Choctaw freedmen

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The Choctaw freedmen were indigenous people of color who were granted citizenship in the Choctaw Nation. Their freedom and citizenship were requirements of the 1866 treaty the US made with the Choctaw; it required a new treaty because the Choctaw had sided with the Confederate States of America during the war. The Confederacy had promised the Choctaw and other tribes of Indian Territory a Native American state if it won the war.

"Freedmen" is one of the terms given to the newly-emancipated people after slavery was abolished in the United States, but does not apply to all Freedmen American Indians. The Choctaw Freedmen were officially adopted as full members into the Choctaw Nation in 1885.[1]

Like other Native American tribes, the Choctaw had customarily held slaves as captives from warfare. As they adopted elements of European culture, such as larger farms and plantations, they began to adapt their system to that of purchasing and holding chattel slave workers of African-American descent.[2] Moshulatubbee had slaves, as did many of the European men, generally fur traders, who married into the Choctaw nation. The Folsom and LeFlore families were some of the Choctaw planters who held the most slaves at the time of Indian Removal and afterward.[2]

Slavery lasted in the Choctaw Nation until 1866. Former slaves of the Choctaw Nation would be called the Choctaw freedmen, and then and later, a number had Choctaw as well as African and sometimes European ancestry. At the time of Indian Removal, the Beams family was a part of the Choctaw Nation. They were known to have been of African descent and also free.[2]

Slavery[edit]

For Choctaws, the introduction of African slavery in the late eighteenth century was shaped and conditioned by their previous experience with the Native slave trade of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and with preexisting practices of Native warfare and captive adoption. The first slavers in the Choctaw Nation, were not, as John Davis was, white Americans searching for African slaves. Rather, they were usually Native people from adjacent areas who sought Native slaves to trade in New Orleans and the eastern markets of the United States during the 1690s and early 1700s. The slave-raiders themselves were often acting to satisfy outstanding debts they had acquired with British merchants.[3]

The history of descendants from African and Indian people is a complicated story for many reasons. Many Afro-Indian descendants do not identify with their Native ancestry. Others are reluctant to share these stories, because of their complicated history. Others fear of backlash from both African American and Native American communities. Some do not share because they simply do not know their history. People of African ancestry lived among Native Americans. [4]

Slaves of Choctaw, before they became freedmen under the forced government regulation, were treated in extremely poorly. Slaves, especially the mixed-blood were whipped or burned for minor offense. [5] One particularly compelling experience of slave resistance concerns the story of Prince, who, angered that his Choctaw owner Richard Harkins failed to give his slaves a Christmas celebration, brutally murdered him and then unceremoniously dumped the body into the river in 1858. These tales highlights the intersections of race, gender, and power relations that informed the interactions between “black slaves and Indian masters” in Indian Territory.[6]

Social structure[edit]

The African slaves, or Freedman, were placed in an ambiguous role within the Choctaw nation. The status of the freedman could be seen during the first decade of the twentieth century, when Choctaw lands were allotted prior to the dissolution of the Choctaw Nation and its incorporation into Oklahoma. They were assigned as second-class status as African Americans, not Native Americans, and they did not share equally with Native American Choctaws in the allotment of Choctaw lands and resources. The following decades did not change the situation for Choctaw freedmen by a lot; they were faced with considerable discrimination in term of social identity and political legislations. While by late twentieth centuries, Choctaws have already consider accepting white Americans who mixed with Choctaws, as Indians, they continued their view on Choctaw Freedmen as descendants of African American.[7]

Government involvement[edit]

The United States government supported the slavery system among the tribes in Southeastern United States to breed out the native populations by having them mix with white settlers and to keep Native Americans from protecting black slaves running away from white plantations. [8]

Before introducing black slavery, colonists had attempted to enslave indigenous people in early 1760s. However, smallpox killed a 30% of the total indigenous people which left the slavery system ineffective. Additionally, given that the indigenous were on their own land and knew it better than the colonists, escape was far easier for them.[8]

In the 17th century, the incorporation of race-based slavery became an efficient alternative for wealthy members of the Choctaw Nations to maintain an increasingly tenuous hold on the political and cultural autonomy in contrast to the western expansion, while allowed them to pursue self-beneficial economic and diplomatic goals.[6] African slavery among the Choctaws was a growing and widely accepted institution, but that it differed from southern slavery in that it was normally not practiced for profit. Rather, slavery among the Choctaws was more commonly practiced so that Choctaws could avoid agricultural work themselves.[9] Choctaws were aware that if they manumitted their slaves, the bordering slave states of Texas and Arkansas would likely overrun the Choctaw Nation to prevent a local safe haven for runaways.

Post-Dawes Commission[edit]

In 1894, the Dawes Commission was established to register Choctaw and other families of the Indian Territory, so that the former tribal lands could be properly distributed among them. The final list included 18,981 citizens of the Choctaw Nation, 1,639 Mississippi Choctaw, and 5,994 former slaves (and descendants of former slaves), most held by Choctaws in the Indian/Oklahoma Territory. Following completion of the land allotments, the US proposed to end tribal governments of the Five Civilized Tribes and admit the two territories jointly as a state. [10]

The direct articles of the allotment rules was published in The Daily Ardmorite, with details spanning the whole front page of the paper. The rules became more than a land distribution criteria and brought up the issue of identity. For instance, in February 1996, Susan Brashears came before the commissioner to the Five Civilized Tribes in Muskogee in order to request her children to be placed as a Choctaw Indian "by blood". The record shows that Susan Brashears was the daughter of Martin Guess, an adopted white citizen of the Choctaw Nation, and Polly Colbert, a Negro woman, slave of Sam Colbert: that Oliver Stock (or Boss) McCoy, was a recognized and enrolled Choctaw citizen of one-half white and one-half Choctaw blood. Since the identity has direct bond with landownership, most Choctaw freedman or mixed Choctaw would expect to claim their rights.

According to the 1897 deal between the Daws commission and the Choctaw Nation, the tribal government would be allotting the tribute land and divided it among its citizens, which was approximately 15,000 Choctaws, 5,000 Freedmen, and 1,500 intermarried white citizens. Both Choctaws and white citizens would receive 320 acres of land on average, while Freedmen would receive less than 40 acres of the same land. Susan's attempt of becoming a full-blood Choctaw was turned down, in which the council rejected the possibility of her having Indian blood due to her race. [4][11]


The Stigler Act of 1947 mandated that restricted land owned by a member of the Five Tribes must have ½ blood quantum in order for it to remain restricted. If the land is handed down to a relative with less than ½ blood quantum, the land is no longer restricted. The blood requirement did not change until 2018, when Congress voted to end blood quantum requirement, which applied to five tribes, to allow Choctaw and other tribal members whose blood became more diluted the right to keep the allotment land. In a recent interview, Representative Mullin stated that the last person who met the criteria of the blood quantum in his family was his great-aunt and that the government have no intentions to take the land away from the natives and would like to protect the precious history of Native Americans.[12]

See also[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ "1885 Choctaw & Chickasaw Freedmen Admitted To Citizenship". Retrieved 2008-09-04.
  2. ^ a b c "The Choctaw Freedmen of Oklahoma". Retrieved 2008-02-14.
  3. ^ Schreier, Jesse Turner (February 2009). "Choctaw Nation: A Story of American Indian Resurgence". Western Historical Quarterly. 40 (1): 78. doi:10.1093/whq/40.1.78. ISSN 0043-3810.
  4. ^ a b "Troubled journey: Choctaws, slaves, and freedmen - ProQuest". search.proquest.com. Retrieved 2019-04-17.
  5. ^ Jeltz, Wyatt F. (1948). "The Relations of Negroes and Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians". The Journal of Negro History. 33 (1): 24–37. doi:10.2307/2714985. ISSN 0022-2992. JSTOR 2714985.
  6. ^ a b "Black Slaves, Indian Masters: Slavery, Emancipation, and Citizenship in the Native American South, by Barbara Krauthamer (2013) - Not Even Past". notevenpast.org. 2014-03-26. Retrieved 2019-05-06.
  7. ^ "Troubled journey: Choctaws, slaves, and freedmen - ProQuest". search.proquest.com. Retrieved 2019-04-17.
  8. ^ a b Johnson, Earchiel (2017-11-29). "Slaves of the tribe: The hidden history of the Freedmen". People's World. Retrieved 2019-04-24.
  9. ^ Fortney, Jeffrey L. Jr. (2012). Slaves and slaveholders in the choctaw nation : 1830--1866. Proquest, Umi Dissertatio. ISBN 978-1248987926. OCLC 935536650.
  10. ^ Cohen-Solal, Henri (2007). "Le jeune reçu-cité". Adolescence. 59 (1): 111. doi:10.3917/ado.059.0111. ISSN 0751-7696.
  11. ^ "Susan Brashears, Choctaw by Blood". Access Genealogy. 2011-07-09. Retrieved 2019-04-24.
  12. ^ "Congress votes to end blood quantum requirement, applies to five tribes". KFOR.com. 2018-12-26. Retrieved 2019-04-24.

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