Courtesy Library of Congress
A descendant of a warrior who followed the great Black Hawk tells story of being born into slavery.

Black History Month: Slave Narratives Include Amazing Story of Native American Slave



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.












You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page



Maureen Richardson's picture
Maureen Richardson
Submitted by Maureen Richardson on
This was a very heartfelt story which I enjoyed very much. We are blessed to hear first hand stories of our past. It should be taught in schools as well, so that our children understand what really happened...There is so much omission of how things really were for non-whites! It saddens me. But thank you for this piece, I hope many people read this and begin to understand that we are ALL equal.

Nick Thunder's picture
Nick Thunder
Submitted by Nick Thunder on
Wow! So much healing we all have to do. I pray that we can all come together all good people. We must heal our selves, our children, our parents, our families, our communities, and the wounds of our ancestors. We must also help those who want to atone to heal the wounds of hate left in their hearts from their ancestors.

greg's picture
Submitted by greg on
there was no black hawk indians. Black Hawk was Sac who were eastern Indians.. around Mississauga ON, that was their original homelands.. Siouan ancestors, and speak similar to HoCak ie HoChunk people over in the USA the Sac were driven out and throough time joined together with Fox

Jennifer Bullock's picture
Jennifer Bullock
Submitted by Jennifer Bullock on
A riveting story-what a remarkable person and historical journey. I learned so much because of the clarity of his narrative and retention. I am always amazed at how much is not told about the lives of AI or AN people. I have a friend that is in her late 70's, she brought a photo of the cave her Cherokee grandfather was bon in, in OK.

editors's picture
Submitted by editors on
@greg: Thank you for your comment. We are aware that there is no Black Hawk tribe. What George was saying in his papers is that his ancestor was a warrior who followed Black Hawk.

Shirley Willard's picture
Shirley Willard
Submitted by Shirley Willard on
This story is part of the WPA Writer's Project, in which unemployed writers were paid to go into their communities and interview people for their historical memories. The Indian's life story might stem from the 1836 treaties that led to the 1838 forced removal of the Potawatomi known as the Trail of Death. However, this removal was all Potawatomi, and no other tribes were included. See for the 1838 diary, photos of the 80 historical markers that have been erected on the 660 mile trek from Indiana to Kansas, map, GPS locations, much more. We are planning a Trail of Death Commemorative Caravan for Sept. 23-28, 2013. See the website for details.