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The Creek Indians and Their Captives by Snyder Research Paper

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Updated: Jan 1st, 2022

The author explores the history of slavery in the creek tribes. The Creeks lived in modern-day Georgia, northern Florida, and Alabama starting around the year 1000. The creek tribe traditionally enslaved others captured in battle, but this ownership was not inherited by their offspring. The creeks also sold captives to Americans or British middlemen. The creek’s practices of slavery changed with the times.

Analysis

Creek Indians, the original occupants of modern-day Georgia, Alabama, and northern Florida have had a long history of enslaving their captives. In fact, the arrival of slave-owning whites looking for refuge in the Indian country barely shocked the Creek Indians for they had also captured, mistreated, and sold slaves. The history of slavery among the Creeks dates back to their ancestors, even before the arrival of Europeans and Africans in the 16th century. The tribes regularly came together to fight off an enemy and captured their slaves during such duels. To them, captivity was an institution that they were not ready to relinquish (The Free Library, 2007, para. 1).

The captives served a variety of purposes among the Creek tribes: warriors seeking revenge could bring their captives to be killed at the village poles, families that had lost a member through death could adopt them, or they could be employed by their owners to create wealth. Gradually, these tribes established their slaveholding custom drawing from their interactions with other Indian tribes, and later with Africans and Europeans (Snyder, 2007, para. 4).

The Creeks maintained the tradition of killing their captives violently up to the late eighteenth century during the war with Americans. In one instance, trader John Fitzpatrick watched as the Creek’s leader, Alexander McGillivray, killed six American surveyors, subjecting their leader through a ‘more ceremonial, torturous death’. The torture of captives provided liberation for the Creek families that had lost their clan members, a practice is known as blood vengeance, and they believed that the spirits of their kin could only enter the afterlife after the killing of those responsible or their close relatives (The Free Library, 2007, para. 7).

Forms of Torture

The Creeks mainly killed their captives through a slow death by fire in fields while a few others died on the blood poles, mostly men. The form of torture to be accorded to a captive was decided on by the women and whenever a captive showed emotions of fear or pain, they were jeered and laughed at by the villagers. After death, the scalps were left on the poles for some days, these served the same cultural belief as did torture.

Apart from the ritual function, another motivation for the torturous killing of captives was the elevation of men who undertook such acts by the society, those who participated in such acts were given titles in the society. The Creeks’ desire to punish the Americans for grabbing their lands also acted as a factor in the violence meted on captives (Snyder, 2007, para. 18).

Although men were killed on fires or blood poles, women and children captives were treated differently; most of them were adopted by the Creek families, in fact, the women intermarried with the native men. This bestowed full community membership benefits and they carried out all the responsibilities required of other Creek community members. This ensured continuity of family lines within the community despite the epidemic diseases that plagued them. It is during the eighteenth century that slaveholding flourished among Creek nations and captives included Americans, African Americans, and their children.

Many scholars point to this era as the point of origin of racism and slavery. They attribute this practice to various reasons: contamination from the culture of the whites living in their land, the federal government’s modernization plan, and the native nations’ decreasing independence. Although these factors led to commoditized slavery, it is important to note that the Creek tribes had treated slaves as properties for hundreds of years. Besides, they found no moral undoing in trading slaves as they had long known commoditization and exploitation as an unavoidable fate for slaves. In the course of the 18th century, slaves were traded for money, firearms, and clothes (Snyder, 2007, para. 31).

This trend changed in the 18th century as captured white women and children were ransomed, bringing huge profits to the Creeks. However, as the war drew to a close, black captives were found to be more important since, unlike the whites whose buyers were only family members and the government, they received better offers from a variety of buyers. Even the Creeks bought African American captives from their fellow countrymen, mostly chiefs or local businessmen. People of African descent were considered valuable producers and were employed as farmers, herders, carpenters, and household workers.

In the late eighteenth century, new concepts pertaining to identity and race went around the Creeks. Spiritual leaders began to tell their audiences of the notion of pan-Indian identity and polygenesis: that Africans, Europeans, and Indians were created separately and each had an innate, unique nature. They regarded African Americans as people naturally different from them and who only deserved to be labored. A few Creeks who accepted this thought started holding back slaves of Africans in transgenerational bondage. However, in the late 18th century towards the end of the revolution, some Creeks found the commodification of slaves disturbing and some even started accepting them in their societies, even intermarrying with them(Snyder, 2007, para. 41).

By 1795, most Creeks had relinquished their struggle to hold onto their lands and they ceded it to the Americans. During this period, many captured white Americans and persons of African descent poured into the Creek nation in large numbers and began to influence the culture of the natives. They only chose elements from other cultures that matched with their own such as the adoption of women. They also adopted a form of commodifying slaves similar to that of the white southerners.

References

Snyder, C. (2007). Conquered Enemies, Adopted Kin, and Owned People: The Creek Indians and Their Captives. Journal of Southern History, Vol LXXIII, Number 2.

The Free Library. (2010). Conquered Enemies, Adopted Kin, and Owned People: The Creek Indians and Their Captives. Web.

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