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Logo of nihpaAbout Author manuscriptsSubmit a manuscriptHHS Public Access; Author Manuscript; Accepted for publication in peer reviewed journal;
Ethnohistory. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2018 January 1.
Published in final edited form as:
PMCID: PMC5654607

“Why shall wee have peace to bee made slaves”: Indian Surrenderers During and After King Philip’s War


This paper is an investigation of the treatment of surrenderers in King Philip’s War (1675–1676) in New England, particularly with regard to enslavement. Fear of slavery was a tangible, deep concern for most New England natives involved in the war. Threats of enslavement influenced the involvement of native individuals and groups, driving some into deeper “rebellion” and others to surrender. Each colony had differing policies for surrendering natives, but generally the thousands of surrenderers received far worse treatment than they expected, facing execution, overseas enslavement, local limited-term enslavement, and forced relocation. Perhaps the most fascinating element of this saga is the way that English-allied native leaders worked hard to influence the treatment of surrenderers, helping them to escape to New York, harboring runaways, and in other ways trying to keep natives out of English households.

In early January 1676, during the height of King Philip’s War in New England, colonial magistrates sent two Christianized Indians into enemy territory as spies. The war had dragged on for more than half a year, and both sides were tired and possibly ready for peace. In particular, the English magistrates wanted these spies to suggest to enemy native groups the possibility of peace and submission to the English, to gauge their openness to such an arrangement.1 Accordingly, Christian Indians James Quannapaquait and Job Kattenanit set out on a dangerous, month-long trek from Deer Island in the Boston Harbor west into native territory. When they returned, they were full of information regarding the provisions of the “enemy” Indians, their numbers, and their whereabouts. But with regard to the question of surrender, the news did not favor the English. Quannapaquait reported that “he understood by the cheefe men & old men [that] they were inclinable to have peace again with the English, but the young men [who are their principal soldiers] say we wil have no peace wee are all or most of us alive yet & the English have kild very few of us last summer why shall wee have peace to bee made slaves, & either be kild or sent away to sea to Barbadoes &c. Let us live as long as wee can & die like men, & not live to bee enslaved.”2

In this short report, Quannapaquait captured one of the most difficult realities of King Philip’s War for native populations fighting against the English: slavery, whether actual or threatened. Unlike most enslaved Africans, who were largely unaware of their destination when they were shipped out from the West African coast, New England Indian captives not only knew where they might be sent, but they often stated it outright: Barbados. Today Barbados is a popular tourist destination with few traces of its plantation and Indian slave-holding past, which makes it difficult to imagine the kind of terror evoked just by the name of this island during the colonial period. And Barbados was not the only destination. The paper trail of New England natives who were enslaved and sent overseas suggests that they arrived in Barbados, Bermuda, Jamaica, the Azores, Spain, and Tangier, in North Africa, among other places.3 But Barbados often stood in for being sold overseas more generally.

Being shipped out of the country as a slave was perhaps the worst possible fate, but even local slavery and servitude struck fear into the hearts of Indians and threatened to undermine the entire social fabric and kinship networks of regional communities. Hundreds, if not thousands, of natives turned themselves in to local English governments or English-allied native leaders, hoping to avoid slavery at all costs. But these “surrenderers” often found themselves subjected to similar treatment as enemy Indians, ranging from being sent out of the country, resettled to new, designated areas, forced to serve in English homes as slaves and servants, and having their children forcibly placed as servants in English households. The threat of enslavement weighed heavily on the psyche of New England’s natives, particularly during King Philip’s War. Far from being a minor consideration, the threat of enslavement was one of the key factors when it came to natives fighting and—later in the war—surrendering.

Fear of Enslavement in King Philip’s War

Historians have known for a long time that one element of King Philip’s War was a drastic increase in Indian enslavement.4 This intertwined with African slavery in New England—as with most of the rest of the English colonies—during the first decades of colonization. Natives were enslaved locally or sent to the Caribbean after the Pequot War (1636–1638), and enslaved Africans were imported at least as early as 1638, when some were shipped from Providence Island deep in the Spanish Caribbean in exchange for enslaved Pequots.5 Natives were forced into slavery and servitude during times of peace for various reasons as well, but it was not until King Philip’s War that natives were again enslaved in large numbers. Correspondence, shipping records, court cases, town records, and even contemporary official histories of the war (such as William Hubbard’s) all point to the same thing: Indians were enslaved en masse and either distributed locally or sent overseas to a variety of destinations. In many cases, these reports are fascinatingly frank. On November 17, 1675, for example, a New England merchant named Captain Woly reported to a correspondent in Kent, England, that the English colonists “do take And kill many of them [that is, the Indians], & those yt thay Take thay send A way: for barbados & Neves & Jamecco & Spaine & sell them.”6

Fear of enslavement and, more specifically, the fear of being sold as a slave out of the country played a major role in the waging of King Philip’s War, perhaps even more than scholars have typically acknowledged. The terrifying prospect of being sent overseas as a slave was constantly present for natives, even in times of peace. The fear of being “Barbadosed”—forcibly and unjustly being sent to Barbados as a servant/slave—was, one could argue, something applied equally to Indians as well as prisoners of war and criminals in the British Isles.7 And such fears were not unfounded. New England colonial records routinely and very matter-of-factly report large and small shipments of Indians being sent to Barbados, Bermuda, and Jamaica or, more generically, “out of the country.” For example, during the winter of 1675–1676, the Newbury, Massachusetts, minister James Noyes noted that a group of Indians had been “sent to Barbados,” without any further explanation given (or, apparently, needed).8 And because some such episodes occurred early in the war, the word spread quickly to natives.

The threat of foreign enslavement drove some natives deeper into resistance against the English, as when James Quannapaquait reported to the English in early 1676 that some young Indian warriors had stated, “why shall wee have peace to bee made slaves, & either be kild or sent away to sea to Barbadoes,” as mentioned above. Similarly, after the English raid on the palisaded Narragansett stronghold in southern Rhode Island in December 1675 (which resulted in as many as 350 captives being taken), the younger Narragansett leaders who survived, including Canochet and Panoquin, vowed that “they would fight it out to the last man, rather than they would come Servants to the English.”9 The female sachem Weetamoo and the Pocasset band may have joined Metacom partially in response to English enslavement practices.10 The fear of overseas enslavement was so observable and widespread that it was used as a recruiting tactic by “enemy” Indians. Daniel Gookin reported that natives who allied with King Philip, the Pokanoket sachem, sent “secret messages” to the Christian Indians “that the English designed, in the conclusion, to destroy them all, or send them out of the country for bond slaves.”11 Later in the war, Philip-allied Indians were able to convince a fair number of natives at the praying town of Hassanamesit to join them by arguing that, in the end, the English planned to send them all “out of the country for slaves.”12

Surrenderers and Enslavement

Enslavement also affected another group that, in theory, should have been spared, namely, the surrenderers. Generally speaking, surrenderers were native individuals—and indeed, at times whole families and even whole bands or communities—who gave themselves up to authorities in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Plymouth, or Rhode Island, perhaps for protection or as a statement of neutrality, sometimes out of fear, and sometimes to offer their services to the English in the war. Such was the case with Awashonks, the female sachem of the Sakonnet Indians, who offered to support the English with two major conditions: that people from her community would have their lives spared (men, women, and children) and, importantly, that they would not be sent out of the country as slaves.13

Most colonial governments distinguished—at least in theory—between natives captured in active rebellion and those who voluntarily turned themselves over to local authorities.14 War captives and known Indian enemy leaders were dealt with more harshly, even in Rhode Island. The native leader Chuff was executed by firing squad in Providence under the watchful eye of Roger Williams after he surrendered on August 15, and on August 23, 1676, a special court martial was held in Newport in which four Indians were convicted and executed.15 In every New England colony, natives known to be in active rebellion against the English were sold into slavery in one form or another. But Indian men and women who surrendered expected to be treated fairly; they often were not. Although in some cases there were differing penalties, punishments, and protections for surrenderers versus captives, at other times, the two received the same treatment.

In an attempt to drain King Philip’s army of active and future recruits, English officials encouraged surrendering throughout the war. In most cases, such calls for surrender were paired with promises of mercy. On June 9, 1676, the colony of Massachusetts decreed that enemy Indians who would surrender themselves would receive leniency. The only exceptions were notable leaders or known killers, who likely would be executed or shipped overseas as slaves.16 But the definition of “leniency” for non-combatant surrenderers was incredibly nebulous, if not outright illusory. Most magistrates seemingly agreed with Josiah Winslow and the Plymouth War Council, who decreed all natives—surrenderers or not—to be implicitly complicit, “complyers with them therein,” and therefore engaged in treasonous rebellion.17 As subjects who had broken their covenant with the English colonies, slavery was rationalized to be a justifiable punishment for all Indians.18 Consequently, surrenderers found themselves entirely at the mercy of local magistrates, who often forced them into limited-term slavery.

As the war neared its end, an increasing number of natives surrendered to local officials, often in direct response to promises of leniency. And each colony dealt with surrendering Indians slightly differently. The first step was to disarm Indian surrenderers, which also turned a small profit for local magistrates. In Connecticut, guns brought in by surrenderers could be “sold for just price,” with the proceeds going to the colony treasury.19 Surrenderers in Plymouth were simply prohibited from bearing arms.20 Local magistrates in each colony were faced with a dilemma regarding the presence of surrendering natives. Simply letting surrendering natives go free was hardly an option in their view, at least not during the war. It was also nearly impossible to give all of them food and housing, for reasons both practical and ideological. Most English colonists simply did not want natives associated with the war—even surrendering ones—to be kept for even a short period of time within town limits. When colonists and officials began holding surrendering and captive Indians in Providence in August 1676, the town residents demanded that they be moved outside of the city limits, and the town council conceded, but seemingly without knowing where they could go. The situation was resolved when Roger Williams’ son, named Providence, arrived from Newport and “cleared ye Towne by his vessel of all ye Inddians to ye great peace & Content of all ye Inhabitants.”21

Given the complications with holding surrenders long term, and the general local prejudice against them, Indians who turned themselves over to colonial authorities were most often simply sold into slavery. When “Eastern Indians”—those from north and northeast of Boston—began surrendering in Massachusetts in February 1676, the magistrates in that colony authorized a committee to “dispose” of such surrenderers by “shipping them off or otherwise, whereby damage from them may be prevented.”22 In one of countless individual examples, in May 1676, an Indian surrenderer under the care of John Burrett was appointed by the Connecticut General Court “to be dissposed of for the benefit of the country” in a way that “may be most righteous and just”—which surely involved selling him into slavery.23 Perhaps the most egregious early abuse of these surrendering Indians occurred in July 1675. Indian forces attacked the towns of Dartmouth and Middleborough on July 8, and afterward, some local Indians who had not been involved in the attack were “induced to surrender through persuasion and promises.”24 160 such surrendering Indians were taken to Plymouth, where they were promptly sold into slavery, according to some reports.25

Larger-scale shipments of Indians out of the country—both captives and surrenderers—took place throughout the early months of the war. In mid-August 1675, Josiah Winslow and the Plymouth Council of War discussed what to do with 112 natives, at least eight of which were women and children left behind by Philip’s retreating army who subsequently surrendered to Plymouth. These surrenderers were sold into slavery along with the others, having been judged either “actors” or “complyers” in the war.26 In late August or early September 1675, 57 Indians went to Sandwich on Cape Cod “in a submissive way” but were judged to be guilty of conspiracy in the rebellion and were “condemned unto perpetuall servitude.”27 On September 28, 1675, 178 Indians were taken on board by Captain Sprague for Cadiz, Spain, at least 45 of whom were surrenderers.28

But the slightly more common experience for Indian surrenderers and captives was being sold locally within New England. Connecticut especially seemed to receive a disproportionate number of surrenderers—perhaps due to the presence of the English-allied Mohegans and Pequots in that colony. When the Connecticut General Assembly met in October 1676, the Connecticut magistrates passed a law that delineated how to deal with the surrenderers. The harshest punishments—execution or being sold as slaves to the Caribbean—were technically reserved for individuals who had killed English colonists, soldiers or otherwise. For Indian surrenderers with no English blood on their hands, Connecticut decided that they “shall have theire lives and shall not be sould out of the Country for slaves.”29 These non-killing surrenderers would be parceled out into local English households to work as servants for ten years.30 As if this was not enough, an annual tribute of five shillings per male was required from Indian communities as “an acknowledgment of their subjection to this gouernment of Connecticut.”31

Similarly, Newport and Providence magistrates appointed committees to “set the disposal” of natives under their control.32 Scholars have given too much weight to a law passed by the Rhode Island General Assembly on March 13, 1676, which on the surface seemed to outlaw Indian slavery. In practice, Rhode Island magistrates enacted laws during and after the war dealing with surrenderers, essentially ensuring that they would be “disposed of” for the benefit of the colony.33 To punish local surrenderers and captives, Rhode Island adopted a complex and graduated system of local, limited-term enslavement—although they usually referred to it as servitude, perhaps to obey the technical limits of the law. Indians were sold to colonists for set terms based upon their ages. Those age 5 and under served until they were 30; ages 6–10 until age 28; ages 11–15 until age 27; ages 16–20 until age 26; ages 21–30 served for eight years; and those age 30 and above had to serve seven years or be sold.34 In Providence, over thirty of the key men involved in the defense of Rhode Island during the war—including Roger Williams—were rewarded with either a share, three-quarters of a share, or half a share of the total proceeds from the sale of Indians.35 Limited records of these sales indicate a wide range of acceptable payments and prices, including actual money (average of two pounds of silver), cotton, twenty-two bushels of corn, and “three fat sheep.”36 Newport magistrates, on the other hand, seemingly set a simple limited-term enslavement length of nine years.37

English Motivations for Foreign Enslavement of Natives

There were several reasons why New Englanders began selling captured Indians—even surrenderers—on the Atlantic slave market. The first and most obvious reason was that it was potentially lucrative. Colonists were loath to admit this, but every now and then an honest report slipped through. Such was the case when John Cronne of Rhode Island petitioned the Board of Trade and Plantation in late 1679 regarding some land on Boston Neck in Narragansett Country. “There still remaines great quantities of conquered Land,” Cronne noted, “much more then will reimburse the New England People the charges they have been at in their warrs with the Indians if the money they have gained by the Sale of many thousands of Indians be added, as your Pet[itione]r can prove.38 And, indeed, colonists often fought over the profits made from selling Indians into slavery. On November 1678, Rhode Island magistrates had to settle a squabble between residents of Newport and Portsmouth (both on Aquidneck Island) who each felt the others were gaining more profit from Indians who had surrendered to each town during the war. Rhode Island magistrates decreed that the “profitt and produce” of Indians who had surrendered to Newport should accrue only to Newport, while the “profitt and produce” of Indians who had surrendered to Portsmouth should be reserved solely for that town.39

Cronne’s candid petition also highlights a second motivation for selling Indians abroad: it literally helped to clear the land by simply removing natives from their homelands. The mad scramble to claim vacated Indian land after the war was a clear indication of this reality. On March 1, 1680, colonist Nathaniel Colsen wrote to the Board of Trade and Plantation regarding the settlement of Narragansett land, which, although it was claimed by Rhode Island, Connecticut thought it had a right to by virtue of conquest. Noting there were one million acres to be divided up, Colsen reported wryly, “I really think they have been too well pd for ye war allready…”40

Third, selling natives abroad was often an easier—and less risky—solution than selling them locally. This was especially true given the understandable propensity for Indian men, women, and children to simply run away following local sale and enslavement. English colonists found this to be the case during the Pequot War in the 1630s, and the cultural memory of losing slaves through runaways was still present in the 1670s.41 Nonetheless, the Reverend James Fitch of Norwich, Connecticut, like many others, learned this the hard way when the surrenderers and enslaved natives on his estate ran away northward, across colony lines, where they found refuge amongst the Christianized natives at the praying town of Natick, Massachusetts.42 To pursue his alleged property, Fitch had John Allyn, writing for the Connecticut Governor and Assistants, plead with Massachusetts magistrates based upon their mutual need to protect each other’s human and economic interests. Foreshadowing later fugitive slave laws, Allyn argued that runaway slaves needed to be returned across colony lines or else “one Colony will be a Sanctuary to the discontented Servants of Another Colony.” Fitch also offered remediation in court.43 But these Indians likely knew that, according to the logic of English war-mongering, King Philip’s War was entirely justified, as were the subsequent enslavement and captivity of natives, and the courts would not rule in their favor.

Native Families and Slavery

Colonial policies regarding surrenderers were deeply and traumatically disruptive to native families. Local laws demonstrated a deep fear and suspicion of Indian men, whether they had surrendered or not. Native men and older boys could be and were often shipped overseas for even the slightest suspicion of rebellion. Known warriors and enemy leaders were often executed instead of being sold abroad.44 Plymouth passed laws requiring all male Indian captives to be sold out of the country; another law prohibited any Indian males over the age of 14 from residing in the colony.45 Other surrendering Indian men and women—married or not—were often forced to work as slaves in English household for a period of years as dictated by each respective colony (usually ten to twenty-five years).

Children of surrenderers were routinely separated from their parents. After one particular battle at Wuseapog [Wuscapaug] in Connecticut, the surrendering men were sent to Barbados, and the women and their children were kept locally and distributed to English families.46 Plymouth gave multiple orders during and after the war that placed surrendered and captured children in English homes as servants and/or apprentices until they reached the age of 24 or 25.47 In Connecticut, children of surrenderers were ordered to be placed as servants in English households for ten years, partially “as pledges for their fydelity,” that is, the fidelity of the Indian parents, “after which terme they may be returned to their parents, upon the proofe of the fidelity of both children and parents; otherwise to be forfeited to slavery.”48 Massachusetts more clearly distinguished between the children of surrenderers and the children of natives who had been in active rebellion. Surrendering children were put out to English families until the age of twenty-four. Children “whose parents have been in hostility” with the English were left somewhat indefinitely “at the disposall of their masters” provided they “instructed them in civility and Christian religion.”49 Even the children of Christianized natives—including the children of native men who had served the English in the war—were often removed from their parents and “ordered to be put forth to English service” as servants and slaves.50

In many cases, one of the key concerns for natives was keeping family units together. In February 1677, a native man named Scinnae requested of the Connecticut Council to have his wife and three children returned to him. His wish was partially granted, in that he was reunited with his wife and two of his children. His third child, having previously been placed in the household of Nathaniel Butlar, was forced to fulfill his term there as a servant.51 The psychological and social gravity of the prospects of family dislocation, separation, and enslavement can be observed in how at least some native parents treated their children during the war. According to some reports, there were native parents—even non-combatants—who were so distressed by the prospect of their own children being sent overseas as slaves or being forced into slavery and servitude in English households that, rather than allowing their children to be enslaved, they simply killed them, or gave them over to another native to be killed.52 Surely this was a radical course of action that the majority of native parents did not choose.

Christianized Indians who affiliated with one of the fourteen “praying towns” in Massachusetts and northeastern Connecticut found themselves caught in the middle, as they themselves and later scholars noted.53 Not usually in open rebellion, these Christian natives found themselves subjected to a slightly lesser version of being sold out of the country: forcible relocation. Early in the war, this meant being shuffled to designated areas and having their mobility and activities highly restricted. But as the war progressed, a more radical relocation was devised that literally entailed sending them out of the country, or off of the mainland, at least. Starting on October 30, 1675, the Massachusetts government began sending groups of Christian Indians to Deer Island, and eventually, Long Island, both in the Boston Harbor. When some enemy Indians attacked the praying town of Hassanamesit in Connecticut, they warned the Hassanamesit Indians: if “you go to the English again, they will either force you all to some Island as the Natick Indians are, where you will be in danger to be starved with cold and hunger, and most probably in the end be all sent out of the country for slaves.”54 In this way, Deer and Long islands were envisioned by natives as stopping points in a process that would lead to being sent out of the country as actual slaves.55

If hundreds of surrendering natives were sold “out of the country,” and many other hundreds—if not well over a thousand—were enslaved locally, other surrenderers, in addition to the praying towns Indians, were simply forcibly resettled. In July 1676, Plymouth Colony magistrates set aside some land for the use of surrendering Indians (at least those who the colony had not already sold as slaves).56 Connecticut set land aside, too, and one of the larger resettlement towns there was at Shetucket, a few miles north of Norwich, along the river in Wabaquasset country.57 By May 1678, approximately twenty-nine men, mostly with their wives and children, had successfully been resettled at Shetucket, even though local magistrates knew many more surrenderers eluded their control.58 Connecticut leaders in 1679 tried to get natives settled at Shetucket to invite their Indian friends and kin to settle there as well, so long as they would “be ever under the English goverment [sic] of this colony.”59 A decade later, surrenderers living in Norwich were forced to move to the northern end of the town in January 1687 and were additionally required to pay (or to continue to pay) annually “ten dear skins.”60 Other natives were settled in smaller communities around New England. This was true even of praying Indians who had survived the six-month ordeal on the Boston Harbor islands. By the end of 1676, approximately 567 Christianized natives lived in half a dozen locales, including Ipswich and Chelmsford, as well as the praying towns or former praying towns of Natick, Hassanamesit, Magunkog, Marlborough, and Wamesit.61

Resisting Enslavement

One of the most fascinating pieces of the surrenderers’ saga is the involvement of other natives influencing where surrenderers were settled and how they were treated. In some instances, natives caught up in the war surrendered to English-allied Indians, likely hoping for better treatment than they would receive at the hands of the English. And, indeed, in most cases, it is evident that English-allied native leaders worked against the English to reduce the intended punishments of servitude and cultural marginalization. One person who was consistently at the center of the surrenderer controversies was Uncas, the politically savvy sachem of the Mohegans and regional powerbroker in Connecticut. During and after the war, Mohegan became a refuge for surrenderers. In August 1676, Connecticut magistrates noted that a large number of “captives and the other Indians that have surrendered themselves to the English” were living at Mohegan under Uncas’s care.62 This included sixty-five “of the enemie, fighting men, besides their retennue of old men, women and children,” likely well over 250 natives total. Not technically surrenderers (at least not to the English), Connecticut authorities recognized that Uncas would not willingly turn them over to the English, especially since forty of the fighting men were Wabaquasset Indians, from north of Mohegan, who were tributaries of the Mohegans.63

Despite having fought on the side of the English, Uncas seemed determined post-war to keep Indians out of English households and—even more importantly—off of English merchant ships that threatened to take them to the Caribbean. Even though he initially agreed to cooperate with local officials, English magistrates repeatedly complained that surrenderers who had been taken in by Uncas simply vanished into thin air, or that he turned a blind eye while surrenderers raided cattle from local colonists. Local officials knew Uncas was to blame, even though he was always suspiciously absent when things transpired.64 Uncas also continually undermined English attempts to successfully resettle Indian surrenderers away from Mohegan lands, at Shetucket. According to local English officials, he stalled and delayed in sending promised surrenderers from Mohegan.65 Determined to subvert English practices of Indian slavery, Uncas continually encouraged natives to run away from their masters and then sheltered runaway Indians servants and slaves at Mohegan. Local magistrates were exasperated. “If he be not restraind,” one official observed, “it will not be possible for the English to keepe any Indean servant, &c.”66 But Uncas wasn’t the only one. Pabweegannuck, a lesser Mohegan sachem, was given responsibility for ninety Indian surrenderers and then temporarily disappeared with them—apparently helping them move west, either into western Connecticut or into New York.67 Even in this case, Pabweegannuck later alleged that Uncas was involved.68 Pabweegannuck was briefly sent to prison for his actions; Uncas remained untouched.69

One surprising element of the fate of the surrenderers is that Indians themselves sought them out, requesting them for servants and slaves. In some cases, this can surely be understood as a form of charity, akin to what Uncas was doing to keep Indians out of English households and off English merchant ships. Such was the case with the Pequot sachem Robin Cassasinamon and Daniel the Pequot who were given permission to receive “two Indians of their kindred” in July 1677 (although with the caveat that if the surrenderers should be found to have committed murders in the war, they would be punished appropriately).70 A few months later, in October 1676, Cassasinamon requested and received permission from the Connecticut General Court to receive an additional six “Incomers” (surrenderers) as “servants,” so long as they were not already claimed by any local English colonists. The listing of requested persons demonstrated the seeming charitableness of such requests: several fragmented family units, an elderly Indian woman, and a sickly Indian man. Similarly, the Fairfield Indians were compensated for their losses in the war with an Indian girl captive—perhaps even one of their own.71

But in other cases, it seems that natives had few qualms keeping other Indians as servants and even—rarely—serving as slave-trading middlemen. Even as the war was raging, in March 1676, Connecticut officials decided that Daniel the Pequot should be allowed to keep two captives, an Indian woman and her child, as servants to assist himself and his wife.72 Almost a year later, Daniel was also given an Indian woman “of the enemie,” with no stated purpose other than he had requested her.73 Uncas himself was reported to keep several Indian slaves and use them hard. The Mohegan leader Oweneco was allowed by the Connecticut General Council to keep several of King Philip’s men he had captured, “to dispose of them by sale or otherwayes as he shall find most advantagious to himselfe.”74 The daughter of the Niantic sachem Ninigret was granted “her cooke mayd and another old woman, that were promised to her by the committee at Norwhich, December last, that came in from the enemie.”75 One Indian girl in particular, whose father had been shipped to Barbados as a slave and whose mother was put into local limited-term slavery, was given by her mother to Catapezet, a Pequot leader, likely to keep the Indian girl in native hands and out of English households. Perhaps understandably, the young girl chafed at this arrangement and became unmanageable for Catapezet. In response, Catapezet did something rather surprising: he sold the young girl to an enslaved African woman named Ruth for “two trucking cloth Coats, & 5 yards of painted Calico.” Local officials grumbled about this sale, in part because they saw the young Indian girl as “being ye Englishes right,” but neither the seller, Catapezet, nor the buyer, Ruth, agreed, since the Indian girl herself had done no wrong in the war.76

Taken together, these Indian responses to the enslavement of surrenderers constituted the first sustained (even if largely ignored) anti-Indian-slavery protest in the English Atlantic empire. Every time native men or women protested the injustice of being enslaved and/or sent out of the country, they were calling the English to task for actions that betrayed their own religious professions. Mostly, these protests come through in bits and pieces, as with Uncas, Canochet, Panoquin, and others. Whatever English critiques of Indian enslavement emerge in this time period—and there were not many—came at the influence of natives themselves. The missionary to New England natives, John Eliot, reflected native concerns when he recognized both the psychological terror of overseas enslavement as well as the blowback from such policies. Early in the war, on August 13, 1675, Eliot petitioned the Massachusetts governor, stating, “The terror of selling away such Indians unto lands for perpetual slaves, who shall yield up themselves to mercy, is like to be an effectual prolongation of the war, and such an exasperation of them as may produce we know not what evil consequences upon the land. … To sell souls for money, seemeth to me a dangerous merchandize.”77 It is important to note here that Eliot was referring specifically to the New England practice of selling surrenderers overseas as slaves (not just known enemies captured during warfare).78

Most colonists seemed to accept the logic of the Plymouth War Council that the vast majority of Indians were guilty by association, and therefore were legitimately executed or enslaved. Even in Rhode Island (which historians have seen as more lenient with Natives), when the magistrates were debating what to do with the locally known Indian leader Chuff, Providence residents “cried out for Justice against him threatning themselves to kill him if the Authorities did not.”79 The fact that anti-Indian-slavery critiques did not take hold during or even after King Philip’s War reveals a solidifying sensibility regarding the presumed place (or non-place) for natives in English colonial society.80 Furthermore, Indian slavery policies must be understood in relationship to an insatiable colonial appetite for land. Enslaving natives was another way of physically removing them from their land, thereby freeing up what colonists saw as “conquered land” for colonial settlement.81

In fact, as large-scale Indian slavery was reaching its peak in New England, it was only starting in the Carolinas. Alan Gallay has estimated that between 1670 and 1720, approximately 30,000–50,000 Natives were enslaved and shipped out of the Charleston port to destinations around the Atlantic, including New England.82 When Indians were refused at various destinations, it was due to the risk of purchasing hostile or rebellious Indians who might run away or foment rebellion, not because of a wider moral prohibition against Indian slavery. In 1675 and 1676, Barbados, Jamaica, and Bermuda all passed laws of various kinds prohibiting the importation of New England Indians. Bermuda’s law, passed in August 1675, was the earliest and most broad-ranging.83 Barbados explicitly required the return of New England Indians under penalty of a hefty fine in June 1676.84 And Jamaica ruled against all Indian importation in December 1676, prompted by the recent arrival of enslaved New England Indians.85 It is possible that, because of these laws, more Indians were enslaved locally in New England than would have otherwise been the case. But New England merchants also found other destinations for their human wares, in Cadiz, the Azores, and Tangier, among other locations.


The legacies of enslavement during King Philip’s War reverberated for decades. The lives, livelihoods, and kinship networks of thousands of Indians were permanently disrupted. Dozens upon dozens of cases of family separation undoubtedly went unresolved in the wake of the war. A full decade after the war, in 1685, a Narragansett Indian by the name of Peter Freeman petitioned the Massachusetts General Assembly, stating that, while he was in the service of the colony of Massachusetts as a guide for General Josiah Winslow, his own daughter was “taken and made a slave.” With so many natives taken during the war and sent out of the country as slaves or sentenced to limited-term enslavement in English households, the General Assembly could do little more than offer paltry financial and material remunerations for his loss: two coats, two pairs of stockings, two pairs of shoes, a white shirt, and two shillings to get him home again, with the empty promise of trying to track down his hopelessly lost daughter.86

In the rarest of cases, some Indians survived warfare, being captured, sold into slavery, shipped to the Caribbean, working as slaves on plantations in the Caribbean, miraculously making it back to New England again. Such was the case with Wenepoykin, also known as Sagamore George. Wenepoykin was the son of Squaw Sachem, the leader of the Massachusett band during the mid-seventeenth century. Wenepoykin joined forces against the English during King Philip’s War, was captured in 1675, sent to Barbados, sold as a slave, and labored against his will there for six or seven years. Somehow, Wenepoykin received his freedom—some sources suggest it was John Eliot’s doing—and returned to Natick, Massachusetts, where he died in the early 1680s.87 Other natives who were shipped to Atlantic destinations mostly disappeared into a wider slave market and labor force. The clear exception is Bermuda, where a modern-day community of individuals claim New England Indian descent.88

Those Indians who were sold into local enslavement or placed as temporary slaves in English houses became the primary unfree labor base for the next few decades. In 1680, the colony of Plymouth responded to a questionnaire from the Board of Trade and Plantation regarding a variety of topics. On the question of how many “servants, slaves” were within the colony, Plymouth magistrates freely admitted, “slaves wee have very few Except Indian women and Boyes taken in the Late warr.”89 Feeble attempts were made to reduce the trafficking in Indian children following the war; in 1678, Plymouth colony passed a law forbidding residents from purchasing Indian children captured during the war.90

For these unfree individuals, the effects of the war were long-lasting indeed, even reaching to successive generations. Small legal loopholes and dishonest practices on the ground ensured that, in many cases, limited-term service turned into lifelong and even heritable slavery.91 For example, in October 1676, Connecticut officials decreed that the term of service could be lengthened, but not shortened.92 And in November of that same year, the Governor’s Council decided that the children of Indian surrenderers who had served the required ten years in English households could be turned into lifelong slaves if either the Indian children or their parents were deemed to be unfaithful to the English.93 This meant that, in practice, the enslavement of Indian surrenderers and other captives resulting from King Philip’s War lasted for decades, if not half a century or longer.

In May 1721—a full forty-five years after the end of King Philip’s War—Peter Pratt petitioned the Connecticut General Assembly with a problem. The children that had been put into English houses as servants had over time grown into adults and had children of their own. The question was this: should the children of enslaved Indian women from King Philip’s War also be considered as slaves (which, according to Pratt, was the common practice of the Spanish)? Or should these children of King Philip’s War slaves instead be “deemed free at ye age of thirty years or Some other certain age”? Pratt strongly urged the latter—that the “said Children ought to not be Slaves at their masters pleasure.” Nonetheless, Pratt did not think it wise to just set them free. Pratt’s proposed compromise—limited-term enslavement—simply replicated the enslavement practices after King Philip’s War in the next generation of Indian children, thereby ensuring a steady source of labor supply under the guise of “indentured servitude.”94

As Indian slavery remained a reality long after King Philip’s War was over, Barbados and other Caribbean islands remained a feared destination for New England natives for decades after the war. Most commonly, in the post-war period, natives were sent to these West Indian destinations as punishment for a wide variety of infractions ranging from rape to murder.95 Other times, the causes were not so clear. In 1710, a Wampanoag man named Gershom Worsano traveled to Boston to run an errand for a local Englishman named Kukliart. Upon arrival in Boston, the local constable detained him without explanation. When Worsano learned that the constable intended to send him off to Barbados for seemingly no legitimate reason, he soon found a way to escape in order to avoid such a fate.96

Despite the rich scholarship on King Philip’s War, historians are only beginning to adequately recognize the full trauma and long-term effects that this and many other wars represented for Native nations—psychologically, spiritually, materially, politically, and socially. At the center of this monumental disruption were enslavement and the threat of enslavement, especially for those surrenderers who turned themselves in precisely to avoid slavery and death. The threat of enslavement and the reality of slavery and forced long-term servitude for many natives echoed in the memories and psyches of individuals and communities well into the eighteenth century, if not far beyond.


I am grateful to Arne Bialuschewski, Jo Fisher, Alan Gallay, Paul Grant-Costa, Kris E. Lane, Marjory O’Toole, Kimberly Pelkey, and the editors and anonymous readers for Ethnohistory for their input and assistance regarding this essay. Research support was provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Antiquarian Society, the Newberry Library, and Brown University.


1Temple and Adams, History of North Brookfield, Massachusetts, 112. See also Rowlandson and Salisbury, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, 124–125.

2Temple and Adams, History of North Brookfield, Massachusetts, 115–116. Daniel Gookin’s account of this fact-finding mission focuses on the circumstances surrounding the event more than on the contents of the report itself. See Gookin, “An Historical Account of the Doings and Sufferings of the Christian Indians in New England,” 486.

3Council at Port Royall, December 12, 1676. “Continuation of ye Council Book of Jamaica,” The National Archives, Kew, U.K (hereafter TNA), CO 140/3, 535–536; “An Act of Explanation to the Act of Negroes, and to prohibite the bringing of Indians to this Island.” Acts and Statutes of the Assembly, 1650–1682 (“Transcript Acts”), Barbados Department of Archives, n.d., 421–423; John Eliot to Robert Boyle, 1683, Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, 1st ser., 3 (1794): 183; TNA, CO 279/20 docs. 135, 136; Captain Thomas Hamilton to the Admiralty, December 16, 1675, TNA, ADM 106/311, doc. 167; Affidavit of Edmond Pateshall, TNA, CO 1/40, no. 41; Felt, The Ecclesiastical History of New England, 606.

4The literature on Indian slavery in New England is growing. See, for example, Lauber, Indian Slavery in Colonial Times; Newell, “The Changing Nature of Slavery in New England, 1670–1720”; Newell, “Indian Slavery in Colonial New England”; Newell, Brethren by Nature; DeLucia, “The Memory Frontier.” For a brief overview of Indian slavery in the northeast, see Kawashima, “Indian Servitude in the Northeast.” For the context of King Philip’s War more generally, see Lepore, The Name of War; Pulsipher, Subjects unto the Same King; and Drake, King Philip’s War.

5“Book of Entries of ye Governor and Company of Adventurers for ye Plantation of the Island of Providence,” TNA, CO 124/1, 123b. See also Kupperman, Providence Island, 1630–1641, 178; Donoghue, Fire under the Ashes, 51; Heywood and Thornton, “‘Canniball Negroes,’” 76–94. For a full history of enslaved Africans in New England, see Warren, New England Bound.

6Morgan Lodge to Joseph Williamson, November 17, 1675. TNA, State Papers, Domestic. Charles II. 375, No. 34. As found in Yale Indian Papers,

7“Barbados, v.”: “To transport (convicts) to Barbados (obs.).” OED Online. September 2014. Oxford University Press. (accessed September 29, 2014). The fear of being sent to Barbados struck fear into Scottish prisoners after Glencairn’s Rising in 1653–1654, causing them to surrender to English forces rather than be transported as servants to the Caribbean. Monck to The Protector, 17 Aug. 1654, in Scotland and the Protectorate: Letters and Papers Relating to the Military Government of Scotland from January 1654 to June 1659, ed. C. H. Firth (Edinburgh, 1899), 154–155. I am grateful to Jennifer Wells for this reference.

8Wyllys, The Wyllys Papers, 256.

9Hubbard, The Present State of New-England, 58. On the number of captives taken, see Bodge, Soldiers in King Philip’s War, 126.

10Newell, Brethren by Nature, 140.

11Gookin, “An Historical Account of the Doings and Sufferings of the Christian Indians in New England,” 462.

12Ibid., 476; Breen, Transgressing the Bounds, 172.

13Easton, “A Relation of the Indian War,” 20, note. See also Hubbard, The Present State of New-England, 97.

14See, for example, an order given in Plymouth on July 22, 1676, that distinguished between those who surrendered and those who were captives. Shurtleff, Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, 5:209.

15The Early Records of the Town of Providence, 15:152; Bartlett, Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, 2:586.

16Harris, A Rhode Islander Reports on King Philip’s War, 76n112. See also Saltonstall, “The Present State of New-England with Respect to the Indian War, by N.S., 1675,” 96.

17Shurtleff, Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, 1968, 5:173–174. See also Governor Leverett’s certificate, Sept. 12, 1676, photocopy, Jamaica National Library, Kingston, Jamaica. See the discussion in Lepore, The Name of War, 150–153; Newell, Brethren by Nature, 143.

18Shurtleff, Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, 1968, 5:173–174.

19Hoadly, ed., The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, 2:476.

20Shurtleff, Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, 1968, 11:242.

21The Early Records of the Town of Providence, 15:152.

22Shurtleff, ed., Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England, 5:72.

23Hoadly, The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, 2:311.

24Easton and Hough, A Narrative of the Causes Which Led to Philip’s Indian War, of 1675 and 1676 (Albany: J. Munsell, 1858), 29n2.


26Shurtleff, Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, 1968, 5:173–174. See Newell’s discussion of these deliberations: Newell, Brethren by Nature, 143.

27Shurtleff, Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, 1968, 5:173–174.

28Saltonstall, The Present State of New-England, 6.

29Hoadly, The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, 2:297–298. See also Oberg, Uncas: First of the Mohegans, 193.

30Hoadly, The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, 2:298.

31Ibid., 2:482.

32The Early Records of the Town of Providence, 15:151.

33Bartlett, Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, 2:535. October 27, 1676.

34Staples, Annals of the Town of Providence, 5:170; The Early Records of the Town of Providence, 15:154.

35Staples, Annals of the Town of Providence, 5:170.

36Ibid. Daniel Mandell estimates that the average going price for an Indian slave was three pounds. Mandell, King Philip’s War, 113.

37Bartlett, Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, 2:549.

38Petition of John Cronne (or Gronne) of Rhode Island. Undated, but read at Whitehall on Feb. 4, 1679/80. TNA, CO 1/44, doc. 25. Emphasis added.

39Bartlett, Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England, 3:23.

40Nathaniel Colsen to the Board of Trade and Plantation, March 1, 1680. TNA, CO 1/44, doc. 33.

41William Harris noted in August 1676 that “soon after peace is concluded they will run all away againe as ye captives formerly did after ye pequot war forty years since.” William Harris to Sir William Josephson, August 12, 1676, TNA, CO 1/37, folio 47/doc. 172.

42Gookin, “An Historical Account of the Doings and Sufferings of the Christian Indians in New England,” 522.

43Letter from the Governor and Assistants of Connecticut, July 2, 1684, (1684.07.02.00), Paul Grant-Costa, et al., eds., Yale Indian Papers Project, Yale University,

44For a few such examples in Plymouth, see Shurtleff, Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, 1968, 5:204–206. Massachusetts had much the same policy: Shurtleff, Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay, 5:115. For an example in New Hampshire, see Bouton, ed., Provincial Papers, 1:357–358.

45Shurtleff, Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, 1968, 5:210; 11:242.

46Wyllys, The Wyllys Papers, 21:257.

47Shurtleff, Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, 1968, 5:207, 223.

48Hoadly, The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, 2:482. Oberg, Uncas: First of the Mohegans, 193.

49Shurtleff, Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay, 5:136.

50Gookin, “An Historical Account of the Doings and Sufferings of the Christian Indians in New England,” 532.

51Hoadly, The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, 2:486.

52Although it is difficult to evaluate the trustworthiness of some of these reports, one native woman was known for her willingness to perform this grisly service and reportedly killed more than one hundred Indian children in one day to save them from slavery. Harris, A Rhode Islander Reports on King Philip’s War, 60.

53Gookin, “An Historical Account of the Doings and Sufferings of the Christian Indians in New England,” 522.

54Ibid., 476.

55Ibid., 497.

56Shurtleff, Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, 1968, 5:210, 215.

57Variously rendered as Shawtucket or other spellings. Hoadly, The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, 3:202, note.

58Ibid., 2:591.

59Ibid., 3:44.

60Ibid., 3:225.

61Gookin, “An Historical Account of the Doings and Sufferings of the Christian Indians in New England,” 532.

62Hoadly, The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, 2:472–473.

63Ibid., 2:474–475.

64Wyllys, The Wyllys Papers, 21:258.

65Testimony of Uncas concerning Conspiracy with Mohawks, May 11, 1678, (1678.05.11.00), Paul Grant-Costa, et al., eds., Yale Indian Papers Project, Yale University,

66Letter from James Fitch to John Allyn, May 5, 1678, (1678.05.05.00), Paul Grant-Costa, et al., eds., Yale Indian Papers Project, Yale University,

67Ibid. See also Oberg, Uncas: First of the Mohegans, 195.

68Hoadly, The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, 2:592.

69Ibid., 2:499. Uncas secured Pabweegannuck’s release in August 1677. Ibid., 2:501.

70Hoadly, The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, 2:500.

71Colonial War, Vol. 60, 1:89, 95, 104. Connecticut State Archives.

72Colonial War, Vol. 61, 1:46. Connecticut State Archives.

73Hoadly, The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, 2:486.

74Ibid., 2:385.

75Ibid., 4:486.

76Wyllys, The Wyllys Papers, 21:257.

77Shurtleff, ed., Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, 1:451–453. See also Felt, The Ecclesiastical History of New England, 2:569. Massachusetts Archives, Vol. 30, 173.

78And, indeed, enslaving surrenderers and sending them out of the country had unexpected consequences for the English. In 1678, a New London court deliberated sending surrendering men out of the country as slaves. When the Mohegan leader Oweneco brought news of this back to the Mohegan reservation, one particular Indian named Suckquuns decided that, if he was going to be shipped off as a slave, he would at least exact revenge on the English before being forced away by killing a New London family. Depositions of Chachasijmes, Two Nipmuc Woman and Keeweebhunt, June 1678, (1678.07.00.00), Paul Grant-Costa, et al., eds., Yale Indian Papers Project, Yale University,

79The Early Records of the Town of Providence, 15:152.

80For a concise discussion of post-King Philip’s War English sentiments, see Silverman, Red Brethren, chap. 1.

81Petition of John Cronne (or Gronne) of Rhode Island. Undated, but read at Whitehall on Feb. 4, 1679/80. TNA, CO 1/44, doc. 25.

82Gallay, The Indian Slave Trade.

83See, for example, November 16, 1681, in which the ship Hopewell was informed it could not land its cargo because of the Indian slaves on board, pursuant to the August 12, 1675, act. A.C.H. Hallett, Bermuda Under the Sommer Islands Company, 1612–1684: Civil Records (Juniperhill Press, 2005), 3:331.

84“An Act of Explanation to the Act of Negroes, and to prohibite the bringing of Indians to this Island.” Acts and Statutes of the Assembly, 1650–1682 (“Transcript Acts”). Barbados Department of Archives, n.d., 421–423. See also the entry for June 13, 1676, “Journal of the Assembly of Barbadoes” n.d., TNA, CO 31/2, 222–226. For the full text and analysis of the act, see Fisher, “‘Dangerous Designes.’”

85Council at Port Royall, December 12, 1676. “Continuation of ye Council Book of Jamaica,” TNA, CO 140/3, 535–536.

86Shurtleff, Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay, 5:477.

87Perley, The Indian Land Title of Essex County, Massachusetts, 10. I am grateful to Christine Delucia for alerting me to this reference. For a possible bill of Wenepoykin’s sale, see Boston (Mass ) Registry Dept et al., Bostontown Records, 1634–1661, 48. See also Corey, The History of Malden, Massachusetts, 1633–1785, 48n96; 49–50.

88DeLucia, “The Memory Frontier”; Bragdon, “Native Americans in Bermuda,” 53–68.

89“An Answer to the severall heads of inquiry,” approximately May 1, 1680. TNA, CO 1/44, 395b.

90Shurtleff, Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, 1968, 5:253.

91Newell, “Indian Slavery in Colonial New England,” 57.

92Hoadly, The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, 2:298.

93Ibid., 2:482. Oberg, Uncas: First of the Mohegans, 193.

94Memorial of Peter Pratt, May 1721. Yale Indian Papers Project.

95Shurtleff, Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, 1968, 6:98, 108, 116.

96Silverman, “The Impact of Indentured Servitude on the Society and Culture of Southern New England Indians, 1680–1810,” 640.


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