Did The Native Americans Keep Slaves? The Story of Herman Lehmann

Settlers coming to the New World were slow to adapt to the people found there, and sometimes these meetings didn’t always go well. It wasn’t unusual for settlers to trade with one group within a certain tribe of Native Americans only to clash with another the next day. Native Americans were sometimes held captive — but Native Americans also held others captive. Slavery was present on both sides.

Native Americans were known to keep captives taken after a battle as slaves. We know this occurred frequently even before settlers came from Europe. Some slaves were sold or traded among tribes, while some others were bought back by colonists. Later, in the 18th and 19th centuries, it became more common practice for Native Americans to purchase slaves that were brought over from Europe as part of the slave trade.

The practice of selling slaves to colonists caused a great deal of civil strife and fighting between Native American tribes, who constantly raided one another to acquire more to sell. 

Native Americans took children on occasion. Sometimes for slaves, but sometimes to raise as their own. Herman Lehmann, for example, was caught by the Apache when he was just a child. He lived with the Comanche as well before he was eventually returned to his family (his mother had never given up hope that he would return, and continued to ask about him until he finally was).

Lehmann had only been 10 years old when he was captured in the fields near his home. His 8-year-old brother Willie was captured alongside him. Willie escaped during a subsequent rescue attempt, but Herman was held still by the Apaches, who told him they had killed his family. They did this to reduce or eliminate any inclination he might have to escape. Eventually they migrated to a village in New Mexico, where Herman was adopted by Native American parents.

He was named “En Da,” which meant “White Boy.”

Over the next six years he was fully assimilated into their culture, and even rose to the rank of petty chief within the tribe. He was almost shot during one clash with Texas Rangers — but they realized he was white at the last moment. Although they tried to reacquire him at a later time, he was assimilated enough that he attempted to return to the tribe rather than seek shelter with the Rangers.

Lehmann killed an Apache medicine man in 1876, and decided to escape lest someone retaliate. After an entire year in solitude, he sought out a Comanche tribe. He would have been killed on the spot if one of their youngest warriors hadn’t spoken the Apache language. He stayed with them until their relocation to a reservation a year later and was discovered by his family shortly thereafter.

Things You Didn’t Know About The Maniac Christopher Columbus

Before the ancient planters, there were the very first people to visit — or almost visit — the New World. When Columbus was attempting to find another route to India by sea, he instead stumbled upon islands in the Caribbean. Later, he ventured to Central and South America. Curiously, we’ve named a holiday after the guy even though he never stepped foot in what would eventually become the United States.

But that’s just getting started, of course.

If you hadn’t already heard, Columbus wasn’t the nicest guy in the world. When he dropped anchor after finding the Caribbean islands, he made first contact with a number of natives who were living there. Naturally, he took some of them captive and made his way back home. But the worst ones always return, and so he did. 

But before we get into how terrible he really was, let’s discuss some history. Ever heard of Leif Eriksson Day? Neither had we. But all the same, it is a day of national observance, celebrating a man who had stepped foot in North America some 500 years before Columbus had the pleasure of not stepping foot there. Eriksson was a viking who likely made his way to Newfoundland.

Columbus was a slaver. When he wasn’t taking the natives captive, he was outright killing them. A combination of genocidal intent and European diseases and illnesses led to the almost complete obliteration of the Taino population in the Caribbean islands.

Here’s what he had to say about his newly enslaved subjects:

“They…brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned…They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane…They would make fine servants….With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

In other words, they were really, really, really nice people — and as a good Christian man himself, his first thought was how easily they would do his bidding. Of course it’s not all about potential! You have to find out how to turn potential into reality!

He later said, “As soon as I arrived in the Indies, in the first island which I found, I took some of the natives by force, in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts. And so it was that they soon understood us, and we them, either by speech or by signs, and they have been very serviceable.”

Oh but here’s where it gets really dark: “…I was filled with a desire to take my pleasure with her and attempted to satisfy my desire. She was unwilling, and so treated me with her nails that I wished I had never begun. But — to cut a long story short — I then took a piece of rope and whipped her soundly, and she let forth such incredible screams that you would not have believed your ears.

“Eventually we came to such terms, I assure you, that you would have thought that she had been brought up in a school for whores.”

Yeah, he was a rapist. And it didn’t seem to bother him.

A Brief History of Slavery in Colonial Virginia

In the early 1600s, colonial officials found it difficult to find laborers to help them develop land in the “New World.” A new concept called indentured laborers developed in which British residents would sign contracts where they would work in the New World as payment for their passage and a small farm. Most of these indentured laborers were young people who planned on staying permanently. In some cases, British criminals were forced to become indentured servants rather than serving time in prison. They were not slaves but were required to work for 4-7 years to pay off their debt from passage and their farm.

The first Africans reached Jamestown in 1619 when they were brought in by Dutch traders that captured a Spanish slave ship. It is a custom of the Spanish to baptize the slaves before removing them from Africa. It is an English tradition that anyone who has been baptized to be exempt from slavery. Therefore, the first African became indentured labrorers. These Africans were eventually freed and joined the colonists as part of the community, eventually owning land and having slaves of their own.

It wasn’t until 1640 when slavery first appeared in Virginia when African John Punch was sentenced to slavery after trying to flee his indentured labor service. The white men who fled with him were, however, only sentenced to one additional year of indentured labor. This is viewed in history as the first legal sanctioning of slavery in the English colonies and the first legal distinction made between Europeans and Africans.

The next instance of slavery that we see in Virginia is the civil case between Anthony Johnson and Robert Parker.  John Casor, an African indentured laborer complained that his master Anthony Johnson (a freed African) held him past his indentured time. A neighbor, Robert Parker threatened Johnson that he would testify in court and touted that he would lose some of his lands if he did not free Casor. Johnson then freed Casor. Casor then entered into an indentured service with Parker. Feeling bamboozled Johnson sued Parker for possession over Casor. The court ruled that Parker illegally took Casor and that he belonged to his rightful master for “the duration of his life.” Casor was now a slave.