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Very few, if any, African-Americans accepted their status as slaves.
Most, if not all, slave owneres were completely aware of this and, in general, they lived in fear of the African-Americans under the control. Not only did slaveowners expect slaves to run away, letters and diaries give strong evidence that slaveowners (and even non-slaveowners) in the south believed that rebellion was imminent. They had lived with this fear since 1792 when the Haitian Revolution proved unambiguously that slaves were ready to revolt and could do so with a passion that was awe-inspiring. Added to this mix was the fiery rhetoric of abolitionists, both black and white. The most frightening, to the slave owners, of these abolitionists was Henry Highland Garnet who had escaped from slavery at the age of ten. In 1843 he called for a slave strike and suggested that it escalate to a slave revolt. By this point, the south had been rocked by three slave revolts which had struck fear to the very hearts of slaveowners.
Slave owners lived in fear of slave revolts, a fear which was far from unfounded: from the Amistad mutiny to the Underground Railroad, American slaves%u2014led by themselves or with the help of abolitionists%u2014staged many instances of revolt and resistance. Read the timeline below to learn more about the history of slave rebellions.
1663: First serious slave conspiracy in Colonial America
White servants and black slaves conspire to revolt in Gloucester County, VA, but are betrayed by a fellow servant.
1712: Slave revolt, New York, April 7. Nine Whites killed. Twenty-one slaves executed.
1730: Slave conspiracy discovered in Norfolk and Princess Anne counties, Va.
1739: The Stono Rebellion
The deadliest revolt in Colonial America takes place in Stono, SC. Armed slaves start marching to Florida and towards freedom, but the insurrection is put down and at least 20 whites and more than 40 blacks are killed.
1741: Series of suspicious fires and reports of slave conspiracy led to general hysteria in New York City, March and April. Thirty-one slaves, five Whites executed.
1773: Massachusetts slaves petitioned legislature for freedom, Jan. 6. There is a record of 8 petitions during Revolutionary War period.
1791: Haiti slave revolt
Former slave Toussaint L'Ouverture leads a slave revolt in Haiti, West Indies. He is captured in 1802, but the revolt continues and Haitian independence is declared. Southerners are terrified by these events as they discourage the importation of slaves into the United States.
1800: Gabriel Prosser's rebellion
In the spring of 1800, Prosser, a deeply religious man, begins plotting an invasion of Richmond, Virginia and an attack on its armory. By summer he has enlisted more than 1,000 slaves and collected an armory of weapons, organizing the first large-scale slave revolt in the U.S. On the day of the revolt, the bridges leading to Richmond are destroyed in a flood, and Prosser is betrayed. The state militia attacks, and Prosser and 35 of his men are hanged.
1811: Louisiana revolt
Louisiana slaves revolt in two parishes near New Orleans. The revolt is suppressed by U.S. troops.
1816: Fort Blount revolt
Three hundred slaves and about 20 Native American allies hold Fort Blount on Apalachicola Bay, Florida for several days before being attacked by U.S. troops.
1822: Denmark Vesey's revolt
A freed man, Vesey had won a lottery and purchased his emancipation in 1800. He is working as a carpenter in Charleston, South Carolina when he starts to plan a massive slave rebellion%u2014one of the most elaborate plots in American history%u2014involving thousands of slaves on surrounding plantations, organized into cells. They would start a major fire at night, and then kill the slave owners and their families. Vesey is betrayed and hanged, but the cell structure prevents officials from identifying other leaders.
1829: Race riot, Cincinnati, Ohio, August 10. More than 1,000 Negroes left the city for Canada.
1831: Nat Turner's revolt
Nat Turner plans a slave revolt revolt in Southampton County, Virginia, the only effective, sustained slave rebellion in U.S. history. Sixty whites are killed before Turner and his followers are captured and hanged.
1831%u20131862: The Underground Railroad
Approximately 75,000 slaves escape to the North and to freedom via the Underground Railroad, a system in which free African American and white "conductors," abolitionists and sympathizers help guide and shelter the escapees.
1838: Frederick Douglass escapes
Frederick Douglass escapes from slavery in Baltimore. He later publishes his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, and becomes a leading abolitionist.
1839: The Amistad mutiny
Led by a West African named Cinque, slaves transported aboard the Spanish ship Amistad stage a mutiny, killing the entire crew except for the captain and first mate and demanding to be sailed back to Africa. Instead, the captain sails to New York. The rebels eventually win their freedom in a landmark Supreme Court case in which they are defended by former president John Quincy Adams.
1841: Creole revolt
Slaves revolt on the Creole, a slave trading ship sailing from Virginia to Louisiana. The rebels overpower the crew and successfully sail to the Bahamas, where they are granted asylum and freedom.
1848: Ellen Craft impersonated a slave holder, William Craft acted as her servant in one of the most dramatic slave escapes--this one from slavery in Georgia, Dec 26.
1849: Harriet Tubman escapes
Harriet Tubman escapes from slavery in Maryland. She becomes one of the best-known "conductors" on the Underground Railroad, returning to the South 19 times and helping more than 300 slaves escape to freedom.
1851: Negro abolitionist crashed into courtroom in Boston and rescued a fugitive slave, Feb 15.
1859: Harper's Ferry Attack
Led by abolitionist John Brown, a group of slaves and white abolitionists stage an attack on Harper's Ferry, Virginia. They capture the federal armory and arsenal before the insurrection is halted by local militia. Brown and the other captives are tried and executed. The raid hastens the advent of the Civil War, which starts two years later.
If slave rebellions in North America correspond to any single model, it is that they proliferated during times when the white majority was divided against itself. Colonial insurgents in South Carolina and New York City turned to violence at a time when their masters were at war with France and Spain. Gabriel, the most politicized of all the slave rebels, formulated his plans during the divisive election of 1800, when Federalists and Republicans threatened to take up arms against one another. The rebels in the Tidewater area of Virginia, despite the memory of the repression that followed Gabriel's death, began to organize again during the chaos of the War of 1812. Having read of the Missouri debates in Charleston newspapers, Vesey prayed that Northern whites would prove tardy in riding to the rescue of the estranged Southerners. Slaves near Natchez, Mississippi, began to plan for their freedom in 1861, following the outbreak of the Civil War.
Most of all, slaves, who well knew what they were up against and rarely contemplated suicidal ventures, plotted for their freedom only when safer avenues had been closed to them. For most of the seventeenth century, for example, when the high death rate in the southern colonies made inexpensive white indentured servants far more numerous than costly African slaves, enterprising bondpersons relied more on self-purchase than the sword. It was only after landless whites and hard-used white indentured workers under the command of Nathaniel Bacon burned Jamestown in 1676 that southern planters made a concerted effort to replace white servants with African slaves. The comprehensive Virginia Slave Code of 1705, the first of its kind in colonial North America, crushed the hope of industrious slaves that they might be upwardly mobile. Only then, as North American racial walls rapidly hardened, did desperate slaves turn to physically hazardous paths toward freedom. In April 1712 twenty-five Coromantee Africans burned several buildings in New York City and killed nine whites. Several rebels committed suicide before they could be captured, but those taken alive were broken on the wheel and hanged in chains as a warning to future rebels.
In the early eighteenth century, mainland revolts rarely posed much real danger to the slaveholding regime. Because the Atlantic slave trade was at its peak, every colony included large numbers of native Africans who sought to escape from bondage by building isolated Maroon communities in remote areas. There they tried to re-create the African communities they had lost. Even the two most significant rebellions of the period%u2014the 1739 Stono River uprising and Varick's 1741 plan to torch New York City%u2014were led by Africans who dreamed only of ending their own bondage, not of ending unfree labor in general. The price of failure was high. New York authorities ordered Varick and twelve of his followers burned alive; eighteen others were hanged and seventy more bondmen were banished from the colony.
The American Revolution alternately discouraged and stimulated slave rebellions. Although the British invasion and the animosity between Patriots and Loyalists presented slaves with a unique opportunity to organize, most slaves chose instead to take advantage of the dislocation of war to escape with their families into the growing cities or behind British lines. (The Revolution was the one time in North American history when equal numbers of female and male slaves ran away.) The aggressive bondmen who cast their lots with the military forces of King George were precisely the sort of bold, determined slaves who tended to organize slave conspiracies; thus the bloody fighting in the southern states after 1778 actually diminished the prospect that a mainland counterpart of Toussaint Louverture, the Haitian liberator, would rise out of the tobacco plantations.
In several cases, bondmen who had been carried from revolutionary Saint Domingue by their masters participated in North American slave revolts. In 1792 slaves on Virginia's Eastern Shore proposed to "blow up the magazine in Norfolk, and massacre its inhabitants." Although the rebel leader Caleb, a favored servant and driver, was evidently Americanborn, several of his recruits were Haitian refugees, and all%u2014according to trial testimony%u2014had been inspired by the example of Saint Domingue. Two decades later, in 1811, one of the most extensive conspiracies in the history of the United States erupted in southern Louisiana, only a few miles upriver from New Orleans. Slaves led by a mulatto driver named Charles Deslondes, reputedly aware of events in Saint Domingue, announced their intention of marching on the city "to kill whites." Eyewitness accounts placed the number of rebels at 180 to 500.
After Gabriel's execution and the death of twenty-five of his followers in the fall of 1800, slave rebellions on the eastern seaboard became both less common and less politically conscious. Slaves who worked along the rivers in southern Virginia and Halifax County, North Carolina, under the leadership of Sancho, a ferryman, formed a loosely connected scheme to rise on Easter Monday of 1802. But Sancho, despite having been involved in Gabriel's plot, shared little of Gabriel's dream of a multiracial republic. Even when the dislocations of the War of 1812 and a second British invasion of the Chesapeake once more gave bondmen in Virginia an opportunity to rise for their liberty, an ideological dimension was lacking. Gloucester County authorities jailed ten slaves in March 1813, and the following month found rebels in Williamsburg "condemned on a charge of conspiracy and insurrection." By the late summer and early fall, rumors of revolt unnerved inhabitants of Norfolk and Richmond as well.
White authorities crushed these isolated rebellions with relative ease, reminding leaders in the slave community that the determined white majority in the American South posed a formidable obstacle to insurgents. Denmark Vesey of Charleston, perhaps the most pragmatic of all the rebel leaders, realized that Gabriel's dream of forcing mainland elites to accommodate blacks' aspirations to freedom and economic justice was impossible. Vesey plotted, therefore, not to end slavery in South Carolina, but instead to lead a mass escape from Charleston to the Caribbean, where he had lived and worked as a boy. Hoping to take control of the city on the night of 14 July 1822, Vesey's recruits%u2014many of them Africans%u2014intended to slaughter the inhabitants of the city and seize bank reserves before fleeing to Haiti, an embattled black republic sorely in need of capital and skilled labor.
Despite the overwhelming amount of evidence testifying to black rebelliousness, some historians attribute servile conspiracies to white paranoia, or even to Machiavellian plots on the part of white authorities to eliminate potential black leaders. One scholar suggests that insurgents never planned for their freedom in New York City in 1741, Antigua in 1736, the Chesapeake in the 1790s, and southern Virginia in 1802. Another historian, Michael Johnson, argues that "the evidence cannot sustain a credible interpretation that the Stono Revolt was a slave rebellion," and he also doubts that Gabriel's conspiracy and Vesey's plot constituted "incipient rebellion[s]."
No modern scholar, however, has challenged the reality of Nat Turner's bloody revolt. Fifty-seven dead white Virginians are hard to explain away. Yet the Southampton uprising of-1831 stands as the least practical of the nineteenth-century revolts. Unlike Gabriel, who believed it possible to fight his way into Richmond's political society, or Vesey, who simply planned to flee the country, the isolated geography of southern Virginia raises questions as to what the black general planned to do with his soldiers. Quite possibly, Turner hoped to march east and establish a Maroon colony in the Dismal Swamp. Equally possible is the prospect that the evangelical Turner avoided careful planning and preparation as he expected to leave the aftermath of rebellion in the hands of God.
More than four decades later, by the end of the Civil War, 180,000 African Americans (one out of every five males in the Republic) had served in Union forces. Those former slaves who marched back toward the plantations of their birth singing "General Gabriel's Jig" rightly understood themselves to be a part of the largest slave rebellion in the history of the United States.
Timeline: From Before the Mayflower, by Lerone Bennett
The Stono Rebellion
(sometimes called Cato's Conspiracy or Cato's Rebellion) is one of the earliest known organized acts of rebellion against slavery in the Americas. On September 9, 1739, South Carolina slaves gathered at the Stono River (for which the rebellion is named) to plan an armed march for freedom.
Several factors may have convinced the slaves that a rebellion might successfully lead to freedom. A yellow fever epidemic had weakened the power of slaveholders, there was talk of a war between Britain and Spain, and accounts of slaves who had obtained their freedom by escaping to Spanish-controlled Florida gave the Carolinian slaves hope. Lastly, it has been suggested that the slaves organized their revolt to take place before September 29, when the Security Act of 1739 (which required all white males to carry arms on Sundays) would take effect. Jemmy, the leader of the revolt, was a literate slave described as Angolan, which likely meant he was from the Kongo Empire in Central Africa. He and the other slaves who led the rebellion may have realized that if they did not act to seek their freedom before September 29, they might not get another chance.
On September 9, 1739, twenty African American Carolinians led by Jemmy, an Angolan slave, met near the Stono River, twenty miles southwest of Charleston. They marched down the roadway with a banner that read "Liberty!"--they chanted the same word in unison. At the Stono Bridge they seized weapons from a store and killed the two storekeepers. They raised a flag and proceeded towards St. Augustine. On the way, they gathered more recruits, their number now close to 100. They burned the houses of slave owners. South Carolina's Lieutenant Governor, William Bull and four of his friends ran in to the group on horseback. The Lieutenant Governor fled and warned other slave-holders. They rallied a mob of plantation owners and slave-holders to seek out Jemmy and his freedom-seeking followers.
Late that afternoon, planters on horseback caught up with the group now numbering sixty to one hundred slaves. Twenty white Carolinians and forty of the slaves were killed before the rebellion was suppressed. The captured slaves were then decapitated though some also managed to escape.
That same year there was another uprising in Georgia, and the next year another took place in South Carolina, probably inspired by the Stono Rebellion - at the time, colonial officials believed as much. The Stono Rebellion resulted in a 10 year moratorium on slave imports through Charleston and enacted a harsher slave code, which banned earning money and education for slaves.
Cato Perkins was a Huntingdonian Methodist preacher. The Huntingdonian church he founded in Sierra Leone is one of the only remaining churches of that faith remaining in the world today. He was ordained in 1786 by John Marrant as a traveling preacher of the faith. Marrant chose Perkins to lead the Nova Scotia Huntingdonians in Marrant's absence.
In 1790 Perkins took on the duty of chief pastor to black Huntingdonians in Nova Scotia. He was appointed by Marrant as he left for England, and carried it out after his death.
At the time of the Sierra Leone exodus almost Cato Perkins' entire congregation went to Sierra Leone. His congregation was perhaps one quarter of the Christian population of Nova Scotia who left for Sierra Leone. Perkins continued to preach while in Sierra Leone and also was involved in organizing missions to the native African populations.
During the rebellion of the Nova Scotians against the white English leaders at Sierra Leone almost all of the Huntingdonian population supported the rebels. Perkins was nominated by the blacks to travel to England with their petition of grievances. To avoid being suspected by the Colony's administration, it seems that Perkins probably had to risk passage on a slave ship. Unfortunately for him, his petition was rejected.
Perkins died in Sierra Leone in 1805. However, even to this day a Huntingdonian society exists in Sierra Leone, evidence of the success of Perkins' missionary efforts.
Gabriel (1776%u2013October 10, 1800), today commonly if incorrectly known as Gabriel Prosser, was a slave born in Henrico County, Virginia who planned a failed slave rebellion in the summer of 1800. The rebellion was suppressed and Gabriel was hanged together with other slaves.
Born on Brookfield as the slave of Thomas Prosser, Gabriel had two brothers, Solomon and Martin. Most likely, Gabriel's father was a blacksmith, the occupation chosen for Gabriel and for Solomon. By the mid-1790s, as he neared the age of twenty, he stood "six feet two or three inches high." A long and "bony face, well made," was marred by the loss of his two front teeth and "two or three scars on his head." Whites as well as blacks regarded the literate young man as "a fellow of great courage and intellect above his rank in life."
The first major slave revolt in the south was led by a twenty-four year old slave named Gabriel Prosser.
All of the major slave revolts in the south were led by people like Prosser, who were deeply Christian and were fired by religious indignation against slavery. Prosser was the first. In 1800, he began to lay plans to take the city of Richmond, Virginia, by force. He planned to invade Richmond, attack the armory, and arm his rebel slaves. By August of 1800, he had thousands of slaves enlisted and had stored up an armory of weapons, including guns. He was betrayed by two followers and, on the day of his revolt, with over a thousand followers ready to attack Richmond, the bridges into Richmod had been destroyed in a flood. The state militia attacked him the next day and he and his followers were hanged.
Althought Prosser's revolt ended in defeat, it terrified slaveowners throughout the south. Prosser had come very close to taking Richmond. If he had not been betrayed and if the bridges had not washed out, it is almost certain that he would have successfully taken the city of Richmond with his slave followers. Prosser's revolt was the closest America came to a revolution on the same scale as that in Haiti.
This potential uprising was notable not because of its actual impact %u2014 the rebellion was quelled before it could begin %u2014 but because of the potential for mass chaos. No reliable numbers exist regarding slave and free black conspirators; most likely, the number of men actively involved numbered only several hundred.
Southern slave-owners were acutely aware of the Haitian Revolution and became fearful of another slave rebellion. Gabriel had been able to plan the rebellion so well because of relatively lax rules of movement between plantations; as a result, many owners greatly restricted the slaves' rights of travel when not working. The fear of a slave revolt would persist until the abolition of slavery in the 1860s.
Prior to this rebellion, education of slaves, and training slaves in skilled trades, had not been restricted in Virginia. After the rebellion, and a second conspiracy organized in 1802 among enslaved boatmen along the Appomattox and Roanoke Rivers, slave owners in the Virginia Assembly banned the practice of hiring slaves away from their masters (1808) and required freed blacks to leave the state or face reenslavement (1806).
Denmark Vesey, like so many other African-American leaders of the nineteenth century, came from the "upper class" of slaves: the engineers and craftspeople who were given a high degree of independence and self-actualization, as opposed to field workers or house slaves. He purchased his own freedom and settled down as a carpenter in Charleseton, South Carolina.
Despite the surface placidity of his free life, he was fired with anger over slavery and the situation of black slaves. Throughout his entire free existence, he planned and thought about freeing his fellow slaves. He was so full of anger that companions say that he could not even remain in the presence of a European-American.
Like Prosser, Vesey was also deeply inspired by Christianity, in particular, the Old Testament. An integral aspect of slave and free Christianity was its emphasis on the delivery of the "children of Israel" from bondage in Egypt. This story was perhaps the most powerful religious and cultural influence on the world view of nineteenth century Americans. While most historians stress the passive nature of the Israelite deliverance, that deliverance was also yoked to the Israelite invasion of the land of Canaan. While this invasion was barely successful, the Old Testament books telling the history of the Canaan occupation and its aftermath are ruthlessly violent and present a warrior god with no mercy towards non-Israelites. All evidence we have suggests that slaves understood that these two events were connected and that deliverance along Israelite lines would be bought with human blood. Vesey, who went around quoting biblical texts to slaves to inspire them to revolt, particularly loved to quote Yahweh's instructions to Joshua when he demands that Joshua kill every occupant of the cities of Canaan including women and children.
His task, as he saw it, was to incite slaves into revolt. In 1821, that focus changed dramatically and he began to organize his own revolt. He organized a working group of lieutenants that included Gullah Jack, a sorceror considered absolutely invulnerable and Peter Poyas who was one of the great military and organizational geniuses of the early nineteenth century. Poyas organized the revolt into separate cells under individual leaders. Only the leaders knew the plot; if any slave betrayed the plot, they would only betray their one cell. By 1822, almost all the slaves in the plantations surrounding Charleston had joined the revolt. His and Poyas's plan was brilliantly simple. The rebels would all station themselves at the doors of European-Americans and, late at night, a group of rebels would start a major fire. When the men came out their doors, the rebels would kill them with axes, picks, or guns. They would then enter the houses and kill all the occupants. Like Prosser's revolt, they almost won. They were betrayed early in the game, but the cell structure prevented officials from finding out the plot itself or identifying any of the leaders. It was only the day before that a slave, who knew the entire plot, betrayed Vesey. He and his co-leaders were hung, but only one confessed.
Additional Information: Another Source: http://www.pbs.org/thisfarbyfaith/people/denmark_vesey.html
In 1771, fourteen-year-old Denmark Vesey was transported from St. Thomas to Cape Francais by slave trader Captain Joseph Vesey. Upon a return trip to Cape Francais, Captain Vesey was forced to reclaim Denmark, who his master said was suffering from epileptic fits. Denmark accompanied Captain Vesey on his trading voyages until the Captain retired to Charleston, never again showing signs of epilepsy.
In 1799, Vesey won the lottery and bought his freedom for $600. He could not purchase the freedom of his wife and children, however, and some claimed that this fact motivated his crusade to destroy the institution of slavery.
Vesey joined the newly formed African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1817. He became a "class leader," preaching to a small group in his home during the week. White Charlestonians constantly monitored the African church, disrupting services and arresting members. An angry Vesey began preaching from the Old Testament, particularly Exodus, and taught followers that they were the New Israelites, the chosen people whose enslavement God would punish with death.
In 1822, Vesey and other leaders from the African Church began plotting a rebellion. His chief lieutenant was an East African priest named Gullah Jack, who led conspirators in prayer and rituals and gave them amulets to protect them in battle. Vesey's theology of liberation, combined with Gullah Jack's African mysticism, inspired potential participants, and word of the rebellion grew. Vesey set the date for revolt on July 14, and men from Charleston and surrounding plantations planned to seize Charleston's arsenals and guard houses, kill the Governor, set fire to the city, and kill every white man they saw. But in June, several nervous slaves leaked the plot to their masters, and Charleston authorities began arresting leaders. Vesey was captured on June 22, and he and the conspirators were brought to trial. Despite torture and the threat of execution, the men refused to give up their followers. On July 2nd, Denmark Vesey and five other men were hanged. Gullah Jack was executed several days later, with the total number of executions reaching 35 by August 9th.
In the aftermath of the Vesey rebellion, the African Church was burned down and authorities passed a series of laws further restricting the rights of Charleston slaves. Vesey became a martyr for African-Americans and a symbol for the abolitionist movement, while the increasingly militant politics of white America dragged the country toward Civil War.
In 1815, whites in Charleston discovered that black Methodists had been secretly pooling money to buy freedom for enslaved congregants. Whites moved to restrict black autonomy. They planned to construct a hearse house on top of a black burial ground, a move Charleston blacks saw as a final insult. Over 4,000 black members left white churches in protest, and formed an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. Denmark Vesey followed them, leaving the segregated Second Presbyterian Church, where slaves were taught the words of St. Paul: "Servants, obey your masters." In the AME Church, Vesey found the freedom to preach his beliefs.
At weekly AME "class meetings" held in his home, Vesey taught a radical new liberation theology. He spoke only from the Old Testament, particularly Exodus, casting his followers as the new Israelites, whom God would lead to freedom. In 1818, white authorities disrupted an AME service attended by free black ministers from Philadelphia and arrested 140 people. Vesey considered leaving Charleston for Africa, but he decided to stay and "see what he could do for his fellow creatures." With a new urgency, he preached that freedom for slaves would be realized, and he began plotting a rebellion.
Following the 1818 raid on the African Church, Vesey enlisted Gullah Jack, a Church member and an Angolan priest and healer, to recruit native Africans to join his rebellion. As a conjurer who could control the supernatural world, Jack was respected among the slaves working on Charleston's plantations. At secret nighttime meetings, Jack led men in prayer, singing and ritual meals that transformed them from powerless slaves to rebels with a common purpose. He prescribed a special diet and gave them crab claws as amulets to protect them in battle. Through Jack, Vesey was able to reach many more recruits.
Like Denmark Vesey, George Wilson was a class leader in the AME Church, but he followed the Christian doctrine of loving one's neighbor, and was devoted to his master. When fellow slave Rolla Bennett told him of the rebellion, Wilson pleaded with him "to let it alone." Five sleepless nights later, on June 14, Wilson told his master of the plot, confirming the confession of another man and leading to the arrest and execution of Rolla Bennett and his conspirators. Although he was granted his freedom as a reward, Wilson eventually lost his sanity and committed suicide.
After the executions of Denmark Vesey and 34 others, Charleston authorities exiled the African Church leaders and razed the building. Although devastated by the destruction of their church, black Charlestonians continued to honor Vesey's revolutionary Old Testament theology in secret. For abolitionists such as David Walker, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, Vesey became a symbol of resistance and an inspiration in their writings. White Charleston responded by increasing efforts to convert slaves to New Testament Christianity, and by passing legislation to further restrict the rights of slaves. This increasingly militant path eventually led to the Civil War.
Born on October 2, 1800, in Southampton County, Virginia, Nat Turner was only a young boy when people heard him describing events that had occurred before he was born. An intelligent child, he was soon labeled as a prophet and became deeply religious.
In 1821, Turner ran away from his master, Samuel Turner, but came back after a month because he had a vision in which he was told to return. After his master died the following year, Nat Turner was sold to a man named Thomas Moore. In 1830, Turner was moved to the home of Joseph Travis, the new husband of Thomas Moore's widow. His official owner, Putnum Moore, was still a child.
During this time Turner continued to have visions, seeing lights in the sky and interpreting them through prayer. He took a solar eclipse as a sign to stage an insurrection.
Vesey's revolt was immensely frightening to southern slave-owners. Not only was it difficult to crack the plot, despite the fact that thousands of slaves were involved, but the sheer thoroughness of the violence planned chilled the hearts of even the most confident slaveowners. That so many slaves would be willing to exterminate any and all European Americans regardless of gender or age brought home the depth of feeling, anger, and resistance that surrounded slaveowners all day long.
Neither Prosser's nor Vesey's rebellions actually succeeded; despite their fear, European-Americans believed that, in the end, God had protected them. This would all change, however, when a man that slaves simply called Prophet, Nat Turner, led a short revolt in which God did not protect slaveowners.
Turner, like Vesey, was from the "upper class" of slaves. He had grown up deeply hating slavery; his mother, an African, so hated slavery that she tried to kill him when he was born in 1800 to prevent him from living the life of a slave. He, too, was religious, in fact, far more than Vesey and Prosser. His Christianity was a religion of visions and mystical experience. By the time he was a young man, Turner had become unofficially the major religious leader in Southampton county in Virginia. Unlike Vesey, Turner's Christianity emphasized not the Israelite deliverance, but the latter days of Christ in Jerusalem and the apocalyptic promise of a New Jerusalem. His rhetoric had a place as well as a spiritual meaning: Jerusalem, Virginia, which lay nearby.
All his disciples, seven of them, were fired by anger and religious passion. One, Will, had been so abused by his master that he was covered with scars. On the appointed night on Sunday, they left Turner's house and entered the house of his master where, with only one hatchet and one broadax between them, they executed all the members, including two teens, with the exception of an infant. They then moved from house to house throughout the night and executed every European-American they could find with the exception of a white family that owned no slaves; Will chopped up his master and his wife so passionately that Turner called him "Will the Executioner." As they went from house to house they gathered slaves and weapons. By Monday, they were approaching Jerusalem but were turned back by a regiment of European-Americans. Turner dug a cave and went into hiding, but when troops arrived they scoured the countryside and executed slaves by the hundred. Turner, however, was never caught for over two months; during all this time, Virginians were seized with panic. Hundred fled the county and many left the state for good. Turner, however, was eventually captured and hung. This was the last straw; from this point onwards, no slaveowner lived comfortably with slavery now that they understood the anger, the resistance, and the vengeance that boiled beneath the burden of slavery.
Nat Turner hid in several different places near the Travis farm before he was captured on October 30. His "confession," dictated to Thomas R. Gray, was taken while he was imprisoned in the county jail. On November 5, Turner was tried in the Southampton County Court and sentenced to death. He was hanged, and then skinned, on November 11.
In total, the state executed 55 people and banished many more. The state reimbursed the slaveholders for their slaves. But in the hysterical climate that followed Turner's revolt, close to 200 black people%u2014many of whom had nothing to do with the rebellion%u2014were murdered by white mobs. Slaves as far away as North Carolina were accused of having a connection with the revolt and were subsequently executed.
The Confessions of Nat Turner, the Leader of the Late Insurrection in Southampton, Virginia . . . .
Richmond: Thomas R. Gray, 1832.
The year is 1839. Slave traffic is officially illegal in every country in the world. Despite this, a Cuban boat, the Amistad, is still trading in human lives kidnapped from Western Africa. On this trip, however, led by a powerful African, who speaks no European language, named Cinque, leads a revolt against the crew and kills everyone except the captain and first mate. He demands that the Africans be returned to Africa but instead the captain sails to New York. Claiming that the Africans are Cuban slaves rather than Africans, the United States put them on trial for murder and revolt. The result, however, was a stunning reversal in European ideas of slave revolts. Defended by no less than John Quincy Adams, the court declares the African revolutionaries to be justified in their murder of the crew. For the first time, Americans applied to slaves the same right to revolt as they believed they had. The southern revolts, from Haiti to Turner, suddenly shifted in the minds of many Americans as representing what they really were: freedom wars. To many Americans, it was becoming increasingly evident that the answer to slavery in the south had to be violent.
New York Slave Insurrection of 1741
The New York Slave Insurrection, also known as the Great Negro Plot of 1741 or The Great New York Conspiracy of 1741, is the name given to a supposed plot by slaves and poor Whites in the British colony of New York in 1741 to revolt and level New York City with a series of fires.
In March and April of 1741, a series of fires erupted in Lower Manhattan, the most significant one within the walls of Fort George the home of the governor at the time. After another fire, this time at a warehouse, a slave was arrested after having been seen fleeing it. Two others were also arrested at this time, one of whom was a 16-year old white indentured servant, Mary Burton. In exchange for her freedom, she testified against the others as participants in a supposedly growing conspiracy of poor Whites and Blacks to burn the city, kill the White Men, take the White women for themselves, and elect a new King and Governor.
The two slaves were burned at the stake, and with "fire licking at their feet", confessed to burning the fort. They also named fifty others as co-conspirators. News of the "conspiracy" set off a stampede of arrests. At the height of the hysteria, nearly half the city's male slaves over sixteen were in jail. The number of arrests totaled 152 Blacks and twenty Whites. They were tried and convicted in a show trial. A supposed Catholic priest, John Ury, was suspected of instigating it.
Most of the convicted were hanged or burnt- how many is uncertain. The bodies of two supposed ringleaders, one Black and one White, were gibbeted. Their corpses were left to rot in public. Seventy-two were deported from New York, sent to Newfoundland and to various islands in the West Indies and the Madeiras.
The winter of 1740-1741 had been a miserable period in the city. There was an economic depression, a declining food and fuel supply, record low temperatures and snowfalls. Many people were in danger of starving and freezing to death. These conditions made many people angry at the government, especially the poor whites and slaves.
The tension between the whites and the blacks was great. So great, in fact, that, “A mere hint of restiveness among black New Yorkers could throw whites into a near panic . In 1741, the fear of a slave revolt was very high because there had been slave revolts in South Carolina and in the Caribbean. In response to this, the whites (i.e., the government) banned slave meetings on street corners and limited the number of slaves who could be in a group at one time to three, and twelve at funerals, as well as cutting other rights.
The anger during the winter reminded many people of the feelings that the slaves had had twenty-nine years ago, during the fires of 1712. In 1712, “twenty-three Negro slaves met at about midnight in the orchard of one Mr. Cook, in the middle of town, for the purpose of destroying as many of the inhabitants as they could to revenge themselves for the hard usage they felt they had received from their masters. The slaves all gathered with weapons such as guns, swords, knives, and hatchets to destroy and kill as many people and their property as possible. One of the slaves, Coffee, set fire to his master’s outhouse. The news of the fire spread through the town quickly, and an angry mob of townspeople marched to the scene. The slaves attacked the crowd, and soon nine whites were killed, and six were injured. The governor then executed twenty-one slaves.
Economic tensions were exacerbated by accusations that a series of fires that occurred were due to arson. Immediately after a slave was seen running from the scene, the slaves were accused of the crime. Of course, many people had already believed that the slaves were responsible for the fires, because of the economic tension that existed between them and the slaves; a tension exacerbated by the system of racism in place in the colonies by which whites were taught to feel universally superior to blacks.
In New York at the time, slaves would often learn the same trade as their masters. This created racial and economic tension between the slaves and the white tradesmen they competed against. For example, the governor of New York in 1737 told the legislature, “the artificers complain and with too much reason of the pernicious custom of breeding slaves to trades whereby the honest industrious tradesmen are reduced to poverty for want of employ, and many of them forced to leave us to seek their living in other countries.” Slaves could be rented out for labor for less than the rate of whites; some of the whites went out of business because of this and some even poor.
On September 18, 1741 the governor’s house caught on fire, and soon the church connected to his house was ablaze too. They tried to save it, but the fire soon grew beyond control. The fire threatened to spread to another building, where all the city documents were kept. The governor ordered that the windows be smashed and the documents thrown out, to save them; they were later kept in the City Hall Later, the fort at Battery Park also burned down. A week later, another fire broke out, but was put out quickly. The same thing happened next week at a warehouse. Three days later, a fire broke out in a cow stable. On the next day, a person walking past a wealthy neighborhood saw coals by the hay in a stable and put them out, saving the neighborhood.
As the amount of fires grew, so did the suspicion that the fires were not accidents but arson. Many whites believed that, but it was not proven. Then, on April 6th, a round of four fires broke out, and a black man was spotted running away. There was a white man who tried to catch him, and yelled out, “A negro, a negro.” The man’s cry was taken on quickly, and soon turned to, “The negroes are rising!” The slave running away was named Cuffee, and he was quickly captured and imprisoned. The fires were now believed to be a conspiracy.
The city council decided to launch an intense investigation, but in the two weeks they investigated, they did nothing but increase the anxiety of the townspeople. The council decided to turn the investigation to Daniel Horsmanden, the city recorder and a justice on the provincial supreme court. Horsmanden set up a grand jury that he, “directed to investigate whites who sold liquor to blacks- men like John Hughson.”
John Hughson was a poor cobbler and illiterate that came to New York from Yonkers in the mid-1730s with his wife, Sarah, his daughter, and his mother-in-law. When he was unable to find work, he opened a tavern that offended his neighbors because he sold to clients with bad reputations. Hughson opened a new tavern in 1738 on the Hudson waterfront, near the Trinity Churchyard. The tavern soon became a rendezvous point for slaves, poor whites, free blacks, soldiers, and even the occasional young gentlemen. Hughson’s place also had stolen property and, “…city slaves laughingly referred to his place as ‘Oswego’, after the Indian trading post on Lake Ontario.” Though the constables watched his place constantly, they failed to catch him red-handed for thievery. Two weeks before the fire started, Hughson was arrested for receiving stolen goods from Caesar and Prince.
Caesar, Prince, and Cuffee were part of a club called the Geneva Club, which name allegedly originated from when they stole some Geneva, which is Dutch gin. They were punished with a whipping (although, at the time stealing was a crime which many slaves received death for). They decided to name themselves after their crime, and the name stuck. Another person that was suspected was “Margaret Sorubiero, alias Salingburgh, alias Kerry, commonly called Peggy, or the Newfoundland Irish beauty.” She was prostitute to blacks, and the room she lived in was paid by Caesar, with whom she had a child.
Horsmanden had Hughson’s indentured servant, Mary Burton, testify against Hughson on theft charges. Horsmanden put lots of pressure on Mary to talk about the fires. Finally, Burton said the fires were a conspiracy between blacks and poor whites to burn down the town.
Horsmanden was very pleased when Mary Burton told him that there actually was a conspiracy between the whites and the blacks. He was so pleased, in fact, that he was convinced Mary Burton knew more information on the conspiracy. Mary Burton didn’t have a choice even if she didn’t know any more information because Horsmanden would throw her into jail. So Burton decided to tell him all about the conspiracy.
Mary Burton declared that the three members of the Geneva club met frequently at Hughson’s and they had talked about burning the fort and town, and the Hughsons had agreed to help them. Though her testimony did not prove that any crime was committed, the council was so scared that more fires would occur that they decided to believe her testimony. They then decided to reward £100 to any white person for useful information. To the free blacks and Indians, they gave £45, and to slaves, £20 and their freedom.
On May 2nd, the court found Caesar and Prince guilty of burglary and condemned them to death. The next day, 7 barns were lit on fire, and two blacks were caught and immediately burned at stake. On May 6th, the Hughsons and Peggy were found guilty of burglary charges. Peggy, “in fear of her life, decided to talk.” And Peggy was not the only one. Some of the blacks crammed up in the dungeons decided to talk. Two who didn’t talk were Caesar and Prince, who were hanged on May 11th.
Now that the Horsmanden had witnesses, he started the trials. The first trial was against Cuffee and Quack. Horsmanden made sure that the trials would all be guilty verdicts because all of the town’s lawyers were working for the prosecution, so the accused had virtually no chance of proving themselves innocent. At the end of their trial, Cuffee and Quack both were to be burned at stake. Right before they were going to be burned, they started yelling out the names of some fifty people. Horsmanden considered saving them as future witnesses, but was advised against it because of the rage of the crowd.
More trials followed quickly. Soon, the Hughsons and Peggy were sentenced to hang. At the height of the hysteria, as much as 50% of the city’s male population over sixteen was in jail. But Horsmanden thought that the conspiracy was missing something- a mastermind to plan it all. None of the Geneva club members fit the profile to be smart enough and neither was John Hughson. And Horsmanden had a candidate for the mastermind: John Ury.
John Ury had just arrived in town and he had been working as a school teacher and a private tutor. He was an expert in Latin, and that made him suspicious around the city. Horsmanden arrested him under the suspicion of being a Roman Catholic priest and a secret agent to the Spanish. Mary Burton, who was ever so informative, suddenly remembered Ury was one of the plotters of the conspiracy.
Ury was put on trial for the charges against him. He was really the only person with an organized defense against the prosecutors. He said he was just a rebel from the Church of England and had no knowledge of any conspiracy. But at the time of the trial, Horsmanden received the warning from the governor of Georgia that Spanish agents were coming to burn all the considerable towns in New England, which sealed Ury’s fate.
By the end of the trials, 160 blacks and 21 whites had been arrested, 17 blacks were hanged and so were four whites, 13 African were burned at stake and 72 blacks were banished from New York.
Chatham Manor was the 1771 Georgian style home of William Fitzhugh overlooking the Rappahannock River in the US. state of Virginia.
In January 1805, a number of Fitzhugh's slaves rebelled. Some of the estate's slaves refused to return to work after the Christmas holidays. The slaves involved overpowered and whipped their overseer and four others who had tried to make them return to work. An armed posse put down the rebellion and punished those involved. One black man was executed, two died while trying to escape, and two others were deported, perhaps to a slave colony in the Caribbean. Many founders of the United States of America, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, visited Fitzhugh at this home.
The manor served as a Union headquarters and hospital during the American Civil War. Abraham Lincoln met with General Irvin McDowell in April, 1862. According to the National Park Service, this visit gives Chatham the distinction of being just one of three houses visited by both Lincoln and Washington (the other two are Mount Vernon and Berkeley Plantation). In the winter of 1862, Clara Barton and Walt Whitman attended wounded there after General Ambrose Burnside's campaign in the area. The following winter, Dorothea Dix, the Union's Superintendent of Female Nurses during the Civil War, operated a soup kitchen in the house. Dr. Mary Edwards Walker has also been associated with serving the wounded at Chatham. Walker was awarded the Medal of Honor, the only woman from the Civil War to be so recognized for her meritorious service to the wounded during several battles. When the law for the Medal of Honor changed to restrict the medal to combat veterans, she refused to return the medal.
In the Twentieth Century, Dwight David Eisenhower and George C. Marshall both attended a meeting at Chatham.
The manor is located downstream from Falmouth, Virginia in Stafford County, opposite the historic district of Fredericksburg. It is administered by the National Park Service as part of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park and now serves as park headquarters.
Charles Deslandes~Louisiana Territory Slave Rebellion
Charles Deslandes led an unsuccessful slave revolt in parts of the Louisiana Territory on January 8, 1811. The revolt took place in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana and St. James Parish, Louisiana. Deslonde and about 500 insurgent slaves marched down the Mississippi River Road toward New Orleans, killing two whites, burning plantations and crops, and capturing weapons and ammunition. The insurgents were halted at Destrehan, Louisiana just west of New Orleans by a Planter militia supported by United States troops.
Sixty-six slaves were killed in the revolt. Deslonde and twenty other slaves were sentenced to death, shot, and decapitated, and their heads were placed on poles along the River Road as a warning to other potential rebel slaves.
The 1811 Louisiana slave revolt was the largest in U.S. History.
South America and Caribbean Revolts
Slave revolt around 1570, led by Gaspar Yanga near Veracruz, Mexico; the group then escaped to the highlands and built a free colony
Quilombo dos Palmares in Brazil most famously led by Zumb.
The most successful slave uprising in the Americas was that in Haiti which began in 1791 and was eventually led by Toussaint L'Ouverture
Panama also has an extensive history of slave rebellions going back to the 16th Century. Slaves were brought to the isthmus from many regions in Africa now in modern day countries like the Congo, Senegal, Guinea, and Mozambique. Immediately before their arrival on shore, or very soon after, many enslaved Africans revolted against their captors, or participated in mass maroonage, or desertion. The freed Africans founded communities in the forests and mountains, organized guerrilla bands known as Cimarrones, and began a long guerrilla war against the Spanish Conquistadores, sometimes in conjunction with nearby indigenous communities like the Kuna and the Guaymí. Despite massacres by the Spanish, the rebels fought until the Spanish crown was forced to concede to treaties that granted the Africans a life without Spanish violence and incursions. The leaders of the guerrilla revolts included Felipillo, Bayano, Juan de Dioso, Domingo Congo, Antón Mandinga, and Luis de Mozambique.
Tacky's War (1760)
Suriname, constant guerrilla warfare by Maroons, in 1765-1793 by the Aluku led by Boni
Berbice, 1763 slave revolt, led by Cuffy
Curaçao, 1795 slave revolt, led by Tula
Venezuela, José Leonardo Chirino's Insurrection 1795
Barbados, 1816 slave revolt, led by Bussa
Guyana, The Demerara Rebellions of 1795 and 1823
Jamaica's Baptist War, 1831-1832, led by the Baptist preacher, Samuel Sharpe.
Bahia Rebellion of 1835 (The Great Revolt)(Brazil)
Bahia Rebellion of 1822-1830(Brazil)
Bahia Rebellion of 1835 (Brazil)
In the British Virgin Islands, minor slave revolts occurred in 1790, 1823 and 1830.
The Pottawatomie Massacre occurred during the night of May 24 and the morning of May 25, 1856. In reaction to the sacking of Lawrence (Kansas) by pro-slavery forces, John Brown and a band of abolitionist settlers (some of them members of the Pottawatomie Rifles) killed five pro-slavery settlers north of Pottawatomie Creek in Franklin County, Kansas. This was one of the many bloody episodes in Kansas preceding the American Civil War, which came to be known collectively as Bleeding Kansas.
John Brown was particularly affected by the sacking of Lawrence, in which a sheriff-led posse destroyed newspaper offices, a hotel, and killed two men, as well as by the brutal beating of anti-slavery Senator Charles Sumner by Preston Brooks. (Sumner had given a speech to the U.S. Senate and in retaliation, Brooks caned him nearly to death.)
The violence was accompanied by celebrations in the pro-slavery press, with writers such as B. F. Stringfellow of the Squatter Sovereign proclaiming that proslavery forces "are determined to repel this Northern invasion and make Kansas a Slave State; though our rivers should be covered with the blood of their victims and the carcasses of the Abolitionists should be so numerous in the territory as to breed disease and sickness, we will not be deterred from our purpose" (quoted in Reynolds, p. 162). Brown was outraged by both the violence of proslavery forces, and also by what he saw as a weak and cowardly response by the antislavery partisans and the Free State settlers, who he described as cowards, or worse (Reynolds pp. 163-166).
A Free State company under the command of John Brown, Jr., set out, and the Osawatomie company joined them. On the morning of May 22, 1856, they heard of the sack of Lawrence and the arrest of Deitzler, Brown, and Jenkins. However, they continued their march toward Lawrence, not knowing whether their assistance might still be needed, and encamped that night near the Ottawa Creek. They remained in the vicinity until the afternoon of May 23 at which time they decided to return home.
On May 23, John Brown, Sr. selected a party to go with him on a private expedition. Captain John Brown, Jr., objected to their leaving his company, but seeing that his father was obdurate, silently acquiesced, telling him to "do nothing rash." The company consisted of John Brown, four of his other sons — Frederick, Owen, Watson, and Oliver — Henry Thompson (his son-in-law), Thomas Winer, and James Townsley, whom John had induced to carry the party in his wagon to their proposed field of operations.
They encamped that night between two deep ravines on the edge of the timber, some distance to the right of the main traveled road. There they remained unobserved until the following evening of May 24. Some time after dark, the party left their place of hiding and proceeded on their "secret expedition". Late in the evening, they called at the house of James P. Doyle and ordered him and his two adult sons, William and Drury, to go with them as prisoners. (Doyle's 16-year-old son, John, who was not a member of the pro-slavery Law and Order Party was left with his mother.) The three men followed their captors out into the darkness, where Owen Brown and Salmon Brown killed them with broadswords. John Brown, Sr., did not participate in the stabbing but fired a shot into the head of the fallen James Doyle to ensure death (Reynolds 2005, 172).
Brown and his band then went to the house of Allen Wilkinson and ordered him out. He was slashed and stabbed to death by Henry Thompson and Theodore Winer, possibly with help from Brown's sons (Reynolds 2005, 172-3). From there, they crossed the Pottawatomie, and some time after midnight, forced their way into the cabin of James Harris at sword-point. Harris had three house guests: John S. Wightman, Jerome Glanville, and William Sherman, the brother of Henry Sherman ("Dutch Henry"), a militant pro-slavery activist. Glanville and Harris were taken outside for interrogation and asked whether they had threatened Free State settlers, aided border ruffians from Missouri or participated in the sack of Lawrence. Satisfied with their answers, Brown's men let Glanville and Harris return to the cabin. William Sherman was led to the edge of the creek and hacked to death with the swords by Brown's sons, Winer, and Thompson (Reynolds 2005, 177).
Having learned at Harris's cabin that "Dutch Henry," their main target in the expedition, was away from home on the prairie, they ended the expedition and returned to the ravine where they had previously encamped. They rejoined the Osawatomie company on the night of May 25
- may 25 1856
An Attempted Mutiny Aboard The Brigantine Hope
Captured Africans often mutinied on board slave trading vessels. Rarely, however, did these attempts at liberation lead to the Africans' return to their homelands. In this testimony William Priest discusses an unsuccessful mutiny of Africans on board a Connecticut vessel en route to the United States from West Africa.
The captain, while trading for goods and slaves in Senegal and Gambia, experienced difficulties with some of his crew members. He replaced several, beat others, and eventually, was himself murdered and thrown overboard by his crew. After the captain's demise, the slaves rebelled, killed one crew member, and wounded several others before they were suppressed after seven of them had been killed. Priest's testimony specifically relates to inquiries about the captain's death.
Walker's Appeal--a Call To Arms
Originally published in 1829 by David Walker, who was a second-hand clothing dealer in Boston, Massachusetts, this volume was outlawed in many states because of its call for the violent overthrow of slavery. Walker, a native of Wilmington, N.C., was born September 28, 1785, of a free black mother and slave father. He advocated uncompromising resistance to slavery, contending that African Americans should fight "in the glorious and heavenly cause of freedom and of God to be delivered from the most wretched, abject and servile slavery. . ."
African Americans throughout the South got hold of Walker's Appeal, enraging Southern governments. Less than one year after the publication of the Appeal, Walker was found dead of unknown causes. A $1,000 reward had been offered for his death.
Fear Of Slave Revolts
In addition to numerous published accounts documenting white fear of slave uprisings, many private letters discuss problems brewing on individual plantations. In this letter, John Rutherford, an agent for Virginia plantation owner William B. Randolph, wrote to Randolph indicating that a concerned neighbor near Randolph's Chatworth plantation feared "fatal consequences" if the overseer did not cease his "brutality" toward the Chatworth slaves.
After the Chatworth overseer received a demanding letter of inquiry from Randolph, he answered on September 14, 1833, stating that he had whipped some of the slaves because they were idle or had escaped. Although three escapees had not returned, the situation was under control and work was proceeding as usual.
John Rutherford to William B. Randolph on the slave mutiny at Chatworth, Richmond, Virginia.
September 1, 1833.
Governor Of Virginia Discusses The Revolt
James Hamilton, the governor of South Carolina, requested that Virginia governor John Floyd discuss the factors that led to the Nat Turner revolt in Southampton, Virginia in 1831, the most well known slave revolt in U.S. history. About sixty white people were killed. Governor Floyd's lengthy reply is in this letter.
Floyd blamed the "spirit of insubordination" on the "Yankee population" in general and Yankee peddlers and traders in particular who shared Christianity with the slaves and taught them that all are born free and equal, and "that white people rebelled against England to obtain freedom, so have blacks a right to do." Floyd placed the blame for masterminding the plan on the church leaders, but he believed that all the discussions about freedom and equality led to the uprising.
John Floyd, governor of Virginia, to James Hamilton, governor of South Carolina.
November 19, 1831.
Sabotaging The Peculiar Institution
Many abolitionists like Joshua Coffin argued that the existence of slavery in the United States constituted a real threat to public peace and security. He used this volume to show how often slaves rose up against their owners to demand their freedom. In it he describes slave resistance through large and small-scale rebellions in the North and South, work slow downs, poisonings, arsons, and murders. He discusses many mutinies, including one on a Rhode Island ship when captives near Cape Coast Castle (in present-day Ghana) rose and "murdered the captain and all the crew except the two mates, who swam ashore."
An Account of Some of the Principal Slave Insurrections . . . .
Compiled by Joshua Coffin.
New York: The American Anti-slavery Society, 1860.
West Africa During The Eighteenth Century
During the 1700s when the Atlantic slave trade was flourishing, West Africans accounted for approximately two-thirds of the African captives imported into the Americas. The coastal ports where these Africans were assembled, and from where they were exported, are located on this mid-18th-century map extending from present-day Senegal and Gambia on the northwest to Gabon on the southeast.
This decorated and colored map illustrates the dress, dwellings, and work of some Africans. The map also reflects the international interest in the African trade by the use of Latin, French, and Dutch place names. Many of the ports are identified as being controlled by the English (A for Anglorum), Dutch (H for Holland), Danish (D for Danorum), or French (F).
Guinea propia, nec non Nigritiae vel Terrae Nigrorum maxima pars . . . .
Nuremberg: Homann Hereditors, 1743.
Hand-colored, engraved map.
The Geography Of The Atlantic Slave Trade
This map's elaborate cartouche (drawing), embellished with an elephant and two Africans, one holding an elephant tusk, emphasizes the pivotal role of Africa in the Atlantic trading network. The South Atlantic trade network involved several international routes. The best known of the triangular trades included the transportation of manufactured goods from Europe to Africa, where they were traded for slaves. Slaves were then transported across the Atlantic--the infamous middle passage--primarily to Brazil and the Caribbean, where they were sold. The final leg of this triangular trade brought tropical products to Europe. In another variation, manufactured goods from colonial America were taken to West Africa; slaves were carried to the Caribbean and Southern colonies; and sugar, molasses and other goods were returned to the home ports.
"Chart of the Sea Coasts of Europe, Africa, and America . . ."
From John Thornton, The Atlas Maritimus of the Sea Atlas.
London, ca. 1700.
Slaves Commandeer The Creole
In November 1841 the 135 enslaved African Americans on board the ship Creole overpowered the crew, murdering one man, while sailing from Hampton Roads, Virginia, to New Orleans, Louisiana. Led by Madison Washington, they sailed the vessel to Nassau, Bahamas, where the British declared most of them free. This pamphlet's author, William Channing, refutes the American claims that the property of U.S. slave owners should be protected in foreign ports.
In the diplomatic controversy that followed, Ohio Congressman Joshua Giddings argued that once the ship was outside of U.S. territorial waters, the African Americans were entitled to their liberty and that any attempt to reenslave them would be unconstitutional. Censured by the House of Representatives, he resigned, but his constituents quickly reelected him and sent him back to Congress.
William E. Channing.
The Duty of the Free States or Remarks Suggested by the Case of the Creole.
Boston: William Crosby & Company, 1842.
Avenues Of Escape
Thousands of newspaper advertisements attest that African Americans availed themselves of many avenues of escape. This book's ironic title conveys the fact that what was actually stolen from slave owners was not theirs to give. What the slaves took--themselves--belonged to them already but was denied because of slavery. The volume includes a profusion of examples of runaway slave advertisements that appeared in just one newspaper during the eighteenth century. Such notices contradict the argument that enslaved people were content with their condition.
Billy G. Smith and Richard Wijtowicz.
Blacks Who Stole Themselves: Advertisements for Runaways in the Pennsylvania Gazette, 1728-90.
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1989.
CINQUEZ--A BRAVE CONGOLESE CHIEF
In the New York Sun, where this portrait appeared in 1839, Cinqué is described as a "brave Congolese chief . . . who now lies in jail in arms at New Haven, Conn., awaiting his trial for daring for freedom." Cinqué is quoted as saying, "Brothers, we have done that which we proposed . . . I am resolved it is better to die than be a white man's slave."
Joseph Cinquez, the brave Congolese Chief . . . .
By James or Isaac Sheffield.
New York: Moses Y. Beach, 1839.
In this work, An Address to the Negroes in the State of New-York, first published in 1787, an African American, Jupiter Hammon, makes it clear that he believes slavery is wrong but nevertheless recommends respectful behavior of slaves to masters and urges those in slavery to seek spiritual freedom through Christianity.
This title page to Hammon's address includes verses that emphasize God's acceptance of all persons regardless of color or condition of servitude. Hammon, who started writing poetry in the 1760s, was a slave for his entire life.
An Address to the Negro in the State of New-York.
New York: Samuel Wood, 1806.
The Role of the Slave Revolts in Ending Slavery
by Yuri Prasad
Africans resisted slavery at every point. There were rebellions on board the ships that carried them across the oceans, which often resulted in the cruelest retaliation. But it was on the plantations that the most serious challenges to the slave economy took place.
The most important of these revolts occurred on 14 August 1791 in Saint Domingue, the French colony that would become Haiti.
Saint Domingue was among the richest places on earth, producing sugar, coffee, cotton, indigo and tobacco. The value of its exports made up two thirds of the gross national product of France.
The 1791 rebellion saw the plantation mansions put to fire and the masters slaughtered. It was led by Toussaint, a coachman slave who had been taught to read and write. He later took the second name L’Ouverture – meaning “the opening” to liberty.
The uprising freed the slaves from their masters and within months Toussaint’s army had captured all the ports on the north of the island.
Toussaint realised very quickly that negotiations with the former slave owners were useless – messengers sent to mediate were often executed before they could even speak.
All this took place during the turbulent early years of the French Revolution. The revolutionaries in France debated the future of the slavery in its colonies. They knew that most plantation owners were royalists and declared the new republic to be against the “aristocracy of the skin”.
In 1794 three delegates from Saint Domingue took their place in the French convention, to rapturous applause. They were a freed black slave, a mulatto (mixed race) and a white man.
Meanwhile the British ruling class was plotting. With the French largely displaced, they hoped to take the colony of Saint Domingue for themselves – and sent the Royal Navy to put down Toussaint’s rising.
Four years later in 1798, the British were routed and Toussaint led his victorious army into Port-au-Prince. The British had lost 80,000 men. It was one of the greatest military disasters in British history.
The British sent more soldiers to put down the rising in the West Indies than it had to suppress North American rebels 20 years previously. Of the nearly 89,000 white officers and enlisted men who served in campaign, some 45,000 died in battles or from wounds and disease. Proportionally, this would be as if the US had lost more than 1.4 million soldiers in a far away conflict today.
By now the revolutionary wave in France had receded and the new rulers wanted to restore slavery. They encouraged a civil war on the island, from which Toussaint again emerged victorious. But the slave army soon faced yet another ruler of France – Napoleon Bonaparte.
Napoleon sent a huge expedition force to put down the rising once and for all. But within the first six months of 1802 the French lost 10,000 men.
On 7 June 1802 the beleaguered generals offered Toussaint a treaty if he would appear in person to discuss it. He did so, was captured and died in a freezing French jail.
But to the astonishment of the generals, the slave army continued to fight and ultimately drove the French from the island forever. Saint Domingue renamed itself Haiti and declared independence from France in 1804.
Less than 30 years later in 1831, it was a rebellion in Jamaica that finally put an end to slavery in British colonies in the West Indies.
Some 60,000 rebels used an underground network based around the Baptist church to coordinate their action. The signal for the rising came on 27 December with the burning of sugar cane trash on the Kensington estate. Once lit, the fires spread from one estate to another until the entire island was covered.
In the rocky hills of Jamaica’s interior lived the Maroons – a community of black people who had gained freedom from slavery. When the British army arrested a number of their leaders, they too joined the rebellion. Fighting as guerrillas from natural fortifications, they killed hundreds of British soldiers.
The boatloads of ragged British survivors that made it home brought news of the senseless waste of life. Some brought other stories – of the misery of slavery and of black people fighting to free themselves from it.
Henry Bleby, a British Methodist minister, said of the revolt, “The spirit of freedom had been so widely diffused that if the abolition of slavery were not speedily effected by the peaceable method of legislative enactment, the slaves would assuredly take the matter into their own hands, and bring their bondage to a violent and bloody termination.”
The realisation that it would not be possible to continually suppress slave revolts hammered down the last nail in the coffin of British Caribbean slavery.
THE JAMAICA MAROONS
The Register, Thursday, August 7, 1902
John R. Speers in New York Post:
In the year 1690 a number of slaves that had been brought from the Comorantee nation in Africa fled from the hardships of plantation life in the parish of Clarendon, Jamaica, and plunging into the chaos of mountains, ridges, ravines, and crevices just back of the plantations, they found freedom and comfort. For white men could not endure the toil of man-hunting in those torrid fastnesses for any length of time. The tiny valleys though the largest of the whole region, contained but seven acres of ground in position to be cultivated. They produced an ample supply of vegetables, however, and the sheltering forests were full of wild hogs, pigeons, land crabs, and other excellent supplies of animal food. Having established themselves, these forest freemen became known as Maroons, a title taken from the Spanish word cimaron, meaning wild or unruly.
For forty years the Maroons grew slowly but steadily in number, and then the loss of valuable plantation hands, together with the loss of property stolen by the Maroons, led to efforts to exterminate them. Bands of young men, accustomed to hunting, entered the mountains, and by merciless attacks on the Maroon villages, brought on a war wherein the Maroons, with savage ferocity, dealt blow for blow. For seven years this war was maintained by the runaway negroes, who, during all that time, were able to obtain by raids ample supplies of guns and ammunition, as well as other necessaries.
A MAROON AMBUSH.
At last a day came (in 1737) when a company of white soldiers, while toiling up a steep ravine, were obliged to stop from sheer exhaustion. A moment later they heard the click of many gun locks on the mountainside above, and knowing that they had fallen into an ambush, they begged for a parley. The negro leader, a humpbacked fellow of extraordinary ability, named Cudjoe, gave a favorable reply. Then a score or more of machetes began hacking where the gunlocks had been heard, and in a few minutes a great breadth of brush fell like a curtain from the mountainside, revealing a band of Maroons, standing with guns ready to fire on the helpless whites. It was a scene the man-hunters never forgot.
Peace followed this encounter. The treaty gave the Maroons "a perfect state of freedom and liberty," with "full pardon" for attacks on people and property. It gave them 1,500 acres of land on which to settle, and freedom to hunt for game in the mountains. Cudjoe was confirmed in his office as chief, with power to punish crimes that did not deserve death. In return for these immunities and privileges, the Maroons agreed to serve as woods policemen for the capture of runaway slaves.
Moving to their reservation, a broken stretch of land in the edge of the mountains, twenty miles south-east of Montega Bay, the Maroons built two villages, half a mile apart, called Old Town and New Town. Thereafter they were left to care for themselves – without teacher or preacher, or anyone to suggest any kind of culture or improvement. The ground, with gentle coaxing, produced crops, which not only supplied them with ample food, but left a surplus sufficient to procure, by exchange, such clothing and other manufactured supplies as their simple life demanded. There was no incentive to give them habits of industry; on the contrary, because rum was easily obtained, there was a constant inducement to drink to excess, an inducement that was the stronger because many white planters drank immoderately. Moreover, they were often employed in the work of bloodhounds, in trailing fugitive slaves through the mountains. The whole-atmosphere of Maroon life was loaded with the fungus spores of degeneration.
But the Maroons did not degenerate. A free mountain life saved them. They purchased leaf tobacco and manufactured a salable twist. They cured meats for which they found a ready market. They accumulated coin. Evidences of financial prosperity steadily, if slowly, increased among them.
They grew in mind also. The mountain passes into which the Maroons plunged whenever they left their home were so crooked and intricate that a long-range system of communication was a chief need of their manner of life. They therefore made a kind of bugle of a cow horn, the sounds of which rang through the ravines with startling effect. Then, finding a mere blast of the horn insufficient for their needs, they developed a telegraphic code in which every individual in the village had his own peculiar call, and by which communications on important matters were readily held.
A REMARKABLE RACE WAR.
A capable white official who had lived among them as an agent for planters who wished for Maroons to hunt runaway slaves was removed. His successor excited the contempt, and finally the anger, of the Maroons, and they drove him away – an act of rebellion against the Government! Then two Maroons, who were wandering about a white settlement, were accused of killing tame hogs; they were quickly tried and convicted, and were publicly whipped. A slave whom they had captured when he was a runaway in the mountains applied the lash – with vigor, as may be supposed. The sentence was executed, too, before a jeering throng of slaves. The whole plantation of the Maroon reservation became wildly excited, and some got drunk and sent threatening messages to the whites, while others appeared under arms on the heights overlooking the plantations.
At this time (July, 1795) the total Maroon population of the island was 1,400. That of the two villages in so called revolt was not far from 500. The white population of the island was 30,000. There were 2,000 regular troops stationed on the island, besides 7,000 men enrolled in the militia. And yet the story of the appearance of a handful of drunken Maroons, with arms in hand, on the mountainside, spread panic around the island. The militia were all called out, and royal troops that had embarked on an expedition against the French were brought back by a swift schooner.
But before an attack was made on the Maroon reservation, a number of white men went up to see if trouble could not be averted by negotiation. These succeeded so well that the Maroons deputed six of their leading men to go down and apologize for the deeds of the young drunkards. But the panic among the white people was so great that the authorities refused to ratify the agreement of the peace makers, and the six representatives of a penitent tribe were ironed and put in prison.
A worse act of bad faith followed. The Governor, Lord Balcarres, issued a proclamation on August 8, 1795, saying that all Maroons submitting themselves on or before the 12th should be pardoned, while all who failed to do so were declared outlaws, to be killed on sight. This proclamation received due consideration from the Maroons, because two of their leading men named Johnson and Smith, used their influence in favor of peace. Accordingly, on the 11th, thirty-seven Maroons, including two captains, named James Palmer and Edward Parkinson, surrendered themselves. But instead of receiving kind treatment, they were first thrown into prison, and then sent on board a ship lying in Montego Bay.
That was in the days when the slave trade was yet lawful. These men supposed they were to be sold as slaves and as they reached the deck, one of them, a black, Patrick Henry, drew a knife he had concealed, and killed himself by ripping open his abdomen.
This treachery ended all hope of a peaceful adjustment of the difficulty, but the whites tried once more to induce the Maroons t surrender. Two of the thirty-seven who had been imprisoned on the ship were released, and sent to the reservation with a message from the Governor; but as they climbed the gorges they sounded on their horns the signals by which they were known. And as these signals froze every one on the reserve in to an attitude of eager attention, they announced with clarion blasts that all who had submitted with them had been sent on a ship to be sold into slavery.
TREACHERY OF THE WHITES.
With 104 bloodhounds to support them, the Government forces advanced into the ravines and offered peace, an offer that was accepted when the commanding officer (Gen. Walpole) promised the Maroons an oath that they should not be sent from the island.
But because their nerves were yet quivering with fear the whites once more broke faith. They sent the Maroons to Nova Scotia.
Before following the career of the Maroons any further, we will now recall the work of that notable old time abolitionist, Granville Sharp. He had been trained by Quakers, and had formulated this striking rule of life:
"Right ought to be adopted and maintained on all occasions, without regard to consequences, either probable or possible." It led him to befriend the vagrant slave James Somerset, with results that all remember well, and it made him a friend of the race, not in spite of their inferiority, but because as a race they were less developed than the whites, and therefore needed help.
To provide for 400 and odd negro sailors who had been discharged from the British navy, Sharp entered into a movement through which the negroes with sixty white instructors and helpers sailed (April 8, 1787) to establish a settlement where now the colony of Sierra Leone is found.
But the black sailors made bad colonists. Rum and the coast fever carried off half of them. To the remnant came a company of 1,131 Virginia negroes – slaves who had been carried off by the British during the war of the Revolution – but these proved no better than the sailors. They were lacking in the qualities needed in men who would make homes in the wilderness, and at the end of September, 1800, a mutiny among those who had survived the fever reached such portentous proportions that all hope of maintaining a civilized settlement on the coast was abandoned. The whites were preparing to flee to Europe, and leave the negroes to join the barbarous tribes in the neighborhood, when a ship sailed into the harbor unannounced. And when all was made snug, it landed 550 of the Maroons that had been exiled from Jamaica to Halifax Bay.
By their martial prowess the Maroons had baffled the people of Jamaica. By stubbornly refusing to work in a cold climate they had baffled the people of Nova Scotia. But when migration to Sierra Leone was offered them, they accepted it willingly.
Having been uncrushed in their island home, and in their frigid exile, they landed in Africa with masterful feeling and bearing. They dominated the disintegrating settlement. They drove out mutiny, filled the despairing with hope and in their own way transformed Sierra Leone from the condition of a poorfarm and orphan asylum into a self respecting colony of a great empire.
Slave Uprisings "Sleep With One Eye Open"
Throughout history, civilizations that employed large numbers of slave laborers had to take measures to ensure control of the slaves, and always had to sleep with one eye open, figuratively, in case the slaves rose up in revolt against their masters.
The Southern United States, with slaves comprising about 40 percent of the population, had good reason to fear slave uprisings and had seen enough demonstrations of what could happen should an organized revolt develop. Many of the islands in the West Indies, including Jamaica, Barbados, Saint Dominique, and Martinique, had experienced slave uprisings that brought on the wholesale slaughter of the white masters and their families and the burning of the great plantations.
The most famous of the revolts, in Saint Dominique, was successful in freeing the slaves, who then formed the independent country of Haiti. As recently as 1832, Jamaica had had the latest of a series of violent slave revolts. In spite of its long history of slavery, slave rebellions in North America had been few and relatively bloodless.
The principal uprisings had been a revolt in New York in 1712; the Stono rebellion in South Carolina in 1739; the Gabriel Plot in Richmond, VA, in 1800; the Denmark Valley conspiracy in Charleston, SC, in 1822; and the Nat Turner uprising in Virginia in 1831. Southern slaveholders maintained that the docility of the slaves was due to the humane treatment they received, and compared with many other slave societies, the South's slaves were indeed well treated. However, another reason for the docility may have been the ruthlessness with which rebellions were repressed and the strict codes that were adopted to regulate the slave population.
During the Civil War, there were no memorable slave revolts in the South even though much of the white male population was off at war and slaves had every opportunity to rebel. Fascinating Fact: The South was astounded at the number of Northerners and Northern newspapers that openly supported John Brown's attempted slave insurrection at Harper's Ferry, VA. Southerners decided they could no longer live with countrymen who advocated that the South's white population be murdered in their sleep.