On December 16, 1675, Thomas Hamilton of the Royal Navy in Tangier, Northern Africa, wrote to the Admiralty Board with some observations and recommendations. Onboard Hamilton’s ship, the Margaret Galley, were thirty New England Indians, condemned to slavery by Massachusetts’ magistrates during King Philip’s War. Their task was to power the Margaret by long sweep oars that were suspended from the sides of the vessel.
Although nine had already died from “bad usage,” the captives so impressed Hamilton that he considered them “as good if not better than the Moorish Slaves” who rowed alongside the Natives. In fact, the captain had a plan. “If there were every year a recruit from those parts,” he proposed to his commanders, “it might be very advantageous for his Majesty’s service.”
In contemplating an annual market in New England Native captives, Hamilton would most likely have consulted John Matthews of the English trading firm John Matthews and Company in Spanish port city of Cadiz. Matthews and Company had already established themselves in the African slave trade and in redeeming Christian captives at Algiers, and it was through their services that Hamilton had obtained his Indian prisoners.
However, not all Indian captives were forced onto the rowing bench. Some were made to build the mole, the stone breakwater in Tangier’s harbor, while being detained in the town’s notoriously overcrowded prison. Among the numerous Moorish names on the “List of slaves belonging to his Majesty’s Bagnio at Tangiers” are several New England Indians, most likely Hassanemesits taken captive by Samuel Mosely in late summer of 1675.
Native oral history and the documentary records indicates that many of the Indian men, women, and children that were captured during King Philip’s war were distributed as slaves to colonists in New England, sent “out of country” to Spain, Northern Africa, Portugal, and the Caribbean, or put to death.
A particularly heartbreaking document, written November 5, 1675, in which the Massachusetts court determined the fate of the wives and children of men already convicted. In many instances, the women were “willing to go with [their] husband” to an uncertain and undetermined future.
Of course, the slave trade continued with brutal and disastrous consequences. Discussions of early Native American slavery will be a feature of this week’s Indigenous Enslavement and Incarceration in North American History conference (November 15-16). For more information on that event, click here. A reminder that while the conference is free and open to the public, registration is required by Monday, November 11. Hamilton’s letter to the Admiralty can be found in full here, while the list of prisoners at Tangier can be seen here. Both documents are from The National Archives of the United Kingdom. The print Barbarities in the West Indies is from the Lewis Walpole Library‘s digital collections.