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This week’s reading from The Transformation of the Southeastern Indians 1540-1760 addresses multiple topics in post-European contact history of the numerous Native American tribes of the Southeast, primarily regarding the area comprised of modern-day Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, but with some extensions south as far as Florida and west into Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia.  Broadly speaking, all of the assigned papers from the collection discuss the specific effects and causes of European influence on native populations from the 16th century onward, focusing on the impact of disease, slaving, European trade goods, and political tension between peoples.  All of them attempt to reconcile the modern known archaeological record of the region with the sparse and sometimes contradictory primary source accounts of European explorers, traders, and colonists of the time period.

Marvin T. Smith’s essay Aboriginal Population Movements in the Postcontact Southeast attempts to catalog some of the major population movements between 1500 and 1735, including a series of maps.  He furthermore is concerned with discussing the factors that caused these movements, and argues that not only were early population movements over greater distances than some scholars have previously imagined, but also were due to a complex confluence of “push” and “pull” factors that affected the populations.  Push factors such as disease and political factionalism cause a population to leave a previously settled area, while pull factors such as trade, missions, favorable environmental conditions, and coalescence between similar linguistic or cultural groups influence a population to come to a new area.  He concludes that the large number of factors involved, combined with scant historical and archaeological evidence, make it difficult to divine exactly the reasons for these movements, and proposes a few potential avenues for further research.  The next essay, by Paul Kelton, addresses the one specific push factor of disease, specifically smallpox, and argues that the first major regional epidemic occurred at the very end of the 17th century.  He cites smallpox’s long incubation period, ease of communicability, and extremely high mortality rate as evidence that smallpox is primarily responsible for the massive depopulation around this time period, and also that this was the first major epidemic because only then was the Indian slave trade network extensive and far-reaching enough for the epidemic to be able to spread so widely and devastatingly.

Helen C. Rountree’s essay is concerned with both native and European movements from and through Virginia in the early to middle 17th century and argues that long-distance European exploration occurred earlier than is commonly believed by as many as several decades, due to the prospect of trade and colonial expansion.  Rather than this southward movement on the part of the Europeans starting around the 1670s, she asserts it began “piecemeal” long before that, due to exploratory forays south in search of potential trading partners, Indian workers, and agricultural space.  Steven Hahn’s essay in Chapter 5 addresses the Yamasee War and the Creek dependency on European goods as the primary motivating factor for political and socioeconomic conflict between native populations and Europeans.  The advent of British mercantilism with the Navigation Acts spurred colonial leaders to seek highly profitable trade agreements with Indians, primarily receiving captured Indian slaves as payment for their goods, and this in turn caused the native populations to become indebted to the Europeans, which eventually led to massive conflict between a large confederacy of Creeks and other local tribes and Europeans in the form of the Yamasee War.

The final reading from the Transformations text is by R. P. Stephen Davis, Jr. and discusses the cultural landscape of North Carolina native populations and their change over time, providing maps to illustrate, and is focused primarily on reconciling archaeological data with the available historical accounts of European exploration in the region.  He argues that due to the rapid cultural changes brought about by European contact, Iroquois raiding, disease, and other related factors, the apparently contradictory accounts of early explorers through the Piedmont with regards to village locations, etc are not in fact contradictory at all, but can be explained by the fact that many of the tribes in question were annihilated by disease, relocated frequently, or coalesced with one another.

Stanley Knick’s essay Because It Is Right is also concerned with the reconciliation of archaeological evidence and historical accounts, but is focused primarily on the origins and validity of the name Lumbee in furtherance of arguing for federal aid beyond mere recognition for the modern Lumbee.  He asserts the name has been in use for hundreds of years to describe the original local population around the Lumber River, and makes a case for continuous population in the area since prehistory, long before European contact, by drawing upon archaeological evidence.  He is concerned with eliminating the misconception that the current Indian-descended population of Robeson County is the result of post-colonial coalescence of refugee native populations from elsewhere, asserting that although there was migration to the area during this time, it added to an already significant and ever-present population from the area.

In reading these selections, I became curious about the greater extent of the Indian slave trade in particular and its impact on the native populations.  The reading suggests that captured slaves, rather than crops or other natural resources, were far and away the most desired commodity for European traders, and as Southeastern tribes became increasingly dependent on European goods to survive, the demand for slaves increased.  I am interested in whether this exaggerated the already-present paradigm of conflict between native populations, in particular with regards to the Iroquois who seem to have been by far the most aggressive group.  Obviously, other factors contributed to the massive and rapid cultural and geographic evolution of the native populations post-contact, in particular the horrendously devastating depopulation by disease, but it seems to me that the European influence on natives to capture each other as slaves to trade for guns, powder, tools, cloth and other manufactured goods initiated a self-destructive downward spiral of sorts that contributed greatly to the eventual decline and disappearance of the vast majority of the native population.  With specific regards to the Lumbee, this investigation would inquire as to the reasons for the movement to Robeson County of Cheraws, Tuscaroras, and Algonkians who coalesced with the already-present native population, in order to perhaps further define the nature of the modern-day Lumbee population and their origins.

Sources I would consult for this (found on the Lumbee Bibliography website and in the bibliography of the Southeastern text) include:

Knick, Stanley. Robeson Trails Archaeological Survey: Reconnaissance in Robeson County. Pembroke: Native American Resource Center, Pembroke State U, 1988. NC Docs. Depository: microfiche G85 2: R65

Smith, Marvin T.  Archaeology of Aboriginal Cultural Change in the Interior Southeast: Depopulation During the Early Historic Period.  Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1987.

Montgomerie, Deborah. “Coming to terms: Ngai Tahu, Robeson County Indians and the Garden Band of Ojibwa, 1840-1940. Three studies of colonialism in action.” Dissertation. Duke U, 1993.

Further avenues of research would be to consult archaeological evidence, such as can be found through the archaeology page on the website, and searches for more detailed and comprehensive maps of population movements around Robeson County throughout post-contact history, as well as for more general information from both primary and secondary sources related to the colonial Indian slave trade and trade routes in general, both European and Native American.


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