The Atlantic Slave Trade
Part 3 Freedom Fighters
South America and the Caribbean
Quilombo dos Palmares in Brazil, 1605 to 1694.
Palmares, or Quilombo dos Palmares, was a fugitive community of escaped slaves and others in
colonial Brazil that developed from 1605 until its suppression in 1694. It was located in what is today the
Brazilian state of
Alagoas. The modern tradition has been to call the settlement the Quilombo of Palmares. Quilombos Were settlements mainly of runaway and free-born enslavedAfrican people. The Quilombos came into existence when Africans began arriving in Brazil in the mid-1530s and grew significantly as slavery expanded.
During this time the vast majority of the enslaved Africans who were being brought to Palmares were from
Angola, perhaps as many as 90%, and therefore it is no surprise that tradition, reported as early as 1671 related that its first founders were Angolan. This large number was primarily because the Portuguese used the colony of Angola as a major raiding base, and there was a close relationship between the holders of
the contract of Angola, the
governors of Angola, and the governors of Palmares
One estimate places the population of Palmares in the 1690s at around 20,000 inhabitants, although recent scholarship has questioned whether this figure is exaggerated. Stuart Schwartz places the number at roughly 11,000, noting that it was, regardless, “undoubtedly the largest fugitive community to have existed in Brazil”. These inhabitants developed a society and government that derived from a range of
Central African socio-political models, a reflection of the diverse ethnic origins of its inhabitants. This government was confederate in nature, and was led by an elected chief who allocated landholdings, appointed officials (usually family members), and resided in a type of fortification called
Macoco. Six Portuguese expeditions tried to conquer Palmares between 1680 and 1686, but failed. Finally, the
governor of the
captaincy of Palmares, Pedro Almeida, organized an army, under the leadership of the
BandeirantesDomingos Jorge Velho and
Bernardo Vieira de Melo, defeated a palmarista force putting an end to the republic in 1694.
The Haitian Revolution (1791–1804)
This was a period of conflict in the French
Saint-Domingue, which culminated in the elimination of
slavery there and the founding of the
Haitian republic. Although hundreds of rebellions occurred in the
New World during the centuries of slavery, only two, the
American Revolution that began in 1776 and the Haitian revolution that began in 1791 were successful in achieving permanent independence. The Haitian Revolution is regarded as a defining moment in the history of Africans in the New World.
Although an independent government was created in Haiti, its society continued to be deeply affected by the patterns established under French colonial rule. The French established a system of minority rule over the illiterate poor by using violence and threats. Because many planters had provided for their
mixed-race children by African women by giving them education and (for men) training and entrée into the French military, the
mulatto descendants became the elite in Haiti after the revolution. By the time of war, many had used their
social capital to acquire wealth, and some already owned land. Some had identified more with the French colonists than the slaves, and associated within their own circles.
White colonists and black slaves frequently had violent conflicts. Much of these conflicts surrounded the slaves who were able to escape the plantations. Many of these runaway slaves, called
maroons, lived on the margins of large plantations and lived off what they could steal from their previous masters. Others ran away to towns, where they could blend in with urban slaves and the freed slaves who often concentrated in those areas. If caught, these runaway slaves would be severely and violently punished. However, some masters tolerated “petit marronages”, or short-term absences from plantations. Often, however, larger groups of runaway slaves lived in the woods away from control. They often conducted violent raids on the island’s sugar and coffee plantations. Although the numbers in these bands grew large (sometimes into the thousands), they generally lacked the leadership and strategy to accomplish large-scale objectives. The first effective maroon leader to emerge was the charismatic
François Mackandal, who succeeded in unifying the black resistance. A
Vodou priest, Mackandal inspired his people by drawing on African traditions and
religions. He united the maroon bands and also established a network of secret organizations among plantation slaves, leading a rebellion from 1751 through 1757. Although Mackandal was captured by the French and burned at the stake in 1758, large armed maroon bands persisted in raids and harassment after his death.
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Saint-Domingue produced 60 percent of the world’s coffee and 40 percent of the world’s sugar imported by France and Britain. The colony was the most profitable possession of the French Empire. Saint-Domingue was also the wealthiest and most prosperous, for the plantation owners at least, of all of the colonies of any country in the Caribbean. The lowest class of society was enslaved blacks, who outnumbered whites and free people of color by ten to one. The slave population on the island totaled almost half of the one million slaves in the Caribbean by 1789. They were mostly African-born. The death rate in the Caribbean exceeded the birth rate, so imports of enslaved Africans were necessary in order to maintain the numbers required to work the plantations. The slave population declined at an annual rate of two to five percent, due to overwork; inadequate food, shelter, clothing and medical care; and an imbalance between the sexes, with more men than women. Some slaves were of a creole elite class of urban slaves and domestics, who worked as cooks, personal servants and artisans around the plantation house. This relatively privileged class was chiefly born in the Americas, while the under-class born in Africa labored hard, more often than not, under abusive and brutal conditions
Guillaume Raynal attacked slavery in the 1780 edition of his history of European colonization. He also predicted a general slave revolt in the colonies, saying that there were signs of “the impending storm”.One such sign was the action of the French Revolutionary government to grant citizenship to wealthy free people of color in May 1791. Because white plantation owners refused to comply with this decision, within two months isolated fighting broke out between the former slaves and the whites. This added to the tense climate between slaves and grands blancs.
Raynal’s prediction came true on the night of 21 August 1791, when the slaves of Saint Domingue rose in revolt and plunged the colony into civil war. The signal to begin the revolt was given by Dutty Boukman, a high priest of vodou and leader of the Maroon slaves, during a religious ceremony at
Bois Caïman on the night of 14 August. Within the next ten days, slaves had taken control of the entire Northern Province in an unprecedented slave revolt. Whites kept control of only a few isolated, fortified camps. The slaves sought revenge on their masters through “pillage, rape, torture, mutilation, and death”. Because the plantation owners long feared a revolt like this, they were well armed and prepared to defend themselves. Nonetheless, within weeks, the number of slaves who joined the revolt reached approximately 100,000. Within the next two months, as the violence escalated, the slaves killed 4,000 whites and burned or destroyed 180 sugar plantations and hundreds of coffee and indigo plantations.
By 1792, slaves controlled a third of the island. The success of the slave rebellion caused the newly elected Legislative Assembly in France to realize it was facing an ominous situation. To protect France’s economic interests, the Legislative Assembly needed to grant civil and political rights to free men of color in the colonies. In March 1792, the Legislative Assembly did just that. Countries throughout Europe as well as the United States were shocked by the decision of the Legislative Assembly. Members of the Assembly were determined to stop the revolt. Apart from granting rights to the free people of color, they dispatched 6,000 French soldiers to the island.
Meanwhile, in 1793, France declared war on Great Britain. The white planters in Saint Domingue made agreements with Great Britain to declare British sovereignty over the islands. Spain, who controlled the rest of the island of
Hispaniola, would also join the conflict and fight with Great Britain against France. The Spanish forces invaded Saint Domingue and were joined by the slave forces. By August 1793, there were only 3,500 French soldiers on the island. To prevent military disaster, the French commissioner
Sonthonax freed the slaves in his jurisdiction. It is estimated that the slave rebellion resulted in the death of 100,000 blacks and 24,000 whites.
One of the most successful black commanders was Toussaint L’Ouverture, a self-educated former domestic slave. Like
Jean François and
Biassou, he initially fought for the Spanish Crown in this period. After the British had invaded Saint-Domingue, L’Ouverture decided to fight for the French if they would agree to free all the slaves.
Sonthonax had proclaimed an end to slavery on 29 August 1793. L’Ouverture worked with a French general,
Étienne Laveaux, to ensure all slaves would be freed. He brought his forces over to the French side in May 1794 and began to fight for the French Republic. Many enslaved Africans were attracted to Toussaint’s forces. He insisted on discipline and restricted wholesale slaughter. Under the military leadership of Toussaint, the forces made up mostly of former slaves succeeded in winning concessions from the British and expelling the Spanish forces. In the end, Toussaint essentially restored control of Saint-Domingue to France. L’Ouverture was very intelligent, organized and well-spoken;
Toussaint defeated a British expeditionary force in 1798. In addition, he led an invasion of neighboring Santo Domingo (December 1800), and freed the slaves there in 3 January 1801.
In 1801, L’Ouverture issued a constitution for Saint-Domingue which provided for autonomy and decreed that he would be governor-for-life, as he calls for black autonomy and a sovereign black state making it a self-governing territory. In retaliation,
Napoleon Bonaparte dispatched a
large expeditionary force of French soldiers and warships to the island, led by Bonaparte’s brother-in-law
Charles Leclerc, to restore French rule. They were under secret instructions to later restore slavery, at least in the formerly Spanish-held part of the island. The numerous French soldiers were accompanied by mulatto troops led by Alexandre Pétion and André Rigaud, mulatto leaders who had been defeated by Toussaint three years earlier. During the struggles, some of Toussaint’s closest allies, including
Jean-Jacques Dessalines, defected to Leclerc.
L’Ouverture was promised his freedom, if he agreed to integrate his remaining troops into the French Army. L’Ouverture agreed to this in May 1802. He was later deceived, seized by the French and shipped to France. He died months later while imprisoned at
Fort-de-Joux in the Jura region.
For a few months, the island was quiet under Napoleonic rule. But when it became apparent that the French intended to re-establish slavery (because they had done so on
Guadeloupe), Dessalines and Pétion switched sides again, in October 1802, and fought against the French. In November Leclerc died of
yellow fever, like much of his army.
His successor, the
Vicomte de Rochambeau, fought an even more brutal campaign. His atrocities helped rally many former French loyalists to the rebel cause. The French were further weakened by a British
naval blockade, and by the unwillingness of Napoleon to send the requested massive reinforcements. Having sold the
Louisiana Territory to the United States in April 1803, Napoleon began to lose interest in his failing ventures in the Western Hemisphere. Dessalines led the rebellion until its completion, when the French forces were finally defeated in 1803. Dessalines officially declared the former colony’s independence, renaming it “Haiti” after the
On 1 January 1804, Dessalines, the new leader under the dictatorial 1801 constitution, declared Haiti a free republic. Haiti was the first independent nation in Latin America, the first post-colonial independent black-led nation in the world, and the only nation whose independence was gained as part of a successful slave rebellion. The country was crippled by years of war, its agriculture devastated, its formal commerce nonexistent. The Army then became regiments of disciplined agricultural laborers, as the construction of military fortifications for defense purposes were built, like the
Citadelle Laferrière. There was a sense of over militarization of the state as 10 % of the male population was subjected to conscription.
Under the presidency of Jean Pierre Boyer, Haiti was forced to make reparations to French slaveholders in 1825 in the amount of 150 million francs, reduced in 1838 to 60 million francs, in exchange for French recognition of its independence and to achieve freedom from French aggression. This indemnity bankrupted the Haitian treasury. It mortgaged Haiti’s future to the French banks that provided the funds for the large first installment, affecting Haiti’s ability to be prosperous.
The end of the Haitian Revolution in 1804 marked the end of colonialism on the island. However, the social conflict that was cultivated under slavery continued to affect the population for years to come. The revolution left in place the affranchi élite which continued to rule Haiti, while the formidable Haitian army kept them in power. France continued the slavery system in
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
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
SpanishConquistadores, 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. One such leader
Bayano, also known as Ballano or Vaino, was an African enslaved by
Spaniards who led the biggest of the
slave revolts of 16th century
Panama. Captured from the
Mandinka tribe in
West Africa, it is alleged that he and his comrades were
Muslim. Different tales tell of their revolt in 1552 beginning either on the ship en route, or after landing in Panama’s
Darien province along its modern-day border with
Colombia. Rebel slaves, known as
cimarrones, set up autonomous regions known as
palenques, many of which successfully fended off
Spanish control for centuries using
guerrilla war and alliances with
pirates, or indigenous nations who were in similar circumstances. Bayano gained truces with Panama’s
colonial governor, Pedro de Ursua, but Ursua subsequently captured the guerrilla leader and sent him to Peru and then to Spain, where he died. Bayano’s revolt coincided with others, including those of
Luis de Mozambique. Bayano’s name has become immortal in the Panamanian consciousness through the naming of a major river, a valley, a dam, and several companies after him.
Or Tacky’s Rebellion was an uprising of black African slaves that occurred in
Jamaica in May, June and July of 1760. It was the most significant
slave rebellion in the Caribbean until the
Haitian Revolution in 1790.
The leader of the rebellion, Tacky (Takyi), had been a
Coromantin (a Fanti coastal fort town in the Central region of present-day Ghana) chief before being enslaved. Beginning in
St. Mary in the early morning of Easter Monday, Tacky and a group of supporters, most or all Kormantse, moved inland. They took over plantations and killed the white plantation owners. Their plan was to overthrow British rule and to establish an African kingdom in Jamaica. Unfortunately for the rebellion, a slave from one of the rebel controlled plantations escaped and informed white authorities. After the mobilization of a planter
militia, regular troops and a
Maroon force allied to the British, many of the rebels returned to their plantations. Some, including Tacky, fought on, but when Tacky was killed by a Maroon sharpshooter, the last fighters killed themselves before capture. Tacky’s Rebellion was, like many other Atlantic slave revolts, put down quickly and mercilessly by colonial authority. However, Tacky’s actions spurred unrest and disorder throughout the island, and it took the local forces some weeks to re-establish order.
First Maroon War
In 1655, the British defeated the Spanish colonists and took control of most of Jamaica. Following the flight of the Spanish, the Africans whom they had enslaved joined the
Amerindian population (and some others who had previously escaped slavery) in the mountainous center of Jamaica to form the Windward
Maroon communities. The area is known as
Cockpit Country. The British forces were unable to establish control over the whole island, a large portion remaining in the hands of the Maroons. For seventy six years, there were periodic skirmishes between the British and the Maroons, alongside occasional slave revolts. In 1673 one such revolt in St. Ann’s Parish 200 slaves created the separate group of Leeward Maroons. These Maroons united with a group of
Madagascars who had survived the shipwreck of a slave ship and formed their own maroon community in St. George’s parish. Several more rebellions strengthened the numbers of this Leeward group. Notably, in 1690 a revolt at Sutton’s plantation, Clarendon of 400 slaves considerably strengthened the Leeward Maroons. In September 1728, the British sent more troops to Jamaica, changing the balance of power with the Windward Maroons.
The Leeward Maroons inhabited “cockpits,” caves, or deep ravines that were easily defended, even against troops with superior firepower. Such guerrilla warfare and the use of scouts who blew the abeng (the cow horn, this was used as a trumpet) to warn of approaching British soldiers allowed the Maroons to evade, thwart, frustrate, and defeat the forces of an Empire
1739-40, the British government in Jamaica recognized that it could not defeat the Maroons, so they came to an agreement with them, instead. The Maroons were to remain in their five main towns (
Nanny Town), living under their own rulers and a British supervisor.
In exchange, they were asked to agree not to harbor new runaway slaves, but rather to help catch them. This last clause in the treaty naturally caused a split between the Maroons and the rest of the black population, although from time to time runaways from the plantations still found their way into Maroon settlements.
Another provision of the agreement was that the Maroons would serve to protect the island from invaders. The latter was because the Maroons were revered by the British as skilled warriors
The person responsible for the compromise with the British was the Leeward Maroon leader,
Cudjoe, a short, almost dwarf-like man who for years fought skillfully and bravely to maintain his people’s independence. As he grew older, however, Cudjoe became increasingly disillusioned. He ran into quarrels with his lieutenants and with other Maroon groups. He felt that the only hope for the future was honorable peace with the enemy, which was just what the British were thinking. The 1739 treaty should be seen in this light.
A year later, the even more rebellious Windward Maroons of Trelawny Town also agreed to sign a treaty under pressure from both white Jamaicans and the Leeward Maroons, though they were never happy about it. This discontentment with the treaty later led to the
Second Maroon War.
Second Maroon War
The Second Maroon War of 1795-1796 was an eight month conflict between the
Trelawny Parish, Jamaica and the British. The other Maroon communities did not take part in this rebellion and their treaty with the British remained in force until Jamaica gained its independence in 1962.
Maroons felt that they were being mistreated under the terms of Cudjoe’s Treaty of 1739, which ended the
First Maroon War. The spark of the war was when two Maroons were flogged by a black slave for stealing two
pigs. When six Maroon leaders came to the British to present their grievances, the British took them as prisoners. Fighting began in mid-August.
The war lasted for five months as a bloody stalemate. The British 5,000 troops and militia outnumbered the Maroons ten to one, but the mountainous and forested topography of Jamaica proved ideal for guerrilla warfare. The Maroons surrendered the war in December 1795, intimidated by the arrival of one hundred
bloodhounds and their handlers imported fromCuba. The treaty signed in December between Major General George Walpole and the Maroon leaders established that the Maroons would beg on their knees for the King’s forgiveness, return all runaway slaves, and be relocated elsewhere in Jamaica. The governor of Jamaica ratified the treaty, but gave the Maroons only three days to present themselves to beg forgiveness on January 1, 1796. Suspicious of British intentions, most of the Maroons did not surrender until mid-March. The British used the contrived breach of treaty as a pretext to deport the entire Trelawny town Maroons to
Nova Scotia. After a few years the Maroons were again deported to the new British settlement of
Sierra Leone in
Maroon autonomy still exists to this day and they are still responsible for their own legal affairs and elect their own colonel. Their culture has always been distinct from that of mainstream Jamaica. Though it is gradually dying out now, the Maroons once had their own language, with a stronger thread of African words, which Africans still recognise today. Their drums (the long drum and cutter drum, made from mahoe covered with goat skin) beat out African rhythms that have been passed down the generations.
Samuel Sharpe was born in the parish of St. James. Samuel Sharpe was a slave throughout his life, he was allowed to become well-educated, because of his education he was respected by other slaves and he was a well-known preacher and leader. Sharpe was a Deacon at the Burchell Baptist Church in Montego Bay, whose pastor was Rev Thomas Burchell. Sam Sharpe spent most of his time travelling to different parishes in Jamaica educating the slaves about Christianity and freedom.
In the mistaken belief that emancipation had already been granted by the Parliament, Sharpe organized a peaceful
General strike across many estates in western Jamaica at a critical time for the plantation owners: harvest of the sugar cane. The Christmas Rebellion (
Baptist War) began on December 25, 1832 at the Kensington Estate. Reprisals by the plantation owners led to the rebels burning the crops. His peaceful protest turned into Jamaica’s largest slave rebellion, killing hundreds, including 14 whites. The rebellion was put down by the Jamaican military within two weeks and many of the ringleaders, including Sharpe, were hung in 1832. Just before he was hanged for his role in the rebellion, Sharpe said “I would rather die in yonder gallows, than live for a minute more in slavery.” The rebellion caused two detailed Parliamentary Inquiries which arguably contributed to the 1833
Abolition of Slavery across the
In 1865 a rebellion in Jamaica shook the British Empire. The British ruling class and the Jamaican planter class behaved in the most vicious, repressive and hypocritical manner. But the rebels and the British working class showed the value of international solidarity.
The rebellion started because the 500,000 slaves who had been emancipated in 1834 were denied land rights. These had been originally won by a massive anti-slavery campaign in Britain and by the slaves who led the Baptist Wars in Jamaica. The slave owners were forced to release the slaves and the Baptist church bought the land and gave it to the freed slaves. But the slave owners controlled the local state and they sought to retain power. They did this through a type of legislation similar to the English enclosures acts and by tax laws aimed at forcing former slaves to work on the plantations. This was intended to turn the slaves into agricultural workers, expected to work for less than the equivalent of 1p per day. Meanwhile the planters set about devastating the infrastructure of the island by measures such as reducing the number of doctors available to blacks by 75 per cent. To receive medical treatment you had to work on a plantation.
The freed slaves then petitioned Queen Victoria for land rights. The insulting reply from Her Majesty was that the only solution for their problem lay in working for wages ‘steadily and continuously’. Their salvation lay in their ‘industry and prudence’–this callous and vicious response to the starvation of the freed slaves was penned by the governor, Edward Eyre, the son of a Victorian clergyman who detested anybody stepping out of their so called station in life.
The freed Jamaicans refused to recognise the court’s rulings on the land or the militias. In one free village, the village of Stony Gut, a black Baptist preacher led a march to the courthouse demanding the right to be heard. The magistrate, who was ‘shocked and shaken,’ demanded that the court be cleared. The crowd then seized control of the court, taking a policeman hostage and beating him until he handed over the keys to the prison. They freed all the prisoners who were being held for non-payment of taxes on the land.
In response the magistrate sent militias to Stony Gut to arrest all those who had been involved. But the villagers were prepared and organised an army that proceeded to defeat the militias. They went on to burn down the courthouse with the magistrate in it. The rebellion spread across the whole of St Thomas parish, involving up to 2,000 people at its height. They sacked the plantations, killing planters, militia men and black collaborators, but saving a planter who was sympathetic to their cause.
The preacher who led the rebellion was named Paul Bogle. He had been born free, the son of a slave, and had organised in the only place that blacks were allowed to organise, the Baptist church. He was one of only 104 blacks allowed to vote. This was the most radical organisation on the island: one of Bogle’s sermons was on the success of the North in the American Civil War. Bogle took his fiery sermons to churches across Jamaica, calling for a fight for equality. He was a supporter of William Gordon, a radical member of the Jamaican parliament who was also a Baptist minister.
There have recently been portrayals of the British Empire as somehow benign, but the response to the rebellion was vicious: 400 people were hanged, including Bogle and Gordon, (who wasn’t even there). A further 600 were flogged, and 1,000 homes were burnt to the ground. Edward Eyre declared martial law. We can gain a flavour of his response by the message he sent to Colonel Thomas Hobbes of the 6th regiment describing the execution of suspected rebels: ‘I adopted a plan which struck immense terror into these wretched men far more than death; I caused them to hang each other. They entreated to be shot to avoid this.’ Paul Bogle was hanged on the British ship HMS Wolverine. When he was murdered, he quoted the 1831 slave leader Sam Sharpe: ‘I would rather die upon yonder gallows than live in slavery.’
When the news of the atrocities reached Britain there was a storm of protest. Britain divided into two camps: for or against Eyre. Eyre was turned into a Tory icon. In his favour were such notaries as Charles Dickens, the historian Thomas Carlyle and Charles Kingsley. Against Eyre stood John Stuart Mill and Charles Darwin.
But the great fear of the imperialists was the way that news of the rebellion was seized by the British working class. The reform movement supported the rebellion, organising meetings, letters to the press, deputations to the secretary of state. The stalwarts of the anti-slavery movement mobilised support across the country. In September 1866 Eyre’s effigy was burnt at a reform demonstration on Clerkenwell Green.
The rebellion may have started in Jamaica, but it fed into the Reform Act in Britain. It shows how black slaves were part of their own liberation. It also shows that the fight against racism has always been an integrated movement of black and white people.
As a result of the Morant Bay rebellion, the planter’s parliament was dissolved, governor Eyre never worked again and black Jamaicans got land rights as a birthright. But more importantly, we saw how workers across international borders can make great gains as they stand together.
The Dutch captured the British colony of Suriname during the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1667), and under the WIC it was developed as a plantation slave society. It was a primary destination for the Dutch slave trade, yet unusually it never experienced a general slave rebellion. The regime was one of extreme and deliberate brutality, even by the standards of the time. Mortality was so high that although 300,000 slaves were imported between 1668 and 1823, the ravaged population was never able to grow beyond a figure of 50,000. ‘Maroonage’ emerged as the main method of resistance. Fugitive slaves, ‘Maroons’ fled inland, and formed permanent communities. There is nothing unusual about this in any slave society, except for its scope. The Suriname Maroons numbered between 25-47 thousand in the 18th and 19th Centuries, and engaged the Dutch in over 50 years of guerrilla warfare. The resistance proved so strong that the colonial government acknowledge their virtualindependence in the 1760s. The Scottish-Dutch soldier John Gabriel Stedman witnessed the oppression of the slaves during a campaign against the maroons in 1774. His book a Narrative of a Five Years Expedition Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam, with vivid illustrations by William Blake and Francesco Bartolozzi was taken to heart by abolitionists, through Stedman’s real sympathies are thought to have been with reform rather than abolition
The domestic slave Coffy led a rebellion in the Dutch Colony of Berbice (now British Guyana) in February 1763. An outbreak of yellow fever had left the white slave owners weakened and vulnerable, and the slaves saw a chance to rise. Taking arms, they almost succeeded in their first aim of driving all whites from the colony. Coffy had opted for peaceful coexistence with the former slave masters, and planned to broker a treaty with the authorities like the maroons of Surinam. He fell out with his fellow rebel leaders and committed suicide three months into the rebellion, but his followers continued fighting Dutch forces until April 1764.
Carlota, a slave woman, took up the machete in 1843 to lead a slave uprising at the Triumvirato sugar mill in Matanzas Province and was killed. She was one of the 3 leaders of the rebellion.
Matanzas was the scene of many confrontations between enslaved Africans and the slave – system regime in Cuba during 1843 and 1844. The uprising at the sugar – estate Triumvirato under the leadership of the heroic Carlota had a great impact both inside and outside of the island. Those struggles began in July and August of the year 1843. By means of ‘talking drums’ the rebels were called for battle. When hearing the sounds of the drums, the slave-owners most likely thought that the Africans were paying tribute to their ancestors in sessions held in and around their barracoons.Two lukumies/yorubas, a man by the name of Evaristo and a woman called Fermina of the sugar – estate Arcana, were in charge of all preparations. Their task was to encourage the enslaved people to rise up and put an end to the hated system of human exploitation. Their principal means of communication were the drums as their most relevant heritage from Africa.
On November 5 of 1843, the enslaved people of Triumvirato broke out in a great rebellion.
, of the sugar – estate Acana, who was very active in the rebellion of August 2nd, was arrested, chained and locked up. She was liberated by her colleagues in struggle on November 3rd. Carlota, accompanied by her captains, went from Triumvirato to Acana to liberate their enslaved brothers and sisters. Of course, Carlota and her collaborators carefully prepared the whole plan of action in secret.
Undoubtedly, these successes at Triumvirato and Acana had their impact on the enslaved population. One could notice an increase in guerilla attacks by rebellious Africans in the area. Together they broke the chains of their brothers and sisters in the areas belonging to the sugar – estates San Miguel, Concepción, San Lorenzo, and San Rafael. Other objectives, such as the coffee and cattle estates of the area, were also attacked.
A heavy persecution was unleashed by the powerful Governor’s troops hunting the lukumí/Yoruba woman Carlota; her Fula companion Eduardo, and their colleagues. Carlota was captured during an unequal battle. The repressive forces tied her to horses sent to run in opposite direction in order to destroy her body completely so that she would be unrecognizable forever. Fermina was shot and killed in March 1844 along with four other lukumíes/yorubas and three Ganga colleagues.
Tula (executed October 3, 1795) was a slave on
Curaçao and a leader of a 1795 slave revolt that convulsed the island for more than a month. He is revered on Curaçao today as a fighter for human rights and independence.
Bandabou had between 4,000 and 5,000 inhabitants in 1795, mostly slaves. Tula had been preparing the insurrection for some weeks. On the morning of August 17, 1795, at the Knip plantation of Caspar Lodewijk van Uytrecht at Bandabou, Curaçao, Tula led an uprising of 40 to 50 slaves. The slaves met on the square of the plantation and informed van Uytrecht they would no longer work for him. He told them to present their complaints to the lieutenant governor at Fort Amsterdam. They left and went from Knip to Lagun, where they freed 22 slaves from jail.
From Lagun, the rebels went to the sugar plantation of Saint Kruis, where they were joined by more rebels under Bastian Karpata. Tula then led the escaped slaves from farm to farm, freeing more slaves.
The slave owners had now retreated to the city, leaving their plantations unprotected. At the same time, a confederate French slave, Louis Mercier, led another group of freed slaves to Saint Kruis, where he took the commandant, van der Grijp, and ten of his mulatto’s prisoner. Mercier also attacked Knip, where he freed more slaves and took some weapons. He then rejoined Tula, locating him by following the trail of destruction Tula had left behind.
Van Uytrecht in the meantime had sent his son on horseback with a note to the governor, and at 7 p.m., the council met to prepare a defense of the colony. Governor Johannes de Veer ordered Commander Wierts of the navy ship Medea, which was in port at the time, to defend Fort Amsterdam. Sixty-seven men, both white and black, under the command of Lieutenant R.G. Plegher were sent against the rebels. They went by boat to Boca San Michiel from
Willemstad, and from there on foot to Portomari, where Tula and his followers were camping. When the Dutch military arrived there on August 19, they attacked Tula’s group, but were defeated.
At the plantation of Fontein, Pedro Wakao killed the Dutch owner, Sabel, who became the first white victim of the rebellion. Wakao also found more weapons at Fontein.
The governor was notified of Plegher’s defeat, and the rebellion was now considered a serious threat to the white community. The governor and the slave owners had raised a force of 60 well-armed horsemen under the command of Captain Baron van Westerholt to renew the attack. Westerholt had orders to offer leniency to the rebels if they would surrender. Among this party was
Jacobus Schink, a Franciscan priest who served as negotiator and attempted to prevent bloodshed.
Tula was aware of the revolution that had resulted in freedom for slaves in Haiti. Tula argued that, since the Netherlands were now captured by the French, they should get their freedom as well. The three demands of Tula were: an end to collective punishment, an end to labor on Sunday and the freedom to buy clothes and goods from others than their own masters. There were two attempts at negotiating with the slaves. The first one carried out by Father Schink. When Father Schink spoke with Tula, he refused to accept anything less than freedom. Schink reported back to Baron Westerholt, the latter decided to get more reinforcements and attack. He attempted a last negotiation, but when he was turned down by the rebels, he ordered that any slave with a weapon be shot. In the ensuing fight, the rebels were defeated. Ten to twenty of them were killed, and the rest escaped.
The rebels began a guerrilla campaign, poisoning wells and stealing food. On September 19, Tula and Karpata were betrayed by a slave. They were taken prisoner, and the war was effectively over. (Louis Mercier had already been caught at Knip.) After Tula was captured, he was publicly tortured to death on October 3, 1795, almost seven weeks after the revolt began. Karpata, Louis Mercier and Pedro Wakao were also executed. In addition, many slaves had been massacred in the earlier repression. After the revolt had been crushed the Curaçao government formulated rules that defined the rights of slaves on the island.
(Died 1816) was an African-born
Barbadian slave who in 1816 led a slave uprising in
Barbados popularly known as Bussa’s Rebellion. Bussa was born a free man in
Africa, possibly of
Igbo origin, and was captured by African slave merchants, sold to the British, and brought to Barbados in the late 18th century as a slave. Not much is known about him and there are no records of him prior to this date. Since slave owners almost never bothered to keep detailed records about the lives of their slaves (who were considered property), virtually no biographical information about Bussa is available. Records show a slave named “Bussa” worked as a ranger on ‘Bayley’s Plantation’ in the parish of
St. Philip around the time of the rebellion. This privileged position would have given Bussa much more freedom of movement than the average slave and would have made it easier for him to plan and coordinate the rebellion.
The rebellion he led is often referred to as the “Bussa Rebellion” which began on Sunday, 14 April 1816. Bussa’s Rebellion was the first of three large-scale slave rebellions in the British West Indies that shook public faith in slavery in the years leading up to
emancipation. Bussa’s Rebellion was followed by a large-scale
rebellion in Demerara in Guyana in 1823 and then by an even bigger
rebellion in Jamaica in 1831-32. Collectively these are often referred to as “late slave rebellions”. Late slave rebellions in the British West Indies were distinct from early slave rebellions in their scale, goals and composition. Early slave rebels had generally been people born in Africa who organized themselves along ethnic or geographical lines. Late slave rebellions, on the other hand, tended to be dominated by creoles (people born in the colonies) and by acculturated Africans. So even though Bussa was apparently born in Africa the majority of his followers and other rebel leaders may have been creole.
To some extent Bussa’s Rebellion seems to have inspired the later rebellions, especially the Guyanese insurrection. “Bussa’s Rebellion” was planned by such collaborators as Washington Franklin and Nanny Grigg, a senior domestic slave on Simmons’ estate, as well as other slaves, drivers and artisans. The planning was undertaken at a number of sugar estates, including Bayley’s plantation where it began. Preparation for the rebellion began soon after the House of Assembly discussed and rejected the Imperial Registry Bill in November 1815. By February 1816, the decision had been taken that the revolt should take place in April, at Easter. Bussa led the slaves into battle at Bayley’s on Tuesday, 16 April. He commanded some 400 freedom fighters and was killed in battle. His troops continued the fight until they were defeated by superior firepower. The rebellion failed but its impact was significant to the future of Barbados.
Numerous black slave rebellions and insurrections took place in
North America during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. There is documentary evidence of more than 250 uprisings or attempted uprisings involving ten or more slaves. Three of the best known in the
United States during the 19th century are the revolts by
Gabriel Prosser in
Virginia in 1800,
Denmark Vesey in
Charleston, South Carolina in 1822, and
Nat Turner in
Southampton County, Virginia, in 1831.
Gabriel (1776 – October 10, 1800), today commonly – if incorrectly – known as Gabriel Prosser, was a literate
enslaved blacksmith who planned to lead a large
slave rebellion in the
Richmond area in the summer of 1800. However, information regarding the revolt was leaked prior to its execution, thus Gabriel’s plans were foiled. Gabriel and twenty-five other members of the revolt were
hanged. In reaction, the Virginia and other legislatures passed restrictions on free
blacks, as well as the education, movement and hiring out of the enslaved.
Born into slavery in
Henrico County, Virginia, Gabriel had two brothers, Solomon and Martin. They all lived on the tobacco plantation, called Brookfield, of Thomas Prosser. It was likely that Gabriel’s father was a blacksmith, as that was the trade Gabriel and Solomon were trained in. He was also taught to read and write. By the mid-1790s, as Gabriel neared the age of twenty, he stood “six feet two or three inches high”. His long and “bony face, well made”, was marred by the loss of his two front teeth and “two or three scars on his head”. White people as well as black people regarded the literate young man as “a fellow of great courage and intellect above his rank in life
Gabriel planned the revolt during the spring and summer of 1800. On August 30, 1800, Gabriel hoped to lead the slaves into Richmond, but revolution was postponed because of rain. The slaves’ owners had suspicion of the uprising. Before it could be carried out, two slaves told their owner, Mosby Sheppard, about the plans. He in turn warned Virginia’s Governor,
James Monroe, who called out the state
militia. Gabriel escaped downriver to
Norfolk, but there he was spotted and betrayed by another slave for the reward. That slave did not receive the full reward.
Gabriel was returned to Richmond for questioning, but he did not submit. Gabriel, his two brothers, and 23 other slaves were hanged
Denmark Vesey originally Telemaque, (1767? – July 2, 1822) was an African American
slave brought to the United States from the Caribbean of
Coromantee background. After purchasing his freedom, he planned what would have been one of the largest
slave rebellions in the
United States. Word of the plans was leaked, and at
Charleston, South Carolina, authorities arrested the plot’s leaders before the uprising could begin. Vesey and others were tried, convicted and executed.
Denmark labored briefly in
French Saint-Domingue (present-day
Haiti), and then was settled in Charleston, South Carolina as a youth, where Joseph Vesey kept him as a domestic slave. On November 9, 1799, Denmark Vesey won $1500 in a city
lottery. He bought his own freedom and began working as a
carpenter. Although a
Presbyterian as late as April 1816, Vesey co-founded a branch of the
African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1817. The church was temporarily shut down by white authorities in 1818 and again in 1820.
Inspired by the revolutionary spirit and actions of slaves during the 1791
Haitian Revolution, and furious at the closing of the African Church, Vesey began to plan a slave rebellion. His insurrection, which was to take place on
Bastille Day, July 14, 1822, became known to thousands of blacks throughout Charleston and along the Carolina coast. The plot called for Vesey and his group of slaves and
free blacks to execute their enslavers and temporarily liberate the city of Charleston. Vesey and his followers planned to sail to Haiti to escape retaliation. Two slaves opposed to Vesey’s scheme leaked the plot. Charleston authorities charged 131 men with conspiracy. In total, 67 men were convicted and 35 hanged, including Denmark Vesey.
Sandy Vesey, one of Denmark’s sons, was transported, probably to
Cuba. Vesey’s last wife Susan later immigrated to
Liberia. Another son, Robert Vesey, survived to rebuild Charleston’s
African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1865
Early in the morning of August 22, 1831, a band of eight Black slaves, led by a lay preacher named Nat Turner, entered the Travis house in Southampton County, Virginia and killed five members of the Travis family. This was the beginning of a slave uprising that was to become known as Nat Turner’s rebellion. Over a thirty-six hour period, this band of slaves grew to sixty or seventy in number and slew fifty-eight White persons in and around Jerusalem, Virginia (seventy miles east of Richmond) before the local community could act to stop them. This rebellion raised southern fears of a general slave uprising and had a profound influence on the attitude of Southerners towards slavery.
Since the 1790’s when slaves rebelled in Santo Domingo and slaughtered 60,000 people, Southerners realized that their own slaves might rise up against them. A number of slave revolt conspiracies were uncovered in the South between 1820 and 1831 but none frightened Southerners as much as Nat Turner’s rebellion.
Nat Turner was born a slave in Virginia in 1800 and grew to become a slave preacher. Gradually he built a religious following justifying revolution against his white masters. He believed that God had chosen him to lead the blacks to freedom. After seeing a halo around the sun on August 13, 1831, Turner believed this to be a sign from God to begin the revolt. Beginning on August 22 and lasting for two days, Turner and seventy recruits went on a rampage. They killed Turner’s master and fifty-eight more men, women and children. Many blacks did not join Turner because they feared the futility of his effort. The revolt was crushed within two days and Nat Turner managed to escape.
The first report of the Turner revolt was sent in the form of a letter from the Postmaster of Jerusalem to the Governor of Virginia. This letter as sent by way of Petersburg and was first published in the Richmond Constitutional Whig of August 23, 1831. The text read: “Disagreeable rumours have reached this city of an insurrection of the slaves of Southampton County, with loss of life, in order to correct exaggerations, and at the same time to induce all salutary caution, we state to following particulars. An express from the Honourable James Trezevant states that an insurrection had broken out, that several families had been murdered, and that those Negroes were embodied, requiring a considerable military force to subdue them.”
“The names and precise number of the families is not mentioned. A letter from the Postmaster corroborates the intelligence. Prompt and efficient measures are being taken by the Governor, to call up a sufficient force to put down the insurrection, and place lower Virginia on its guard.””Serious danger, of course, there is none. The deluded wretches have rushed on assured destruction.” “The Fayette Artillery and the Light Dragoons leave here this evening for Southampton — the artillery to go in a Steamboat and the troop by land.”
This group of 40 (or so) Blacks, led by Nat Turner, terrorized the white population of Southampton County, Virginia and killed 60 whites before the Virginia Militia and local residents killed or captured the insurgents. Even though the rebellion was over on August 23, the leader of the Blacks, Nat Turner, escaped capture by the militia.
On August 24, militia units from the surrounding counties descended on Jerusalem, Virginia and a massacre of Blacks in Southampton began. Much of this torture and killing of Blacks was done by vigilante groups, bent on revenge. Hundreds of blacks were killed, most of whom were totally innocent of any involvement or knowledge of Nat Turner’s rebellion.
By August 31, 1831 almost all of the insurgents had been captured with the exception of Turner himself. Despite a large-scale manhunt and a continuing stream of newspaper accounts of his escape or capture, he was able to hide in the woods of Southampton, not far from where the rebellion had begun.
On October 31, Benjamin Phipps, a local farmer, spotted and captured Nat Turner at gunpoint. On November 5, Turner was convicted of insurrection and sentenced to hang and on November 11 the sentence was carried out.
Many of the Freedom Fighters, who fought against the establishment of rules of order which regarded the superiority of one race of humanity over the other, lost their lives. This loss was not in vain for it ultimately leads to the abolition of slavery. This ended this barbaric chapter in the formulation of human civilization. The next booklet we will examine the abolitionist who fought to have these barbaric practices expelled from institutions of law.