Hayley Negrin, New York University
MCEAS Consortium Fellow
“Possessing Native Women and Children: Slavery, Gender, and English Colonialism in the Early American South 1607-1772”
When English settlers arrived in the North American Southeast they encountered indigenous systems of kinship and captivity that revolved around Native women, who were central political actors in their communities. But over the course of the seventeenth century, as the English developed racial chattel slavery and the patriarchal social relationships that were central to it, they targeted thousands of these Native women and their children in slave raids throughout the region. These Natives were violently incorporated into English plantations across the early South and the Atlantic world. Meanwhile, the kin that Native women left behind in communities like the Choctaws, Tuscaroras, Apalachees, Timucuas, and Cherokees struggled to maintain their female-oriented indigenous systems of captivity and kinship in the wake of English interference. Using a mixture of methodologies from scholars of African slavery and Native Studies, my dissertation reveals both the structure of the slave trade in the early South between Virginia and Carolina, as well as the culture of Native slavery through individual experiences of Native women and children. I argue that the imposition of partus sequitur ventrem on enslaved Native women led to the theft of Southeastern Native women’s political power over their kinship networks in the seventeenth century. Before the arrival of the English, clan identity was passed down through the mother; on English plantations, racial slavery became the heritable trait that Native mothers transmitted to their children. This coercive shift was central to the development of planter patriarchy and the displacement of long practiced Southeastern Native systems of captivity and kinship. In spite of this, enslaved Native women and their children devised new ways of relating to territory and kin in the English colonial world. By viewing the birth of the plantation complex as a clash between two cultural systems—one indigenous and one Euroamerican, my work reframes the rise of racial slavery in the American South.