Did slavery exist among Native Americans prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus? Yes. Did Europeans make slaves out of Indians? Also yes. In our next conversation with Dr. Thomas Murphy, we’ll talk more about the dynamics of Indian slavery. It’s a story most people don’t know.
GT: There’s a story in [the book Establishing Zion] of a Native American that had two Native American children that were captured from a war and he tried to sell them to the Mormons. The Mormons said, “No, we’re not going to do that.” So he executed the one child in front of them, and said, “If you had any heart, you would have saved this child’s life.” So then they were like, “Oh!” So there was some slavery as well, at least in Native American cultures, wasn’t there?
Thomas: These stories where Mormons say, “Oh, the Utes made us do it.” Wait a minute. Mormons were doing this in Nauvoo before they came West. So Peninah was a servant. Danny Wood describes her as orphaned in his autobiography. It’s kind of wishy washy about the details of how she got into the household. Some of the later accounts call her a hired girl. But very clearly, she was a servant, to take care of his first wife, who was sick and bedridden. So, in the household there’s this caretaker. She converts to the LDS Church, one of the first Lamanite, they say, converts to the Church. Her descendants, my wife’s family, say that she was the first Lamanite to enter into plural marriage. She went through the Nauvoo temple, married Daniel Wood. She went from the servant to the second wife. Then she came West with the Mormons, or with that second wagon train coming West. When we try to say, “Okay, the Utes made us do it,” how do we explain Peninah? How do we explain that there was already a slave trade in Illinois, also, with relationship to the Spanish, who temporarily controlled the St. Louis area? There were struggles between the French and the Spanish for this area. So when Mormons came into Illinois, there was a similar slave trade in Indian women and children. So that practice, nobody was threatening Mormons to do this. They were already participating in a larger cultural practice.
GT: So it sounds like the eastern Indians were different than the western Indians. And maybe the western Indians were more into slavery than the eastern. Is that a fair statement?
Thomas: Yeah, because of that Spanish influence, because both in Illinois and in the Great Basin, there had been Spanish colonization. So, the Spanish influence created a market for slaves.
GT: So did the Spanish bring slavery to, I guess, what was Mexico? Can we blame the Indian slave trade on the Spanish?
Thomas: The slavery of Indians?
Thomas: Absolutely. Yes. Oh, yes. Now the English did it too.
GT: What about before the Spanish got here? Is there any evidence for Indian slavery before the Spanish arrived?
Thomas: I don’t really like to use the term slavery to describe that. It certainly wasn’t chattel slavery. People were not bought and sold. It was more like what Mormons did in the Mormon Indian Student Placement Program, fostering, adoption.
We’ll talk more about how Europeans created a market for Indian slaves, a story not told in the history books. This also has implications for the Gospel Topics essay. Check out our conversation….
Don’t miss our previous conversations with Dr. Murphy!