In a discussion that developed in the comments thread of Cri de coeur—a discussion which may have been influenced by John Scalzi’s recent inspired thrashing of post-Confederate recidivists—adamsj remarked:
A dear friend of mine, someone who has always been most generous to me, both personally and politically, is heavily involved with indigenous people’s issues, both in the US and elsewhere. We were talking one day about the Confederate flag and southern heritage—a subject on which I was surprised not to find us in agreement—when he popped up with the remarkable statement that the Confederacy was okay by him. Why? Well, they’d made alliances with some of the tribes and, unlike the United States, they’d kept their word, didn’t break treaties, and so on. What to say to that?Tom Whitmore and Matt Irvin both beat me to the obvious response: The Confederacy didn’t have time to break its treaties with the Indians.
My second thought was that while the Confederacy only lasted a few years, the population that created the Confederacy was there long before and long after the Civil War; and you couldn’t say those guys were friends of the Native American populations.
Let’s arbitrarily start with the 1838-1839 deportation of the Five Civilized Tribes from their ancestral homelands (taking it as read that there’d already been a real effort on the part of white settlers to exterminate the tribes of the Upper South). These tribal homelands included big chunks of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, the easternmost and westernmost parts of southern Tennessee, and bits of Maryland and South Carolina. This was arguably the single evillest thing done to the Amerinds, and it was the Southern states that did it. The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Five Civilized Tribes, saying they had the right to keep their lands. The state governments in the South ignored this and dispossessed the FCTs anyway. Nothing was done about it, thus storing up much trouble for the future.
When you think about the Southerners who started the Civil War, recollect that many of them were living on land from which the FCTs had been evicted just a generation earlier, and that they’d taken possession of that land in defiance of all law and justice. These were the same guys who made such a fuss about the Northerners not respecting “Southern honor” and states’ rights. This circumstance makes it hard to justify the idea that a victorious South would have treated Indians with respect and consideration.
(A footnote for the “change is bound to happen” crew: We’re not talking about shy aboriginal creatures of the forest. In terms of social organization and material culture, some areas of the Five Civilized Tribes weren’t any more primitive than some of the white settlers. Some members of the FCTs had even bought black slaves and set up plantations. They got turfed out right along with everybody else.)
Then there’s the whole race thing. The plantation owners would have enslaved the Indians wholesale if they could, but it was too hard to hold on to them, or to enslave enough of them, so they also imported blacks from Africa. But not enslaving Indians was always a matter of practicability, not philosophy. When whites went on raids down into Florida to recapture runaway slaves living with the Seminoles, they’d scoop up Indians and free blacks and take them too.
(A further footnote: I’ve seen one account of a couple of dark-haired little German girls whose immigrant parents got as far as New Orleans, where they died of cholera. It was a couple of years before one of the family’s German relatives managed to track down one of the girls and rescue her. Both children had been sold into slavery. The other girl was never found. Southern racial theories were wonderfully flexible.)
Another one of the reasons the Southern states dispossessed the large settled Indian tribes was that Indian and mixed-race groups would often take in runaway slaves. It’s been suggested that Andrew Jackson’s invasion of Florida had less to do with the British or Spanish presence there than it did with the Seminoles being a mix of Creeks who’d dodged relocation, and blacks who’d run off from their owners.And on the subject of mixed-race groups, consider the odd histories of the various tri-racial isolates (the catch-all term for these groups) that grew up in marginal areas of the South. There’s an entire short book about it online, Melungeons and Other Mestee Groups, if you’re interested:
Large numbers of Indians were enslaved and kept with black slaves, eventually merging into the black population, especially in the Carolinas. Indian women were forced by the whites to live with black slave men in Virginia so their babies would be part black and easier to keep as slaves. Part Indian slaves were imported from the Caribbean and Brazil. Black and part black people incorporated into Indian tribes were frequently enslaved by white raiders. Free blacks and mulattos frequently married Indians. The remnants of decimated Indian groups sometimes joined black communities, especially when the Indians already had some black in them. In such ways, the contribution to the gene pool of black Americans by Indians has been large. 85Southern slaveowners didn’t even like living too close to non-slaveholding whites, because their presence made it too easy for slaves to run away. The idea that the slaveholding South would have tolerated, much less respected, the presence of a dark-skinned free population, with a significant admixture of black ancestry and a history of sheltering runaway slaves, appears to me to be wishful thinking.
Free blacks and mulattos and escaped slaves frequently joined Indian groups. Indian raiders took black prisoners and made them slaves or incorporated them into their communities. Some Indians, particularly the Cherokee, bought black slaves from the whites. Black-Indian marriages sometimes joined the Indians instead of the black community. Some Indian groups absorbed so many blacks that some of them became a separate entity, like the black Seminoles. All Indian groups from Oklahoma east and south of New York have much black in them.
Mixed-race groups were particularly hard-hit by the South’s increasingly segregationist policies in the post-Civil War era, which said that any amount of black ancestry made you entirely black. There are Indian tribes that to this day aren’t officially classified as such (and don’t get the benefits pertaining thereto) because, in the Jim Crow era, they were seen as blacks who were trying to get out of being black by claiming to be Indians. This group includes the Lumbee, who are the largest Indian tribe east of the Mississippi and the ninth-largest tribe in the United States.
It’s all pretty weird and interesting. Have a look at the histories of the Redbones and Melungeons. If you want to go on after that, see also the Lumbees, Mestees, Mustees, Brass Ankles, Free Moors, Ramapo (aka Jackson Whites), Black Seminoles, Cajans, Smilings, Guineas, Haliwas, and Turks.Regarding that last group, M&OMG says:
The Turks of Sumter County, South Carolina, have been accepted as entitled to the rights of white people longer than any other Mestee group. This does not stem from their physical appearance, as they are less white than Brass Ankles or Melungeons, but from the connivance of one influential white man. General Sumter hired some of the Turks who had served under him in the Revolutionary War to work on his plantation, and apparently found them more productive than slaves. Fearful of losing them, as they were unhappy with their treatment by neighboring whites, he took action to have their status as whites recognized. He presented an affidavit to the authorities that they were indeed Turks which he had personally imported from the Ottoman Empire as contract labor. Never mind that Turks were the ruling people of that Empire and not likely to contract out as hired hands, or that the Turks of South Carolina knew no Turkish and were not Muslim.Last I heard, local custom still allowed Turks to list the parentage of their children as “white” on birth certificates.
1. American Indians would have done better if the Confederacy had won? Don’t kid yourself.
2. Historically, Southern leaders have had a remarkable tendency to be shameless, grandiose, and inventive liars.
3. I love my country, but it’s a weird place.