From Captives to Slaves: Commodifying Indian Women in the Borderlands

From The Journal of American History
  • Juliana Barr


On July 21, 1774, fray Miguel Santa María y Silva, the leading Franciscan missionary stationed in the mission district of Los Adaes on the border between Texas and Louisiana, reported to the Spanish viceroy in Mexico City on his trip through that region as part of a delegation seeking renewed peace with powerful Wichita and Caddo nations. In 1769, in the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War, Spain had officially established administrative control of the former French province of Louisiana, and the mission to reconfirm Wichita and Caddo alliances sought to represent the new unity of Spaniards and Frenchmen in Louisiana and Texas. Many, however, could not put aside past rivalries so easily, and Santa María y Silva was no exception. Rather than detail this first peace council sought by the Spanish government with leading Indian nations, the Franciscan spent page after page lamenting an “infamous traffic of the flesh” he had witnessed being carried on by Frenchmen living in and among Caddoan Indian villages along the Red River. To discredit Frenchmen, Santa María y Silva could have deplored the skyrocketing numbers of enslaved Africans and African Americans in Louisiana by the 1770s. Or, given the hostile relations between the Spanish government and many independent and powerful Indian nations in the lower Plains, the missionary could have bemoaned the fate of Spanish women and children from New Mexico who had been taken captive by Indians armed with guns obtained from French traders.


Eighteenth Century Indian Woman Slave Trade Indian People Peace Agreement 
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© Organization of American Historians 2007

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  • Juliana Barr

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