Black Indians are people of mixed African-American and Native American
heritage, who have strong ties to Native American culture. Many
Indigenous peoples of the Eastern Woodlands, such as the Narragansett,
Lumbee and Cherokee, have a significant degree of African
Native American tribes have had close relations
with African Americans, especially in regions where slavery was
prevalent, or where free people of color have historically resided.
Members of the
Five Civilized Tribes
Five Civilized Tribes also participated in enslaving
Africans, and some Africans migrated with them to the West on the
Trail of Tears
Trail of Tears in 1830 and later. In peace treaties with the US after
the American Civil War, the slaveholding tribes, which had sided with
the Confederacy, were required to emancipate slaves and give them full
citizenship rights in their nations. The Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole
have created controversy in recent decades as they tightened rules for
membership in their nations and excluded
Freedmen who did not have at
least one Native American ancestor on the early 20th-century Dawes
Rolls, but the exclusion was later appealed in the courts. The
Chickasaw Nation never extended citizenship to Chickasaw Freedmen.
2.1 Colonial America
2.2 1800s through Civil War
2.3 Native American slave ownership
2.4 Native American Freedmen
5 Notable "Black" Indians
6 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
Until recently, historic relations between Native Americans and
African Americans were relatively neglected in mainstream United
States history studies. At various times, Africans had varying
degrees of contact with Native Americans, although they did not live
together in as great number as with Europeans. African slaves brought
United States and their descendants have had a history of
cultural exchange and intermarriage with Native Americans, as well as
with other enslaved people who possessed Native American and European
ancestry. Most interaction took place in the Southern United States,
where the largest number of people were enslaved. A significant
number of African Americans thus have some Native American ancestry,
although not all have current social, cultural or linguistic ties to
Relationships among different Native Americans, Africans, and African
Americans have been varied and complex. Some groups were more
accepting of Africans than others and welcomed them as full members of
their respective cultures and communities. Native peoples often
disagreed about the role of ethnic African people in their
communities. Other Native Americans saw uses for slavery and did not
oppose it for others.
American Civil War
American Civil War some African Americans became members of
the US Army and fought against the Native Americans, especially in the
Western frontier states. Their military units became known as the
Black Seminole in particular were recruited and
worked as Native American scouts for the Army. On the other hand,
other Native Americans and people of African descent fought alongside
one another in armed struggles of resistance against U.S. expansion
into Native territories, as in the
Seminole Wars in Florida.
Records of contacts between Africans and Native Americans date back to
April 1502, when the first enslaved African arrived in Hispaniola.
Some Africans escaped inland from the colony of Santo Domingo; those
who survived and joined with the natives became the first circle of
Black Indians. In the lands which later became part of the
United States of America, the first recorded example of an African
slave escaping from European colonists and being absorbed by Native
Americans dates to 1526. In June of that year, Lucas Vasquez de
Ayllón established a Spanish colony near the mouth of the Pee Dee
River in present-day South Carolina. The Spanish settlement was named
San Miguel de Gualdape; its inhabitants included 100 enslaved
Africans. In 1526 the first enslaved African fled the colony and took
refuge with local Native Americans.
Pueblo peoples had contact with the Moroccan slave Esteban de Dorantes
in 1534 before any European contact. As part of the Spanish Pánfilo
de Narváez expedition, Esteban traveled from
Florida in 1528 to what
New Mexico in 1539, when he is thought have been killed by
Intermarriage between enslaved African and Native Americans began in
the early 17th century in the coastal settlements[which?]. In 1622
Native Americans attempted to overrun the European colony of
Jamestown. They killed the Europeans but brought the African slaves as
captives back to their own communities, gradually integrating
them. Interracial relationships occurred between African Americans
and members of other tribes in the coastal states. Several
colonial advertisements for runaway slaves made direct reference to
the connections which Africans had in Native American communities.
"Reward notices in colonial newspapers now told of African slaves who
'ran off with his Indian wife' or 'had kin among the Indians' or is
'part-Indian and speaks their language good.'"
South Carolina felt so concerned about the possible
threat posed by the mixed African and Native American population
(arising due to runaways) that they passed a new law in 1725. This law
stipulated a fine of 200 pounds for persons bringing a slave to the
frontier regions. In 1751
South Carolina passed a law against holding
Africans in proximity to Native Americans, which was deemed[by whom?]
detrimental to the security of the colony.
South Carolina under
James Glen (in office 1743-1756) promoted an official policy
that aimed to create in Native Americans an "aversion" to African
Americans in an attempt to thwart possible alliances between
In 1726 the British governor of colonial New York exacted a promise
Iroquois Confederacy to return all runaway slaves. He
required the same from the Huron tribe in 1764 and from the Delaware
tribe in 1765. Despite their agreements, the tribes never returned
any escaped slaves - they continued to provide a safe refuge for
escapees. In 1763, during Pontiac's War, a Detroit resident reported
that Native Americans killed whites but were "saving and caressing all
the Negroes they take". He worried lest this might "produce an
insurrection". Chief Joseph Brant's Mohawk in New York welcomed
runaway slaves and encouraged adoption of them into the tribe and
intermarriage. The Native American adoption systems knew no color
line. Carter G. Woodson's notion of an escape hatch from slavery
proved correct: Native American villages welcomed fugitive slaves and
some served as stations on the Underground Railroad.
Diana Fletcher (b. 1838), African-
Seminole who joined the Kiowa
During the transitional period of Africans' becoming the primary race
enslaved, Native Americans were sometimes enslaved at the same time.
Africans and Native Americans worked together, lived together in
communal quarters, produced collective recipes for food, and shared
herbal remedies, myths and legends. Some intermarried and had
mixed-race children. Ads asked for the return of both African
American and Native American slaves. Some Native Americans resented
the presence of Africans. In one account, the "Catawaba tribe in
1752 showed great anger and bitter resentment when an African American
came among them as a trader."
Europeans and European-Americans actively tried to divide Native
Americans and African Americans against each other. "Whites sought to
convince Native Americans that African Americans worked against their
best interests." Europeans considered both races inferior and made
efforts to make Native Americans and Africans enemies. Native
Americans received rewards if they returned escaped slaves, and
African Americans received rewards for fighting in Indian
Wars. European colonists told the
Cherokee that the
smallpox epidemic of 1739 was due to disease brought by African
slaves, to create tension between the groups. The British tried to
restrict contact between Africans and Native Americans. They feared
Native Americans taking enslaved Africans as spouses and tried to
discourage trade between the groups. The British also passed laws
prohibiting the carrying of slaves into the frontier of the Cherokee
Nation's territory to restrict interactions between the two
groups. Some tribes encouraged marriage between the two groups, to
create stronger children from the unions.
Among the Cherokee, interracial marriages increased as the number of
slaves held by the tribe increased. The
Cherokee had a reputation
for having slaves work side by side with their owners. Resisting
the Euro-American system of chattel slavery created tensions between
Cherokee and European Americans. The
Cherokee tribe began to
become divided; as intermarriage between white men and native women
increased and there was increased adoption of European culture, so did
racial discrimination against those of African-
Cherokee blood and
against African slaves. Cultural assimilation among the tribes,
particularly the Cherokee, created pressure to be accepted by European
In 1758 the governor of
James Glen stated:
It has always been the policy of this government to create an aversion
in them Indians to Negroes.
In the 18th century, some Native American women turned to freed or
runaway African men due to a major decline in the male population in
Native American villages. At the same time, the early enslaved African
population was disproportionately male. Records show that some Native
American women bought African men as slaves. Unknown to European
sellers, the women freed and married the men into their tribe. Some
African men chose Native American women as their partners because
their children would be free, as the child's status followed that of
the mother. The men could marry into some of the matrilineal tribes
and become accepted, as their children were considered to belong to
the mother's people. As European expansion increased in the Southeast,
African and Native American marriages became more numerous.
1800s through Civil War
In the early 19th century, the US government believed that some tribes
had become extinct, especially on the East Coast and those without
reservations. It did not have a separate census designation for
Native Americans. Those who remained among the European-American
communities were frequently listed as mulatto, a term applied to
Native American-white, Native American-African, and African-white
mixed-race people, as well as tri-racial people.
Seminole people of
Florida formed in the 18th century, in what is
called ethnogenesis, from
Muscogee (Creek) and
Florida tribes. They
incorporated some Africans who had escaped from slavery. Other maroons
formed separate communities near the Seminole, and were allied with
them in military actions. Much intermarriage took place. African
Americans living near the
Seminole were called Black Seminoles.
Several hundred people of African descent traveled with the Seminole
when they were removed to Indian Territory. Others stayed with a few
Seminole in Florida.
By contrast, an 1835 census of the
Cherokee showed that 10% were of
African descent. In those years, censuses of the tribes classified
people of mixed Native American and African descent as "Native
American". By contrast, during the registration for the Dawes
Cherokee Freedmen were classified separately on a
Freedmen roll, even if individuals had
Cherokee ancestry and qualified
Cherokee by blood." This has caused problems for their descendants
in the late 20th and 21st-century, as the Nation has passed
legislation and a constitutional amendment to make membership more
restrictive, open only to those with certificates of blood ancestry
(CDIB). Western frontier artist
George Catlin described "Negro and
North American Indian, mixed, of equal blood" and stated they were
"the finest built and most powerful men I have ever yet seen." By
1922 John Swanton's survey of the
Five Civilized Tribes
Five Civilized Tribes noted that
Cherokee Nation were
Freedmen and their descendants.
Former slaves and Native Americans intermarried in northern states as
well. Massachusetts Vital Records prior to 1850 included notes of
"Marriages of 'negroes' to Indians". By 1860 in some areas of the
South, Native Americans were believed to have intermarried with
African Americans to such an extent that white legislators thought the
Native Americans no longer qualified as "Native American," as they
were not paying attention to culture but only race. Legislators wanted
to revoke their tax exemptions.
Freed African Americans, Black Indians, and some Native Americans
fought in the
American Civil War
American Civil War against the Confederate Army. During
November 1861, the
Muscogee Creek and Black Indians, led by Creek
Chief Opothleyahola, fought three pitched battles against Confederate
whites and allied Native Americans to reach Union lines in Kansas and
offer their services. Some Black Indians served in colored
regiments with other
African American soldiers.
Black Indians were documented in the following regiments: The 1st
Kansas Colored Infantry, the Kansas Colored at Honey Springs, the 79th
US Colored Infantry, and the 83rd US Colored Infantry, along with
other colored regiments that included men listed as Negro. Civil
War battles occurred in Indian Territory. The first battle in
Indian Territory took place July 1 and 2 in 1863, and involved the 1st
Kansas Colored Infantry. The first battle against the Confederacy
Indian Territory occurred at Horse Head Creek, Arkansas on
February 17, 1864. The 79th US Colored Infantry participated.
Many Black Indians returned to
Indian Territory once the Civil War had
been won by the Union. When the Confederacy and its Native
American allies were defeated, the US required new peace treaties with
the Five Civilized Tribes, including provisions to emancipate slaves
and make them full citizens of their nations, with equal rights in
annuities and land allotments. The former slaves were called
"Freedmen," as in
Cherokee Freedmen, Chickasaw Freedmen, Choctaw
Seminole Freedmen. The pro-Union Cherokee
government had freed their slaves in 1863, before the end of the war,
but the pro-Confederacy
Cherokee kept hold of the slaves until
Native American slave ownership
Slavery among Native Americans in the United
Slavery existed among Native Americans before it was introduced by the
Europeans, although it was unlike chattel slavery where slaves become
the personal property of a master. In oral tradition, for instance,
Cherokees recounted people being enslaved as the result of failure in
warfare, and as a temporary status pending adoption or release. As
United States Constitution and the laws of several states
permitted slavery, Native Americans were legally allowed to own
slaves, including those brought from Africa by Europeans. Benjamin
Hawkins was the federal agent assigned to the southeastern tribes in
the 1790s and advised the tribes to take up slaveholding. The
Cherokee tribe had the most members who held black slaves, more than
any other Native American nation.
In colonial North America, the first exposure that Africans and Native
Americans had to each other came from Africans being imported as
laborers, both indentured servants and as slaves. Records from the
slavery period show several cases of brutal Native American treatment
of black slaves. However, most Native American masters rejected the
worst features of Southern practices. Federal Agent Hawkins
considered the form of slavery the tribes were practicing to be
inefficient because the majority didn't practice chattel slavery.
Travelers reported enslaved Africans "in as good circumstances as
their masters." A white Indian Agent, Douglas Cooper, upset by the
Native American failure to practice more severe rules, insisted that
Native Americans invite white men to live in their villages and
"control matters." Though less than 3% of Native Americans owned
slaves, racial bondage and pressure from European-American culture
created destructive cleavages in their villages. Many had a class
hierarchy based on "white blood." Native Americans of mixed white
blood stood at the top, "pure" Native Americans next, and people of
African descent were at the bottom. As among mixed-race African
Americans, some of the status of white descent may also have been
related to the economic and social capital passed on by white
Numerous people of African descent were held as slaves by members of
Native groups up until the Civil War. Some later recounted their lives
for a WPA oral history project during the
Great Depression in the
Native American Freedmen
Cherokee Freedmen Controversy
Members of the Creek (Muscogee) Nation in Oklahoma around 1877. Note
mixed European, African and Native American ancestry. L to R, Lochar
Harjo, principal chief; unidentified man, John McGilvry, and Silas
Jefferson or Hotulko micco (Chief of the Whirlwind). The latter two
were interpreters and negotiators.
After the Civil War in 1866, the
United States government required new
treaties with the Five Civilized Tribes, who each had factions allied
with the Confederacy. They were required to emancipate their slaves
and grant them citizenship and membership in the respective tribes, as
United States freed slaves and granted them citizenship by
amendments to the US Constitution. These people were known as
"Freedmen," for instance, Muscogee or
Cherokee Freedmen. Similarly,
Cherokee were required to reinstate membership for the Delaware,
who had earlier been given land on their reservation, but fought for
the Union during the war. Many of the
Freedmen played active
political roles in their tribal nations over the ensuing decades,
including roles as interpreters and negotiators with the federal
government. African Muscogee men, such as Harry Island and Silas
Jefferson, helped secure land for their people when the government
decided to make individual allotments to tribal members under the
Some Maroon communities allied with the
Black Seminole included those with and without
Native American ancestry.
Cherokee Nation drafted its constitution in 1975, enrollment
was limited to descendents of people listed on the Dawes "
Blood" rolls. On the Dawes Rolls, US government agents had classified
Cherokee by blood, intermarried whites, and Cherokee
Freedmen, regardless of whether the latter had
qualifying them as
Cherokee by blood. The Shawnee and
their own federal recognition as the
Delaware Tribe of Indians and the
Shawnee Tribe. A political struggle over this issue has ensued since
Cherokee Freedmen have taken cases to the
Cherokee later reinstated the rights of
Delaware to be
considered members of the Cherokee, but opposed their bid for
independent federal recognition.
Cherokee Nation Supreme Court ruled on March 2006 that Cherokee
Freedmen were eligible for tribal enrollment. In 2007, leaders of the
Cherokee Nation held a special election to amend their constitution to
restrict requirements for citizenship in the tribe. The referendum
Cherokee ancestry as a requirement. The measure
passed in March 2007, thereby forcing out
Cherokee Freedmen and their
descendants unless they also had documented, direct "
blood" ancestry. This has caused much controversy. The tribe has
determined to limit membership only to those who can demonstrate
Native American descent based on listing on the Dawes Rolls.
Seminole Nation of Oklahoma moved to exclude Seminole
Freedmen from membership. In 1990 it received $56 million from the US
government as reparations for lands taken in Florida. Because the
judgment trust was based on tribal membership as of 1823, it excluded
Seminole Freedmen, as well as
Black Seminoles who held land next to
Seminole communities. In 2000 the
Seminole chief moved to formally
Black Seminoles unless they could prove descent from a Native
American ancestor on the Dawes Rolls. 2,000
Black Seminoles were
excluded from the nation. Descendants of
Freedmen and Black
Seminoles are working to secure their rights.
"There's never been any stigma about intermarriage," says Stu
Phillips, editor of The
Seminole Producer, a local newspaper in
central Oklahoma. "You've got Indians marrying whites, Indians
marrying blacks. It was never a problem until they got some money."
An advocacy group representing descendants of
Freedmen of the Five
Civilized Tribes claims that members are entitled to be citizens in
Cherokee Nations, as many are indeed part Native
American by blood, with records to prove it. Because of racial
discrimination, their ancestors were classified and listed
incorrectly, under only the category of Freedmen, at the time of the
Dawes Rolls. In addition, the group notes that post-Civil War treaties
of these tribes with the US government required they give African
Americans full citizenship upon emancipation, regardless of blood
quantum. In many cases, Native American descent has been difficult for
people to trace from historical records. Over 25,000 Freedmen
descendants of the
Five Civilized Tribes
Five Civilized Tribes may be affected by the legal
Dawes Commission enrollment records, intended to establish rolls
of tribal members for land allocation purposes, were done under rushed
conditions by a variety of recorders. Many tended to exclude Freedmen
Cherokee rolls and enter them separately, even when they claimed
Cherokee descent, had records of it, and had
features. Descendants of
Freedmen see the tribe's contemporary
reliance on the
Dawes Rolls as a racially based way to exclude them
Dawes Commission was established,
"(t)he majority of the people with African blood living in the
Cherokee nation prior to the Civil war lived there as slaves of
Cherokee citizens or as free black non-citizens, usually the
Cherokee men and women with African blood....In 1863,
Cherokee government outlawed slavery through acts of the tribal
council. In 1866, a treaty was signed with the US government in which
Cherokee government agreed to give citizenship to those people
with African blood living in the
Cherokee nations who were not already
Cherokee people participated as full citizens of
that nation, holding office, voting, running businesses, etc."
Dawes Commission established tribal rolls, in some cases
Freedmen of the
Cherokee and the other
Five Civilized Tribes
Five Civilized Tribes were
treated more harshly. Degrees of continued acceptance into tribal
structures were low during the ensuing decades. Some tribes restricted
membership to those with a documented Native ancestor on the Dawes
Commission listings, and many restricted officeholders to those of
direct Native American ancestry. In the later 20th century, it was
difficult for Black Native Americans to establish official ties with
Native groups to which they genetically belonged. Many Freedmen
descendants believe that their exclusion from tribal membership, and
the resistance to their efforts to gain recognition, are racially
motivated and based on the tribe's wanting to preserve the new
gambling revenues for fewer people.
George Bonga (1802–1880), "Black" fur trader
Further information: Blood Quantum Laws
L to R: Mrs. Amos Chapman, her daughter, sister (all Southern
Cheyenne, and an unidentified girl of
African American descent.
Tracing the genealogy of African Americans and Native Americans is a
difficult process. Enslaved Africans were renamed by slaveholders and
surnames were infrequently used until after the war. Historical
records, such as censuses, did not record the names of enslaved blacks
before the American Civil War. Some major slaveholders kept extensive
records which historians and genealogists have used to create family
trees, but generally researchers find it difficult to trace families
before the Civil War.
Slaves were forbidden to learn to read and
write. A majority of Native Americans did not speak English, let alone
read or write it.
In some cases elder family members may withhold information about
Native American heritage. However, knowing the family's geographic
origins is a key factor in helping individuals unravel Native American
ancestry. Many modern African Americans have taken an interest in
genealogy and are learning about Native American heritage within their
individual families. Some African Americans may work from oral history
of the family and try to confirm stories of Native ancestry through
genealogical research and
DNA testing. Because of such findings, some
have petitioned to be registered as members of Native American tribes.
Each tribe establishes its own criteria for membership. Most do not
DNA tests as proof, especially since these cannot distinguish
among the tribes.
DNA testing and research has provided more facts about the extent of
Native American ancestry among African Americans, which varies in the
general population. As
Harvard University historian Henry Louis Gates,
Jr. wrote in 2009,
"Here are the facts: Only 5 percent of all black Americans have at
least 12.5 percent Native American ancestry, the equivalent of at
least one great-grandparent. Those 'high cheek bones' and 'straight
black hair' your relatives brag about at every family reunion and
holiday meal since you were 2 years old? Where did they come from? To
paraphrase a well-known French saying, “Seek the white man.”
African Americans, just like our first lady, are a racially mixed or
mulatto people—deeply and overwhelmingly so. Fact: Fully 58 percent
African American people, according to geneticist Mark Shriver at
Morehouse College, possess at least 12.5 percent European ancestry
(again, the equivalent of that one great-grandparent).
 In contradiction to Gates statement The Indigenous Peoples
Council on Biocolonialism (IPCB) notes that:
"Native American markers" are not found solely among Native Americans.
While they occur more frequently among Native Americans they are also
found in people in other parts of the world.
Geneticists also state:
not all Native Americans have been tested especially with the large
number of deaths due to disease such as small pox, it is unlikely that
Native Americans only have the genetic markers they have identified,
even when their maternal or paternal bloodline does not include a
Most statisticians would not necessarily view the IPCB and Geneticists
remarks directly above as preventing a sound analysis of genomic
contributions from various continents to the make-up of an admixed
individual. In general, these analyses are not based on the presence
of markers, single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), that the
sophisticated analyst would describe as African, Asian, European, or
Amerind. Peeking under the hood, one would see that autosomal
analysis, as opposed to mt
DNA and Y-chromosome analysis discussed
below, is based on the relative distribution of the SNPs in these
populations coupled with their distribution in the genome being
analyzed. Techniques such as maximum likelihood estimation and
Bayesian re-estimation provide instruments for assessing ancestry,
which also assign a level of confidence to the estimate. Relatively
small segments of the genome can be analyzed with these techniques,
which are well established, having been applied with great effect in
many other areas.
The two common types of tests used are Y-chromosome and mtDNA
(mitochondrial DNA) testing. The tests processes for direct-line male
and female ancestors. Each follows only one line among many ancestors
and thus can fail to identify others. Some critics thought the PBS
series did not sufficiently explain the limitations of
DNA testing for
assessment of heritage. In addition, while full testing
may tell an individual if he or she has some Native American ancestry,
it cannot distinguish among separate Native American tribes.
African Americans are using
DNA testing to find out more about all
their ancestry. Native American identity has historically been based
on culture, not just biology.
DNA tests survey all the
DNA that has been inherited from
the parents of an individual. Autosomal tests focus on SNPs, which
might of course be found in Africans, Asians, and people from every
other part of the world.
DNA testing will not determine an
individual's full ancestry with absolute certitude.
Black Indians: An American Story (as seen on ABC) brings to light a
forgotten part of Americans past – the cultural and racial fusion of
Native and African Americans. Narrated by James Earl Jones, Black
Indians: An American Story explores what brought the two groups
together, what drove them apart and the challenges they face
Notable "Black" Indians
Ras K-Dee, Dry Creek Pomo-African singer, youth advocate, and editor
of SNAG Magazine
Further information: List of people of
African American and Native
Crispus Attucks (1723–1770) Wampanoag-African, slave, dockworker,
merchant seaman, icon in the anti-slavery movement, first casualty of
the Boston Massacre and the American Revolutionary War.
Joseph Louis Cook, a colonel in the
Continental Army during the
American Revolutionary War.
Edmonia Lewis (1845–1911), Ojibwe,
African American and Haitian
William Apess (1798–1839), "Black" Pequot Methodist minister and
John Horse (Juan Caballo) (1812–1882), African-
Seminole war leader
in Florida, also leader of African-
Seminole in Mexico.
Charlie Patton (1887–1934), African-
Cherokee American and founding
father of the blues in the Mississippi Delta.
George Bonga (1802–1880), African-Ojibwe fur trader and interpreter
in what is now Minnesota, son of trader and interpreter Pierre Bonga.
Marguerite Scypion (c. 1770s – after 1836), African-Natchez slave
who won her freedom in court.
Martha Redbone, Native American Music Award-winning soul music of
Shawnee, Choctaw and
African American ancestry.
Radmilla Cody, 46th
Miss Navajo Nation (1998), traditional singer,
enrolled member of the
Navajo Nation with ancestry, and advocate
against domestic violence in both the
Navajo Nation and the state of
Lisa Holt (Cochiti Pueblo), ceramic artist
Harlan Reano (Kewa Pueblo), ceramic artist
France Winddance Twine
France Winddance Twine (born 1960) enrolled
Muscogee (Creek) Nation
African American portal
Indigenous peoples of North America portal
Cherokee freedmen controversy
Mardi Gras Indians
Native American name controversy
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Slavery in the
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COMMUNICATIONS. Archived from the original on 2009-09-29. Retrieved
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Cherokee Nation. Univ of
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^ a b c d e f g h i j Tiya Miles (2008). Ties That Bind: The Story of
Cherokee Family in
Slavery and Freedom. University of
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