During the early contact period (1792-1830), distinct patterns of social organization made slavery in the region centered on the lower Columbia River somewhat different from slavery found farther north along the Northwest Coast. The maximal Northwest Coast culture area was a two-hundred-mile-wide strip bordering the Pacific, extending over fifteen hundred miles from the Copper River delta in Alaska to Cape Mendocino in California. This diverse area can be subdivided into the matrilineal north, the bilateral central portion, and the patrifocal south. Along the lower Columbia, marriage ties created a region marked, in particular, by a distinctive type of head deformation. While conflicts within the region were limited, raids on people to the south and east, who did not practice head deformation, yielded captives and other booty. Goods were classed into two spheres of exchange: wealth (including slaves) and subsistence goods. The advent of the fur trade expanded slavery and added foreign goods to the sphere of wealth, but like other social arrangements exchange spheres were altered considerably. Records from the fur trade era show interrelationships among slavery, warfare, and the economy.

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