How Enslaved Africans Saved Indians During The Great Exodus To Mississippi

This painting, The Trail of Tears, was painted by Robert Lindneux in 1942. | Public Domain


The Trail of Tears began after the discovery of gold in Georgia, which fueled whites’ desire to have Indians removed from the land. In response to the demands, the United States Congress and President Andrew Jackson pushed for the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which set aside $500,000 for the compulsory acquisition of Indian lands in the southeast and the relocation of original owners to Mississippi.

According to BlackPast, approximately 70,000 Indians were affected, with African Americans accounting for 10% of this figure. They were herded into what is now known as Indian Territory.

With no other choice, the Indians and their enslaved Africans had to take various routes to reach the promised land. The Trail of Tears is etched in the minds of Mississippi’s Indian society and African-American community as the forced relocation and difficult resettlement.

Thousands of enslaved Africans who were considered property by the Indians perished and endured indescribable hardships during this massive exodus. Enslaved Africans were assigned the tasks of hunting for food, cooking, and cleaning their slaveholders. According to historical records, at least 175 enslaved Africans owned by an influential Cherokee named Joseph Vann died during this migration. He had delegated 200 slaves to accompany him on this journey from Georgia to Mississippi.

These events occurred during the 1830s under British colonial rule, and America gained independence in the early decades. The whites insisted that their population was rapidly increasing and that the federal government should provide them with new lands to settle on. This was also fueled by the actions of land speculators, who were prominent supporters of this movement.

The main casualties were five major Indian tribes known as the “Five Civilized Tribes.” They not only lost their lands, but also the values, religion, and customs they had adopted from the whites. The prominent Indians owned large farms and plantations, similar to how southern white farmers used enslaved Africans for labor.

The Creek Indian population was 22,694 in 1833, with 902 enslaved Africans, while the Cherokee population was 16,542 with 1,592 Black slaves. These wealthy Indians mistreated the enslaved Africans and pushed them to meet the global cotton market demands. They believed that enslaved Africans were inferior. They amassed wealth by riding on the backs of slaves.

Enslaved Africans were tasked with preparing the land, such as plowing and planting cotton. Although they were always a minority in their tribes, these slaveholders were oppressors of the Blacks they owned and enthusiastic participants in a global cotton economy. They also considered themselves to be racially superior to Blacks.

Those with some skill were employed in blacksmithing and carpentry, among other things, as well as domestic roles. The enslaved population was 7,367 at the time of the Civil War, but mistreatment persisted.

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