Theses Doctoral

Indian Slaves from Caribana: Trade and Labor in the Seventeenth-Century Caribbean

Arena, Carolyn Marie

Indigenous resistance made Caribbean colonization a slow and violent process in the period of 1580-1690. The Caribbean Indians who rejected colonization became targets for enslavement. Slavers captured indigenous people in raids or through trade within indigenous-dominated territories. I conceptualize this space as "Caribana." Geographically, it stretched from Guiana northward throughout islands of the Lesser Antilles. I focus on the Indigenous captives from Caribana who were enslaved in English and Dutch colonies, namely Barbados, Curaçao, and Suriname. I show how colonists justified enslaving indigenous people in the same manner as they justified the trans-Atlantic African slave trade, despite widespread taboos against the former practice and not the latter. These taboos did not prevent Indian slavery, but they influenced the creation of seventeenth-century histories, government reports, and other material for public and European consumption. Indian slavery has thus been written about, then and now, as a limited phenomenon wherein Indians had limited and specific labor roles (i.e. as fishermen or domestic servants). However, sources such as deeds and tax-rolls show that more Indian slaves than assumed contributed a broad range of skills to plantations economies. English Barbados was exceptionally successful because it was geographically separated from the conflicts that created captives in Caribana, but nevertheless extracted Indian slaves from the region. Meanwhile, colonies abutting Caribana, such as Suriname, faced trade sanctions from neighboring Indians and rebellions if they abused the Indian slave trade. From the 1670s-1690s, Colonial governments limited the means of accessing Indian slaves, but once enslaved, they faced the same restrictive "black codes" that allowed the brutal treatment of them as inheritable chattel.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Brown, Christopher L.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 17, 2017