Indian Slavery in New York

University of the State of New York

State Library Bulletin


May 1899





Frequent reference is made in the colonial records and laws, not only of New York but also of other colonies, to Indians as slaves. Indian slavery in some form existed in all or nearly all of them. We know that the Indians of the West Indies, from an early period, were made slaves; that the Spaniards made slaves of captives from the continent to some extent; that the Indian tribes made slaves of their captives in war, and sometimes sold them to the whites.

In Massachusetts, in 1637 and after, many captive Indians taken in the Pequot war were made slaves, and were sent to the Bermudas and there sold. Hugh Peter wanted “some boyes for the Bermudas ” from these captives. Domestic Indian slavery existed at the same time, and the statutes of the colony made constant allusion to the fact.

In King Philip’s war, 1675-78, numerous Indian captives taken were disposed of as slaves. In 1675, 112 men, women and children of the Indians were, by the council of Plymouth, ordered sold, and they were accordingly sold. A little later, 57 more were sold. In all, in 1675-76, 188 were sold for £397 13s. The “Praying Indians” themselves did not escape the common fate of captive Indians. They all went, when captured, into West Indian slavery. The lawfulness of the slavery of both Indians and negroes was recognized by the “Code of 1650” of the colony of Connecticut. Indian slaves were imported into Pennsylvania from Carolina and elsewhere.

In Virginia, by and act passed in 1676, all Indians taken in war were to be held and accounted slaves during life. In the same year it was enacted that Indian captives taken by soldiers in war should be the property of such captors. The Indian captives of neighboring Indians were sold to the whites as slaves; and this was made lawful by an act passed in 1862.


Turning to New York, the evidence is not conclusive that Indians were enslaved during the Dutch period, within the province at least. It is probable, however, that the Dutch sometimes made slaves of Indian prisoners.

In a communication of the “Eight Men”, from Manhattan, to the Amsterdam chamber of the West India company, in 1644, they say: “The captured Indians who might have been of considerable use to us as guides, have been given to the soldiers as presents, and allowed to go to Holland; the others have been sent off to the Bermudas as a present to the English governor,” presumably as slaves.

During the English period, there is frequent reference to Indian laves. “According to the Minutes of 1679, it was resolved that all Indians within the colony were free — nor could they be forced to be servants or slaves — and if they were brought hither as slaves, a residence of 6 months should entitle them to freedom.” But this rule did not prevail at a later period in the English colony, as is evident from both documents and laws.

In the narrative of grievances against Jacob Leisler, appears this: “The same night (Dec. 23, 1689) an Indian Slave belonging to Philip French was dragged to the Fort (New York) and there imprisoned.”

The colonial act of May 1, 1702, is the first act mentioning Indians as slaves. A tax is levied “upon every Negro or Indian Slave Imported in this Province from their own Countries.” The next is an act passed Oct. 21, 1706: “Whereas divers of her Maties good Subjects, Inhabitants of this Colony now are and have been willing that such Negro, Indian and Mulatto Slaves who belong to them and desire the same, should be baptized,” etc. The same act declared “That all and every Negro, Indian

Mulatto and Mestee Bastard Child & Children who is, are and shall be born of any Negro, Indian, Mulatto or Mestee, shall follow ye state and Condition of the Mother & be esteemed reputed taken & adjudged a slave & slaves to all intents and purposes whatsoever.” An act of Sep. 18, 1708 speaks of “Negro, Indian or other Slaves.”


Lord Cornbury wrote to the board of trade, Feb. 10, 1707-8, as has been said in a preceding chapter: ‘A most barbarous murder has been committed upon the family of one Hallett by an Indian Man Slave, and a Negro Woman, who have murdered their Master, Mistress and five children.’

In 1712, the Lords of trade, at Whitehall, recommended the reprieve of Hosea and John, ” Spanish Indians,” convicted of participation in the insurrection at New York in that year.

Among the slaves imported from the West Indies and Brazil, very probably, were Indian slaves of those countries. This of itself may be some explanation of the frequent reference in the acts of the colony to Indian slaves, but there were evidently other Indian slaves.

It is more than probable that some Indian slaves of the Indian tribes, made such by capture in war, were purchased by the colonists and held as slaves.

In 1702, in “Propositions made by 5 of the farr Indians,” the “Pani” (Pawnee) Indians are spoken of as “the Naudowassees by ye French called Pani, a nation of Indians that live to the Westward towards ye Spanyards,” with whom these “farr Indians” were at war. Schoolcraft, speaking of the “Pawnees (Pani)’ says: ‘The Pawnees were formerly a brave, warlike tribe, living on the Platte River in Nebraska. Their history, until a recent date, is one of almost constant warfare with the Dakotas.” It is pretty certain that these “Panis” were among

the Indian slaves of the colonists.

In “the Paris Documents,” of occurrences in Canada during the year 1747-48 the Journal, under date of Nov. 11, 1747, recites: “The

4 Negroes and a Panis, who were captured from the English during the war and had run away from Montreal, as mentioned in the entry of the 28th of October, in the preceding Journal, have been overtaken and brought in today; we intend to put them on board a small vessel bound to Martinico, the last in port; these slaves will be sold there for the benefit of the proprietors.”

In the entry of Oct. 28, it is said : “We learn from Montreal that 4 to 5 negroes, who had been taken from the English daring


the war, have deserted. . . It will be proper, henceforward, to send all these foreign negroes to the Island to be sold there’ The “Panis” was here included in the “4 to 5 negroes, who had been taken from the English during the war.”

The same journal, under date of Dec. 1, 1747, recites the finding of some “Dutchmen” among the Indians, who had been adopted, for which reason the Indians would not sell them for money,” but they will exchange them for Panis men or women. . . . We shall wait until the coming down of the Michilimakinac canoes to buy some prisoners at a lower figure than could be done now.”

M. Varin, in a letter to M. Bigot, from Montreal, July 24, 1754, in giving an account of a battle with the English, and of the losses of the Canadians, says: “Mr. Pean’s Panis has been also killed”. This was at Fort Necessity, Fayette co. Pa,

In the articles of capitulation for the surrender of Canada, between Gen. Amherst, commander in chief of the British forces, and the Marquis de Vaudreuil, governor and lieutenant general for the king in Canada, Montreal, Sep. 8, 1760, art. 47 as proposed by the French, recited:

“The Negroes and Panis of both sexes shall remain in their quality of slaves, in the possession of the French and Canadians to whom they belong; they shall be at liberty to keep them in their service in the colony, or to sell them ; and they shall also continue to bring them up in the Roman religion.”

The British general wrote opposite the proposition: “Granted; except those who shall have been made prisoners.” Those, we may assume, were carried off as spoils of war, “Panis” as well as “Negroes.”

If farther proof were needed of the fact that the British kept Panis Indians as slaves, we have it in the “Articles of Peace between Sir William Johnson and the Huron Indians, made at Niagara, July 18, 1764″. They contain the following:

“Article 2nd. That any English who may be prisoners or deserters, and any Negroes, Panis, or other Slaves, who are British property, shall be delivered up, within one month, to the commandent


of the Detroit, and that the Hurons use all possible endeavors to get those who are in the hands of the neighboring Nations; engaging never to entertain any deserters, fugitives or slaves; but should any such fly to them for protection, they are to deliver them up to the next commanding officer.”

Judge Matthews, of Louisiana, in the case of Seville vs Chretien, in which an Indian sought ” to recover his liberty,” says:

“It is an admitted principle, that slavery has been permitted and tolerated in all the colonies established in America by the mother

country. Not only of Africans, but also of Indians.”

In The State (New Jersey) vs Waggoner, April term, 1797, the court says:

“They [Indians] have so long been recognized as slaves in our law, that it would be as great a violation of the rights of property to establish a contrary decision at the present day, as it would in the case of the Africans, and as useless to investigate the manner in which they originally lost their freedom.”

Judge Matthews, in the Louisiana case above cited, says that the permission to introduce negroes “was intended as a means of enabling the planters to dispense with the slavery of the Indians by their European conquerers.”

He says farther:

“About twenty years after, [the introduction of slaves into Virginia by the Dutch], slaves were introduced into New England, and it is believed that Indians were at the same time, or before, held in bondage.”

The first Act of the legislature of the Province of Virginia on the subject of the slavery of the Indians was passed in 1670, and one of its provisions, according to Judge Tucker, prohibits free or manumitted Indians from purchasing Christian servants. The words free or manumitted are useless and absurd, if there did not exist Indians who had been slaves and had been manumitted, before and at the time this Act was passed.

In the case of Gomez vs Boneval, in Louisiana, 1819, the court said:

“But the descendants of Africans are not the only subjects of American slavery. The native Indians have also been enslaved, and their descendants are still in slavery.”


These citations, it is true, do not conclusively prove that Indians were ever held as slaves in New York; but do show that it was a common custom in the colonies to hold them as such.  Presumably, the same custom prevailed in New York.

Aaron Schuyler, of New York, in 1693, gave to his daughters.

Eve and Cornelia, by his will, two houses and lots on Broadway,

New York, with an Indian slave woman to each. (W. B. Melius)

Mr Melius, of Albany N. Y. who has made this subject a matter of fipecial study, says:

“I do not believe the pure Indian was sold as a slave. There are cases on record wherein Indian women would bind themselves to white men and become their servants. I know of no case where they were afterwards sold as chattel, and believe the Indian who was the slave was not without mixture.”

We find that Sarah Robinson, an Indian woman and native of New York, landed at Southampton and came into the possession of Robert Waters, and was sent as a slave to Madeira and there returned by the English council to New York. I believe this not to be a pure Indian woman, but amalgamated. . . In 1717, complaint was made that slaves ran away and were secreted by the Minieinke, and they intermarried with the Indian women.

On all the evidence on the subject, however, it is safe to say that Indian slaves were owned in the colony of New York. At one period, they were, probably, Indians imported from the West Indies and Brazil. At another period “Panis” Indians were slaves. Some Indians, specially Indian women, voluntarily became “servants” or slaves. The children of free Indians and slave mothers of African blood were slaves, following the condition of the mother. It is highly probable that Indian slave captives of the adjacent warlike tribes were purchased from these tribes by the English, and remained slaves. It is not improbable that some of the weaker tribes contributed in various ways to the number of Indian slaves.

It is improbable that any of the stronger tribes, like the proud

and warlike Six Nations, were ever made slaves.

That Indian slavery in some of these forms existed in New York is reasonably certain. The statutes for a long period repeated


the phrase “Indian slaves,” which is a clear recognition of an existing fact. And the fact that Indian slavery existed in all the surrounding colonies leads to the same conclusion.

It is noticeable that “Indian” slaves are not mentioned in the acts of the legislature of the state, though the colonial laws, down to the end of the colonial period, speak, in almost every statute relating to slavery, of “Negro and Indian slaves.”

The anti-slavery movement began in earnest in New York in 1808 and is increasingly reflected in legislation beginning from that date.

The fourth day of July 1827, was the day when, according to the law of 1817, every slave in this state born before July 4, 1799, became free. All children of slaves born after this latter date were free but remained servants till a certain age. Slavery, as such, had come to an end. Various laws and resolutions, however, were passed by the legislature, from time to time, in the interests, and for the protection, of former slaves and other colored persons within the state, and in regard to the general question of slavery elsewhere in the United States.


About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in Bermuda, Dakota, Huron, New York, Pawnee, West Indies. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Indian Slavery in New York

  1. Canyon Wolf says:

    fyi – for anyone reading this article —

    In Canadian references, the term “panis” refers to a non-free Indian, usually a slave, but could be a prisoner or bonded servant.

    This guy actually believes the Pawnee tribe was singled out for some unknown reason and enslaved by the French. Interesting how early historians were so selective in their attempts to research and understand the topics they wrote about!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.