Slavery and the Evolution of Cherokee Society


  • Author(s): Perdue, Theda
  • Series:
  • Imprint: Univ Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 1987-07-06
  • Status: Active
  • Available in Paper: Price $26.95 | Buy Now

Slavery was practiced among North American Indians long before Europeans arrived on these shores, bringing their own version of this “peculiar institution.” Unlike the European institution, however, Native American slavery was function of warfare among tribes, replenishment of population lost through intertribal conflict or disease, and establishment and preservation of tribal standards of behavior. American Indians had little use, in primary purpose of slavery among Europeans.

Theda Perdue here traces the history of slavery among the Cherokee Indians as it evolved from 1540 to 1866, indicating not only why the intrusion of whites, “slaves” contributed nothing to the Cherokee economy. During the colonial period, however, Cherokees actively began to capture members of other tribes and were themselves captured and sold to whites as chattels for the Caribbean slave trade. Also during this period, African slaves were introduced among the Indians, and when intertribal warfare ended, the use of forced labor to increase agricultural and other production emerged within Cherokee society.

Well aware that the institution of black slavery was only one of many important changes that gradually broke down the traditional Cherokee culture after 1540, Professor Perdue integrates her concern with slavery into the total picture of cultural transformation resulting from the clash between European and Amerindian societies. She has made good use of previous anthropological and sociological studies, and presents an excellent summary of the relevant historical materials, ever attempting to see cultural crises from the perspective of the Cherokees. The first over-all account of the effect of slavery upon the Cherokees, Perdue’s acute analysis and readable narrative provide the reader with a new angle of vision on the changing nature of Cherokee culture under the impact of increasing contact with Europeans.

Theda Perdue is assistant professor of history at Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, North Carolina.