Category Archives: slavery

Early French Métissage in Louisiana

From Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America, by Pekka Hämäläinen (Liveright, 2022), Kindle pp. 226-228:

The Natchez war had shown, with graphic immediacy, what disregard for Indigenous sovereignty, traditions, and needs could bring: cataclysmic violence, massive loss of life and property, the utter collapse of colonial institutions. The violence discouraged French investments in the colony and impeded France’s empire-building in the lower Mississippi Valley. It also taught the colonists how little they could do without Native approval. In Louisiana, Indigenous customs prevailed, turning a colonial space into a hybrid one. Choctaw, Illini, Quapaw, and Apalachee societies were all intact, and they expected the French to comply with their traditions. The consequences for Louisiana were far-reaching. Métissage—cultural mixing—became the norm, shaping the most intimate aspects of the colonists’ lives: sexual practices, gender roles, and child-rearing. The French in Louisiana came to realize that to survive in North America, newcomers needed to embrace its Indigenous inhabitants and convince them to become allies. The French had been doing so elsewhere, and by the early eighteenth century, all the European empires had grasped, if not necessarily accepted, that reality. They had also learned that the most effective way of building alliances was generosity and trade, which could turn enemies into kin.

In the wake of the war and loss, French officers set out to appease the Indians with gifts and goods, creating a robust frontier exchange economy that stabilized French relations with the Indians. A new and improved French-Indian alliance centered on the Choctaw Confederacy, which, even after losing hundreds of its members to South Carolina slave raiders, numbered more than twelve thousand people and could mobilize five thousand soldiers. The Choctaws commanded more than twenty-five thousand square miles, overshadowing the neighboring Quapaws, Alabamas, Chickasaws, Taensas, Tunicas, Natchez, and Houmas. Their own slave-catching and -trading had garnered for the Choctaws a sizable arsenal of guns, turning them into a domineering military power in the lands between the lower Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers. They also welcomed a regular flow of English trading parties from the east. Weakened Native groups on Choctaw borderlands found shelter in their fortified towns, and the French asked the Choctaws to help restore order to Louisiana. The Choctaws punished the Chickasaws and Natchez, whose raiding operations destabilized the colony and disrupted trade; the Choctaws wanted an economically viable French Louisiana that could continue to supply them with guns, powder, lead, tools, and other goods.

The Choctaws were fighting for themselves. As much as the French officials wanted and needed to claim suzerainty over them, they could not deny that the Choctaws were the masters of the lower Mississippi Valley. When traders from the newly established colony of Georgia visited, the Choctaws welcomed them and their goods—to the dread and embarrassment of French officials. The Choctaw Confederacy had become Louisiana’s last best hope—a humiliating role reversal that the commandant of the New Orleans troops was forced to accept. He called the confederacy “the bulwark and security” of the colony and admitted that “none of those who have come to the country fail to be aware of the impossibility of keeping a country as vast as the one we occupy with the few troops and colonists who are there and who would soon be obliged to depart from it if the Choctaws refused us their assistance and decided to act against us.”

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New France Expands, 1700-1750

From Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America, by Pekka Hämäläinen (Liveright, 2022), Kindle pp. 214-215:

In the winter of 1704, a multiethnic party of two hundred French, Mohawk, Wyandot, and Wabanaki soldiers attacked the town of Deerfield in Massachusetts. The soldiers entered the town from three separate points before dawn, surprising the sleeping inhabitants. The attackers knew exactly what to do. They captured Eunice Mather Williams; her husband, pastor John Williams; and their five children—confident that they could expect a healthy ransom for their redemption. Overall, forty-one English colonists were killed, and more than a hundred women, men, and children were taken captive. The Williams’s daughter Eunice, seven years old, spent seven years in captivity, her story becoming a sensation in the English colonies and New France. She was adopted into a Mohawk family, converted to Catholicism, married a Mohawk man, had three children, lost her English, and became known as Kanenstenhawi. She did not want to be redeemed. She died in Kahnawake, near the Saint Lawrence Valley, at the age of eighty-five.

The attack on Deerfield announced the revival of French confidence and expansionism in North America. Emerging from the shadow of the Five Nations, French colonists, traders, and officials slowly picked up where they had been forced to stop in the 1680s. The outbreak of the War of Spanish Succession—which involved France, Spain, and Great Britain—instilled further urgency in French maneuvers, and the early decades of the new century saw the Saint Lawrence Valley quickly become safer, richer, and more crowded: its population of fifteen thousand in 1700 would more than triple by 1750. Fantasies of a New Jerusalem drew in colonists and soldiers from France, and a continuous strip of riverfront farms stretched for more than two hundred miles on both sides of the river. Native peoples from the interior trekked with their goods to Montreal, Trois-Rivières, and Quebec, and many of them were willing to fight with the French to keep the English at bay.

New France was becoming a realm of hard colonial power. The most obvious manifestation of its aggressive stance toward Native Americans was Indian slavery. The French began purchasing captives, mostly children, from Odawas, Ojibwes, Potawatomis, Miamis, Meskwakis [aka Fox], and Wyandots [aka Huron] in the interior. Code Noir, established to regulate slavery in France’s Caribbean colonies, was now applied in New France. Soon the colony had hundreds of Indian slaves working as millers, field hands, dock loaders, launderers, and domestics. Some were forced to labor as ship crewmen, and Indians with more skills were assigned to shops and factories. The French called the enslaved Indians Panis, a label of obscure origins that connoted loss of freedom, as well as slave status, that erased all ethnic identities. Some female slaves became concubines, and some married French men. Almost all were subjected to intense religious indoctrination and struggled under the demands made by their owners. The average slave entering the colony was just ten years old and died by the age of eighteen.

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Pueblo Revolt and Aftermath

From Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America, by Pekka Hämäläinen (Liveright, 2022), Kindle pp. 185-186, 188-189:

Like the wars waged by the Powhatans and Wampanoags in the East, the 1680 Pueblo insurrection was at once an act of self-preservation, cultural revitalization, and spatial reimagination. Attesting to strong intergroup attachments that transcended Spanish-imposed boundaries, many Apaches and Navajos fought alongside the Pueblos. The allied Indians killed nearly four hundred colonists and twenty-one friars, and they routed a thousand Spanish soldiers, sending them to El Paso, the colony’s southernmost town. The leaders of the rebellion set out to restore the physical and sacral landscape of the pre-Spanish era. Churches were to be demolished, their bells were to be shattered, and images of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary were to be destroyed. Alien crops were to be torched, and corn and beans planted in their stead. Not one Spanish word would violate the restored Indigenous soundscape. Even horses began to vanish from the Rio Grande valley. Repulsed by horses’ tendency to trample cornfields and by their elevated power, which symbolized Spanish might, the Pueblos embarked on vigorous horse trade with the outlying nomads and pastoralists. It had to be as though Spanish colonialism had never happened.

DESPITE THE PUEBLOS’ DESIRE to erase Spanish colonialism from their memory, it had, of course, happened, and its legacy proved sticky. As frail as Spanish dominance over the Pueblo world had been, Spanish colonists had profoundly altered Indigenous life in the Rio Grande valley. To reinstate the old cultural order—to turn back time—the Pueblo leaders issued sweeping decrees that bound all Pueblos. In order to purge Spanish influences, the Native leaders claimed all-encompassing dominion over the Pueblo world. But a single Pueblo world was a foreign fiction. Before the Spanish invasion, the Pueblos had lived in more than 150 communities that shared a general cultural outlook but possessed no central governing structures. When the colonial edifice dissolved, local identities resurfaced. In the 1680s, the Spanish built a buffer region of presidios and missions to keep European rivals away from the abandoned colony. They called it Tejas, a Spanish spelling of the Caddo word taysha, meaning “friend.”

Four generations of colonial presence had left a deep imprint on Pueblo life, and many had grown to see certain Spanish imports as natural. Renouncing the Franciscans and colonists roused little controversy; pigs, sheep, woolen textiles, metal tools, and spouses taken in matrimony were another matter. When droughts spoiled harvests, the already delicate Pueblo coalition began to disintegrate. Civic leaders, medicine men, and soldiers competed for authority within communities that soon descended into civil wars. Towns fought over diminishing resources and raided one another for grain. The Apaches, incensed by the collapse of trade relations, took what they needed through force.

While the Pueblo people struggled with lingering colonial legacies, the Spanish struggled with the legacy of Pueblo resistance. The Pueblo uprising had proved contagious, triggering a series of rebellions against Spanish rule from Coahuila to Sonora and Nueva Vizcaya. Janos, Sumas, Conchos, Tobosos, Julimes, and Pimas attacked colonists and destroyed missions, towns, and farms, rolling back Spanish colonialism across a vast area. The Spanish seemed paralyzed in the face of this explosion of Indigenous hatred and power. Colonial officials sentenced four hundred Native rebels to ten years of forced labor.

Vargas extinguished the second rebellion with a focused war of attrition, but the rebellion proved crucial for the future prospects of the Pueblo people. Vargas reinstated colonial rule in New Mexico, but it was not the colonial rule of old. Traumatized and exhausted by the latest rebellion, the Spanish accepted smaller landholdings than before, and they replaced the slavery-like encomienda labor system with the repartimiento system, under which the amount of required work was regulated. They appointed a public defender to protect the Pueblos against Spanish abuse, and Franciscans turned a blind eye to the previously banned Pueblo ceremonies—a concession that was made easier by the Pueblos’ token acceptance of Catholic sacraments. The colony had shrunk conspicuously.

The administrative apparatus of the Spanish colonial state remained in place, but the social distance between the Spanish and the Pueblos narrowed through intermarriages, quasi-kinship institutions such as compadrazgo—co-godparenthood—and multiethnic towns. The Spanish and the Pueblos remained distinct people separated by sharp disparities in power and privilege, but unwavering Pueblo resistance had forced the Spanish to enter a shared world where the colonists were allowed to reestablish only a drastically reduced version of their grandiose imperial project. Like Juan de Oñate a century earlier, Vargas had tried to create a bounded colonial state with carefully regulated commercial channels, and like his predecessors, he had encountered an Indigenous world that refused to bend to a rigid imperial logic. The Pueblo resistance proved contagious, igniting a series of rebellions that spread across northern New Spain. The terrified governor of Nueva Vizcaya insisted that all captured Indian rebels should be sentenced to ten years of enslavement.

The Pueblo Revolt—also known as the Great Southwestern Rebellion for its virulence and scale—changed the history of the region irrevocably. It cut the Spanish colonists down to size and emboldened the Indians—not just the Pueblos but also many other Indigenous nations—to challenge Spain’s imperial claims. During the decade after the rebellion, numerous uprisings and wars broke out between the Spanish and the Indians: Tarahumaras, Conchos, Pimas, Sobaipuris, Sumas, Jocomes, Janos, Opatas, Apaches, and many others fought to contain, punish, and kill the Spanish, and keep their territories inviolate. Their systematic mobile guerrilla war had confined the Spanish to their northwestern frontier.

By shaking up ancient traditions and practices, the war changed the Pueblo world from within by giving Pueblo women new avenues to express their religious ideas and spirituality; they began to explore Catholicism more deeply and to question ancient traditions. The most important geopolitical change came when the Pueblos started selling Spanish horses to neighboring nomads in the plains and the surrounding mountains. The horse trade ignited a technological revolution that reconfigured several Indigenous worlds within a generation. An ancient trade corridor in the Rocky Mountains became a conduit for the spread of horses far to the north. The Shoshones acquired horses in about 1690 and, emboldened by their suddenly supercharged capacity to move about, hunt, and fight, they pushed into the bison-rich northern plains. Others even farther away traced the flow of horses back to the source in the upper Rio Grande valley. In 1706 the residents of Taos Pueblo in the northeastern corner of New Mexico reported the arrival of strange people from the north. These newcomers, Nu–mu–nu–u–—“the people”—were rumored to be preparing an attack on the town. The Comanches had entered the Spanish consciousness as a shadowy frontier menace.

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Three Major Native Rebellions, 17th c.

From Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America, by Pekka Hämäläinen (Liveright, 2022), Kindle pp. 189-190:

THE NEARLY SIMULTANEOUS Indigenous rebellions against European imperial ambitions in all regions of North America at the end of the seventeenth century brought English, French, and Spanish colonists near their breaking points. Shockingly, Native Americans had rolled colonialism back in different corners of the continent, forcing colonists to retreat, recalibrate their ambitions, and reconsider their ingrained ideas about Native peoples. The Europeans suffered a crisis of self-confidence. Traumatized New Englanders, consumed by Indian wars [King Phillip’s War], believed that their god was displeased with them. They turned against one other, denouncing neighbors, relatives, and those who were generally suspect as witches [Salem witch trials]. Virginians, unable to decide what to do or how to live with their Native neighbors, fell into a civil war [Bacon’s Rebellion] that nearly pulled the colony to pieces. New France, once the most promising of the colonial ventures, found its expansive sphere of influence in the interior dramatically reduced in the shadow of the ascending Five Nations League. In New Mexico, Spanish colonists entered into a tense, postrebellion [Pueblo Revolt] accommodation with the Pueblos—an imperial retreat that instilled a softer edge on Spanish colonial rule.

What explains this simultaneity? It may have been pure coincidence, but perhaps something more structural was at play. By the time the rebellions erupted, the Wampanoags, Nipmucs, Susquehannocks, and Pueblos had withstood colonial abuse for two to three generations. Among them were Indians who had seen the beginning of colonial conquest, the seizure of Indigenous lands, and the marginalization of their people in their homelands. They had lived with colonialism most of their lives, and they could see that things were getting worse, not better, with time. As Indigenous elders recounted their nations’ histories, a subversive undercurrent may have crept into their stories, finding expression in disgust, hatred, and, eventually, cleansing violence. The elders may have warned that the opportunity to reverse the historical momentum was closing rapidly.

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Dutch-British Swap in the Gold Coast

From Britain at War with the Asante Nation, 1823–1900: “The White Man’s Grave” by Stephen Manning (Pen & Sword Books, 2021), Kindle pp. 74-76:

The Dutch had first traded on the Gold Coast in 1580 and in 1637 they had attacked the castle at Elmina and seized it from the Portuguese. From Elmina the Dutch continued the slave trade begun by its former owners and developed a strong relationship with both the king of Elmina, who controlled the surrounding lands, as well as the Asantes who supplied the Dutch with slaves in exchange for European goods and weapons. The king of Elmina had secured a supportive relationship with the Asantes over the years, which was based on trade and a mutual distrust of the British. The people of Elmina traded fish and salt to their immediate neighbours, in exchange for food stuffs, such as maize and cassava, as well as cattle. There was also an important trade with much of the Akan hinterland, including the Asante, in which the traders of Elmina exchanged goods, such as cotton cloth, leather goods, powder, ammunition and weapons for palm oil, food stuffs, animal skins and slaves.

Over the following centuries, the Dutch, working alongside Elmina traders, very much concentrated their efforts on economic activity. Although the abolition of slavery severely limited the trade in human cargo, it did not eradicate it and the Dutch continued to play a part in this trade, but not in such an overt manner as before. The Dutch maintained a neutrality in conflicts between the Asante nation and the British and their native allies and this can be partly explained by the fact that the Asantes, through conquest, held the ‘Notes’ to Elmina Castle and the Dutch would pay a yearly rent to the court at Kumasi in return for good relations between the two. Yet, this placid relationship was to alter as the nature of trade changed throughout the nineteenth century. The Dutch found it more and more difficult to make their economic activities along the Gold Coast financially viable and in the 1860s they began to negotiate with the British as to how both countries could benefit by working together.

In March 1867, in the hope of introducing and operating an effective tariff along the whole of the Gold Coast, and to reduce budgetary losses, the Dutch and the British agreed to consolidate their trading interests into two blocks. Elmina was used as the dividing line and the British took the area to the east and the Dutch to the west of the castle. In true imperial style, neither country gave any thought as to how the local population might react to a change in governance and none of the local chiefs were consulted. The treaty came into effect on 1 January 1868 and in its terms the British handed over control of the forts and trading posts of Apollonia, Dixcove, Sekondi and Kommenda and in return gained Dutch Accra, Moree, Apam and Kormantine. Crucially, the British also relinquished to the Dutch the protectorate over the peoples of Eastern and Western Wassa, Apollonia and Denkyira.

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The Asante Capital in 1817

From Britain at War with the Asante Nation, 1823–1900: “The White Man’s Grave” by Stephen Manning (Pen & Sword Books, 2021), Kindle pp. 40-42:

Osei Bonsu was correct in his assessment that the British were focused only on trade. Yet, with the parliamentary victory of the abolitionists this trade, as far as the British viewed it, would no longer be based on slavery. Of course, one of the primary drivers of Asante military expansion was the need to secure supplies of slaves. Indeed, the African Company formally recognised as early as 1809 that the Asante nation could not be expected to ‘acquiesce in the destruction of a trade [slavery] not inconsistent with their prejudices, their laws or their notions of morality and religion and by which alone they have been hitherto accustomed to acquire wealth …’. This contradiction of aims would result in further conflict throughout the century and see the African Company losing its role as the main British presence along the Gold Coast. However, this was in the future and in 1817 the major British concern was the urgent need to come to some sort of arrangement with the Asante nation to secure Britain’s immediate economic and political position.

The African Committee in London decided upon a direct course of action and ordered Governor John Hope Smith, who had replaced Colonel Torrance, to despatch a mission to the Asante capital of Kumasi to negotiate with the king for the establishment of a British Embassy at his court. Hope Smith selected four of the company’s officers for the task. Thomas Bowditch, a clerk, was to write a detailed account of the mission and became the lead negotiator for the company. The officers set out from Cape Coast Castle on 22 April 1817, along with a retinue of carriers. The journey was to take them nearly a month before they arrived in Kumasi on 19 May. En route they passed through Fante towns and villages that had been devasted by the Asante army until they reached the jungle belt and the condition of the path slowed their progress. At the town of Fomena, the first in Asante proper, the group met the local chief, who expressed his delight that he was able to greet a white man before he died for he was awaiting execution having offended Osei Bonsu in some way. The chief was, according to Bowditch, philosophical about his circumstances and, seated on a cloth, displayed dignity rather than shame whilst he calmly awaited his fate. The chief’s head duly arrived in Kumasi the day after the mission.

Kumasi grew from a tree-encircled crossroads of trading routes. Tree is kum in the local Twi language. The city itself was situated on a hill overlooking the Subin River and when Bowditch and his party pushed their way through the 5,000 warriors who had been sent by the king to greet their arrival they discovered a city of 27 major streets, the greatest of which was used for significant receptions and parades and was over 100m wide. There were named quarters, or abrono, and trades, such as goldsmiths or umbrella makers, occupied specific quarters. When the mission finally reached the palace, which was the largest building in the city, covering a total area of 5 acres, they were formally greeted by Osei Bonsu. Apart from being the royal residence, the palace also housed a forum in which the council of the nation would debate important matters. Bowditch wrote of the elaborately carved doors and windows and even the lavatories found in the palace and described the wealth he saw, in terms of gold ornaments and rich clothes. When his work was published in Britain it was met with scepticism for the reviewers could not comprehend that Africa could possess such a large and elaborate native city.

Bowditch and his colleagues remained in Kumasi for several months and although treated with respect, they were not given the freedom to explore the local area and at times they must have thought they were little more than prisoners. However, Osei Bonsu was keen to negotiate a treaty with the British and Bowditch was finally able to return to the coast with a treaty signed by the king. In it the king pledged himself to ‘countenance, promote and encourage’ trade between his subjects and Cape Coast Castle and allowed for a resident to remain in Kumasi. In return the officers in charge of the British forts would give ‘every protection in their power’ to such Asante people who might require it. This feature of the treaty, point seven of ten, was quickly tested and the British were found wanting.

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Asante Army Structure, 1800s

From Britain at War with the Asante Nation, 1823–1900: “The White Man’s Grave” by Stephen Manning (Pen & Sword Books, 2021), Kindle pp. 27-32:

The Asante army was not a regular force, although there did exist a small trained cadre stationed in Kumasi to protect the capital and the Asantehene. This formed the nucleus of any expeditionary force. However, in other respects the army was more akin to a feudal levy of the European Middle Ages in that most of the manpower was assembled at the outbreak of war from troops raised by the twenty-four tribal heads and later from tribes that had been annexed into the Asante Empire. At its maximum, the Asante army was said to have been up to 100,000-strong. However, most armies were not as large as this; for example, around 40,000 warriors opposed the British in 1874. The fact that such a force could maintain its cohesiveness and discipline, especially as its ranks did include men taken from recently vanquished tribes, is miraculous and its success can be attributed to several factors.

The Asante military leaders quickly realised the important advantage that firearms gave them over their foes and the leadership generated a winning mentality and even a sense of superiority amongst their troops that they had a share in a glorious military tradition. This went even further in that the Asante nation, with each victory and conquest, rapidly gained amongst its people and from those of other tribes and nations, even European ones, a reputation as a self-governing, independent state that was wholly indigenous and not one that had evolved as a result of outside influences.

Once war was declared against another tribal state the decision to do so would be made by the Asantehene, his privy council, the chiefs of the twenty-four individual states that comprised the nation, and, as time went on, the chiefs of the newly acquired vassal states that had been brought into the Asante nation by conquest.

If war was declared, then the chiefs, who also served as the captains of the various states, would return to their lands and call their people to arms. Every male citizen was a soldier and all able-bodied men were expected to ready themselves for military service. However, a quota system existed so that only a proportion of men were called for action with the remainder left at home to provide security as well as, crucially, manpower to ensure that the farming systems continued, and future famines were avoided.

There was a large element of discipline, even subjugation, which was used to maintain the army’s effectiveness. There were severe punishments, including death, for failure to report for duty, for desertion and cowardice. A military police force armed with whips and swords had to be used to encourage some into battle and those few that refused were despatched on the spot with an axe. Yet, overall the command structure centred on the king, his privy council and the army general staff was incredibly effective not only on the battlefield but also in bringing the army to readiness and for ensuring that logistically it was able to fight and achieve victories. Each army group took its own supplies of food and ordnance on campaign. Uniquely amongst African armies, the Asante boasted a corps of medical orderlies, the Esumankwafo, who accompanied the army into battle. This corps attended to wounded troops as well as removing the dead from the battlefield, for immense trouble was taken to conceal losses from the enemy.

A typical Asante battle column was said to have originated by observing ants on a march and comprised a body of scouts, an advance guard, the main body, in which the army commander was found and secured, left and right wings and a rear or home guard. Certainly, in wars with tribal states the battle could be effectively won if the opposing king or general was either killed or captured so the Asante army ensured that their battlefield commanders were well protected in the centre of the formation. The home guard was tasked either with staying in the capital Kumasi or returning immediately to the capital after a battlefield victory, or a rare defeat, to ensure that the security of the capital was maintained. The scouts would first engage with the enemy who would then be drawn in towards the main body. As this was happening the left and right wings would endeavour to surround the enemy for, although the principal aim was to defeat their foe, the secondary one was to capture as many as possible so as to sell them to the slavers on the coast. In addition, in a society in which fetishism and the worship of ancestors was important a number of the recently captured enemy were diverted to human sacrifice, a practice that continued right up to the late nineteenth century.

The Asante army was composed entirely of infantry for the inhospitable forest zone, and the presence of the tsetse fly there meant that horses and ponies would soon succumb. Most Asante troops were equipped with standard European trade muskets, which were poorly made with a limited range. On the West African coast such weapons had the common name of ‘Long Danes’, supposedly named as it was the Danes who first introduced them to the Gold Coast. This weapon was over 6ft in length and weighed nearly 20lb and a more unsuitable musket for forest warfare could not have been designed. In theory such guns had a range of 200yd but were rarely accurate beyond 30yd and although the enemy might be frightened by the explosive fire, it was unlikely to hurt them unless hit at very close range. Yet, the nature of the jungle fighting meant that if the enemy had not already fled at the sound of the approaching Asante army, then fire would often be at close proximity as the two protagonists were unable to see each other through the near-impenetrable forest.

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Foundation of the Asante Nation

From Britain at War with the Asante Nation, 1823–1900: “The White Man’s Grave” by Stephen Manning (Pen & Sword Books, 2021), Kindle pp. 25-27:

The Asante nation we know today, and that came into conflict with the British in the nineteenth century, is also known as Asanteman; a homogeneous society comprising twenty-four individual states, each with its own chief, serving one king, known as the Asantehene who resides in Kumasi, the capital of the Asante nation. The name Asante seems to have derived from a special red clay the people sent to the dominant tribe, the Denkyira, as a form of payment or tribute of allegiance. The Akans call clay ‘Asan’, therefore the Asantes were differentiated from others with the name ‘Asan-tefo’, or those who dig clay.

The foundation of the Asante nation can be dated to the late seventeenth century with its rise as a military power under the leadership of its first king, Osei Tutu, and the inspiration of a priest, Okomfo Anokye. With the ambition of freeing the Asante people from the dominance and servitude of the paramount Denkyira tribe, and thereby forging a nation rather than simply a tribe, these two men realised the vital importance of both a religious and military system with which to bind a new nation together. As the historian R.S. Rattray has rather cynically written of Okomfo Anokye, ‘with a true insight into the psychology of the people with whom he had to deal, he realised that the only way to unite independent and mutually jealous factions [within the Asante tribe] was by playing upon their superstitious beliefs’. According to Asante tradition a wooden stool covered in gold was summoned from the sky by Anokye and this descended upon the lap of Osei Tutu, who was anointed as king. Anokye declared that the Golden Stool contained the spirits of the Asante ancestors and the strength and wellbeing of the new nation depended on its preservation. Every Asante, and heads of each of the twenty-four tribal states, had to show allegiance to the Golden Stool and its guardian the king, or Asantehene, the head of the Asante nation. The British lack of understanding regarding the paramount importance to the Asante nation of the Golden Stool was to be the central reason for the Anglo-Asante War of 1900.

To consolidate and reaffirm his position the king, Osei Tutu, quickly realised that the energy and resources of his new nation should be directed towards military conquest and this would begin, in 1701, with war waged against the Denkyira tribe. Although the Denkyira, under their king, Ntim Gyakari, initially achieved success against the Asante forces, Osei Tutu was able to draw the Denkyira into a trap and at the Battle of Feyiase the full military might of the Asante nation routed the Denkyira army. Ntim Gyakari was captured and beheaded on the battlefield. Having secured independence from Denkyira servitude, Osei Tutu now turned his focus on expanding his new nation. By the end of the seventeenth century and into the eighteenth century slavery was at its height and it is no coincidence that the rise of the Asante nation occurred at the same time. Osei Tutu and then successive Asantehene, such as Opoku Ware (1720–50) and Osei Kwadwo (1764–77) directed forces against neighbouring tribal states. There was a seemingly never-ending series of wars. For example, the Sefwi, Bono and Gyaman states were added to the Asante nation during Opoku Ware’s reign, whilst Osei Kwadwo defeated the Wassa and Banda peoples, annexing their lands. He also expanded the Asante nation northwards into Dagombaland to slow the southward spread of Islam into the region.

However, the thrust of Asante expansion was primarily southwards and was motivated largely by the desire to sell those captured in battle as slaves directly to European buyers on the coast. Even the passing of the Slave Trade Act in 1807 and then the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 did not slow Asante expansion for there were always notorious traders and nations who would buy slaves. Furthermore, the Asante army was now dependent on firearms and gunpowder to maintain its supremacy and the various Asantehene and military leaders considered it imperative to have direct access to European suppliers of weapons, powder and ammunition who were based on the coast.

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Early Ottoman Rule in the Balkans

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 302-305:

There had been a good deal of peaceful interchange as well as fighting between Byzantium and the Ottomans in the decades preceding 1453; and not a little intermarriage. Mehmet’s own ancestors included Byzantine Christians. Besides he entertained considerable respect for some aspects of the Byzantine tradition; he was invited to think of himself as ‘Emperor of the Romans’, like the Byzantine Emperors of old, and came to believe that he could unite all Christendom under his rule. More immediately he used certain Byzantine institutions as models for the system he set up to run his Empire. Thus the Byzantine fief seems to have been the inspiration of the sipahi system; Byzantine offices, taxes and even ceremonials became bases for Ottoman administrative and court practices, and certain posts, particularly those involving foreign affairs, became almost a monopoly of Greeks. This is not to suggest, however, that much about the new regime was not alien and burdensome.

The Ottoman state was run by a system of slavery, even though the Sultan’s slaves constituted an administrative and military elite. Furthermore, the Turks took an irregular levy of children (devshirme) from their subject Christian population and made Muslims of them, even though they also trained them for their service and set them on ladders of opportunity which enabled them to reach the highest offices of state. Furthermore, Christians were made to feel their inferiority. They were forbidden to wear green or to paint their houses in bright colours, forbidden to ride horseback in the presence of Muslims, and restricted in the number and the height of their churches. On the other hand there was freedom of worship; non-Muslims were not obliged to do military service; and they were largely subject to their own justice within their own religious millets, of which by far the largest was the Orthodox, administered by the Patriarchate of Constantinople whose latest incumbent was invested in office by the Sultan himself. The Great Church was largely in captivity, but it retained most of its autonomy. The monasteries of Mount Athos were not disturbed, and the Turks did not distract the monk Gabriel of Rila from his life’s work, a vast compilation of the sayings of St John Chrysostomos.

The Ottoman Turks also breathed new life into decrepit Byzantine cities and above all into Constantinople which they called Istanbul. Christians, Muslims, Armenians and Jews were brought from all over the Empire and settled there. Hence the population which had shrunk to about 10,000 in the immediate aftermath of its fall increased by as much as tenfold within thirty years. Most came voluntarily recognising opportunity or responding to concessions, though some were forcibly resettled; and huge building and rebuilding projects were soon under way. Water supplies, sewage disposal, street-paving and street furniture were soon renewed or supplied for the first time; ruined structures were rebuilt, others restored and new palaces, fountains, public baths and hospitals erected. Also a great bazaar – for the Ottomans had long recognized the importance of commerce.

In the Balkan countryside Ottoman domination replaced uncertainty and periodic anarchy with an orderly system that did not at first always unduly disturb existing social relationships. Local lords who submitted to the sultan were generally left in possession of their estates in fief provided they served the Ottomans as loyal vassals. They were encouraged to convert to Islam and embrace Ottoman culture, of course, but pressures to do so tended to be applied gradually over a period of two or three generations, by which time many had gravitated naturally to the ways of the new elite. Lower down the scale peasants could gain privileges such as certain tax exemptions by serving as military auxiliaries or local police; most monasteries that had not earned the Sultan’s displeasure continued in the possession of most of their estates; and the populations of some regions, notably the heretical Bogomils of Bosnia, positively welcomed the Turks.

In two other respects the Ottoman system can be regarded as superior to some others in the Europe of the time. It was unequivocal about the ultimate ownership of property belonging to the state, eliminating powerful lordships, bases of individual power which could be exercised capriciously; and it did not permit the military class to become too numerous. Christian servicemen surplus to requirements were reduced in status and lost their privileges. This was not the case in Poland and Hungary, where, as we have seen, a swollen nobility and the virtually unrestricted power of lords were to be conducive to great harm. Furthermore the Turks provided security for the great majority of the Balkan population to live in tranquility in accordance with a familiar culture. By uprooting and changing Byzantine institutions, it has been said to have decapitated Byzantine high culture. On the other hand, as we have seen, Byzantine civilization had made some impression on the Turks themselves; and its cultural legacies, to both Eastern and Western Europe, were particularly rich.

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Eastern Europe After Mohacz

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 250-252:

The political consequences of the battle of Mohacz were also considerable. Louis II had died childless; and the Habsburgs of Austria, long-sighted dynastic politicians and shrewd diplomatists, became the leading contenders for the thrones of both Hungary and Bohemia, and soon gained both. But in Hungary there was strong backing for a local candidate, John Zapolyai, and he, too, was crowned king. This political division weakened resistance to the Turks, who by the end of 1541 had occupied the southern and central parts of the country, including the capital Buda; and gained suzerainty over the east, which became a largely autonomous principality, Transylvania.

The death of Louis had ended one Eastern European dynasty. Two others failed to survive the sixteenth century. The last Jagiellonian King of Poland-Lithuania died in 1572; the last of Russia’s ancient Riurikid dynasty in 1591. In both instances political hiatus encouraged tumults, though, as we have seen, the long-term outcomes were quite dissimilar. While Russia returned to dynastic rule, Poland abandoned it. In this respect she came to resemble the smaller polities in the region, the Danubian Principalities, self-governing tributaries to the Turk, which also lacked dynastic rule: The instability of their domestic politics is suggested by the fact that, in the course of one century Wallachia had twenty-four, and Moldavia no fewer than forty, changes of ruling prince, or hospodar.

These religious and political changes were obvious to contemporaries. But there were other shifts, no less profound in their effects, which were much less noticeable at the time, or recognized only in retrospect.

Europe’s centre of economic gravity had been moving from the Mediterranean to the countries bordering on the North Atlantic; from the basin of the River Po to that of the Rhine (where it has remained); and from the emporia of Istanbul and Venice to that of Amsterdam. Furthermore, a surge in the population of Western Europe, and in particular of its cities, was stimulating a sharply increasing demand, and hence higher prices, for imported foodstuffs which Eastern Europe was able to supply. This was to have marked social as well as economic effects, especially on those regions with access to the Baltic, not least in encouraging the rise of serfdom.

At the same time the importation of silver from the Americas was promoting a sharp increase in the money supply and hence serious inflation. This was to throw the finely-tuned mechanisms of the Ottoman state out of kilter and prove a major factor in its subsequent decline. And there was one change perceived by very few, if at all, the indirect effects of which were felt by almost everyone. This was ‘the little ice age’, a slight but insidious drop in the average temperature beginning late in the sixteenth century. By restricting the latitude and height at which agriculture was viable this precipitated famines, population movements and the great disorders which were to overtake most of Eastern Europe at the turn of the century, turning the frontier lands especially into a crucible of violence.

And there was a plethora of other factors which intervened at various points with varying intensity to influence the course things took. Linguistic differences, for example, sometimes fed into religious and political struggles; and social classes sometimes gained or lost constitutional rights according to the religion they embraced at a particular moment. Low population density in Poland-Lithuania contributed to the enserfment of the peasant; yet high population density in the Ottoman Empire contributed to the disruption of that state. Sometimes the effects seem paradoxical. The Turkish presence, so often assumed to be a wholly negative influence, slowed down and even reversed the process of enserfment in Hungary for a time. The Baltic grain boom had helped to promoted serfdom, yet the end of the boom around the turn of the century served not to remove serfdom, but to entrench it. And though Protestantism is often associated with the origins of modern science Copernicus was a priest whom Polish Protestants rejected, while the patron of Tycho Brahe and Kepler was a Habsburg. The interactions of circumstances and catalysts that shaped Eastern Europe in the period from 1526 to 1648 far exceeded in complexity the most complicated transmutation process in any alchemists’ laboratory.

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