Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France

Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France

Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France

Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France


In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, French colonists and their Native allies participated in a slave trade that spanned half of North America, carrying thousands of Native Americans into bondage in the Great Lakes, Canada, and the Caribbean. In Bonds of Alliance, Brett Rushforth reveals the dynamics of this system from its origins to the end of French colonial rule. Balancing a vast geographic and chronological scope with careful attention to the lives of enslaved individuals, this book gives voice to those who lived through the ordeal of slavery and, along the way, shaped French and Native societies.

Rather than telling a simple story of colonial domination and Native victimization, Rushforth argues that Indian slavery in New France emerged at the nexus of two very different forms of slavery: one indigenous to North America and the other rooted in the Atlantic world. The alliances that bound French and Natives together forced a century-long negotiation over the nature of slavery and its place in early American society. Neither fully Indian nor entirely French, slavery in New France drew upon and transformed indigenous and Atlantic cultures in complex and surprising ways.

Based on thousands of French and Algonquian-language manuscripts archived in Canada, France, the United States and the Caribbean, Bonds of Alliance bridges the divide between continental and Atlantic approaches to early American history. By discovering unexpected connections between distant peoples and places, Rushforth sheds new light on a wide range of subjects, including intercultural diplomacy, colonial law, gender and sexuality, and the history of race.


In the collections of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation rests an unusual relic of early modern slavery: a hand-crafted American Indian slave halter. It was fashioned in the mid-eighteenth century by a Native woman living near the Great Lakes, destined for a warrior in her village. the artisan began her task by gathering the stalks of a local hemp plant called dogbane, scraping away the outer bark, cracking the exterior shell to expose the fibers inside, and then rolling the hairlike tangle into a thin string. When she had repeated this process long enough to produce more than sixty feet of cord, she braided the strands together, forming two ten-foot ropes that would serve as the halter’s reins. Between the reins she fastened a flat strap, about two inches wide and a foot long, woven from elm bark and dogbane fiber and embroidered with geometric shapes of red, black, and white moose hair. By looping an end so one rein could pass through it, she created a human choke collar that would fit across the throat and tighten if the slave tried to pull away. Along both sides of the collar she attached two rows of white trade beads to prevent fraying as the collar rubbed on the victim’s skin. She carefully wrapped the reins with dyed and flattened porcupine quills that punctuated the halter’s length and formed a smooth handgrip near its end to allow the captor to follow his charge and control the captive’s movements. At one end of each rope she fastened five leather strings and attached metal tinkling cones to announce the slave’s movements and minimize the risk of escape. It was a specimen of terrific beauty, simultaneously a work of fine art and a tool of human cruelty. Beneath its elegant embroidery was a restraint strong enough to bind a grown man, an experience one French colonist described as “more painful than one can imagine.”

1. On Native slave halters, see R. S. Stephenson, “The Decorative Art of Securing Captives in the Eastern Woodlands,” in J. C. H. King and Christian F. Feest, eds., Three Centuries of

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