Original Returns of the Eighth Census, under the direction of the secretary of the Interior, by Joseph C. G. Kennedy 1864. Introduction, page x.

And the colored population of the United states - combined blacks and mulattoes - is listed as 757,208 in 1790, 1,002,067 in 1800 (increase of 244,859 or 32.33 %), 1,377,808 in 1810 (increase of 375,741 or 37.49 %), 1,771,656 in 1820 (increase of 393,848 or 28.58 %), 2,338,642 in 1830 (increase of 566,986 or 32.00 %), 2,873,648 in 1840 (increase of 535,006 or 22.87 %), 3,638,808 in 1850 (increase of 765,160 or 26.62 %), 4,441,830 in 1860 (increase of 803,022 or 22.06 %), and 4,880,009 in 1870 (increase of 438,179 or 9.86 %).

Compendium of the 9th Census pages 12 and 13.

And those figures may help to indicate the possible size and scope of any possible excess mortality among black Americans during the decade of 1860 to 1870.

Abolition and the Civil War

In the 1860s, the United States was undergoing a period of social and economic transition. With the start of the Civil War in 1861, Northerners and Southerners alike had to grapple with the contradictory ideas of slavery and freedom. This era determined what kind of country America would strive to be — one of oppression or one of freedom for all people. Tensions began to boil over with the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, culminating in South Carolina and other states seceding from the Union to form the Confederate States of America. The national consensus in the Northern Union states was in favor of abolition, while the Southern Confederate states sought to maintain slavery as an institution.

Within these two broad geographical areas, many individuals had their own opinions on the matter. African-Americans in the South obviously opposed being enslaved, and many in the North resisted recognizing the evils of slavery, in part because it powered so much of the American economy. In this historical moment, when the destination of America hung in the balance, both common people and famous authors took pen to paper to write about their views on slavery, abolition, and the Civil War at large. The topic permeated all facets of life: diaries, poetry, historical accounts, and best-sellers were hard pressed to ignore the attitudes and goings on of the country at this time.

Brooke Christians and Brendon Haithcock

Frederick Douglass. Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave . Boston: Published at the Anti-slavery office, 1845.

Frederick Douglass’ portrait is on the frontispiece of his autobiography. The portrait is a black and white sketch of Douglass’s face and upper body. He is pictured in aristocratic clothing, displaying the juxtaposition between his high societal status, and his race. His face is drawn with more detail, while his chest is sketched lightly.

Frederick Douglass was a slave in Maryland, who eventually escaped slavery and moved to New York in 1838. After moving to Massachusetts Boston, Douglass became active in the Abolitionist movement. Having taught himself how to read and write while enslaved, Douglass was able to tell his own story in his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass , published in 1845, Within the biography, Douglass describes the ordeals he experienced as a slave and his subsequent journey to freedom. As a speaker and author, Douglass acted as a strong, leading voice for the abolition movement.. His recollection of his own experiences proved to be a powerful tool of reasoning and helped him become a leading social reformer. Many were influenced by his autobiography to sympathize with the abolitionist movement. His autobiography specifically acted as a rallying point for people of color, as they started to demand rights. Frederick’s autobiography was published in Boston, by the Anti-Slavery Office, a multiracial organization that strongly advocated and campaigned for abolition. Boston was the hub of the abolition movement, which began through the collaboration of free blacks and fugitive blacks who escaped from slavery in the South.

Sophia Rightmer and Jen Tzetzo

Harriet Beecher Stowe. Pictures and Stories from Uncle Tom’s Cabin . Boston: John P. Jewett & Co., 1853. SCRC Children’s Literature Collection.

Published by John P. Jewett and Company in 1853, the original publisher of Uncle Tom’s Cabin , Pictures and Stories from Uncle Tom’s Cabin found an audience in part because of increasing rates of literacy in the mid-19th century. Born in 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut, abolitionist writer Harriet Beecher Stowe was a massive influence of her time. Uncle Tom’s Cabin solidified the moral backing of abolition in the North and painted Slave traders as villains, further isolating and angering Southerners. It is widely accounted that when President Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1862, he remarked "So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war."

To create a more “kid friendly” version, of Beecher Stowe’s text, certain elements of the original book were either omitted, or subdued. In the original novel, slavery’s violence was brutally depicted through sexual acts, starvation, and beatings. he adapted version did include beatings, as in the pages shown here, in which an irate plantation worker is preparing to beat Tom with a whip for refusing to punish others and aiding runaways. This pagespread also shows other scenes from the story, such as Harry and his mother relaxing after escaping and the final sale of Tom to his final owner, Legree. Overall, though, the text and illustrations of Pictures and Stories from Uncle Tom’s Cabin is much less graphic than the original. Along with images, specific kid-friendly portions of the text were bolded and enlarged to be read aloud to children and even a song about one of the story’s protagonists Eva is included at the end of the book. This children’s version highlights the abolitionist fervor of the North adapted to reach a younger audience.

Brendan Doyle, Will Overland, and Kurt Schwartz

Ephraim George Squier, Editor. Frank Leslie’s Pictorial History of the American Civil War. New York: F. Leslie, 1862.

Frank Leslie's Pictorial History of the American Civil War was published in 1862 by Frank Leslie in New York. This illustration depicts the Battle at Bulls Run in July of 1861. In the background are multiple groups of men fighting, surrounded by large clouds of smoke. In the foreground there are more detailed images of dead soldiers and horses sprawled out, and injured soldiers being carried away. It is a chaotic scene. This was only the second year of the war, and is right when the conflict began heating up. The illustration shows the use of a wide array of weapons. There are men with sabres and guns rushing towards each other. The plumes of smoke could be the work of cannons which were frequently used during the Civil War. Prior to this battle, the Union was very confident in their chances against the South, which is shown through their aggressive charge towards Confederate soldiers. In the end, however, the South achieved a morale-boosting victory. The disorderly nature of the photo with the injured soldiers scattered across the ground, and the multiple fights occuring at once portrays the struggle which would ensue during the Civil War. The Battle at Bulls Run was one of many bloody and costly fights of the American Civil War.

Thomas Gaffney and Sam Nahass

Sir Arthur James Lyon Freemantle. Three Months in the Southern States: April, June, 1863 . Mobile, AL: S.H. Goetzel, 1864.

Published in 1863, Three Months in the Southern States gives the account of Sir Arthur James Fremantle’s tour of the South amidst the American Civil War. It tells a gripping tale of wartime travel to an intended audience of both Northern and Southern Americans seeking further insight into life on the frontlines. Fremantle also writes for his fellow English civilians back home who crave information about the conflict overseas.

Though Fremantle began his journey slightly favoring the North, as most of the English disapproved of slavery, he developed strong friendships with Southern Commanders such as General Longstreet and General Lee. His writing offers insight into Longstreet’s and Lee’s mindsets during the war, and also reveals Fremantle’s own shift in perspective about the supposed evils of the South. On display is a pagespread including Freemantle’s description of the Battle of Gettysburg. Here, Fremantle describes a few specific Confederate war tactics, such as a joint attack in which General Hill attacked the Yankees from the front while General Ewell attacked from the right. Fremantle also described the devastation wreaked by the conflict, explaining that nearly 6,000 prisoners had been taken, while the floor of the Gettysburg town was littered with Yankee bodies.

India Holland, Leo Krinsky, and Lyla Wotring

O.H. Bixby. Incidents in Dixie: Being Ten Months’ Experience of a Union Soldier in the Military Prisons of Richmond, N. Orleans and Salisbury . Baltimore: Printed by James Young, 1864.

O.H. Bixby was a union soldier captured by the South early in the Civil War. His journal is historically significant because it gives a first hand account of what life was like in a Southern war prison, and how it affected soldiers mentally. For example, they were sad to be moving out of the prison at Richmond even though it was not the ideal living place. However, their despair was warranted because moving farther south meant the time it would take to be rescued would be significantly longer than if they had stayed in Richmond—closer to the Union’s front lines. Bixby writes, “We continued to have some hope of a speedy release, but now we gave all these hopes to the wind, as we prepared for a long siege of hardships.”

Bixby’s account is intended for mainly Northern readers who did not experience what a Southern war prison was like firsthand. It gives the common person a share of the experience he went through. From going to bed hungry, to receiving hateful comments from Southerners in the streets and beginning to treat a war prison like home, the book helps the common person understand what life was like in a Southern war prison.

There is no illustration on the page, but what the reader should take away from these two pages are the feelings the writer portrays. One can really get a sense of how he feels about his journey through the military prison, and how it has changed his perception of surviving.

Grace Clemens and Walker Cleveland

William Nutting. Three Lessons for This War, from an Ancient Chronicle: A Sermon, Preached Before the Presbyterian Churches of Unadilla, Stockbridge, and Plainfield on Sabbath, July 24, 1864 by Reverend William J. Nutting. Ann Arbor, MI: C.G. Clark, Book and Job Printer, 1864.

Displayed is the title page of the printed sermon Three Lessons for This War, as well as a one page excerpt containing Nutting’s concluding explanations of his second lesson followed by the introduction of his third: "The Third and last Lesson we may learn is, that the right will certainly triumph in the end."

Reverend Nutting’s sermon provides lessons to be learned from the Civil War, from the viewpoint of a Northern Presbyterian. From its popularization as an institution, African slavery had been rationalized by white slaveholders using Christianity, but abolitionists also drew on Christian principles to argue against slavery. Nutting’s text showcases the latter perspective in his support for the Union side of the war. His viewpoint is quite specific as a minister, he has an in-depth understanding of the Bible and how one could use the word of God to argue against slavery and against the Confederacy. He also has a brother that lived in the South for much of his adult life, which probably increased his understanding of the relationship between northerners and southerners.

However, Nutting probably didn’t have to convince many people of his cause in Michigan the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted about a year earlier, and the tides of the war had already turned mostly in favor of the Union. Although Nutting doesn’t necessarily present new ideas in his opposition, his viewpoint does give us a religious perspective on the ongoing Civil War, and depicts the Union homefront as confident in their moral position and their success in battle.

Brooke Christians and Brendon Haithcock

Moore, Nancy Ely. Diary. Scenes and Incidents Appertaining to the War. Occurring At, M or near South Union, Ky . Vol. 4. [Manuscript], 1861-1865.

Displayed here is the fourth volume of a set of diaries written by Nancy Ely Moore during the Civil War, from 1861-1865. The pages are a faded yellow with neat, cursive handwriting, that provides a clear, firsthand account of a woman living in Kentucky, a border state between the Union and the Confederacy.

Kentucky had decided to remain neutral at the start of the war, but Moore’s diary highlights that despite neutrality, Kentucky often saw skirmishes that invaded the local townspeople’s lives. The text especially shows the role that civilians played in the war, as Moore explains on more than one occasion how Union and Confederate troops rode in on horseback and took corn and other crops from the farmers who lived in her town. This represents the emergence of total war, where the line between combatant and civilian was erased, as the everyday citizen increasingly was confronted with combat and the ransacking of their properties by both the Confederate and Union armies. Throughout her diary, Moore refers to the confederate troops as "rebels." Because of its negative connotation, and the general use of the word at the time, this indicates that Moore was a Union sympathizer, and thus most likely did not own slaves.

Madeleine Glasser and Emily Vanhaitsma

Edward A. Pollard. Observations in The North: Eight Months in Prison and on Parole . Richmond: E.W. Ayres, 1865.

Edward Alfred Pollard was a pro-slavery lawyer, journalist, and writer, who wrote a book recounting his experiences as a confederate soldier captured by the North. In his book, Pollard expresses his fears concerning the Confederacy rejoining the Union. Published soon after the war ended, Observations in the North reaches out to Southerners to address their current feelings towards Northerners, rejoining the Union, and the impending occupation of the South.

Pollard’s fears of returning to the Union are clear on this page spread, where he writes: “The poor fellows were ridiculed at every step, laughed at, assailed with contemptuous remarks. And in this scene of derision at the depot I saw in miniature what would be the real consequences of the return of the Confederates to the Union, and what meant for us the promised embrace of fraternal reconciliation.” Encouraged by Pollard’s writings and other such works, many Southerners, having lost the war, began resisting what they saw as Union occupation. Pollard’s writing exemplified and stoked Southern anxieties about maintaining their culture, way of life, and independence as the war drew to a close and the Reconstruction era began.

Laura Scerbak and Nick Tilson

William Gilmore Simms, Editor. War Poetry of the South. New York: Richardson & Company, 1866.

This collection of Confederate poetry was published the year after the end of the Civil War. In the poem on display here, Henry Timrod begins with a call to many different people evoking the imagery of the Southern landscape. A metaphor of the lily fighting a storm serves as a symbol for battle and evokes a fighting spirit.

Timrod’s poem is a literal cry to arms for the young men of the Confederacy with this poem. He begins his work by calling upon people from all regions of the Confederacy to lay down their lives and enlist. He tells men to abandon “kin and cot” to join the cause, acknowledging the sacrifice of leaving home to fight in a distant war. Additionally, Timrod takes aim at the Union, using careful propaganda to paint them as the enemy by referring to them as “the Despot” invading the South.

This piece was first published in a South Carolinian newspaper in 1862. During 1862 the Union achieved two major victories within two weeks of each other: the capturing of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. These two victories secured control of the Tennessee and Columbia rivers, cutting the South off from major waterways. Timrod is responding to these two big blows to the war effort, calling for “floods of crimson rain.” This deliberate work of propaganda is designed to light the fires of the Confederate public.

It is interesting to note how criticism on Timrod’s poems has developed over time. Timrod found little success reaching Union audiences after the war, begging the question of how Confederate contributions to literacy should be viewed in today’s society. Viewed by some as the “poet laureate” of the South, how does the elegance of Timrod’s work conflict with the antiquated and racist nature of his views?

1825 to 1860

The 550,000 enslaved Black people living in Virginia constituted one third of the state’s population in 1860. Travelers to Virginia were appalled by the system of slavery they saw practiced there. In 1842, the English novelist Charles Dickens wrote of the “gloom and dejection” and “ruin and decay” that he attributed to “this horrible institution.”

A majority of inhabitants in some of Virginia’s eastern counties were held in bondage. In the western counties, rugged terrain made slavery impractical. In 1829, white citizens there demanded representation in a government controlled by easterners with different interests. In 1861, they formed the new state of West Virginia rather than join the Confederacy.

The majority of enslaved men, women, and children provided agricultural labor for their enslavers. Trained craftspeople worked in skilled trades such as coopering, blacksmithing, and carpentry. A smaller group of men and women cooked, cleaned, served meals, and raised the children of the enslaver’s family. On Sundays, enslaved individuals tended to their own gardens and livestock provided by their enslavers, practiced religion, and engaged with family and friends.

Through their families, religion, folklore, and music, as well as more direct forms of resistance, African Americans resisted the debilitating effects of slavery and created a vital culture supportive of human dignity. At the same time, enslaved Black people exerted a profound influence on all aspects of American culture. Language, music, cuisine, and architecture in the United States are all heavily influenced by African traditions and are part of a uniquely American culture.

Slave Religion and Folklore

Throughout slavery and beyond, spirituality and the church served a vital role in Black communities. Religious practices nurtured the soul and fostered pride and identity in the face of the dehumanizing effects of slavery and segregation. Baptist and Methodist ministers preached hope and redemption to enslaved people who fashioned Christian gospels into a communal music of spirituals about salvation, deliverance, and resistance. They also helped preserve African traditions through music, funeral customs, and call-and-response forms of worship. Religious meetings—whether secret gatherings in the woods or church congregations—became crucibles for collective activism.

Enslaved African Americans continued a rich tradition of African parables, proverbs, and legends. Through folklore, they maintained a sense of identity and taught valuable lessons to their children. The central figures were cunning tricksters, often represented as tortoises, spiders, or rabbits, who defeated more powerful enemies through wit and guile, not power and authority.

Music and Food

The musical traditions of enslaved communities merged European practices with intricate rhythm patterns, off-key notes, foot patting, and a strong rhythmic drive. Music was incorporated into religious ceremonies as shouts and “sorrow songs” “field hollers” and work songs helped coordinate group tasks and satirical songs were a form of resistance that commented on the injustices of the slave system.

African Americans adapted Indigenous, European, and African food traditions—such as deep-fat frying, gumbo, and fricassee—to feed their own families as well as those of their enslavers. Pork and corn were the primary rations issued to those who were enslaved, but they were supplemented by plants and animals grown or raised or gathered from nearby rivers and fields.

The Slave Trade and Slave Auction

After an 1808 act of Congress abolished the international slave trade, a domestic trade flourished. Richmond became the largest slave-trading center in the Upper South, and the slave trade was Virginia’s largest industry. It accounted for the sale—and resulting destruction of families and social networks—of as many as two million Black people from Richmond to the Deep South, where the cotton industry provided a market for enslaved labor.

Prices of enslaved people varied widely over time. They rose to a high of about $1,250 during the cotton boom of the late 1830s, fell to below half that level in the 1840s, and rose to about $1,450 in the late 1850s. Males were valued 10 to 20 percent more than females at age ten, children's prices were about half that of a prime male field hand.

The management of an enslaved workforce was a frequent topic of debate among slaveholders. Over time an elaborate system of controls was developed that included the legal system, religion, incentives, physical punishment, and intimidation to keep enslaved people working. None was completely successful.

While slaveholders asserted that their workforce was loyal, they also lived in constant fear of a revolt. White southerners prohibited enslaved African Americans from learning to read, restricted their movement, prevented them from meeting in groups, and publicly punished those who attempted to escape slavery. Slave codes also punished white Virginians who assisted Black people in violating the codes.

Denied their unalienable rights of liberty and the pursuit of happiness, enslaved Americans were trapped in a cruel and unacceptable lifestyle. Some enslaved Virginians instigated organized, armed rebellion or attempted escape, even though success was unlikely and punishments included execution and disfigurement. Most engaged in day-to-day resistance—breaking equipment, stealing foodstuffs, slowing the work-pace. The most effective resistance was the formation of a distinct culture that perpetuated African American traditions of music, storytelling, and cuisine, and was bolstered by strong religious beliefs.

Travelers to Virginia were appalled by the system of slavery they saw practiced there. In 1842, the English novelist Charles Dickens wrote of the “gloom and dejection” and “ruin and decay” that he attributed to “this horrible institution.” Inevitably, the intolerable abuses caused a number to commit suicide. A few initiated rebellion––the ultimate crisis imagined by the slaveowner.

Gabriel’s Conspiracy, 1800

Gabriel was a literate enslaved blacksmith hired out to work in Richmond by his enslaver, Thomas Prosser of Henrico County. With some freedom of movement, access to others enslaved men, and information about uprisings elsewhere, Gabriel planned a rebellion against slavery in central Virginia. Two enslaved men betrayed the plot. In response, white Virginians arrested and prosecuted more than seventy men for insurrection and conspiracy. Gabriel and twenty-five of his followers were hanged.

The Nat Turner Revolt, 1831

Nat Turner, an enslaved preacher and self-proclaimed prophet, led the bloodiest slave revolt in U.S. history in Southampton County. Over the course of two days in late August 1831, he and his conspirators killed 58 white men, women, and children before government troops quelled the insurrection. The state tried and executed Turner and 19 conspirators. White vigilantes retaliated with violence, resulting in about 40 additional deaths.

The event sent shockwaves throughout the nation and deepened the divide over slavery. Defenders of the institution blamed “Yankee” influence and what they believed was the violent character of Black people. Antislavery factions argued that this revolt demonstrated the corruptive effects of slavery and refuted enslavers’ claims of the “contented” slave.

Turner’s revolt also prompted Virginia’s General Assembly to debate the fate of slavery in its 1831–1832 session. Legislators considered proposals for abolition, but ultimately decided to maintain slavery. They also passed new restrictions on Black Virginians, including requiring Black congregations to be supervised by a white minister, and making it illegal to teach Black people to read. This was the last time a government of a slave state considered ending slavery until the Civil War.

John Brown’s Raid, 1859

Led by the radical abolitionist, John Brown, eighteen whites and five African Americans, seized the U.S. arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) in October 1859. Among them was Dangerfield Newby, a former slave from the Shenandoah Valley. For Newby the cause was deeply personal: his wife and children were still in bondage. After a failed attempt to buy their freedom and fearing their sale to the Deep South, Newby joined Brown’s small army. He was killed on the first day of fighting. Brown’s attempt to take rifles stored there, escape into the mountains, and start a slave revolt failed. Five raiders escaped, ten were killed, and nine—including Brown—were captured and executed. Sectionalist tension heightened as southerners feared additional violence.

The Abolitionist Movement and Manumission in Virginia

A society for promoting abolition was organized by 1790, and publications appeared as early as St. George Tucker’s Dissertation of 1796. The self-criticism and efforts for abolition ended, however, after Nat Turner’s rebellion of 1831. From that point forward, most white Virginians approved of the practice, denied its evils, and defended it as a “positive good.”

In 1782, the General Assembly allowed enslavers to free the people they enslaved. Some did. Many of their manumission documents are written with condemnation of “the injustice and criminality” of slavery: “Being fully persuaded that freedom is the Natural Right of all Mankind and that it is my duty to do unto others as I would desire to be done by in the like situation, I hereby Emancipate and set free the said Slave ______.”

The Colonization Movement

The growing number of free Black individuals in Virginia—more than 30,000 in 1810—challenged the assumption that black skin equaled enslavement. Free persons of color also presented what enslavers feared was a dangerous example. These tensions prompted the 1816 creation of the American Colonization Society, devoted to removing free Black Americans to Africa. A number of white Virginians—including James Monroe and John Randolph of Roanoke—joined antislavery northerners in this effort.

The colonization movement was controversial among Black Americans. As New York City’s Colored American newspaper explained, “This Country is Our Only Home. It is our duty and privilege to claim an equal place among the American people.” In 1830, Liberia had only about 1,400 settlers. Ultimately, 15,000 Black people emigrated and—in some ways—patterned their society after the American South.


Given the fragmentary nature of the evidence, even semi-accurate pre-Columbian population figures are thought impossible to obtain. Scholars have varied widely on the estimated size of the indigenous populations prior to colonization and on the effects of European contact. [5] Estimates are made by extrapolations from small bits of data. In 1976, geographer William Denevan used the existing estimates to derive a "consensus count" of about 54 million people. Nonetheless, more recent estimates still range widely. [6] In 1992, Denevan suggested that the total population was approximately 53.9 million and the populations by region were, approximately, 3.8 million for the United States and Canada, 17.2 million for Mexico, 5.6 million for Central America, 3 million for the Caribbean, 15.7 million for the Andes and 8.6 million for lowland South America. [7]

Using an estimate of approximately 37 million people in Mexico, Central and South America in 1492 (including 6 million in the Aztec Empire, 5–10 million in the Mayan States, 11 million in what is now Brazil, and 12 million in the Inca Empire), the lowest estimates give a death toll due from disease of 80% by the end of the 17th century (nine million people in 1650). [8] Latin America would match its 15th-century population early in the 19th century it numbered 17 million in 1800, 30 million in 1850, 61 million in 1900, 105 million in 1930, 218 million in 1960, 361 million in 1980, and 563 million in 2005. [8] In the last three decades of the 16th century, the population of present-day Mexico dropped to about one million people. [8] The Maya population is today estimated at six million, which is about the same as at the end of the 15th century, according to some estimates. [8] In what is now Brazil, the indigenous population declined from a pre-Columbian high of an estimated four million to some 300,000.

While it is difficult to determine exactly how many Natives lived in North America before Columbus, [9] estimates range from 7 million [10] people to a high of 18 million. [11] Historian David Stannard estimates that the extermination of indigenous peoples took the lives of 100 million people: ". the total extermination of many American Indian peoples and the near-extermination of others, in numbers that eventually totaled close to 100,000,000.". [12]

The aboriginal population of Canada during the late 15th century is estimated to have been between 500,000 [13] and two million. [14] Repeated outbreaks of Old World infectious diseases such as influenza, measles and smallpox (to which they had no natural immunity) were the main cause of depopulation. This combined with other factors such as dispossession from European/Canadian settlements and numerous violent conflicts resulted in a forty- to eighty-percent aboriginal population decrease after contact. [13] For example, during the late 1630s, smallpox killed over half of the Wyandot (Huron), who controlled most of the early North American fur trade in what became Canada. They were reduced to fewer than 10,000 people. [15]

The population debate has often had ideological underpinnings. [16] Low estimates were sometimes reflective of European notions of cultural and racial superiority. Historian Francis Jennings argued, "Scholarly wisdom long held that Indians were so inferior in mind and works that they could not possibly have created or sustained large populations." [17]

In 1998, Africanist Historian David Henige said many population estimates are the result of arbitrary formulas selectively applied from unreliable sources. He believes this is a weakness in the field, and insists there is insufficient evidence to produce reliable population estimates. [18]

The indigenous population of the Americas in 1492 was not necessarily at a high point and may actually have been in decline in some areas. Indigenous populations in most areas of the Americas reached a low point by the early 20th century. [19]

Over 60 million Brazilians possess at least one Native South American ancestor, according to a mitochondrial DNA study. [20]

Genetic diversity and population structure in the American land mass using DNA micro-satellite markers (genotype) sampled from North, Central, and South America have been analyzed against similar data available from other indigenous populations worldwide. [21] [22] The Amerindian populations show a lower genetic diversity than populations from other continental regions. [22] Observed is both a decreasing genetic diversity as geographic distance from the Bering Strait occurs and a decreasing genetic similarity to Siberian populations from Alaska (genetic entry point). [21] [22] Also observed is evidence of a higher level of diversity and lower level of population structure in western South America compared to eastern South America. [21] [22] A relative lack of differentiation between Mesoamerican and Andean populations is a scenario that implies coastal routes were easier than inland routes for migrating peoples (Paleo-Indians) to traverse. [21] The overall pattern that is emerging suggests that the Americas were recently colonized by a small number of individuals (effective size of about 70–250), and then they grew by a factor of 10 over 800–1,000 years. [23] [24] The data also show that there have been genetic exchanges between Asia, the Arctic and Greenland since the initial peopling of the Americas. [24] [25] A new study in early 2018 suggests that the effective population size of the original founding population of Native Americans was about 250 people. [26] [27]

According to Noble David Cook, a community of scholars has recently, albeit slowly, "been quietly accumulating piece by piece data on early epidemics in the Americas and their relation to the subjugation of native peoples." They now believe that widespread epidemic disease, to which the natives had no prior exposure or resistance, was the primary cause of the massive population decline of the Native Americans. [28] Earlier explanations for the population decline of the American natives include the European immigrants' accounts of the brutal practices of the Spanish conquistadores, as recorded by the Spaniards themselves. This was applied through the encomienda, which was a system ostensibly set up to protect people from warring tribes as well as to teach them the Spanish language and the Catholic religion, but in practice was tantamount to serfdom and slavery. [29] The most notable account was that of the Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas, whose writings vividly depict Spanish atrocities committed in particular against the Taínos. It took five years for the Taíno rebellion to be quelled by both the Real Audiencia—through diplomatic sabotage, and through the Indian auxiliaries fighting with the Spanish. [30] After Emperor Charles V personally eradicated the notion of the encomienda system as a use for slave labour, there were not enough Spanish to have caused such a large population decline. [31] [ failed verification ] [32] The second European explanation was a perceived divine approval, in which God removed the natives as part of His "divine plan" to make way for a new Christian civilization. Many Native Americans viewed their troubles in terms of religious or supernatural causes within their own belief systems. [33]

Soon after Europeans and enslaved Africans arrived in the New World, bringing with them the infectious diseases of Europe and Africa, observers noted immense numbers of indigenous Americans began to die from these diseases. One reason this death toll was overlooked is that once introduced, the diseases raced ahead of European immigration in many areas. The disease killed a sizable portion of the populations before European written records were made. After the epidemics had already killed massive numbers of natives, many newer European immigrants assumed that there had always been relatively few indigenous peoples. The scope of the epidemics over the years was tremendous, killing millions of people—possibly in excess of 90% of the population in the hardest-hit areas—and creating one of "the greatest human catastrophe in history, far exceeding even the disaster of the Black Death of medieval Europe", [28] which had killed up to one-third of the people in Europe and Asia between 1347 and 1351.

One of the most devastating diseases was smallpox, but other deadly diseases included typhus, measles, influenza, bubonic plague, cholera, malaria, tuberculosis, mumps, yellow fever and pertussis, which were chronic in Eurasia. [34]

This transfer of disease between the Old and New Worlds was later studied as part of what has been labeled the "Columbian Exchange".

The epidemics had very different effects in different regions of the Americas. The most vulnerable groups were those with a relatively small population and few built-up immunities. Many island-based groups were annihilated. The Caribs and Arawaks of the Caribbean nearly ceased to exist, as did the Beothuks of Newfoundland. While disease raged swiftly through the densely populated empires of Mesoamerica, the more scattered populations of North America saw a slower spread. [ citation needed ]

The European colonization of the Americas resulted in the deaths of so many people it contributed to climatic change and temporary global cooling, according to scientists from University College London. [35] [36] A century after the arrival of Christopher Columbus, some 90% of indigenous Americans had perished from "wave after wave of disease", along with mass slavery and war, in what researchers have described as the "great dying". [37] According to one of the researchers, UCL Geography Professor Mark Maslin, the large death toll also boosted the economies of Europe: "the depopulation of the Americas may have inadvertently allowed the Europeans to dominate the world. It also allowed for the Industrial Revolution and for Europeans to continue that domination." [38]

Historian Andrés Reséndez of University of California, Davis asserts that evidence suggests "slavery has emerged as a major killer" of the indigenous populations of the Caribbean between 1492 and 1550 rather than diseases such as smallpox, influenza and malaria. [39] He posits that unlike the populations of Europe who rebounded following the Black Death, no such rebound occurred for the indigenous populations of the Americas. He concludes that, even though the Spanish were aware of deadly diseases such as smallpox, there is no mention of them in the New World until 1519, meaning perhaps they didn't spread as fast as initially believed, and that unlike Europeans, the indigenous populations were subjected to brutal forced labor in gold and silver mines on a massive scale. [40] Anthropologist Jason Hickel estimates that a third of Arawak workers died every six months from lethal forced labor in these mines. [41]

Similarly, historian Jeffrey Ostler at The University of Oregon has argued that population collapses in the Americas throughout colonization were not mainly due to lack of Native immunity to European disease. Instead, he claims that "When severe epidemics did hit, it was often less because Native bodies lacked immunity than because European colonialism disrupted Native communities and damaged their resources, making them more vulnerable to pathogens." In specific regards to Spanish colonization of northern Florida and southeastern Georgia, Native peoples there "were subject to forced labor and, because of poor living conditions and malnutrition, succumbed to wave after wave of unidentifiable diseases." Further, in relation to British colonization in the Northeast, Algonquian speaking tribes in Virginia and Maryland "suffered from a variety of diseases, including malaria, typhus, and possibly smallpox." These diseases were not solely a case of Native susceptibility, however, because "as colonists took their resources, Native communities were subject to malnutrition, starvation, and social stress, all making people more vulnerable to pathogens. Repeated epidemics created additional trauma and population loss, which in turn disrupted the provision of healthcare." Such conditions would continue, alongside rampant disease in Native communities, throughout colonization, the formation of the United States, and multiple forced removals, as Ostler explains that many scholars "have yet to come to grips with how U.S. expansion created conditions that made Native communities acutely vulnerable to pathogens and how severely disease impacted them. . Historians continue to ignore the catastrophic impact of disease and its relationship to U.S. policy and action even when it is right before their eyes." [4]

Historian David Stannard says that by "focusing almost entirely on disease . contemporary authors increasingly have created the impression that the eradication of those tens of millions of people was inadvertent—a sad, but both inevitable and "unintended consequence" of human migration and progress," and asserts that their destruction "was neither inadvertent nor inevitable," but the result of microbial pestilence and purposeful genocide working in tandem. [42]

Biological warfare Edit

When Old World diseases were first carried to the Americas at the end of the fifteenth century, they spread throughout the southern and northern hemispheres, leaving the indigenous populations in near ruins. [34] [43] No evidence has been discovered that the earliest Spanish colonists and missionaries deliberately attempted to infect the American natives, and some efforts were made to limit the devastating effects of disease before it killed off what remained of their forced slave labor under their encomienda system. [34] [43] The cattle introduced by the Spanish contaminated various water reserves which Native Americans dug in the fields to accumulate rainwater. In response, the Franciscans and Dominicans created public fountains and aqueducts to guarantee access to drinking water. [8] But when the Franciscans lost their privileges in 1572, many of these fountains were no longer guarded and so deliberate well poisoning may have happened. [8] Although no proof of such poisoning has been found, some historians believe the decrease of the population correlates with the end of religious orders' control of the water. [8]

In the centuries that followed, accusations and discussions of biological warfare were common. Well-documented accounts of incidents involving both threats and acts of deliberate infection are very rare, but may have occurred more frequently than scholars have previously acknowledged. [44] [45] Many of the instances likely went unreported, and it is possible that documents relating to such acts were deliberately destroyed, [45] or sanitized. [46] [47] By the middle of the 18th century, colonists had the knowledge and technology to attempt biological warfare with the smallpox virus. They well understood the concept of quarantine, and that contact with the sick could infect the healthy with smallpox, and those who survived the illness would not be infected again. Whether the threats were carried out, or how effective individual attempts were, is uncertain. [34] [45] [46]

One such threat was delivered by fur trader James McDougall, who is quoted as saying to a gathering of local chiefs, "You know the smallpox. Listen: I am the smallpox chief. In this bottle I have it confined. All I have to do is to pull the cork, send it forth among you, and you are dead men. But this is for my enemies and not my friends." [48] Likewise, another fur trader threatened Pawnee Indians that if they didn't agree to certain conditions, "he would let the smallpox out of a bottle and destroy them." The Reverend Isaac McCoy was quoted in his History of Baptist Indian Missions as saying that the white men had deliberately spread smallpox among the Indians of the southwest, including the Pawnee tribe, and the havoc it made was reported to General Clark and the Secretary of War. [48] [49] Artist and writer George Catlin observed that Native Americans were also suspicious of vaccination, "They see white men urging the operation so earnestly they decide that it must be some new mode or trick of the pale face by which they hope to gain some new advantage over them." [50] So great was the distrust of the settlers that the Mandan chief Four Bears denounced the white man, whom he had previously treated as brothers, for deliberately bringing the disease to his people. [51] [52] [53]

During the Seven Years' War, British militia took blankets from their smallpox hospital and gave them as gifts to two neutral Lenape Indian dignitaries during a peace settlement negotiation, according to the entry in the Captain's ledger, "To convey the Smallpox to the Indians". [46] [54] [55] In the following weeks, the high commander of the British forces in North America conspired with his Colonel to "Extirpate this Execreble Race" of Native Americans, writing, "Could it not be contrived to send the small pox among the disaffected tribes of Indians? We must on this occasion use every stratagem in our power to reduce them." His Colonel agreed to try. [45] [54] Most scholars have asserted that the 1837 Great Plains smallpox epidemic was "started among the tribes of the upper Missouri River by failure to quarantine steamboats on the river", [48] and Captain Pratt of the St. Peter "was guilty of contributing to the deaths of thousands of innocent people. The law calls his offense criminal negligence. Yet in light of all the deaths, the almost complete annihilation of the Mandans, and the terrible suffering the region endured, the label criminal negligence is benign, hardly befitting an action that had such horrendous consequences." [52] However, some sources attribute the 1836–40 epidemic to the deliberate communication of smallpox to Native Americans, with historian Ann F. Ramenofsky writing, "Variola Major can be transmitted through contaminated articles such as clothing or blankets. In the nineteenth century, the U. S. Army sent contaminated blankets to Native Americans, especially Plains groups, to control the Indian problem." [56] Well into the 20th century, deliberate infection attacks continued as Brazilian settlers and miners transported infections intentionally to the native groups whose lands they coveted." [43]

Vaccination Edit

After Edward Jenner's 1796 demonstration that the smallpox vaccination worked, the technique became better known and smallpox became less deadly in the United States and elsewhere. Many colonists and natives were vaccinated, although, in some cases, officials tried to vaccinate natives only to discover that the disease was too widespread to stop. At other times, trade demands led to broken quarantines. In other cases, natives refused vaccination because of suspicion of whites. The first international healthcare expedition in history was the Balmis expedition which had the aim of vaccinating indigenous peoples against smallpox all along the Spanish Empire in 1803. In 1831, government officials vaccinated the Yankton Sioux at Sioux Agency. The Santee Sioux refused vaccination and many died. [16]

The Mum Bett Case

The 1781 Berkshire county case of Brom and Bett v. Ashley, often referred to as the Mum Bett or Elizabeth Freeman case , was unique because it occurred less than one year after the adoption of the Massachusetts Constitution and because, in contrast to prior freedom suits, there was no claim that John Ashley, the slave owner, had violated a specific law. This case was a direct challenge to the very existence of slavery in Massachusetts.

During the 1770's, Mum Bett was a slave in the household of Colonel John Ashley of Sheffield, a prominent citizen who at that time also served as a judge of the Berkshire Court of Common Pleas.

In early January, 1773, Ashley became moderator of a committee of eleven local citizens, including attorney Theodore Sedgwick, that wrote a document known as the Sheffield Declaration.

This document, approved by the Committee on January 12, 1773, expressed anger at how Great Britain was treating her subjects in the colony of Massachusetts, and resolved "[t]hat mankind in a state of nature are equal, free, and independent of each other, and have a right to the undisturbed enjoyment of their lives, their liberty and property." The Sheffield Declaration requested its local representative to the General Court in Boston to consider the Declaration and to use "every constitutional means in his power that the grievances complained of may be redressed. . . ."

According to later stories often told about Mum Bett, her freedom suit was prompted by her overhearing dinner table conversations in the Ashley home about the new promises of liberty made in the Sheffield Declaration (1773), the Declaration of Independence (1776), and the Massachusetts Constitution (1780). Other reports suggest that her suit was prompted when Bett's mistress, Mrs. Hannah Ashley, attempted to strike Bett's sister with a hot shovel, but struck and burned Bett when she intervened. Bett fled. When Ashley sought to reclaim his "property," Bett reportedly sought help from prominent local attorney Theodore Sedgwick, who had often visited the Ashley home and was clerk of the committee that had drafted the Sheffield Declaration. As historian Zilmersmit notes "[i]t is also possible that a group of prominent residents of Berkshire County selected Elizabeth and a Negro man, Brom, who was associated with her in the suit, in order to determine whether or not slavery was constitutional in Massachusetts after the adoption of the new constitution."

Procedurally, the case began in May 1781 when the attorneys for Bett and Brom obtained a writ of replevin, an action for the recovery of property, from the Berkshire Court of Common Pleas. The write ordered Ashley to release Bett and Brom to the Sheriff because they were not Ashley's legitimate property. Ashley refused.

Writ of Replevin ordering Ashley to release Brett and Brom.

When the case was tried in August 1781 before the County Court of Common Pleas in Great Barrington, Sedgwick argued that the Massachusetts Constitution had outlawed slavery. The jury determined that Brom and Bett were not Ashley's property. The court set Bett and Brom free and awarded them 30 shillings damages.

(dated August 22, 1792 Suffolk files 159966)

Ashley appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court but abandoned his appeal several months later. The timing of his decision suggests that Ashley may have determined that an appeal was futile following the first ruling of the Supreme Judicial Court in the Quock Walker case (see below).

Though little is known of Brom's later years, the remainder of Mum Bett's life is well known. Mum Bett worked for many years as a beloved domestic servant in the household of Theodore Sedgwick.

Upon her death in 1829, Mum Bett was buried in the Sedgwick family plot in Stockbridge. Her gravestone includes the words: "She was born a slave and remained a slave for nearly thirty years. She could neither read nor write, yet in her own sphere she had no superior or equal." Her tombstone stands in the innermost circle of what is known as the "Sedgwick Pie."

Theodore Sedgwick had an illustrious legal career, and served an Associate Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court from 1802 - 1813.

Sedgwick "Pie" in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The graves of Theodore Sedgwick and his wife, Pamela Sedgwick, are in the center.

History and Trauma Theme Analysis

Much of the novel focuses on the many ways that American slaves faced incredible emotional and physical pain throughout the history of the American slave states. Butler, led by a desire to remind Civil Rights activists not to blame slaves for accepting their abuse by offering a reminder of the extent of the trauma that slaves faced, bears visceral witness to the terrible things that slaves daily survived. Rather than using the enslaved characters as simple objects for displaying the horrors of slavery, Butler takes care to make each of her black characters nuanced and complicated human beings. By giving the awful facts of oppression and harm human faces, Butler acknowledges both the pain inflicted in the past and the pain of forgetting or minimizing what African American ancestors endured when this history is reduced to statistics and stereotypes.

By actually traveling back in time, Dana is forced to grapple with the insane violence of slavery instead of passively reading about it or pretending that it didn’t happen in order to go on with her life. Butler gives a voice to the aspects of slavery that others try to sanitize for a present day audience in the name of “moving on.” Recognizing that the trauma of slavery continues to affect the descendants of slaves in the present day, as seen in the racial discrimination that Dana faces at her job and the resistance to interracial relationships that Dana and Kevin encounter, Butler stresses the importance of understanding the past in order to come to terms with histories of trauma rather than ignoring past violence in a foolhardy attempt to erase those wrongs. In fact, Butler gives support to the old adage, “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it” by marking the similarities between the centuries of American slavery practices and the crimes against the Jewish population in Europe during the Holocaust. The historical practices of slavery offered a model for oppression later followed by tyrants, which would continue as long as people remain ignorant to the real horror faced by oppressed groups in the past. Dana’s wounds in the past and the loss of her arm physically bring this trauma back to the present, making it clear how much trauma in the past influences the lives of those in the present.

Though the novel centers on one woman traveling back to the antebellum period, Butler makes it clear that Dana’s purpose is not to change the course of the Weylin family or their slaves. Dana is actually supposed to make sure that history happens how it did, so that Dana’s ancestor Hagar can be born. While Dana is there, she realizes that she cannot change history, but she can witness it and move past it. She does what she can to minimize the pain of those in her immediate surroundings, but the entire social history of the South cannot be changed by one person. Similarly, Kindred as a whole does not attempt to rewrite history or cast the burden of slavery in a new light, but instead testifies to the pain that slaves went through and honors the sacrifices and trauma they had to live through so that African Americans in the present could have a chance at a better life.

Enslavement of Native Americans

Even less was recorded, and therefore less is known, about Native American slaves in Wethersfield. Some mentioned in inventories and wills appear earlier in this account. It is also known that Rev. Elisha Williams owned a women slave who was Native American, as well as owning Black slaves, and Elisha Williams himself recorded the names and ages of a son and daughter of his Native American slave. Also, we do know that enslavement of Native Americans was ongoing during the colonial era in New England.

Margaret E. Newell, in her article for the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, The Changing Nature of Indian Slavery in New England, states “… New England armies, courts and magistrates enslaved more than 1200 Indian men, women, and children in the seventeenth century alone, and bound many others into finite terms of servitude.” At one point, the New England colonies stopped taking captive Native Americans as slaves and instead turned to other methods of binding them to unpaid labor, such as servitude for debt, crime, or by pauper indentures of even very young children. Ironically, one of the reasons colonial authorities ceased to enslave Native Americans was their desire to enlist them as soldiers in the wars against other Native Americans and the French. Concerning how this practice involved Wethersfield, Sherman Adams states: ‘In Captain Eliphalet Whittlesey’s Company, of General Lymam’s Command, in several campaigns of the French war (1756 to 1760) we find that sundry Indians were enrolled as soldiers. Captain Whittelsey was of Wethersfield, and most of his men (as is apparent on examining the muster rolls were from that township. The names of these Indians were: in 1756, Sockhegon, Stephen Queesod, Richard Toroway and Isaac Suneemon in 1758, Ambo, Tando (or Dando, Daniel Neepash and Stephen Taphow”.

Four of these Native Americans, Adams identifies as probably of Wethersfield: Ambo as the son of the “Indian slave woman,” belonging to Rector Elisha Williams, and Suneemon, corrupted to Cinnamon, Adams thinks was perhaps the ancestor of “Old Cinnamon” who at Adams’s time was still remembered in Wethersfield. The Tando family were residents of Wethersfield, as were those of the Taphows. Beaver Brook was originally known as Tando Brook and a one-time wild region in town was called Taphow. In 1777 and in 1794, the death records of First Church in Wethersfield give first the death of an infant daughter of Ammon Tanto, and then his own death at age 53.

The possible connection of Suneemon (actually recorded in the French and Indian War rolls as Issac Suncemon) to “Old Cinnamon”, described by Adams as “more black than copper colored,” is more interesting and complex than Adams states. In the vital records of Wethersfield are the following listed under Cinnamon: “Cinamon…Winthrop of Hartford m.[married] Elizabeth Green of Wethersfield [Newington Church record],” also, a death record: “Winthrop, laborer, s. [son of] Thomas, colored, b.[born] Stonington, res. Wethersfield, married d. [died] Feb. 14, 1864, ae. 60.” The following document from 1800-1801 appears among records for the Pequots: a list of signers for deeds selling some of the tribal lands and stating: “all [are] of Groton in the County of New London and state of Connecticut, all of us belonging to the Pequot or Mashantucket Tribe of Indians.” Among those signatures is that of a James Sunsemon. Is it not likely, allowing for the corruptions of the spelling, that Winthrop Cinnamon, aka “Old Cinnamon” is a member of this Pequot family?

Of the Tando/Tanto/Dando family, Adams comments that people in Wethersfield thought them to be of mixed “African and Indian blood.” “Negro” designates both “Dando” and Ambo in the French and Indian War rolls. All of the foregoing demonstrates the racial mixing of Black and Native American peoples taking place in New England. Because many native men were sent to the West Indies and even to Europe as slaves, and because of high mortality rates for other Native American males in the colonial wars, Native American women sought mates among Black males. Wethersfield records two such marriages, and these are notable because they involve free Native women indenting their labor to the master/mistress of their Black slave husbands.

In one such of January 10, 1756, Phebe Parsons “free Indian”, binds herself to Widow Dorothy Bulkley, Wethersfield. “Phebe wishing to marry Prince, Negro man belonging to Dorothy, binds herself as servant for the term of the natural life of Prince”. A similar case of which more is known is that of Rachel a free Native American. In 1730, she contracted herself to become “a servant of Daniel Warner and heirs until the death of Ben Negro manservant of Said Warner.” However, at Warner’s death neither Ben nor Rachel were listed among the chattel goods in the inventory or will of Warner. Ben did, moreover, appear in the tax records for Wethersfield starting in 1744 and also in the account books of Joseph Webb, Sr.

Judicial binding of Native Americans or Native American/Black people for crime or debt was common in New England. So was indenture of children of such, either as pauper indentures done by town officials, or as actions by a parent because he/she wished the child to learn a trade. Cases also exist of Native American mothers working as free servants indenturing their very young children to keep them close, or of their employers indenturing them, claiming as justification the expense of keeping them. No record of a pauper indenture for a Native American child was found in Wethersfield, but there is one for Hannah, the daughter of Sarah Keeney, a white woman and Sampson, a free Black man. Sampson died, and the selectmen of Wethersfield, because her mother was neglecting her, bound the small child to Sherman Boardman and his wife until she be eighteen years of age. A standard practice, known as pauper indenture, existed in the law code of 1650, and was employed by the selectmen of the town in all cases of abuse, neglect, or failing to properly educate a child, whatever the racial identity of the child. A separate section in later versions of the law code dealt specifically with Native American children. In these cases, the binding out was done by the white overseer of the tribe with judicial approval. Apparently, no input was sought from members of the tribe. That provision was still on the books in the law code of 1902.

According to historians who pored through records, the use of pauper indentures was a judicial and official method of binding Native American children to a form of perpetual slavery. Most of this documentation deals with Rhode Island and, in Connecticut, with New London. There is one case with a passing connection to Wethersfield. April 7, 1785 is the date of indenture for “Ebo, a mustee of Brookhaven New York, born 26 May, 1782, child of Charity (a mustee), bound to Benjamin Tallmadge of Litchfield for a period of twenty-one years.” The child was not quite three years of age.

Originally from Brookhaven, N.Y., Benjamin Tallmadge settled in Wethersfield as a teacher after graduating from Yale. When the Revolution started, he helped form the Second Dragoons, eventually becoming the head of Washington’s spy network. After the Revolution, he made his home in Litchfield. Mustee was a term used in New York, and certain areas of New Jersey, as well as in Rhode Island. The English equivalent of the Spanish mestizo, it denoted a person with both Native American heritage and that of another race, often Black.

Wethersfield did not use that term, but often the designation “colored” appears in the records. What cannot be determined, however, is if that term identifies exclusively a person of mixed African American/Native American heritage. What is known is that in the census which Connecticut submitted to the British Board of Trade in 1762, 2636 whites, 135 blacks, and no Indians were tabulated for Wethersfield. This was of the time that Adams placed in Wethersfield, Ambo, the son of Elisha Williams’ female Indian slave, who also had a daughter, Desire, born in 1717, plus members 0f the Tando and Taphow families of Wethersfield, who were a mixture of Native American and Black. It was also close to the date of the marriage of Phebe Parsons, Native American, to a Black slave. Obviously, then, the white authorities in town were counting such people as Blacks. This sort of confused counting continued over the centuries. In some cases, the same person was variously labeled as Indian, Negro, mulatto, or colored. In the 1980 U.S. Census, people who checked both Negro and Indian boxes were tabulated as Negro. What this labeling did was to first propagate and then perpetuate the legend of “The Vanishing Noble Savage.” More importantly, the labeling deprived people who considered themselves to be culturally Native American, of that identity. Thus, Native Americans were not only being dispossessed of most of their land, but also the status they had a right to as the original residents of this land.

In 1784, Connecticut began by law to free some slaves. After the American Revolution, greater numbers of free Blacks, mulattoes, and those designated as colored appear on the Wethersfield records. However, total emancipation by Connecticut was a slow, gradual process, with slavery not completely disappearing from the state until 1848.

3g. Witchcraft in Salem

Thomkins H. Matteson, 1855'>
George Jacobs Sr. and his granddaughter Margaret were both accused of witchcraft, but Margaret managed to escape harm by claiming that Grandpa was indeed a witch. He was convicted and hanged in August 1692.

Surely the Devil had come to Salem in 1692. Young girls screaming and barking like a dog? Strange dances in the woods? This was behavior hardly becoming of virtuous teenage maidens. The town doctor was called onto the scene. After a thorough examination, he concluded quite simply &mdash the girls were bewitched. Now the task was clear. Whomever was responsible for this outrage must be brought to justice.

The ordeal originated in the home of Salem's Reverend Samuel Parris . Parris had a slave from the Caribbean named Tituba . Several of the town's teenage girls began to gather in the kitchen with Tituba early in 1692. As winter turned to spring the townspeople were aghast at the behaviors exhibited by Tituba's young followers. They were believed to have danced a black magic dance in the nearby woods. Several of the girls would fall to the floor and scream hysterically. Soon this behavior began to spread across Salem. Ministers from nearby communities came to Salem to lend their sage advice. The talk turned to identifying the parties responsible for this mess.

"There's no place like Salem. There's no place like Salem. "

Puritans believed that to become bewitched a witch must draw an individual under a spell. The girls could not have possibly brought this condition onto themselves. Soon they were questioned and forced to name their tormentors. Three townspeople, including Tituba, were named as witches. The famous Salem witchcraft trials began as the girls began to name more and more community members.

Evidence admitted in such trials was of five types. First, the accused might be asked to pass a test, like reciting the Lord's Prayer. This seems simple enough. But the young girls who attended the trial were known to scream and writhe on the floor in the middle of the test. It is easy to understand why some could not pass.

Second, physical evidence was considered. Any birthmarks, warts, moles, or other blemishes were seen as possible portals through which Satan could enter a body.

Witness testimony was a third consideration. Anyone who could attribute their misfortune to the sorcery of an accused person might help get a conviction.

Fourth was spectral evidence. Puritans believed that Satan could not take the form of any unwilling person. Therefore, if anyone saw a ghost or spirit in the form of the accused, the person in question must be a witch.

The Trial of Rebecca Nurse

Last was the confession . Confession seems foolhardy to a defendant who is certain of his or her innocence. In many cases, it was the only way out. A confessor would tearfully throw himself or herself on the mercy of the town and court and promise repentance. None of the confessors were executed. Part of repentance might of course include helping to convict others.

As 1692 passed into 1693, the hysteria began to lose steam. The governor of the colony, upon hearing that his own wife was accused of witchcraft ordered an end to the trials. However, 20 people and 2 dogs were executed for the crime of witchcraft in Salem. One person was pressed to death under a pile of stones for refusing to testify.

No one knows the truth behind what happened in Salem. Once witchcraft is ruled out, other important factors come to light. Salem had suffered greatly in recent years from Indian attacks. As the town became more populated, land became harder and harder to acquire. A smallpox epidemic had broken out at the beginning of the decade. Massachusetts was experiencing some of the worst winters in memory. The motives of the young girls themselves can be questioned. In a society where women had no power, particularly young women, is it not understandable how a few adolescent girls, drunk with unforeseen attention, allowed their imaginations to run wild? Historians make educated guesses, but the real answers lie with the ages.


Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond continues to be a popular book for middle school readers. Speare hit all the tropes of Wethersfield history while not producing a book true to that history. Therefore, it should be enjoyed as a coming-of-age book and not read as history.

Both records on shipbuilding are cited in Sherman Adams and Henry Stiles, The History of Ancient Wethersfield, 2 vols., facsimile of the 1904 edition (Somersworth, N.H., 1974), Vol. I: The permission for “Tho: Demon” (sic) to receive a lot on the common by the landing place for a home and work yard appears in the Town Records, Sept. 22, 1647. Deming was a ship’s carpenter. Adams, who largely wrote vol. I, ibid, has an extensive chapter, XII, on the maritime history of Wethersfield, pp. 536-595.

For background on slavery and the culture of sugar in the Americas, see the following: Dr. Hakim Adi, “Africa and The Transatlantic Slave Trade ( also, AAME, “The Transatlantic Slave Trade,” on the web at ( This paper tells of the growth of the slave trade due to the actions of the Portuguese in Africa. Also see M. Opal, “Why the Portuguese Restoration of 1640 Matters to The History of American Slavery” ( . A full history of Barbados appears in Charles M. Andrews, The Colonial Period in American History, vol. The Settlements (New Haven, 1939).

For the Papal Bull “Dum Diversas” and the effects it had on Portuguese actions in Africa and on slave trading of the 15 th and 16 th centuries, see “Papal Bull Dum Diversas , 18 June 1452 ( and William L. Langer, The Encyclopedia of World History: Ancient Medieval and Modern, Chronologically Arranged (Boston, 1952), pp328-32 gives accounts of Arab trade to Ghana and down the east coast of Africa. Also pp.363-365 catalogs Portuguese successes in Africa. Brazil and India. For further explanation of Arab/Islamic presence in North Africa, the paper by L. Mendola and V. Salemo, “Sicilian Peoples: The Arabs, Moors, and Saracens in Sicilian History”, ( should be looked at.

The Secret Religion of the Slaves

By the eve of the Civil War, Christianity had pervaded the slave community. Not all slaves were Christian, nor were all those who accepted Christianity members of a church, but the doctrines, symbols, and vision of life preached by Christianity were familiar to most.

The religion of the slaves was both visible and invisible, formally organized and spontaneously adapted. Regular Sunday worship in the local church was paralleled by illicit, or at least informal, prayer meetings on weeknights in the slave cabins. Preachers licensed by the church and hired by the master were supplemented by slave preachers licensed only by the spirit. Texts from the Bible, which most slaves could not read, were explicated by verses from the spirituals. Slaves forbidden by masters to attend church or, in some cases, even to pray, risked floggings to attend secret gatherings to worship God.

His own experience of the &ldquoinvisible institution&rdquo was recalled by former slave Wash Wilson:

Master&rsquos Preachin&rsquo, Real Preachin&rsquo

Slaves frequently were moved to hold their own religious meetings out of disgust for the vitiated gospel preached by their masters&rsquo preachers. Lucretia Alexander explained what slaves did when they grew tired of the white folks&rsquo preacher: &ldquoThe preacher came and &hellip he&rsquod just say, &lsquoServe your masters. Don&rsquot steal your master&rsquos turkey. Don&rsquot .

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