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Brethren by NatureBrethren by Nature

New England Indians, Colonists, and the Origins of American Slavery

Margaret Ellen Newell

Narrated by Aaron Killian

Available from Audible

Book published by Cornell University Press

In Brethren by Nature, Margaret Ellen Newell reveals a little-known aspect of American history: English colonists in New England enslaved thousands of Indians. Massachusetts became the first English colony to legalize slavery in 1641, and the colonists' desire for slaves shaped the major New England Indian wars, including the Pequot War of 1637, King Philip's War of 167576, and the northeastern Wabanaki conflicts of 16761749. When the wartime conquest of Indians ceased, New Englanders turned to the courts to get control of their labor, or imported Indians from Florida and the Carolinas, or simply claimed free Indians as slaves.

Drawing on letters, diaries, newspapers, and court records, Newell recovers the slaves’ own stories and shows how they influenced New England society in crucial ways. Indians lived in English homes, raised English children, and manned colonial armies, farms, and fleets, exposing their captors to Native religion, foods, and technology. Some achieved freedom and power in this new colonial culture, but others experienced violence, surveillance, and family separations.

Newell also explains how slavery linked the fate of Africans and Indians. The trade in Indian captives connected New England to Caribbean and Atlantic slave economies. Indians labored on sugar plantations in Jamaica, tended fields in the Azores, and rowed English naval galleys in Tangier. Indian slaves outnumbered Africans within New England before 1700, but the balance soon shifted. Fearful of the growing African population, local governments stripped Indian and African servants and slaves of legal rights and personal freedoms. Nevertheless, because Indians remained a significant part of the slave population, the New England colonies did not adopt all of the rigid racial laws typical of slave societies in Virginia and Barbados. Newell finds that second- and third-generation Indian slaves fought their enslavement and claimed citizenship in cases that had implications for all enslaved peoples in eighteenth-century America.

Margaret Ellen Newell is Associate Professor of History at The Ohio State University.


“Margaret Ellen Newell's vibrant Brethren by Nature recovers an almost lost history of slavery and servitude in colonial New England. Through poignant stories and insights gleaned from legal records, she proves that unfree labor was ubiquitous in early America.”

—Peter Mancall, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities, University of Southern California

Brethren by Nature offers a well-researched and beautifully written examination of the evolution of Indian slavery in New England from its inception to its decline by 1800, its effects on English and indigenous societies, and its key role in the larger Atlantic world of commerce and labor exchange. This book makes an important contribution to scholarship on colonial, early national, Native American, and Atlantic World history as well as to studies of race and slavery.”

—Joanne Pope Melish, University of Kentucky

“In Brethren by Nature, Margaret Ellen Newell aims to put Indian slavery into the forefront of the economic and legal history of colonial New England and show how it was an important aspect of the larger development of slavery in the western Atlantic world. Newell clearly and even brilliantly succeeds in that goal.”

—Daniel Mandell, Truman State University

“Last fall, National Geographic and PBS touted their respective TV series about the first Thanksgiving as new and historically accurate interpretations of the European colonization of New England. But neither "Saints and Strangers" nor “American Experience: The Pilgrims” dared to go where Margaret Ellen Newell has gone in her most recent book, Brethren by Nature, a meticulously researched account of American Indian slavery during the Colonial period in New England.”

Indian Country Today Media Network

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