Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France

By Brett Rushforth | Go to book overview

chapter six
THE INDIAN IS NOT LIKE THE NEGR

Louis-Antoine de Bougainville was not known for his keen understanding of Indians. Although often a brilliant synthesizer of colonial knowledge, which he avidly consumed during his two-year tour of North America, Bougainville had something of a tin ear when it came to the continent’s Natives. He minimized their importance to New France’s economy and utterly misunderstood their role in the colony’s defenses. At one point he famously expressed frustration at Indians’ independence, wishing the French military could have “on hand only a specified number of these mosquitoes,” who seemed to swarm or flee unpredictably. So it was largely by accident that, in 1757, Bougainville expressed a bit of pithy wisdom about Indian slavery.1 It was an offhand comment in a long memorandum detailing New France’s far-flung settlements during the Seven Years’ War. Having never been to the Pays d’en Haut, he interviewed post commanders, merchants, and soldiers to learn what he could about New France’s western borderlands. Tacked onto a list of commodities flowing eastward to the Saint Lawrence, Bougainville noted that merchants at the Lake Superior posts annually exported “more than fifty to sixty red slaves, or panis of Jatihilinine, a nation living on the Missouri who play in America the role of negroes in Europe.” His note captured both the hopes of French slaveholders to replicate the dynamics of Atlantic slavery and the ways that engagement with distant Indian peoples shaped those efforts.2

1. Quoted in Stephen Brumwell, Redcoats: The British Soldier and War in the Americas, 1755–1763 (Cambridge, 2002), 43. See, also, Ian K. Steele, Betrayals: Fort William Henry and the “Massacre” (Oxford, 1990), 73.

2. “Il faut compter de plus cinquante à soixante esclaves rouges ou panis de Jatihilinine, nation située sur le Missouri et qui joue, dans l’Amérique, le rôle des nègres en Europe”: Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, in Pierre Margry, ed., “Mémoire de Bougainville sur l’état de la Nouvelle France à l’époque de la Guerre de Sept Ans, 1757,” in Relations et mémoires

-299-

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