In the earliest years of the settlement of British America, slavery was initially a fluid category, one not necessarily permanent, inheritable, or fixed. Such captives could easily become slaves. Female Slaves in the Plantation South, remains an indispensable starting point for the study of women and slavery. In some cases, captives were only adopted after a period of slavery. Northern states, where slavery was never as directly central to the labor system as it was in the south, began enacting gradual emancipation statutes in the wake of the American Revolution. The law did not penalize owners who raped or otherwise sexually coerced their enslaved women. Colonial statutes almost always proscribed marriage and sex between Europeans and African- or Indian-descended people, often under penalty of banishment. Native American slavery[ edit ] Traditions of Native American slavery[ edit ] Many Native American tribes practiced some form of slavery before the European introduction of African slavery into North America.
Some court records show bounties on runaway native slaves more than 10 years after the War. If free African- and Indian-descended women were able to marry under these terms, they could not expect that marriage would guarantee the protections and disabilities of coverture as their European counterparts did. Particularly in the southeast and the continental interior, where the balance of power remained on the side of Natives as opposed to Europeans, the former often defined captivity and slavery on their own terms. Keeping family members together was less important to the law than forcing the poor to work. Moreover, in comparison to English jurisdictions, the manumission policies under both the French and Spanish regimes were more liberal and defined for ex-slaves and free people of color. They worked to make enemies of the two groups. Similarly, under the Siete Partidas, ecclesiastical courts heard the complaints of enslaved wives who sought remedy or legal separation from abusive spouses. Further elaboration of these codes would continue, of course, but the law of slavery, particularly in its connection to Africans and their descendants, remained fundamentally unaltered in European settlements across North America until the era of the American Revolution. Indian slave trade in the American Southeast Carolina, which originally included today's North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, was unique among the North American English colonies because the colonists thought of slavery as essential to their success. In these cases, the abstraction of the law could be undercut by the concrete knowledge of communities, and cases, even those involving slaves, could hinge on local knowledge. Wulf shifted attention to the legal status of unmarried women in mid-Atlantic Philadelphia. Particularly, before contact with Europeans, when Native American law held sway, polygyny—the marriage of one man to several women—was a normal feature of many Native societies across the Americas, practiced mostly by elites. Most individuals in Indian communities engaged in monogamous unions with other individuals, but these could be dissolved at the discretion of either party. Statutes in particular indicted the character of servant women who bore children out of wedlock. Like their European counterparts, free blacks were able to pursue and protect their rights under law; they could, for instance, own property, file lawsuits, make contracts, issue wills, and sue and be sued. For example, the Iroquoian peoples not just the Iroquois tribes often adopted captives, but for religious reasons there was a process, procedures, and many seasons when such adoptions were delayed until the proper spiritual times. Moreover, enslaved couples occasionally successfully sued masters who failed to live up to the law in these regards. The altered landscape of slavery in the aftermath of the American Revolution had some liberatory consequences for women of color, but its more repressive features are the ones that truly mark the institution through the eve of the Civil War. Although in the southern colonies the earliest codes defining racial slavery were elaborated throughout the colonial period and remained in place through the Civil War, a wave of manumissions in the upper south followed in the wake of the American Revolution, when legislators briefly liberalized emancipation statutes. Toward the American Revolution Historians of early American women have argued for some time that the Revolution did not substantially alter the legal status of free women. Rosen, Courts and Commerce: Of the estimated 4, to 5, blacks who formed the slave class in the Indian Territory by , the great majority were in the possession of the mixed bloods. Indeed, the statutes enacted across imperial North America, like those iterated above, were devoted to creating and enforcing differences among women on the basis of not only race but class as well. Brooks, Captives and Cousins: History of Enslavement of Indigenous Peoples in California , History of slavery in New Mexico , and History of slavery in Utah Local colonial authorities in colonial and Mexican California organized slavery systems for Native Americans through Franciscan missions, theoretically entitled to ten years of Native labor, but in practice maintaining their slaves in perpetual servitude until the Mexican government secularized the missions in In 17th-century New Amsterdam, for instance, a group of enslaved men petitioned their owner, the Dutch West India Company, for their freedom and that of their wives. Female captives among the Cherokee faced a similar range of possibilities.
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