The Oklahoma Historical Society gives information on Oklahoma’s freedmen and their unique history. More information about the freedmen can be found by visiting www.okhistory.org/learn/freedmen
1 What are the freedmen?
The freedmen were slaves owned by the Five Tribes that were brought with the tribes during the Trail of Tears. Eight to ten thousand Black people were enslaved throughout Indian Territory.
2 How were the salves treated by the tribes?
During the Civil War, the tribes’ members owned approximately 10,000 slaves. Unlike slavery in the southern states, the form of slavery in Indian Territory widely varied. The Creek and Seminole often intermarried with their slaves and allowed a broad range of freedoms. The Cherokee resisted intermarriage but pursued benign relationships on their small farms. The Choctaw and Chickasaw more closely approximated the system of white slaveholders on the cotton plantations. In all cases the slaves adapted to the patterns of the Indian cultures in dress, food, language, and communal landholding. Episodes of mistreatment and violence occurred, but more often, runaway slaves came to Indian Territory because they believed it to be a less race-restrictive environment.
3 When were the slaves freed?
In 1863 the Cherokee National Council passed an act freeing all people enslaved by their tribe, but many slaveholders ignored the law. After the Civil War, new treaties between the U.S. government and the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek), and Seminole abolished slavery among the tribes and outlined citizenship rights available to the Freedmen and their descendants. These treaties were ratified in the summer of 1866.
4 Did the tribes grant citizenship to the freedmen?
The Seminole promptly concluded their treaty in March 1866, granting full citizenship to their freedmen with the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes remaining opposed to the adoption of the freedmen. The Choctaw did not grant citizenship rights to their freedmen until 1883, and the Chickasaw never adopted theirs. The government refused to carry out its responsibility of removing the freedmen as well, leaving them in helpless limbo. In July 1866 the Cherokee were the last group to conclude their treaty. They allowed adoption of the freedmen residing in the Cherokee Nation at the time of the treaty signing and those who would return within a six-month time period. In November the Cherokee amended their constitution, granting full citizenship to their freedmen.
5 How many freedmen were recorded in Oklahoma?
When the Dawes Commission Rolls closed in 1907, freedmen eligible for land allotments numbered 23,415. Mixed-blood black Indians were all enrolled as freedmen with no Indian blood. When stalling tactics failed the Indian governments, they used every measure at their disposal to limit the number of freedmen admitted to the rolls. Litigation continues through the present times.