Aug 222017

Two slave revolts broke out on this date: one in 1791 in French colonial Saint-Domingue, leading eventually to the creation of the sovereign nation of Haiti; the other, led by Nat Turner in Virginia in the United States in 1831 was suppressed within one day. These anniversaries give me the opportunity to talk about slavery in the New World as well as slavery in general. It staggers me that even in the year 2017 there are people who argue that slavery was beneficial to people brought from Africa in chains to the New World and sold with almost no chance for freedom for themselves in their lifetimes, nor for their offspring and descendants. SLAVERY IS AN UNMITIGATED EVIL.

Here’s a list of the slave revolts in the New World from the beginnings of European colonialism to the abolition of slavery, indicating their dates, locations and outcomes:

1526 San Miguel de Gualdape (Spanish Florida) Victorious

c.1570 Gaspar Yanga’s Revolt (Veracruz, New Spain) Victorious

1712 New York Slave Revolt (British Province of New York) Suppressed

1730 First Maroon War (British Jamaica) Victorious

1733 St. John Slave Revolt (Danish Saint John) Suppressed

1739 Stono Rebellion (British Province of South Carolina) Suppressed

1741 New York Conspiracy (British Province of New York) Suppressed

1760 Tacky’s War (British Jamaica) Suppressed

1787 Abaco Slave Revolt (British Bahamas) Suppressed

1791 Mina Conspiracy (Spanish Louisiana) Suppressed

1795 Pointe Coupée Conspiracy (Spanish Louisiana) Suppressed

1791–1804 Haitian Revolution (French Saint-Domingue) Victorious

1800 Gabriel Prosser’s Revolt (Virginia, US) Suppressed

1803 Igbo Landing Revolt (St. Simons Island, Georgia, US) Suppressed

1805 Chatham Manor Revolt (Virginia, US) Suppressed

1811 German Coast Uprising (Territory of Orleans, US) Suppressed

1815 George Boxley’s Revolt (Virginia, US) Suppressed

1816 Bussa’s Rebellion (British Barbados) Suppressed

1822 Denmark Vesey’s Revolt (South Carolina, US) Suppressed

1831 Nat Turner’s rebellion (Virginia, US) Suppressed

1831–1832 Baptist War (British Jamaica) Suppressed

1839 Amistad, ship rebellion (Off the Cuban coast) Victorious

1841 Creole case, ship rebellion (Off the Southern U.S. coast) Victorious

1842 Slave Revolt in the Cherokee Nation (Indian Territory, US) Suppressed

1859 John Brown’s Raid (Virginia, US) Suppressed

Slavery in the New World was part and parcel of colonization and needs to be remembered for what it was: a deliberate undervaluation and subjugation of a whole continent of people who were oppressed and exploited simply because of the color of their skin. From the 16th to the 19th centuries the principal colonial powers that benefited from slavery were Spain, Britain, and France, all of whom practiced slavery because it was economically expedient, but covered their actual motives with a thin veneer of philosophical justification. Their argument was that people of African origin were better off as slaves because living in “civilization” was better than living in “savagery.” To this day you will sometimes hear this argument espoused by media commentators in the United States. This rationale, such as it is, shows absolutely no understanding of traditional African cultures, as well as zero understanding of that it means to be the property of someone else.

The future William IV of the United Kingdom, (who was my focus yesterday ), when he was a member of the House of Lords, argued against the abolition of the Slave Trade on the grounds that slaves in the US lived in better conditions than people he had seen living in the Scottish Highlands. All well and good when you are a royal duke living in luxury in London. Whether you are dirt poor in Scotland or a well-dressed slave in Virginia, there is a vast chasm between being free and being owned by another person. Probably William had seen house slaves in the United States and was comparing their conditions to crofters in Scotland. House slaves were sometimes educated, wore decent clothes, had some freedom of movement, and ate better than field slaves. But they were still slaves. They could be sold at will; they could be beaten or even killed without legal penalty; their children were slaves who could be separated from their parents and sold at any age; the women could be raped by their masters. They had no rights as humans. It is simply not legitimate to compare the visible economic conditions of US slaves with Scottish crofters and come to a conclusion about which were better off. The former were slaves, the latter were free. Their situations are in no way comparable.

The Haitian Revolution that began in 1791 ended in 1804 with the former colony’s independence. It was the only slave uprising in the world that led to the founding of a state, which was both free from slavery, and ruled by non-whites and former slaves. Its effects on the institution of slavery were felt throughout the Americas. The ending of French rule and the abolition of slavery in the former colony by the former slaves was followed by their successful defense of the freedoms they won, and, with the collaboration of mulattoes, their independence from rule by white Europeans. It represents the largest slave uprising since Spartacus’ unsuccessful revolt against the Roman Republic nearly 1,900 years before. It challenged long-held beliefs about black inferiority and about enslaved people’s capacity to achieve and maintain their own freedom. The rebels’ organizational capacity and tenacity under pressure became the source of stories that shocked and frightened slave owners throughout the Americas.

Nat Turner’s Rebellion (also known as the Southampton Insurrection) took place in Southampton County, Virginia, during August 1831. It was led by Nat Turner, and rebel slaves killed as many as 65 people in one day. It was the largest and deadliest slave uprising in U.S. history. The rebellion was put down within a few days, but Turner survived in hiding for more than two months afterwards, before he was captured and hanged. The rebellion was effectively suppressed at Belmont Plantation on the morning of August 23, 1831.

There was widespread fear in the aftermath of the rebellion, and white militias organized in retaliation against the slaves. The state executed 56 slaves accused of being part of the rebellion. In the frenzy, many non-participant slaves were punished. Approximately 120 slaves and free African-Americans were murdered by militias and mobs in the area. Across the South, state legislatures passed new laws prohibiting education of slaves and free African-Americans, restricting rights of assembly and other civil rights for free Black people, and requiring White ministers to be present at all worship services.

In the current climate of publicly avowed racist and anti-racist sentiments in the United States today, as well as worldwide, it is important to remember these two events and to hold them up to scrutiny. I urge you to read more about them: especially the Haitian Revolution, which does not generally figure in the history books outside of Haiti.  For now I’ll turn to cooking.

Haitian cuisine is often lumped together with other regional islands as a part of Caribbean cuisine but it is distinctive, even though, like all island cuisines it is a blend of European, African, and indigenous cooking methods and ingredients. It involves the extensive use of herbs, and the liberal use of peppers. The ubiquitous rice and beans of all of the Caribbean and South America is found as riz collé aux pois (diri kole ak pwa), rice with red kidney beans (or pinto beans) glazed with a marinade as a sauce and topped off with red snapper, tomatoes and onions. It is often called the Riz National, and is considered to be the national rice of Haiti. The dish can be accompanied by bouillon. Bouillon is a hearty soup consisting of various spices, potatoes, tomatoes, and meats such as goat or beef as well as fish or shellfish. Recipes vary by region.  Here’s a video that has a rather unusual ingredient list that includes beef tripe and crabs:

  3 Responses to “Slave Revolts”

  1. Appreciate the research and posting. this information is seldom mentioned, but often inquired about .Can you research and publish info about Quilombos of Brazil’s slave era?

    • Thanks for the accolade. I get a lot of readers, but not a lot of comments. I try my best to cover people and events in all cultures, and I especially emphasize social justice when I can. One post per day for nearly 6 years allows me to get the message out, one way or another. You can help by spreading the word on social media, if you want to. Quilombos have a counterpart in Spanish-speaking Latin America called palenques, and there were several in my home country, Argentina. Argentina had a despicable history of slavery in the 19th century which was covered up for almost a century. It was not until around 2005 that the government even acknowledged the existence of slavery in Argentina, even though Buenos Aires was the largest slave port in South America — supplying all neighboring countries, including Brazil. When slavery was abolished in Argentina, successive governments went on a systematic program of genocide, forcing freed slaves into ghettos where they starved to death, or recruiting them into bloody wars where they were cannon fodder. You have to search mighty hard to find a genuine African-Argentino these days. One of my best friends in Buenos Aires is descended from slaves, but he is a rarity.

      I could write a post about Brazilian quilombos, but I would need a date to peg the post to since this blog is about anniversaries. I could write about Zumbi, who died on Nov 20 1695. Let me work on it.

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