Red over Black: Black Slavery among the Cherokee Indians

By R. Halliburton Jr. | Go to book overview
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7 Missionaries and Abolitionism

Missionaries from the North--and most of them were from the North-- sometimes viewed slavery with disapproval and occasionally gave indiscreet public expression to their opinions. These actions were usually resented and caused reprimands. The slavery issue slowly began to hamper seriously missionary work in the Nation. Ministers sometimes found the church doors locked and themselves considered personae non gratae.1

The Cherokees were already black slaveowners when the first missionaries appeared in their nation. The early missionaries had accepted slavery without serious reservations and appear to have contributed to the general belief that Indians treated their black slaves in a much more humane manner than their white counterparts in the southern United States. They periodically employed slaves, and some became slaveowners.

Missionaries were always in need of manual labor to maintain their missions. They sought help for the cooking, laundry, cleaning, nursing, and other household duties. Some did not hesitate to hire slaves to perform these tasks. They rationalized that the blacks were already slaves, present in the community, and available. Moreover, the slaves would be well-treated and not overworked while in their employment. Slaves were frequently hired to serve as interpreters, carpenters, handymen, gardeners, and in other capacities. It seemed only a small step from hiring slaves to purchasing them. A few missionaries thought it would be a charitable and benevolent act to purchase a slave--especially if the slave desired to be purchased. Furthermore, the purchase was sometimes justified with the explanation that the slave would be allowed to work out his purchase price and become free.

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