February is Black History Month, and The Library of Congress has published a series of testimonies from slaves called Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938. Among them is the story of an American Indian born into slavery.
The interview with George Fortman lays out a complicated family history that begins with his great-grandparents, who lived in the Wabash Valley of Indiana in the 1830s, before forced relocation sent them south, across the Mississippi to Alabama, where they became slaves.
Fortman describes his ancestors as “John Hawk, a Blackhawk Indian brave, and Racheal, a Chackatau maiden had made themselves a home such as only Indians know.” John Hawk was a warrior who followed the great Black Hawk and Racheal was of Choctaw decent.
The relocation Fortman mentions could have stemmed from the Miami treaties of November 6, 1838, part of the U.S. government’s efforts to purge the Native population from Indiana.
His astonishing story includes incest, rape and murder, and his eventual freedom.
The pages of the interview are presented below as images courtesy of the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division.