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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Panis at Fort Michilimackinac--The Forgotten Native American Slaves

Interpretive Assistant LeeAnn Ewer at Colonial Michilimackinac

Colonial Michilimackinac is operating during the Pandemic and is offering new programs this year. I love to visit this colonial-era fort when I am up North researching my books. On one of my visits, I looked through a record of the people baptized by the French priest. There were places where the person was referred to as a "Panis" which I learned was a captured Native American slave from a different tribe. And I was, I admit it, shocked to read of the baptism of babies born to Panis (enslaved) women and the father's name being listed (their owner). We don't think too much about the enslaved Native Americans when we think of slavery in our county.

This year, there is a specific program about the Panis in colonial Northern America, from the early days before European arrivals, to the French, English and finally Americans. We were able to hear LeeAnn Ewer, Interpretive Assistant for the Mackinac State Parks, give a presentation July 1, 2020, at Fort Michilimackinac. We've been privileged to hear her before, and she does an outstanding job. (She has an amazing Pinterest page, too, with Boards of all kinds of colonial-era goodies.)

Some touchpoint about the Panis:

  • They were called Panis based on the Pawnees captives taken in as slaves but later referred to any Native American captive who was from "away" from the area to where they were taken.
  • They are often the forgotten Indian slaves because there are few records of them.
  • Church records of baptisms have been helpful in learning a little of their stories.
  • The way in which they were introduced into households changed over time.
  • Modern people don't know much about the history of the enslavement of captured Native American slaves but it was widespread and led to later legislation.
Ms. Ewer recommended the book Bonds of Alliance by Brett Rushforth, which has won multiple awards, as a great resource for more information on Native American slave trade. 
Fort Michilimackinac

If you're planning a trip up North, be sure to plan to visit Fort Michilimackinac and all of the parks in the Mackinac State Historic Parks. If you're fortunate, you'll get to hear Ms. Ewer's wonderful presentation. You can also check the schedule ahead of time to see what topics are covered that day.


  1. Great post; thank you, Carrie. So unfortunate our history included the enslavement of Native Americans. Much overlooked were those who came before people from Africa; the Irish. Brought over as slaves or bond servants, they were eventually considered a bad investment as they died by the thousands due to disease and inability to live in the climate.

  2. Just today I ran across a mention of the Native slave trade as practiced from colonial South Carolina (from our former hometown near Charleston, in fact). In this case, they were shipped to the Caribbean to work the sugar plantations. So awful to think about, all of it. Thank you for the information, though, and recommending the resource!

  3. Thanks, Carrie. I had not heard that particular term before, though I knew that some tribes kept those from other tribes as workers or sometimes assimilated them into the tribe on a more equal footing. It's no surprise anywhere that people abuse others that they don't consider equal. Enjoy the rest of your time 'up north'!

  4. I was privileged to visit the Fort Michillimackinac in 2018. It is definitely very informative.

  5. Interesting! I'd not heard that term before, that I recall. I might have to look up more about this.

  6. Very interesting post Carrie.
    Blessings, Tina

  7. I knew there were slaves from ready historical fiction books. I had never heard the term Panis though. Interesting post. Thank you.

  8. I'd not heard the term Panis before, but I knew Indians were kept as slaves and they also kept slaves.


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