Dayna Bowker Lee (Anthropology, Northwestern State Universitry, Louisiana)
From Captives to Kin: Indian Slavery and Changing Social Identities on the Louisiana Colonial Frontier
This study will examine the development and decline of Indian slavery in colonial Louisiana as played out in the Red River outpost of Natchitoches on the western edge of the French frontier. In this remote region, French citizens easily adapted to Amerindian economic and social strategies, developing familial trade relationships through formal adoption into pre-existing tribal structures. Indian slavery fit well with these strategies and was an important component of trade with Indian allies as well as illicit trade with Spanish Texas. Although Amerindian men and boys were also enslaved in Natchitoches, as the 18th century progressed the population of Indian slaves became markedly more female than male. Prevented by rules of miscegenation from marriage with women of African descent, many French men took free or enslaved Indian women as servants and concubines, as well as wives. Some Amerindian women who entered colonial Natchitoches as slaves became colonial matriarchs whose children assumed the social position and ethnicity of their fathers. Indian women who remained enslaved passed that status on to their descendants regardless of paternity. Indian slavery was virtually unregulated by the French, and ineffectively regulated by the Spanish. Despite official prohibitions, Indian slavery remained a viable enterprise at outposts like Natchitoches throughout the 18th century.